Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What does China want?

Blow hot, blow cold is a cliche that has often be flogged to death while analysing the turbulent relations between India and China. Two reports in just one day sum up the dilemma that Indian policy makers face while dealing with a China that seems to alternate between being a pragmatic neighbour and an irascible bully.

The first one has been splashed all over Indian media: how an Indian diplomat suffering from diabetes was harrassed by both Chinese citizens and officials in an eastern town of China called Yiwu. The Indian diplomat S. Balachandran was trying to help out some Indians who were held captive there. Indian authorities have lodged a strong protest over the issue.

The second report is about how top Indian companies Dabur India Ltd. and ITC Ltd. are suffering because some firms in China are brazenly selling 'fake' products carrying the brand names of these companies.

Both seem minor events if you look at them from a long term perspective. Yet, if you start adding up such 'minor events' and their frequency, you really start wondering what exactly the intentions of China are. Just about a week or so ago, the official Chinese media reported how the plans by India to test launch the Agni-5 series of missiles could be a threat to China. These long range missiles will have the capacity to hit cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Around the same time, an analytical piece in official Chinese media talks about how the United States was implementing a strategy of using old allies like Japan and new allies like India to contain the rise of China. Just a few weeks before that, border talks between India and China were either cancelled or postponed because the dragon was furious at India allowing the Dalai Lama to speak at a public function.

Go back some more time and you had the Ambassador of China publicly abusing an Indian journalist at a function. Go back some more and you had China repeatedly refusing to issue visas to officials from Arunanchal Pradesh and stapling visas of Indians from Kashmir. Why, China was furious even when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh paid a visit to Arunanchal Pradesh. And of course, the official Chinese media some time back had also warned India not to forget the lessons of 1962.

I could go on and on with a string of such 'minor events'. But that is not the point. The point is for India to figure out what China's real intentions are. No doubt, there is little or no possibility of a repeat of the 1962 border conflict or even a 'minor' military conflict to score some brownie points. No doubt, China does not count India as an implacable and hostile enemy; though there are many in India who would disagree with that assessment. No doubt, growing trade between the two countries - $ 60 billion a year and growing phenomenally - and a large number of business deals between the two seem to added a different and more positive dimension to Indo-Chinese relations. No doubt, there are some in Chinese policy making levels who tend to think that it is not in China's interest to be seen to harm India.

It is nice to be optimistic when it comes to China. But, it would be wiser to be realistic. The only language that the hardliners in China understand is power-military, economic and geo-strategic and the fear of credible retaliation. India must keep talking to China. But it should keep dropping a hint or two that it does hold some cards. And that it intends playing them if provoked beyond a point. Usually, that is enough to maintain peace with bullies.


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