Try this for irony. Prime minister Manmohan Singh says Mumbai must emulate Shanghai. At the same time, his defence ministry prepares to bomb the city ! It is perhaps in the nature of defence reporting that coverage of the not so successful Agni III missile launch included casual references to its capability of hitting "high value targets" in China, notably Beijing and Shanghai.

The casual references were unfortunately followed (independently or otherwise) by not so casual actions. Chinese companies - note that it is not all foreign companies – were denied entry into the ports sector. Investment proposals from Chinese companies such as ZTE Telecom (trading arm), Huawei (manufacturing) have been rejected, on `security' considerations, which are not altogether very clear.

Putting aside the sectoral sensitivities, broadly, the polity is divided in two camps. Hawks who see China as a permanent threat and others who see it as an economic ally or better, an example to emulate. Its a somewhat unusual extreme. Yet the positions are clear. What is not so clear to me, a younger Indian, is why China is perceived as a specific threat ? And what defines this threat today ?

Legitimate Concerns

Yes, there have been legitimate concerns. For instance, the nuclear arming of Pakistan in the 1980s and the `encouraging' of separatist movements in the north east in the 60s and 70s. Though these events are more than two decades behind.

So, is China a threat because of a burden of memory on those who were at the receiving end of a distant event (the 1962 border war) in history. Then all the more reason to debate or address some of the issues raised above. Because in not doing so, we are perpetrating a slow brainwash of this generation as well.

How ? By possibly extrapolating Mao Zedong's aggressive world view on to his clearly pragmatic successors three decades later. It was Mao who said "the time had come to teach that representative (Nehru) of the reactionary national bourgeoisie a lesson." And dispatched some 30,000 troops to do the job. *

The Real Mao ?

There is more to Mao. While India has stewed for decades over the 1962 debacle, little is known about what transpired on the Chinese side, about the war itself and the people behind it. And insights into the real Mao, devoid of propaganda, have only begun emerging in recent years. Like how for Mao, the India war was but one move in the geopolitical chessboard - China expert Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea referrs to Mao's India war as based not on territorial concerns but strategic considerations.

Interestingly, Nehru's own role in that period has been debated. From his botching the Sino-India border issue to being seen as competing with Mao (who thus struck back) for the position of Asian leader. Leading to the 1962 war. But Nehru comes out largely fine. Not so with Mao. Critics today refer to him as a tyrant and dictator worse than Hitler, charging him with the death of tens of millions of Chinese.

Moreover, some of his policies have been publicly repudiated by successive Chinese governments. As far back as 1981, a Communist Party' Central Committee resolution said Mao’s Cultural Revolution was carried out "under the mistaken leadership of Mao Zedong". Though Mao has not been completely discredited, surely not to the extent many China watchers would like him to be.

Why The Distrust ?

There is of course the eternal question of who drew first blood ? From what I read, including Ministry of Defence history accounts of 1962, India's own actions are under a question mark. John Garver, a China specialist, has written that Chinese reacted because it feared a concerted Indian attempt to undermine its position in Tibet. Not to mention Mao's machinations.

Which brings us back to the subject at hand. Why would we express such evident distrust with a country we do $11 billion of trade ? The Chinese for sure don't view Indian investment with any suspicion. If I were to go with one point of view, 1962 happened precisely because we miscalculated or didn't fully understand Chinese intentions. By the looks of it, we are doing it again, albeit with no military implications. Or so I hope.

While much political progress has been made in recent years (AB Vajpayee's visit, Nathu La pass opening), we still hold on to some inexplicable hardline. As has been argued in the past (Jairam Ramesh: Making Sense of Chindia), Indian investments into China are far smoother than the other way around. I can and have got a Chinese visa in Hong Kong in hours. Chinese businessmen on the other hand complain of onerous procedures to visit India.

Business As Usual

Indeed, having invested there, firms like Mahindra & Mahindra are now planning expansions in capacity. Software majors TCS, Infosys and Satyam will soon employ in China as many engineers as they did in India just a few years ago. Of course the Chinese have more restrictions on foreign investments than India does. But they apply uniformly, not selectively.

And finally, most Indians living in China would admit to you that this is amongst the few, relatively developed nations where they are treated so well. We also seem to overlook that most of the Chinese leadership is technically trained. This makes them focus more on practical delivery. Remember Deng Xiaoping's statement about it not mattering what colour the cat was. As long as it caught mice.

* Philip Short: Mao, A Life.

This article appeared in the Business Standard this week and has already attracted some criticism !


Vulturo said…
Excellent Post. Linked on DesiPundit
Anonymous said…
That was a nice read.

I guess every country has some burdens from the past that dictate many of their foreign policies. As they say, once bitten twice shy. But few have the wherewithal to reflect on their past to come up with coherent plan that isn't muddled with distrust and suspicion and reflects better the realities that exist in the present. I think India makes this mistake not only with it's neighbors but also internally within it's boundaries when dealing with communities, regions, policies, etc. Negotiation has always been the bane of Indian public life.
Politically China is perceived as a threat because of its dealings with Pakistan. Almost all of Pakistan's nuclear capability was borrowed from the Chinese. In addition China and Pakistan share a very warm relationship that cannot be perceived by Indians as being good.

Economically China is perceived of a threat due to their huge lead in manufacturing. What chance do Indians have in front of the Chinese who are decades ahead in terms of manufacturing technology despite India having a labour cost advantage?

I'm surprised the author does not understand why China is a threat!
Anonymous said…
nice post. valid points have been raised.

Bharath by the same example US should not trust india. We have been with russia and iran all along.

IMHO there should be periodic course correction with respect to foreign policy so that we change with the times.

The bottom line is foreign policy should be shaped by what is best for the country not by what we did 20 years back when the political climate was different.
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