We have to deal with China pragmatically, within the framework of our serious political differences and opportunities for economic engagement. China has grown into a formidable economic power, with swelling military muscles.
It has sucked in investments from the West, Japan and others, and these countries have now developed a vested interest in its economic stability, especially as they themselves are hit by recession. This gives China considerable room to manouevre. The high levels of mutual financial and economic interdependence between the US and China gives China enhanced international weight, even if strategic competition between the two countries is also becoming a reality.
China has become our largest trading partner in goods. India has not allowed political differences obstruct the growth of economic ties. In key sectors of our economy, such as power and telecommunications, Indian companies source Chinese supplies because of their lower price and attractive financial terms.
But, India’s political and security differences with China have not lessened. China continues to lay claim to large parts of our territory, asserting them even more aggressively in recent years. Chinese leaders have affirmed that the border issue will not be resolved for a long time, if ever. Since 1954 India has recognized Tibet as part of China, with a revised formulation in 2003 in line with Chinese wishes. China, three times bigger than India, should have no reason to suffer from territorial hunger. Its claims on India arise from its military occupation of Tibet against the wishes of its people, and are therefore that much more questionable.
China has inflicted a durable strategic blow on India by transferring nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan, even when that country is ravaged by religious radicalism and terrorism. Nuclear technology gives Pakistan strategic parity with India and the shield to use the instrument of terrorism against us with impunity.
China is busy consolidating its position in our neighbourhood- in Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and other island countries in the Indian Ocean, besides Myanmar and Bangladesh- and it is expanding its naval presence in the Indian Ocean. China has also questioned our sovereignty in J&K, while deepening its own involvement in PoK.
We have to handle China’s military and security challenge pragmatically. With China and Pakistan collaborating with each other, we have to avoid a two front situation. This calls for practical arrangements by us on the border to avoid a miltary conflict. Examples are the 1993 and 1996 agreements on maintaining peace and the border negotiations. China has vastly improved its military infrastructure in Tibet. We are now in the process of improving it on our side.
No single country can limit China’s ambitions in the long run except the US and India. As long as the US wants to remain the world’s foremost power, it cannot withdraw from Asia. The tremendous strength of the US navy and its Asian alliance system gives it the means to exert power much beyond its shores. The US, however, has discovered after Iraq and Afghanistan that it cannot singly assume the burden of combating the challenge to its global position.
In this context, India, which by virtue of its demograhic, geographic, economic, scientific, technological and military attributes, besides those of democracy, can counter China potentially, becomes an objective partner of the US in mintaining a stable power balance in Asia.
India has to decide what role it wants to play. If we feel that we can handle China on our own, we can maintain a relationship with it, with all its hazards and oppportunities, uninfluenced by US overtures. If we feel that there is some convergence of Indian and US interests in hedging against China’s aggressive behaviour, then we can respond accordingly.
All said and done, India has no reason to trust China which will pursue its interests relentlessly even if it bides its time and dissimulates its true intentions. It is the only country, besides Pakistan, that seeks to change our borders.