The China Debate …


There seems to be a tectonic shift in Indian foreign policy. Or at least, the way the establishment in India looks at the geo-political situation in our neighbourhood. I am not an expert in foreign policy, but still, felt there are a few points which are probably not being adequately highlighted in the debate which is going on these days.

It seems that it started with recent Chinese incursions into Indian territory. And with the Chinese display of military might on the occasion of their national day, there is a lot of attention that China has got in the media. The question which a lot of people seem to be asking is whether China is India’s enemy number one. Why i call this tectonic is because with this, the mindshare of Pakistan seems to have fallen quite a bit, and Pakistan’s loss is China’s gain, if they would like to call it that.

So what is the question? In simple terms, should we read anything significant into Chinese incursions, or into their show of military might. Are we repeating the mistake of 1962? The question that this question raises is whether the India of 2009 is the same as the India of 1962, and whether internal geo-politics is the same, or even similar to 1962. But then, is the China of today the same as the China of 1962. The answer to both questions seems to be no. Which means that we need to learn the mistakes of 1962, but place them in the context of today.

First of all, we in India face a psychological threat from China, probably more than a real one. Ask normal people, and you will get a reply that India can anyday beat Pakistan militarily. Ask the question about China, and the same confidence seems to be missing. Let us keep this in mind when trying to answer this question lest we allow this prejudice to influence the line of thought with respect to this question.

Let’s understand something clearly. Whether China intends to attack India or not, or whether China is simply trying to browbeat us, or whether this display of military might is meant for global consumption, rather than for Indian consumption, is one dimension of the problem. Another dimension which we need to keep in mind is that it is not very pertinent to think that China sees India as a threat. However, that, to my mind is a short-term point of view, as a lot of economists believe, that the Indian economic and political model is much more enduring if you look at the long term. Another dimension is that it is one thing to put up a show of strength, and quite another to sustain it over time, as we have seen from the Soviet experience.

Looking at this, it is difficult to determine the Chinese intentions. Even so,common sense says that its better to be safe than sorry. This would mean that one would need to be on the guard. To make sure we are prepared for eventualities. But take it too far, and military preparedness could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having said that, though, we also need to understand that military tensions are something neither China nor India can afford, given the march towards prosperity we are both engaged in, while competition can only bring out the best in both.

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