“The growing opaqueness in India’s relations with China is contributing heavily to the possibility of the outbreak of war by miscalculation of each other’s intentions. Time has come for us to bring some fresh air to the rancid corridors of power. We Indians must inform ourselves of some historical truths: For more than two and a half thousand years, India and China have had good and peaceful relations based on mutual respect and exchange, and in fact never had gone to war till 1962. During the two millenniums of India-China relations, these two countries mattered because both together accounted till 1750 AD for over 55% of the world GDP. Today it is not so, but could again be so by 2050 AD.” – Dr. Subramanian Swamy
The time has come for induction of some fresh air into the rancid corridors of South Block. What is really happening on the Sino-Indian front? What is significant is that influential persons in China and in India are itching for a confrontation. Why? In China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which was in the forefront of Chinese affairs from 1937 to 1979, was asked to take the back seat by Deng Xiaoping when he launched his programme of economic modernisation and the opening up of China’s economy to the West. Today, the PLA is modernised as a consequence of economic progress, and wants a say in foreign affairs. Therefore it is safe to say that the 40 soldiers driving 19 km across the as yet notional Line of Actual Control, and setting up tents and kitchen, was without the knowledge of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party.
In India even before the Cabinet Committee for Political Affairs could assess the situation, TV anchors were spitting dragon fire, screaming Chinese invasion without pointing out that 40 soldiers cannot invade India. Moreover, by then the Indian troops surrounded the Chinese soldiers and to keep boredom at bay kept singing Hindi film songs to the Chinese soldiers.
Had the politicians on both sides succumbed to the storm in the tea cup, a major war would have resulted. In China the new leader, Xi Jinping, would have been destabilised, and in India the scamsters would have been delighted. The Army lobby headquartered in London would have celebrated and commission agents engulfed South Block.
Alarming? Yes. But the growing opaqueness in our relation with China is contributing heavily to the possibility of a war by miscalculation of the other side’s intentions. Time has come for us to bring some fresh air to the rancid corridors of power. We Indians must inform ourselves of some historical truths:
For more than two and a half thousand years, India and China have had good and peaceful relations based on mutual respect and exchange, and in fact never had gone to war till 1962. During the two millenniums of India-China relations, these two countries mattered because both together accounted till 1750 AD for over 55% of the world GDP. Today it is not so, but could again be so by 2050 AD.
1) But our two peoples’ aspirations in the 21st century will lead to some competitive animosity, or peer jealousy, which is to be expected between the two nations even in peacetime, and even if it is held by some that there is no fundamental conflict of strategic interests between the two countries.
2) The events leading to 1962 was as much as due to Nehru’s placing his personal image above the nation’s interest as it was due to Chinese duplicity. What else would the nationalist Chinese think of a Prime Minister who gives up a UN Security Council veto — holding permanent seat handed on a platter by the US, for the benefit of China? What else should the Chinese think when Nehru signs away Tibet without a border settlement on favourable terms, except that they can help themselves to Indian territory that they need ?
3) Today many Chinese intellectuals and PLA personnel feign contempt for India, especially because of India’s 1962 comprehensive military, political and psychological debacle — even though the Chinese strategists realize that 1962 cannot be repeated ever again. But the the debacle of 1962 however had ended for the historical China-India hyphenation that had existed for centuries.
4) But three decades after 1962, thanks to Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, liberalisation, and the Y2K problem which launched the software revolution, put India on high growth rate path, and also as a quality leader on the electronics map globally. In an era of globalisation in which economics dominates, the India-China hyphenation has therefore re-appeared again with gusto, especially in the USA, and hence kindling the intensity of the peer competition in China. Unfortunately, in India the return of Nehruvian smugness on defence issues has returned too. The smugness that this hyphenation is a settled fact can be again rudely exploded if our military capability continues for long to remain inadequate to sustain the hyphenation.
5) Due to this smugness, India defence expenditure has steadily fallen to a dangerously low of 2.3% of GDP, with attendant debilitating corruption, whereas China has maintained a steady expenditure of 6 percent of GDP throughout the last five decades. We should never forget that defence policy has to be based on the presumed adversary’s military capacity, while foreign policy has to be based on revealed intentions. It has been Indian failure in policy making that we tailor our defence preparedness to silly foreign gestures like Mao’s smile. Therefore, today we fluctuate between being panicky when threatened by an editorial in Chinese press, to being complacent when there is bonhomie during a visit of a Chinese dignatory making goody-goody speeches. Media coverage reflects this dysfunctional dissonance.
India must now graduate from oscillating between smugness to neurotically reacting to China on a daily basis, feeding the media with our 1962 psychosis, and instead get down to dealing with China rationally on the various dimensions of threats, and soberly examine how to structure our national security architecture and enhance our military capability.
China’s intention today may not be to go to war with India but merely to needle us to commit foolish acts or behave stupidly by trivial provocative acts to either do something rash as Nehru did in 1962 to declare “I have asked the troops to throw the Chinese out” without any preparations, or worse like a headless chicken run hither and thither seeking help from other countries, notably the USA.
But even if the Chinese intention is of not wanting to provoke a war, we should not relax in defence preparedness because China’s military capacity to wage war with India, which has vastly increased in recent years, empowers it to do so especially if we are not a match on the battleground. We cannot therefore rely on any country’s stated intentions since it could be a deception to fool us. Intentions are subjective and cannot be easily measured for its reliability and accuracy. But the capacity to wage war is objective since it can be physically quantified in terms of missiles, tanks, battleships, fighter aircraft, troop divisional strength, naval bases, etc.
We thus should never be complacent about China’s capacity to inflict damage to us nor should we, as a large mature and civilised population exhibit a fevered imagination about China’s assumed evil intentions to harm us, at least not to vocalize it as we are doing today.
If we do so it will encourage and raise the morale of all our potential adversaries, and thus in a self-fulfilling prophesy could knee jerk our nation into bad decisions.
We should never go to war by miscalculation because war causes much misery to societies. Hence, let us begin now to sweat in peace by first enumerating the dimensions of China’s threat. In my cost-benefit analysis of India-China relations I would say that, when the risk has been properly factored in, India and China should be strategic partners, not jealous adversaries.
Ideally, if a Sino-Indian understanding can come about, then a global triumvirate of India-China-US can propel world peace and be the cutting edge in United Nations. We should strive for that, but without letting down our guard. – The Pioneer, 11 May 2013
» Subramanian Swamy, a former Minister, is a Harvard-educated scholar on China, a former Professor of Economics who has made significant contribution in promoting India-China relations since 1978.
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