There are no permanent friends and enemies; only permanent interests. Thanks to the legacy of foreign policy idealism left behind by Jawaharlal Nehru, India often forgets this basic tenet when it comes to pursuing national interests. The result is a yo-yo of knee jerk emotional reactions swinging from love and hatred. One day, China is perceived as the Asian partner along with whom India will herald the Asian century. That euphoria quickly gives way to hysteria and anger over the so-called duplicity of the Dragon. Both reactions are childish and miles away from the kind of hard headed and unemotional pursuit of foreign policy that is required of a modern nation state.
Till days before the NSG meeting, it was reported that it was the smaller nations like Ireland, Switzerland and New Zealand that opposed the formal recognition of India as a nuclear power. There were appreciative murmurs of how China was keeping its commitment and supporting the deal. Suddenly, all hell broke loose and there were reports of how China was acting in a duplicitous manner and trying to sabotage the deal from behind the scenes. There were tales of how it took a personal phone call from US President George Bush to the Chinese President Hu Jintao and a stern early morning warning from India to the Chinese Ambassador to convince China not to engage in a double game of public support and private sabotage. Indians started wailing Et Tu Hu in a chorus of Shakespearean melodrama. Just when you started believing the worst of China, the Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee states that he trusts China.
Whom do the Indians trust?
Let’s face some facts first. India and China have never been friends, and never been close, ever in history. India shares far more civilisational and cultural space with South East Asia and West Asia. You can blame the Himalayas for that. So any woolly headed talk of Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai is just romantic nonsense. Mao’s China may have mouthed anti-imperial platitudes; even as it pursued the practice of Imperialism. This clash between Chinese Imperialism and Nehruvian idealism ended in the Tibet fiasco and the humiliating military defeat for India in 1962. Since then, China has never left an opportunity pass when it comes to strategically weakening India.
It has been the staunchest ally of Pakistan, whose military dominated establishment classifies India as a permanent enemy. In fact, Pakistan would never have acquired nuclear weapons without the active – albeit covert – support of China. China continues to insist that the whole of Arunanchal Pradesh is Chinese territory. Chinese troops habitually try and test Indian defence forces through incursions into Indian territory. China keeps undercutting and undermining India in Myanmar, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America.
There is simply nothing friendly or benign that China has done for India since 1947. So does that make it a sworn enemy of India? Should India sever all ties with the Middle Kingdom? That would be even more childish. The fact is: the top leadership in China – both political and military – has always had a clear vision of where the country is going and where it will be decades down the road. They wanted China to first become the unchallenged giant of Asia. It is gradually becoming that. Now they want China to become the most powerful nation in the world. In Asia, there is no country except India that can provide any sort of competition to the Dragon. Only India can prevent China from becoming the sole Big Boss of Asia and a rival of the United States. So the Chinese are merely pursuing their strategic national interests. If India is undermined because of that... well, too bad; life is tough.
Does India want to become the unchallenged big power of Asia? The chances of our political and military leadership nurturing such visions are as high as China handing over Tibet to India as a gift! India’s long term strategy is to become prosperous and powerful; but it will never have imperial ambitions. So India must accept that there will be many times in the future when the strategic interests of the two nations collide. So be it. It is enough for the Chinese to subtly know that there is a lakhsman rekha beyond which Chinese adventurism will come at a heavy price.
Once India is clear about delivering this message and China receives it, the two can then get down to the business of trade which is a win win situation for both. Rather than wailing Et Tu Hu and indulging in diplomatic Kung Fu, India should shrug its shoulders and say: Do your worst. Hu cares?
- 21 September 2008 |