Too suspicious of China

Too suspicious of China

The heightened interest in China with Xi Jinping taking over as the new President could be viewed in two ways.

At one level, continuity of state policy, generally, is not moulded by a change in personnel, especially in a country like China, which has a highly regimented ruling class.

At another level, however, it may be argued that the change in the Chinese leadership is also a generational evolution, which nearly always strengthens the hands of “pro-changers”, as the passage of time shifts human minds farther away from seminal historical events.

To take a simple example, the new Chinese Defence Minister, Chang Wanquan, entered military service in 1968, six years after the seminal 1962 India-China border conflict. This is not to suggest that his perspective on India will be necessarily any different from that of his predecessors. But, having said this, it cannot be denied that his approach towards defence issues with India will be tempered wholly by the written word instead of the actual experience of conflict, which is bound to make a difference in the way he, personally, will evaluate issues.

The same applies to the new generation of top-notch leaders. Their world-view is more likely to be shaped by the changing kaleidoscope of international politics since the end of the Cold War than by the events of the post-Second World War world, particularly the ideological split with the Soviet Union in the 1960s, a period when Beijing (then Peking) was bent on establishing itself as a major Asian presence.

What this means is that the view from Beijing today, as far as Asia is concerned, is no longer dominated by the Indian presence, which, in fact, more than anything else, led to the 1962 trial of strength.

To the Chinese, much more important today is the economic relationship, the Indian link being just another one not only in Asia but in the world at large. This perhaps throws some light on the March 19 statement of President Xi in which he said that the border conflict was “a leftover from history” and that “solving it would not be easy”. However, he preferred the continuation of “friendly consultations” so that “we can eventually arrive at a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement”. Importantly, in the same breadth he called for “solid steps” to strengthen the ongoing economic exchange between the two countries so that the India-China relationship could be taken to “a new height”.

It would be safe to expect that Beijing will underscore this bilateral theme. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will reciprocate with similar sentiments. This is just as well, because it is time for New Delhi to free itself of the ancient mindset which sees a Chinese hand lurking in every corner, out to isolate India both politically and militarily.

In fact, it will not be surprising if, in the near future, one sees clear signs of a gradual Chinese disengagement from Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions, a strategic association which was crafted at a time when, in Beijing’s eyes, there was every need to weaken India in the subcontinent. The road ahead for New Delhi, in its efforts to benefit economically from the Chinese tango, is a tough one.