While motivations that lie hidden behind certain foreign policy postures adopted by Beijing may not always be decipherable, there are binding strategic lines that rarely vanish from that terrain. One of them is China’s psychotic fear of democracies, lest their perverse influences subvert fragile outlines of the vulnerable market-oriented Chinese state capitalism. Ironically, though Beijing’s economic and foreign policy manoeuvres are integrally oriented to address Chinese military and national security priorities, they have their own inner contradictions. While the world’s democracies are signal objects of hatred, they invariably provide the largest of market spaces for China-made products and exports. The US, India and France are among those markets systemically exploited by China for returns. As broadly revealed, while China trades with a big smile on its face, there is often that hidden sword concealed at the back that can also hurt and haunt even a major trading partner when required.
China’s national character pervasively reveals that obsessive national security granules take precedence over all else in dealing with the outside world. This is where Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) discreetly enters the global arena to exercise control. Much like a super-state that takes charge of all molecules of governance and policy, including policy postulates connected to China’s actions as a People’s Republic as a constituent of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council, the PLA obliquely dominates the turf. The potential for lack of any congruence within the overall system often leads to self-imagined apprehensions that draw world attention.
The actual pace and tenor of counter-reactions depend on the extent to which distortions play out to destabilise balances, and any major thrust is majorly linked to self-inspired assessments of possible signs of implosion arising out of the republic’s turbulent regions. The core regions for such interventions “to defend China” happen to be Tibet or Xinjiang Province. The latter is occupied by Chinese Muslims, who are generally kept out of the national narrative. China seems more inclined to build up the future of Pakistani Muslims than of their own, adding strength to Sino-Pak synergy.
Beijing also monitors the democratic current in the world order with a keen eye. As Nepal strives to strengthen its inchoate democratic credentials, China is trying to sink its military boots there. The initial stages of that strategy were revealed recently with a proposal from Beijing for a major Sino-Nepalese joint military exercise, which Kathmandu accepted. Nepal’s proposed first joint military exercise with China has understandably triggered unease in New Delhi. India’s defence ties are so inextricably intertwined that over 32,000 Nepalese Gorkhas continue to serve in the Indian Army, and Nepal is home to over 1.2 lakh ex-servicemen—and their dependants—who draw pension from India.
As far as Tibet is concerned, there is hardly any rationale that justifies Beijing’s perception of pacifist Tibetan leader Dalai Lama. He is projected as a ‘potential terrorist’ in Chinese security estimations. The repressive and regressive nature of Chinese governance in Tibet since the mid-50s bears testimony to Chinese hardline positions in not giving Tibetans their due. According to sources in the Tibetan ‘government-in-exile’, the Chinese government has imposed travel restrictions on Tibetans in Tibet to block their travel to India to attend the Kalachakra teachings.
On the contrary, as a constituent of the UN P5, China has vociferously pronounced Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Maulana Azhar, a proven international criminal, as “innocent”. Given China’s stubborn defence of Pakistan-based terrorists targeting India, the message for New Delhi is loud and clear. In tandem with Pakistan’s military establishment, Beijing considers them to be its ‘strategic assets’.
The dynamics of Sino-Indian relationships makes it imperative that New Delhi should rebalance its strategy by adopting a threefold strategy. India needs to fix the increasingly asymmetrical trade relationship with China and reclaim its leverage on the Tibet issue—a leverage it remains very reluctant to exercise.
New Delhi must initiate specific steps against Chinese dumping and currency manipulation and other illegal strategies being adopted by Beijing to exploit the Indian market. Secondly, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his Chinese counterpart Councillor Yang Jiechi should introspect in the next Special Representative-level talks whether its mechanism need continue at all. These exchanges have been exploited by Beijing to prolong the border issue indefinitely and not resolve it maturely. Thirdly, India must express its categorical opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It must also examine whether sensitive territorial issues can be raised through an international tribunal as the Philippines did.
Mohan Das Menon
Former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat