India: Caught Between China And The Deep Sea


On April 1,2010, India and China embarked on a six-month programme to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. S.M.Krishna, the Indian Foreign Minister, is visiting China for four days from April 5 to join the celebrations.

Forgotten — at least for the time being — are the suspicions, distrust and harsh words of last year over the visits of Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh to India’s Arunachal Pradesh State on the Chinese border in the North-East to campaign for local candidates in the elections and of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tawang  in Arunachal Pradesh at the invitation of the local people. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as its territory and calls it Southern Tibet. It wants India to hand over to China under the border negotiations under way  without progress at least Tawang if not the whole of Arunachal Pradesh.

The Chinese have a long memory. They have not forgotten that one of the old Dalai Lamas was born in Tawang and that the present His Holiness fled from Tibet into India in 1959 across the border in the Tawang area. They have made it clear that there will be no border agreement unless India transfers at least Tawang to China. That would mean the exodus of the Indian population from the territory handed over to China. No Indian Government, however popular, may be able to sell such a transfer favourable to the Chinese to the Indian Parliament and people.

2009 was full of alarming reports about the Chinese further strengthening their military infrastructure in Tibet and Chinese military patrols repeatedly  intruding into Indian territory. Faced with opposition criticism of its perceived inaction against the growing trans-border assertiveness of  China, the Government of India pressed ahead with an already ongoing programme for strengthening its military infrastructure in the Indian territory. India is many years behind China in developing its infrastructure in the border areas.

2009 also saw non-governmental Chinese analysts discussing in  seemingly unofficial web sites and blogs the options available to China for teaching India a lesson should it become necessary. A repeat of the humiliating defeat of 1962 was one such option discussed. Taking advantage of the various separatist movements  in India in an attempt to balkanize the country was another. An article on possible Indian balkanization by an unknown and insignificant Chinese analyst  added to the already strong Indian suspicions of China.

China was active and assertive not only in the border areas. It has been equally so right around India’s periphery. Taking advantage of the suspicions and distrust of India in the other States of the  South Asian region, China, which is not a South Asian power, has acquired a growing South Asian presence.

It continues to help Pakistan in further strengthening its nuclear and missile capabilities which are directed against India. After having completed the construction of the Gwadar commercial port on the Baloch coast, it has promised to develop it further into a modern naval base which would be available for use to the Chinese Navy too.

It won the gratitude of Sri Lanka by supplying it arms and ammunition to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and is  embarked on the expansion of the Hambantota commercial port, which might one day be developed into a naval base. A grateful Sri Lanka has given a block for gas exploration  to a Chinese company without inviting bids.  India was  given a block for exploration without bids and China was treated on par with India.

There are as many Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives as Indian and a Chinese bank has been allowed to operate in the Maldives to meet the foreign exchange needs of the Chinese tourists.

In Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, despite her strong friendship for India, has continued with the look East policy of her predecessor Begum Khalida Zia and strengthened the links with China. During her  visit to China in March, an agreement was signed with a Chinese company for oil/gas exploration in Bangladesh. She also sought Chinese help for the upgradation of Chittagong into a modern deep sea port. Her Government has sought to calm Indian concerns by reassuring India that India will also be allowed to use the Chittagong port modernized with Chinese help.

At least, Sri Lanka and Myanmar have sought to treat India on par with China by granting it equal rights of oil/gas exploration, but Bangladesh has not given any such contracts to India due to strong local opposition to India playing any role in the development of its energy resources.

Sheikh Hasina also discussed with the Chinese plans for linking Yunnan with Bangladesh through Myanmar by a modern road. If the Chinese company finds oil or gas in Bangladesh it is only a question of time before the  Chinese production facilities in Bangladesh are connected with those in the Arakan area of Myanmar so that oil and gas from Bangladesh can flow direct to Yunnan through the pipeline connecting Arakan with Yunnan now being constructed.

In Nepal, China is looking for a road link to connect Nepalese roads with those in Tibet and  for an extension of the railway line from Lhasa to Nepal.

Thus, the Chinese have been developing their infrastructure of potential military significance around India’s periphery. The Chinese think  and plan long-term. Indian response is ad hoc. Just as New Delhi woke up late to the likely threats by land from  the North, one realizes belatedly that the threats are from the South, East and West as well.

Whatever limited influence India has in South Asia is in danger of being eroded by the Chinese inroads.  India is yet to work out a comprehensive response to it. All the sweet words of the 60th anniversary  cannot hide this harsh reality. ( 3-4-10)

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *