CHINA has been in the news more prominently in the past ever since the Communist Party of China, under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung took over power on the mainland and drove Chiang Kai-shek out to establish his little principality in Formosa (Taiwan). India became one of the first countries to recognise the Mao Tse-tung government.
KPS Menon, a civilian who served the Government of India first as India’s Agent General to China and later as Ambassador between 1943 and 1948, provides us a glimpse of the early Sino-Indian relations, in a Prologue. The Prologue was actually written in 1972 and its inclusion in this volume adds immensely to its relevance. There have been many ups and downs in Sino-Indian relations since 1949, some very unpleasant, but they must be seen in the context of their times. Till about 1950, the understanding of Indian leaders about all countries in the East was abysmally low. But then so little was known even of the United States. Indian leaders’ attention was so focused on Britain that no other country seemed to matter. There were really no Indian expertise in international affairs. Nehru who had extensively travelled abroad, but mostly in Britain and Europe, had some romantic concepts about China, as an ancient civilisation which led him to take some wrong decisions. Mao Tse-tung knew even less about India and often referred to it as a foot soldier of Anglo-American Imperialism. In later years Nehru was to be disillusioned. But that is another story.
KPS Menon’s article is highly informative, suggestive of a very sophisticated mind. In the last sixty odd years Indian scholars, more importantly a large number of them who have gone through the mill to study international affairs and have become authorities in their specialised field have contributed to the education of their fellow-citizens on nation as far afield as Brazil, Japan, China, Indonesia and the Middle East. Understandably their analyses of events have not necessarily been uniform or alike which is only to be expected. It is the sheer variety of views, the interpretation of policies and a logical understanding of what transpired and under what conditions that make this compilation of views so highly valuable.
Ira Pande herself is a scholar of repute and the contributors to this volume are widely respected economists, political scientists and historians and many have not only visited China but have lived there. One must read contributions from Pallavi Aiyer (Chinoiserie), Rajeev Anantraman (The Wheel is Turning), Ashwini Saith (Divergence, Convergence, Pervergence) and Tansen Sen (Changes and Exchanges) to appreciate the very range of views expressed by as many as thirty five scholars among whom are a few foreigners, including Chinese. They are informative, appreciative, critical but all essentially personal.
And what does Subrahmanyan have to say? He writes: “There does not appear to be adequate efforts put in by the country’s (India’s) political leadership an strategic community to project nuanced and realistic nature of the Chinese challenge to India. There is too much wailing about the past and too little anlysis about possible futures”. Now listen to what Prem Shankar Jha has to say (The War That Never Was). After Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh met Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in Thailand on October 24, 2009, Sino-Indian relationship seemed to have changed. Jha quotes the Peoples’ Daily of November 4. The paper, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, wrote that during the talks both the leaders “agreed that the two countries should forge a strategic partnership to maintain regional peace and security, achieve the goal of common development and harmonious prosperity”. More, the paper said, that “the consensus between Premier Wen and Indian PM Singh is just like a gentle breeze, clearing up all the suspicion and misunderstanding that have hindered bilateral relations over the past decades.”
Now read Ravi Bhoothalingam (Duet or Duel) and that tells a different story altogether. He speaks about a ‘trust deficit’ between China and India but suggests that both countries must concentrate on developing and demonstrating our economic competence on a global scale, keep the border issue on the back burner, and focus instead on building a deep and growing economic and people-to-people relationship between India and China.
Altogether this is a fascinating collection of articles covering a wide field of thought and action which is why it must become compulsory reading for all those-certainly in India-who want to see a duet and not duel between the two countries. What are disappointing are the pictures included in the book. They make no sense and their inclusion is not explained, considering that all of them are of Chinese origin.
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