How to deal with China
India is strong strategically and militarily
By Dr Subramanian Swamy
Is China a threat to India? To that question which is on the minds of most Indians today, I shall answer first by a counter question: Which nation, with the exception of Bhutan, is not a threat to India? USA? Have we forgotten 1971 when the US sent a Naval Task Force of 14 battle ships and an aircraft carrier, which was carrying nuclear weapons on board, to the Bay of Bengal? Have we also forgotten a more recent occasion of 2001 when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was warned by the US that if he proceeded with his “Aar Paarki Ladai” with Pakistan following the terrorist attack on the Parliament, then the US will militarily intervene to protect its 5000 soldiers stationed in Pakistan?
Rarely nations make friends or enemies with other nations on sentiments, ideology or platitudes. Jawahar Lal Nehru learnt this lesson the hard way when on the slogan “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” he formulated a pro-Chinese foreign policy that had ended in tatters and ignomy in 1962.
Nehru had been warned by Sardar Patel in written warning, in November 1949, not to be swayed by emotion in his China policy. Instead, as Sardar Patel prophetically told Nehru, it is the cold hard calculus of costs and benefits of pursuing national interests and the intentions of other nations that decides defence and foreign policy.
Nehru even sacrificed India’s interest, without Cabinet approval, by declining the US offer in 1950 to nominate India to the UN Security Council vacant seat after Communist China was expelled in 1949. Nehru told the US that the seat belonged to China!!
Therefore, firstly, a large nation like India must decide its defence policy before structuring its foreign policy. This defence policy has to be based on matching the military capacity of other nations such as China to inflict damage on us. It does not matter if that other nation is friendly to us or not. In defence policy we are only concerned with the capacity of the other nation and not on its intention.
It is also not necessary that to match the military capacity of other nations, to equal the military hardware of the other nation. For example, China may have 1000 nuclear bombs. It is not necessary to have a 1000 or more nuclear bombs to match China. We can match China with much less because what we seek is to deter China and not to equal China.
Today, we already have more than 200 nuclear bombs. If our Agni rockets can deliver these bombs to Szechuan province, even if we cannot reach Beijing, it is enough to deter China.
Similarly, it is not necessary that even though China has a string of naval bases from Gwadar (Pakistan) to Homantota (Sri Lanka), it is enough if we can join with Indonesia to control the access and police the Malacca Straits, and with Vietnam to patrol the South China sea. Malacca Strait is the lifeline of Chinese economy, and if we block that passage the, China’s economy will be asphyxiated. This is the way we should build our defence capacity.
Dr Manmohan Singh as PM incidentally may be trying to work for this strategic perspective by visits to South East countries. But there are too many pro-Chinese persons at the top of Congress Party hierarchy to let him proceed with speed or finalise anything concrete.
On the foundation of such a sound defence policy, India must structure its foreign policy—which is always based on intentions and not on capacity. Nehru’s fatal error was that he did the opposite—he structured our defence policy on foreign policy. Since he felt that Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai was permanent, hence he did not see the need for our defence forces to modernise.
But when China built its defences including roads through Indian territory, Nehru foolishly ignored it. However, as Parliament went in an uproar, Nehru provoked the Chinese during 1960-62 by his ill- conceived Forward Posts policy. We were ill-prepared for it. But the Chinese were waiting for him very well prepared. Disaster followed in October 1962. Nehru was demolished.
Even in 1962, if Nehru’s nerves had held, and had got bombed the long supply lines of the Chinese army through Tibet, the “NEFA” debacle would not have taken place. But Nehru never had a reputation for grit or strong nerves. He collapsed and told Assamese in an AIR broadcast: “My heart goes out to you in Assam. Farewell!”
The focus of what I have written above is that: irrespective of whether we are friends with China or not, our defence preparedness against that country must be matched and sufficient to deter China. We cannot let our guard down.
For this our defence expenditure must rise from the present of 2.4 per cent to six per cent of GDP after ensuring sufficient transparency in defence purchases. At present two Italian ladies, one in India and another in France, are playing havoc with the quality of our defence equipment purchases, and collecting hefty kick backs on the same.
Hence, the first principle in dealing with China is never to let our guard down. But deal with China we must. China is our neighbour, and except for the 1962 Nehru fiasco, India and China have had 2,700 years of peaceful and happy relationship. When the two nations get together in international forums, the world trembles as was seen when the two countries co-operated in the Copenhagen Conference on Environment in 2009.
That brings me to the second principle of dealing with China, which is that we must interact with China on the basis of blunt transparent single standard give and take communication. Instead, India has always been dealing with China on the basis of mis-communicated, heavily nuanced, opaque, and double standard positions.
Take the case of the Tibet question. India has signed two treaties with China on Tibet, first in 1954 with Nehru as signatory, and second in 2003 with Vajpayee as signatory. Yet we have a Free Tibet Government in Exile, a Prime Minister, and a Free Tibet Cabinet of Ministers functioning with Dharamshala, HP, as a temporary Capital.
If the Maoist did the same in say Yunnan province, would we have kept quiet? Do we not react when Chinese army construction workers are seen in PoK? Why are the Chinese then keeping quiet on what is happening Dharamshala? Do they not know this? Are we not practicing double standard?
Of course the Chinese do know that we are practicing double statndard. But the Chinese approach, when they keep quiet in such matters, is to raise it at the most awkward moment for India. That is, they are waiting for the “ripe” moment.
Recall that when Chou Enlai was asked in 1959 by Indian journalists as to why he did not raise the Border dispute earlier, he replied that earlier, the time was not “ripe”. The Chinese habitually place great emphasis in the foreign policy on “ripe” time.
Hence, let us be clear and transparent on the Tibet question. Either Tibet is a part of China (which is what the Nehru-Vajpayee treaties commit us to), or we denounce these treaties and scrap it to regard Tibet as a free independent country.
Both alternatives have serious consequences which India will have to coolly evaluate and choose in India’s best national interests. But choose we must.
The third principle in dealing with China is to make clear what we will not compromise on, and on what we will.
In my opinion, we cannot compromise on territory that is either ours or certainly areas where China has no legal claim.On Macmahon Line, China has morally completely abdicated its claim, if there was any, on the legality of the Line. This is because in its treaty with Burma, China has accepted the Macmahon Line as the boundary. Hence it has to accept the same Line with India as well. And we should not yield on this even if we go on discussing the Border Dispute for some more time. The same goes for Aksai Chin. For us, Kashmir is a pillar of our identity. Hence we cannot accept, no matter what the cost, any truncation of Kashmir. The whole, including PoK and Kashmir must be recovered and be part of India. PoK has a common border with Afghanistan, and hence for strategic security reasons too, PoK must be taken back.
Ultimately, India, China, and USA must constitute a triumvirate, not a triangle, in global affairs. These three countries are the three most populous countries and with the three largest GDPs in purchasing parity prices. These three countries have to get together for global security, because two of them getting together will not be acceptable to the third. That is the goal we must work in India in dealing with China.