By Bhaskar Roy
It was no surprise that China would convey its displeasure to India testing its 5000 Km nuclear capable ballistic missile on April 19. What may be a little surprising though that Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Liu Weiwin underplayed the development stating “China and India are, both large and emerging economies, and cooperative partners rather than rivals”.
Unlike in the past Liu refrained from cautioning India about arms race or proliferation. This was left to the official media to do, thereby maintaining a degree of deniability. It may be noted that pressed for a clarification Chinese officials and senior media personnel admit that media outlets like the People’s Daily (The Communist Party mouthpiece), the Xinhua News agency, and English language China Daily overwhelmingly represent the official line. There are at times independent views, but these also cannot contradict what the party and the state lay down.
Therefore, the editorial in the Global Times (April 09) on the Agni-V missile test, republished by the Xinhua and the China Daily, can be taken as official position. The Global Times is a subsidiary of the People’s Daily.
The editorial, “India being swept up by missile delusion” uses all angles to berate and demoralise India. It said that India is a poor country and lacks infrastructure construction, and that India’s increased military spending by 17 percent in 2012 and had made it the largest weapons importer in the world. To an extent these are facts. This is one of old Chinese practice highlighting India’s lagging economic development while telling the South Asian countries that India was an expansionist and hegemonic power threatening them militarily. But such propaganda does not work any longer. On the one side is China’s huge military spending which has quadrupled in the last decade. Beijing is using its military threat against countries in its periphery with which it has territorial disputes. Experts say China may start military strikes against some of these countries to establish its so-called territorial rights. The doctrine is ‘limited war under information technology conditions’. On the other side India is an emerging economy which does not threaten any country and is helping its neighbours in economic development. For example, New Delhi gave Bangladesh a one billion dollar, very low interest, development assistance last year. While China is being increasingly feared, India is being admired for its economic development and peaceful attitude even by its arch enemy, Pakistan.
The editorial apparently revealed something which may have been disturbing the Chinese authorities in recent years. It said that the “Indian public opinion has long seen China as its reference point for military development”, and “the society (Indian) is highly supportive of developing nuclear power”.
Following the 1962 debacle when Chinese attacked India along the borders and retained some captured territory with them, the Indian military suffered a psychological set back. Within the government, the approach was not to provoke China. The public was kept uninformed of Chinese transgressions. This may explain the reason for the slow approach to infrastructure construction along the borders. Money was another constraint. The cold war distrust of the USA in India allowed China to create a strong hold in the anti-US intellectual groups in India who, at the same time, became advocates of China, often arguing against India. Some Chinese loyalists are still around finding excuses even for China supplying arms to India’s north-east militants and separatists.
Following the Bofors field gun import scandal, one of the finest in its category in the world, Indian officials responsible for military imports went into a cocoon. No one wanted to get his hands sullied in the murky world of military trade with visible and not so visible middle men, bribery and corruption. While Indian military modernization dwindled, China’s grew exponentially.
But things in India has changed rather rapidly not only in terms of defence acquisition but also indigenization. Defence Minister A.K. Anthony, a no nonsense man, is credited with this change of approach. But the Chinese are equally if not more concerned with that they perceive as a growing concern in India on China’s strategy to constrain India in more ways than one. Beijing authorities are well aware of the power of people’s voice in a democracy to shape the country’s policies. They blame the Indian free media basically for educating the people of China’s containment strategy against India, making Pakistan a stand alone nuclear state to keep India under pressure, China’s strong opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal among many other things. The Chinese feel that they can manage Indian officials, but people’s opinion in a democracy is a matter the Chinese are not familiar with and are disturbed about.
China is actually sensitive about the strategic partnership between a rising India and the US. Particularly disturbing to them is India-US military relations, high technology transfer to India from the US, joint military exercises and strategic collaboration. The US-Japan-India trilateral dialogue is seen as a meeting of minds between the three on how to deal with China’s growing political and military status, and have put India squarely with the two countries to ‘besiege’ China (The People’s Daily, Feb 21, 2012).
While China concedes that India’s Look East policy started long before the USA’s Asia ‘pivot’ early this year, it believes that the US has been persuading India to enter the Asia Pacific region. The India-Japan defence cooperation and India-South Korea new partnership are similarly viewed. History conscious China has also taken note of India’s historical and friendly relations with most of the South East Asian countries, and The People’s Daily (April 09, 2012) remarked that India upset China by enhancing its strategic cooperation with countries in the Asia Pacific Region.
The Global Times editorial warned India not to get carried away by its Agni-V missile and not to use its new strength by being “arrogant” in dealing with disputes with China, as China was a much stronger nuclear power. It also cautioned India not to cooperate with the “western allies” in containing China.
For China to determine the Agni-V as an offensive weapon which can reach most parts of China is rather churlish. China’s nuclear capable missiles from the DF-21 to DF-31 series cover India many times over. It has armed its closest ally and India’s sworn enemy Pakistan, with nuclear capability. It has now reportedly made a new 4000 Km missile to specially target India. Yet, it calls all its military modernization as defensive. This charade is not acceptable. China’s worry is that India may have achieved a new parity in deterrence, and as India acquires a nuclear triad like that of China, its strength at the high table of negotiations may be neutralized. India’s nuclear doctrine is credible deterrence and no first use. Beijing need not raise dust over this. India is not interested in achieving China’s nuclear power, but it wants to ensure peace. In fact, Agni-V came 10 years late at least while considering China’s reaction. But it has ultimately come.
The People’s Daily (Feb 21, 2012) also republished an article from the influential Shanghai newspaper, the Liberation Daily, that India-China relations was being adjusted by the USA’s strategic adjustment in the Asia Pacific Region, thereby cautioning India that ‘if you are with the US you are not with us’. Yet, China itself is pursuing on independent adjustment policy with the US which, if successful, will reduce countries like India into the third tier of importance. It is well known that since 1949, the People’s Republic of China recognized the USA as the country to work with. The Soviet Union was always seen as an adversary. But the anti-Communist Macarthysm in the US did not allow their relationship to grow. China still hopes to see the world divided between US and Chinese influence regions, but then Americans appear to have grown out of the flash of President Barack Obama’s G-2 (US and China) concept of the world.
China’s concept of good relation with India has become more complex, though they see and invite India into cooperative relationship in a variety of ways. India has gone more than a step forward to meet China.
Unfortunately, China has put riders. These include India’s Look East policy, the Dalai Lama issue, India’s considered position on the border issue, India-US relations, and India enhanced security relations with Asia Pacific countries to name a few.
All these issues cannot be dealt with in one basket. Each has its individual characteristics. It would be best for China not to try and dictate India’s foreign relations which mean interfering in India’s internal affairs. Purely bilateral relations between India and China must be resolved amicably for larger regional and international interface. But pin-pricking by China on visa issue for Indian Kashmiris and the like will not help. China is right to realise that there is an effective Indian public opinion.
The Chinese official media has launched a propaganda blitz of the Agni-V issue. One question for the Chinese government and media. Why is China’s huge military modernization labelled ‘defensive’, while India’s on Agni-V missile is projected as offensive?
About the author: SAAG
SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.