China’s force & diplomacy: The need for realism In India
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, May 31, 2008
It is almost as large an error to overestimate Chinese military aims and capabilities as it has been to underestimate them. On 8 May 2008 at Tokyo’s Waseda University, China’s President Hu Jintao declared in a speech broadcast live “China has taken a defensive military policy and will not engage in any arms race. We will not become a military threat to any country and we will never assert hegemony or be expansionistic”. This was as clear and authoritative a reply as possible to the June 2005 statement in Singapore of the then American defence minister Donald Rumsfeld: “China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world, not just the Pacific region, while also expanding its missile capacities here in the region. Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: why this growing investment?”
By 2006, Rumsfeld’s generals were saying China had “the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States,” and could “field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional US military advantages absent US counter strategies”. The “sizing” of China’s military by American and other Western analysts became a parlour game ~ one with major business implications since the threat perceived or misperceived from China affects American decisions on the size of its own military.
As recently as 13 May 2008, the Wall Street Journal carried opinion that China’s military expansion demanded America have a 1000-ship navy not a 280-ship one, 40 aircraft-carriers not 11, 1000 F-22 aircraft not 183. Exaggerating China’s military and the threat posed by it to the world can mean big business for militaries opposing it!
Communist China’s physical, political and psychological domination of independent India since the 1950s has been achieved more by diplomacy, subterfuge and threat of force than actual military conflict. In its first phase, the policy was expressed clearly by the Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi on 16 May 1959 when he told India’s Foreign Secretary: “Our Indian friends, what is your mind? Will you agree to our thinking regarding the view that China can only concentrate its main attention eastward of China but not south-westward of China, nor is it necessary for it to do so?…. Friends, it seems to us that you, too, cannot have two fronts. Is it not so? If it is, here then lies the meeting point of our two sides. Will you please think it over?” (BN Mullick, Chinese Betrayal, p. 229).
At the time, Pakistan was in military alliances with the USA through CENTO and SEATO, and the Pakistan-China alliance was still years away. The Chinese had used subterfuge to construct their road linking Tibet and Sinkiang through Aksai Chin, ignoring India’s sovereignty, and were now suggesting they had no interest in fighting India because their major military interests were to their east as India’s were towards Pakistan.
The second phase was the short border conflict itself in 1962-63, which consolidated China’s grip on occupied territory in Aksai Chin while establishing its threat to the Brahmaputra Valley that has been perpetuated to this day. The third phase is represented by the 27 November 1974 conversation between Henry Kissinger and Deng Xiaoping, recently made publicly available:
“Deng : There’s something very peculiar about Indian policy. For example, that little kingdom Sikkim. They had pretty good control of Sikkim. Why did they annex it? Kissinger : It is a good thing India is pacifist, I hate to think (of what they would do) if they weren’t. (Laughs). Deng : Sikkim was entirely under the military control of India. Kissinger : I haven’t understood Sikkim. It is incomprehensible. Deng : After the military annexation, their military position was in no way strengthened. Kissinger : They had troops there already. Deng : And they haven’t increased their troops since. We published a statement about it. We just spoke for the cause of justice. Kissinger : Is it true that you set up loudspeakers to broadcast to the Indian troops on the border? It makes them very tense. (Laughs) Deng : We have done nothing new along the borders, and frankly we don’t fear that India will attack our borders. We don’t think they have the capability to attack our borders. There was some very queer talk, some said that the reason why the Chinese issued that statement about Sikkim was that the Chinese were afraid after Sikkim that India would complete the encirclement of China. Well, in the first place we never feel things like isolation and encirclement can ever matter very much with us. And particularly with India, it is not possible that India can do any encirclement of China. The most they can do is enter Chinese territory as far as the Autonomous Republic of Tibet, Lhasa. And Lhasa can be of no strategic importance to India. The particular characteristic of Lhasa is that it has no air-because the altitude is more than 3,000 metres. Kissinger : It’s a very dangerous area for drinking mao tai (a Chinese hard liquor). Deng : Frankly, if Indian troops were able to reach Lhasa, we wouldn’t be able to supply them enough air! (Laughter) Kissinger : I don’t think their intention is with respect to Tibet, their immediate intention is Nepal. Deng : That is correct. They have been recently exercising pressure on Nepal, refusing to supply them oil. It is the dream of Nehru, inherited by his daughter, to have the whole subcontinent in their pocket. Kissinger : And to have buffer zones around their border…. It is like British policy in the 19th Century. They always wanted Tibet demilitarized. Deng : I believe even the British at that time didn’t make a good estimate of whether there was enough air. (Laughter) Kissinger : I think an Indian attack on China would be a very serious matter that cannot be explained in terms of local conditions, but only in terms of a broader objective….”
The attitude that is revealed speaks for itself, and has been essentially continued by Deng’s successors in the next decades, especially Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. It is because China does not perceive a military threat from India that it has agreed to military exercises with us ~ exercises which, if anything, reinforce their psychological dominance by helping to spook our military’s morale. During this third phase also, China went about systematically creating a major military threat to India in its support of Pakistan’s military, exploiting our subcontinent’s communal conflicts fully to its own strategic advantage.
China has been engaged for more than a decade now in a massive exercise of modernisation of its armed forces, improving productivity, technology, organisation and discipline while trying to cut corruption. It has a right to do so, and such modernisation does not in and of itself signal aggressive intent. The last aggressive war China fought was almost 30 years ago against Vietnam. It is possible that what simply explains the military modernisation (besides conflict with Taiwan) is China’s awful history of being exploited by foreign powers over the centuries.
Indian analysts have expressed concern about nuclear submarines based in Hainan; but where else would China put them? We delude ourselves if we think we are the guardians of the Straits of Malacca. We may do better being concerned to try to modernise, improve productivity and reduce corruption in our own forces, as well as integrate them better with national goals as China has done instead of continuing to maintain them in a rather old-fashioned colonial / imperial manner.
“All India wept” is a sentence from my “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”, one of the most viewed articles that is published at this site, and excerpted from below. I was in Singapore on my way to the USA to bring my young son back for his summer holidays with me. I heard it first on the radio at night while asleep in a hotel but the horror of what was reported did not register in my semi-conscious brain. It was only the next morning that I read the newspaper headlines at the airport and came to recall what had been said. I phoned my father and found him, at age 75, weeping.
Today, watching all the New Delhi dignitaries parade along Rajiv’s memorial, I wonder if he would have approved: almost certainly not. He would have wanted them to be at their jobs instead of wasting time like this; as for the young family he left behind, he has of course never left them.
“Krishnamurty had prepared a draft dated March 18 of several pages of the economic aspects of the manifesto. After our discussions, Krishnamurty was hospitable enough to open the draft to improvement. That evening, the 19th, I worked through the night and the next morning to get by noon copies of a revised version with all the members of the group. At 4 p.m. on the 20th there was a meeting at Andhra Bhavan of the whole group except Pitroda, which went on until the night. The next day the 21st , Krishnamurty, Khusro and I met again at Andhra Bhavan for a few hours on the economic aspects of the draft. Then in mid-afternoon I went to Rasgotra’s home to work with him and Krishna Rao. They wanted me to produce the economic draft which they could then integrate as they wished into the material they were dictating to a typist. I offered instead to absorb their material directly on to my laptop computer where the economic draft was. Rasgotra was reluctant to let go control, and eventually I gave in and said I would get them a hard copy of the economic draft, which they then planned to re-draft via a stenographer on a typewriter. At this, Rasgotra gave in and agreed to my solution. So the work began and the three of us continued until late.
That night Krishna Rao dropped me at Tughlak Road where I used to stay with friends. In the car I told him, as he was a military man with heavy security cover for himself as a former Governor of J&K, that it seemed to me Rajiv’s security was being unprofessionally handled, that he was vulnerable to a professional assassin. Krishna Rao asked me if I had seen anything specific by way of vulnerability. With John Kennedy and De Gaulle in mind, I said I feared Rajiv was open to a long-distance sniper, especially when he was on his campaign trips around the country.
This was one of several attempts I made since October 1990 to convey my clear impression to whomever I thought might have an effect that Rajiv seemed to me extremely vulnerable. Rajiv had been on sadhbhavana journeys, back and forth into and out of Delhi. I had heard he was fed up with his security apparatus, and I was not surprised given it seemed at the time rather bureaucratized. It would not have been appropriate for me to tell him directly that he seemed to me to be vulnerable, since I was a newcomer and a complete amateur about security issues, and besides if he agreed he might seem to himself to be cowardly or have to get even closer to his security apparatus. Instead I pressed the subject relentlessly with whomever I could. I suggested specifically two things: (a) that the system in place at Rajiv’s residence and on his itineraries be tested, preferably by some internationally recognized specialists in counter-terrorism; (b) that Rajiv be encouraged to announce a shadow-cabinet. The first would increase the cost of terrorism, the second would reduce the potential political benefit expected by terrorists out to kill him. On the former, it was pleaded that security was a matter being run by the V. P. Singh and then Chandrashekhar Governments at the time. On the latter, it was said that appointing a shadow cabinet might give the appointees the wrong idea, and lead to a challenge to Rajiv’s leadership. This seemed to me wrong, as there was nothing to fear from healthy internal contests for power so long as they were conducted in a structured democratic framework. I pressed to know how public Rajiv’s itinerary was when he travelled. I was told it was known to everyone and that was the only way it could be since Rajiv wanted to be close to the people waiting to see him and had been criticized for being too aloof. This seemed to me totally wrong and I suggested that if Rajiv wanted to be seen as meeting the crowds waiting for him then that should be done by planning to make random stops on the road that his entourage would take. This would at least add some confusion to the planning of potential terrorists out to kill him. When I pressed relentlessly, it was said I should probably speak to “Madame”, i.e. to Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi. That seemed to me highly inappropriate, as I could not be said to be known to her and I should not want to unduly concern her in the event it was I who was completely wrong in my assessment of the danger. The response that it was not in Congress’s hands, that it was the responsibility of the V. P. Singh and later the Chandrashekhar Governments, seemed to me completely irrelevant since Congress in its own interests had a grave responsibility to protect Rajiv Gandhi irrespective of what the Government’s security people were doing or not doing. Rajiv was at the apex of the power structure of the party, and a key symbol of secularism and progress for the entire country. Losing him would be quite irreparable to the party and the country. It shocked me that the assumption was not being made that there were almost certainly professional killers actively out to kill Rajiv Gandhi — this loving family man and hapless pilot of India’s ship of state who did not seem to have wished to make enemies among India’s terrorists but whom the fates had conspired to make a target. The most bizarre and frustrating response I got from several respondents was that I should not mention the matter at all as otherwise the threat would become enlarged and the prospect made more likely! This I later realized was a primitive superstitious response of the same sort as wearing amulets and believing in Ptolemaic astrological charts that assume the Sun goes around the Earth — centuries after Kepler and Copernicus. Perhaps the entry of scientific causality and rationality is where we must begin in the reform of India’s governance and economy. What was especially repugnant after Rajiv’s assassination was to hear it said by his enemies that it marked an end to “dynastic” politics in India. This struck me as being devoid of all sense because the unanswerable reason for protecting Rajiv Gandhi was that we in India, if we are to have any pretensions at all to being a civilized and open democratic society, cannot tolerate terrorism and assassination as means of political change. Either we are constitutional democrats willing to fight for the privileges of a liberal social order, or ours is truly a primitive and savage anarchy concealed beneath a veneer of fake Westernization….
On March 23, our group was to meet Rajiv at noon. There was to be an event in the inner lawns of Rajiv’s residence in the morning, where he would launch Krishna Rao’s book on India’s security. Krishna Rao had expressly asked me to come but I had to wait outside the building patiently, not knowing if it was a mistake or if it was deliberate. This was politics after all, and I had ruffled feathers during my short time there. While I waited, Rajiv was speaking to a farmers’ rally being held at grounds adjoining his residence, and there appeared to be thousands of country folk who had gathered to hear him. When it was over, Rajiv, smiling nervously and looking extremely uncomfortable, was hoisted atop people’s shoulders and carried back to the residence by his audience. As I watched, my spine ran cold at the thought that any killer could have assassinated him with ease in that boisterous crowd, right there in the middle of Delhi outside his own residence. It was as if plans for his security had been drawn up without any strategic thinking underlying them.
Krishna Rao arrived and graciously took me inside for his book launch. The event was attended by the Congress’s top brass, including Narasimha Rao whom I met for the first time, as well as foreign military attaches and officers of the Indian armed forces. The attaché of one great power went about shaking hands and handing out his business card to everyone. I stood aside and watched. Delhi felt to me that day like a sieve, as if little could be done without knowledge of the embassies. One side wanted to sell arms, aircraft or ships, while the other wanted trips abroad or jobs or green cards or whatever for their children. And I thought Islamabad would be worse — could India and Pakistan make peace in this fetid ether?
Proceedings began when Rajiv arrived. This elite audience mobbed him just as the farmers had mobbed him earlier. He saw me and beamed a smile in recognition, and I smiled back but made no attempt to draw near him in the crush. He gave a short very apt speech on the role the United Nations might have in the new post-Gulf War world. Then he launched the book, and left for an investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan. We waited for our meeting with him, which finally happened in the afternoon. Rajiv was plainly at the point of exhaustion and still hard-pressed for time. He seemed pleased to see me and apologized for not talking in the morning. Regarding the March 22 draft, he said he had not read it but that he would be doing so. He said he expected the central focus of the manifesto to be on economic reform, and an economic point of view in foreign policy, and in addition an emphasis on justice and the law courts. I remembered our September 18 conversation and had tried to put in justice and the courts into our draft but had been over-ruled by others. I now said the social returns of investment in the judiciary were high but was drowned out again. Rajiv was clearly agitated that day by the BJP and blurted out he did not really feel he understood what on earth they were on about. He said about his own family, “We’re not religious or anything like that, we don’t pray every day.” I felt again what I had felt before, that here was a tragic hero of India who had not really wished to be more than a happy family man until he reluctantly was made into a national leader against his will. We were with him for an hour or so. As we were leaving, he said quickly at the end of the meeting he wished to see me on my own and would be arranging a meeting. One of our group was staying back to ask him a favour. Just before we left, I managed to say to him what I felt was imperative: “The Iraq situation isn’t as it seems, it’s a lot deeper than it’s been made out to be.” He looked at me with a serious look and said “Yes I know, I know.” It was decided Pitroda would be in touch with each of us in the next 24 hours. During this time Narasimha Rao’s manifesto committee would read the draft and any questions they had would be sent to us. We were supposed to be on call for 24 hours. The call never came. Given the near total lack of system and organization I had seen over the months, I was not surprised. Krishna Rao and I waited another 48 hours, and then each of us left Delhi. Before going I dropped by to see Krishnamurty, and we talked at length. He talked especially about the lack of the idea of teamwork in India. Krishnamurty said he had read everything I had written for the group and learned a lot. I said that managing the economic reform would be a critical job and the difference between success and failure was thin.
I got the afternoon train to Calcutta and before long left for America to bring my son home for his summer holidays with me. In Singapore, the news suddenly said Rajiv Gandhi had been killed. All India wept. What killed him was not merely a singular act of criminal terrorism, but the system of humbug, incompetence and sycophancy that surrounds politics in India and elsewhere. I was numbed by rage and sorrow, and did not return to Delhi. Eleven years later, on 25 May 2002, press reports said “P. V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh lost their place in Congress history as architects of economic reforms as the Congress High command sponsored an amendment to a resolution that had laid credit at the duo’s door. The motion was moved by…. Digvijay Singh asserting that the reforms were a brainchild of the late Rajiv Gandhi and that the Rao-Singh combine had simply nudged the process forward.” Rajiv’s years in Government, like those of Indira Gandhi, were in fact marked by profligacy and the resource cost of poor macroeconomic policy since bank-nationalisation may be as high as Rs. 125 trillion measured in 1994 rupees. Certainly though it was Rajiv Gandhi as Leader of the Opposition in his last months who was the principal architect of the economic reform that came to begin after his passing.”
“Renford Bambrough and I met once on January 31 1982, when I had returned to Cambridge from the USA for my PhD viva voce examination. He signed and gave me his last personal copy of Reason, Truth and God. Three years earlier, in 1979, I, as a 24 year old PhD student under F.H. Hahn in economics, had written to him expressing my delight at finding his works and saying these were immensely important to economics; he invited me to his weekly discussion groups at St John’s College but I could not attend. Between 1979 and 1989 we corresponded while I worked in America on my application of his and Wisdom’s work to problems in economics, which emerged in Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (Routledge, International Library of Philosophy 1989, 1991), a work which got me into a lot of trouble with American economists (though Milton Friedman and Theodore W. Schultz defended it). Bambrough said of it “The work is altogether well-written and admirably clear”. On another occasion he said he was “extremely pleased” at the interest I had taken in his work. The preface of my book said he was not responsible for the use I had made of his writings, which I reiterate now. Returning to Britain in 2004, I find the work of Wisdom and Bambrough unknown or forgotten, even at the great University North East of Buckingham where they had lived and worked. In my view, they played a kind of modern-day Plato and Aristotle to Wittgenstein’s Socrates; in terms of Eastern philosophy, the wisdom they achieved in their lives and have left behind for us in their work to use and apply to our own problems, make them like modern-day “Boddhisatvas” of Mahayana Buddhism. My lecture “Science, Religion, Art, and the Necessity of Freedom” purports to apply their work to current international problems of grave significance, namely the cultural conflicts made apparent since the September 11 2001 attacks on America. As I am as likely to fail as to succeed in making this application, the brief bibliography given above is intended to direct interested persons to their work first hand for themselves.”
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