One notices two extremes in our analyses on China. At one extreme are superlatives and a tendency to project the Chinese people and policy-makers as super human beings going from one spectacular achievement to another. At the other, are analyses marked by skepticism and cynicism and a tendency to denigrate China. We need a balanced analysis of China devoid of these extremes.
A balanced analysis is rendered difficult by a paucity of correct and complete information and by the Chinese success in ensuring that only stories of their successes reach the outside world, but not the stories of their failures.
Despite the continuing paucity, one has to note an increasing flow of information from and relating to China. This should make a balanced analysis possible.
To draw up a net assessment on China, we have to keep in mind two scenarios. The first is that China continues to progress politically, economically and militarily. How would this enhance China’s power projection capability? What implications will this have for India? How should India protect itself from the likely consequences?
The second scenario is that Chinese leaders and policy-makers falter at some stage and China runs into serious difficulties. When and under what circumstances can this happen? What will be the impact on China and the region? How would this affect India? Would a faltering China turn its anger against India?
Transparency is still missing in China, but policy debates are a little more free now than they were in the past. By closely monitoring and analysing open source information from China, one could identify the contending ideas, but it is still difficult to attribute a name and a face to the contending ideas. Thus, we know that there are different groups in China advocating different policy options, but we do not know who are the individual policy-makers in these groups.
In recent months, one could discern three contending ideas behind policy-related debates. The first relates to the question as to whether the time has come for a political restructuring of China to supplement the economic re-structuring and, if so, on what lines and at what pace the political re-structuring should be undertaken. Since 2007, there was an intense debate on this issue giving rise to expectations that the Chinese Communist Party was about to embark on a major programme of political reforms. The recently held plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in October 2010, was expected by many to come out with such a programme. The plenum turned out to be an anti-climax. It merely underlined the continuing role of the Party as the guarantor of development. After the plenum, the debate on the need for political reforms seems to have slowed down. The party has apparently applied the brakes? Why?
The second relates to the sustainability of what China has achieved so far. Previously, the central theme of such debates used to be the need to achieve comprehensive national power or security. An additional theme noticed, of late, is the importance of sustainable political stability, sustainable economic prosperity and sustainable security. This indicates the beginnings of concerns in the minds of some policy-makers about the sustainability of China’s achievements, structure and system? Why?
The third relates to the wisdom of the recent assertiveness in foreign policy. On the other side of the coin is unpredictability. The Chinese foreign policy used to be fairly predictable. It is no longer so. An element of unpredictability has been creeping in. India has seen it in respect of the Chinese policy on Jammu & Kashmir. The ASEAN countries in respect of the South China Sea. Japan with regard to the East China Sea. This has affected China’s relations and image in the neighbourhood. Questions are being raised as to whether China has prematurely embarked on its present assertiveness before it is strong enough to do so. Lee Kuan Yew, former Singapore Prime Minister, and the present Minister Mentor to the Singapore Government, has been cited in one of the leaked Wikicables as saying that the Chinese believed that the collapse of Germany and Japan during the Second World War could be attributed to the fact that they prematurely challenged the then existing world order. Those questioning the wisdom of the policy of assertiveness seem to be worried that China might end up by committing the same mistake as Germany and Japan.
Assertiveness where necessary and accommodation where possible—this has become the underlying factor driving the policies of India and China towards each other. After a fumbling initial response to Chinese assertiveness, the Government of Dr. Manmohan Singh has realized that assertiveness has to be met with assertiveness and accommodation with accommodation. The Chinese assertiveness has been seen in the firmness of their positions in matters relating to Arunachal Pradesh and their relations with Pakistan. No changes in their policies on these two issues are likely in the short and medium term. Their desire for accommodation is seen in bilateral economic relations, co-operation with India in multilateral fora and their avoidance of a demonisation of India. They may feel that India is positioning itself to form part of a US arc around China, along with the US, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam, but do not say so openly. They take care not to put India and Vietnam in the same bracket as Japan and South Korea. They do not hesitate to demonise Japan and South Korea at every conceivable opportunity, but painstakingly avoid demonizing India and Vietnam. There are more instances of Indian demonisation of China than the other way round.
The tendency of our media and some of our analysts to constantly demonise China needs to be discouraged. It does not help. It can distort our analysis and assessment. Our political leaders and officials of our Foreign Office make a balanced projection of China and its policies towards India in their public discourse. The same cannot be said of the officers of our Armed Forces—- serving and retired. They keep creating a paranoia with regard to China. It is important to keep our eyes and ears open in the border areas and in our neighbourhood. It is equally important to keep ourselves in full strength and preparedness to face any negative turn in the bilateral relations. At the same time, it will be wise to avoid creating unnecessary or imaginary fears in the minds of the people about the intentions of China.
Internal security is an issue of great preoccupation for China. According to the “Global Times” of August 23, 2010, “the country is facing mounting pressure during its social transition including frequent attacks on vulnerable groups, aggravating pollution, serious corruption, inequality of distribution and a widening income gap. Mounting social unrests in recent years have proved costly. In 2009, the government earmarked 514 billion yuan ($76 billion) to maintain stability, much more than the 480 billion yuan for national defense.”
Their internal security problems in the Han core of the country arise from issues such as the increasing inflation, unemployment, industrial unrest over wages, increasing crime etc. Their careful management of the economy should normally enable them deal with the problems, but the spectre of Han anger haunts them. They can be ruthless in dealing with the anger of the ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang as they did in 2008 and 2009, but they cannot be equally ruthless in dealing with any Han anger. One saw an example of the Chinese anxiety regarding any outbreak of Han anger from the abrupt manner in which President Hu Jintao cancelled his participation in the G-20 summit in Italy last year and airdashed back to Beijing on hearing of the Han protests in Xinjiang over the failure of the police to protect them against the Uighur attacks. The anger of the minorities would weaken their hold over peripheral China, but Han anger could weaken the hold of the Chinese Communist Party over the entire country.
Keeping the Hans happy, contented and increasingly prosperous is their first priority. Will the Hans be happy with economic prosperity alone? Will they demand greater political freedom? They look upon the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobao , the human rights activist in jail, as part of a Western conspiracy to whet the appetite of the Hans for more political freedom. They look upon him as a Western Trojan Horse in their midst. They try to project and dismiss him as a criminal, but are worried that today’s “criminal” may turn out to be tomorrow’s liberator. They have slowed down their plans for political restructuring partly due to the fears caused by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to him.
Can China disintegrate under the weight of its internal security problems? This is unlikely. The undoubted economic prosperity and the interest of the homogenous Hans as a whole in ensuring that this prosperity is maintained guarantees against any tendency towards disintegration in the Han core of the country. The Tibetan and Uighur uprisings have shown that economic prosperity has not diluted their yearnings for freedom. So long as this urge for freedom remains alive, the danger of instability in the border areas will remain.
India should closely monitor and study the internal security situation in China without trying to take advantage of it. An unstable and insecure China is not in India’s interest. This should not mean that India should forsake the Tibetans. They are our objective allies. We need to nurse them and help them to keep the flame of Buddhism alive in China. We need to pay more attention to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and interact with him more frequently politically and in religious matters. An alienated Tibet will always look up to India for moral support in its hours of distress. We have a moral responsibility to be attentive to their hopes and fears. How to give back the Tibetans and His Holiness their dignity as a proud civilization without causing the disintegration of peripheral China? This is a question that should keep engaging our attention.
Cordial State-to-State, people-to-people, business-to-business and military-to-military relations are in the long-term interest of the two countries. State-to-State relations are improving despite the border dispute and the Chinese propensity to prop up Pakistan against India. Business-to-business relations are moving forward. Indian orders for equipment are creating more jobs in China than in the US. Chinese construction companies have won contracts worth US $ 25 billion in India—- more than in any other Asian country. The power and the telecom sectors have become the main pillars of Sino-Indian economic co-operation. It is only a question of time before the Chinese acquire a strong presence in the Indian automobile sector. The Indian business class has not been able to achieve in China what the Chinese business class has achieved in India. The hesitant attitudes of the Chinese Government are only partly to be blamed for this. The lack of initiative and aggression in our business class is an important contributory factor. The decline in our engineering skills as compared to the advance in our IT skills is another factor.
People-to-people and military-to-military relations are very weak, This can be attributed to the continuing trust deficit between the two civil societies and between the security machineries of the two countries. This needs to be addressed. Our business class, which has been contributing money to endowments in US universities and think-tanks, should think of Chinese universities and think-tanks too. We should invite more Chinese military officers to courses in our military institutions to which foreign officers are eligible—-on a reciprocal basis. We need to invest more in creating a new pool of China scholars and researchers whose China view will not be stymied by memories of 1962.