A resurgent China has begun strategic experiments with its growing clout in Asia. Since 1978 China is following policy of peaceful international environment for its domestic growth. As a result, it has either put on backburner the disputed issues with its neighbors or had resolved them amicably. However, recently it has adopted an aggressive posturing in international arena. It is not only forcefully reestablishing its geographical and maritime claims but also expanding sphere of influence into new regions. It seems China is testing the water vis-à-vis the United States, which is bogged down by two wars and domestic recession. This has implications for India too, which needs careful scrutiny and corrective measures.
Recently, Chinese authorities have covertly posed challenge to US might in its neighboring sea waters. It issued stern warnings when the US, Japan and South Korea conducted joint naval exercises in the South China Sea. It made its displeasure loudly clear that it would not like the US to increase its military presence in its backwaters. Just few weeks later, it has arm-twisted Japan over issue of release of captain of Chinese fishery boat. Notwithstanding the fact that Japan shares closest relationship with the US in the region, China has forcefully compelled it to release the captive civilian. The issue had the potential to seriously damage Sino-Japanese relationship, the risk chosen by Beijing. Although these two issues had minimal significance for India, noteworthy is the fact that China is becoming confidently aggressive in enforcing its stated strategic positions. Beijing’s such posturing has alarmed other countries such as Vietnam, which might enter into closer ties with the US to counter Chinese hegemonic tendencies. Chinese leadership is undeterred by the possibility that its neighborhood, including India, would be pushed towards the United States due to its ‘bullying’ attitude. Chinese leadership might be verifying the hypothesis that the US is a receding power and Washington is in no position to provide any kind of buffer to countries neighboring China.
More worrisome aspect of Chinese intentions for India is its efforts to gain deep access into Afghanistan and Central Asian region through Pakistan. By re-forging of closer ties with Islamabad with signing of a nuclear deal, China has aimed at three things. It wants to negate New Delhi’s position as near-official 6th nuclear state by virtue of India-US nuclear deal. With this, it has also shown the US its place that Washington can not dictate the nuclear business to Beijing. Most importantly, China is keeping Pakistan in good humor with eye on greater geopolitical realities. China has three basic demands from Pakistan. One, it wants Pakistan to reign into terrorist elements spreading their tentacles into Chinese province of Xinjiang. Pakistan has no interest in de-stabilizing Chinese province and would do its best to meet the Chinese demand. Second, China plans to get strategic depth into Afghanistan once the US forces start retreating from the war-torn nation. China wants to utilize Pakistani leverage on Afghan groups to increase its own influence in Kabul’s politics. Thirdly, Beijing wants no hurdles in its attempts to develop energy routes with Central Asian countries to fulfill its growing energy needs. India’s actual clash of interest with China is far away from Sino-Indian borders, which is in Afghanistan, in other Central Asian countries, in Iran and in Africa.
While ‘countering’ Chinese threat, few things need to be understood. Comprehending Chinese actions merely from strategic point of view could be misleading. One of the important parameter of gauging popularity and legitimacy of Chinese government is its diplomatic success to protect and enhance domestic interests. Thus Chinese diplomacy is a mix of actions to meet its domestic needs and increase its strategic leverage in world politics. Also, India figures less in Chinese strategic and diplomatic concerns than the US and Japan, whether Indians like it or not. In fact, except its relationship with Pakistan and to some extent Nepal, no other relationships are driven by ‘counter India’ factor. This is not to negate the wider implications of Chinese maneuverings on Indian security but to place the matters in clear perspective. India and China are competing not conflicting countries, wherein China is consistently outsmarting India. China’s closer relationship with Russia is its prime example. In 1991, India had closer relationship with Moscow than China, an advantage New Delhi had surrendered in next few years and acutely picked by Beijing. Both China and Russia have utilized the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to forge close strategic and economic bonds, whereas India’s attitude towards SCO had been neglect and apathy. India has not only lost the opportunity to develop greater co-operation with China and Russia but also lost the chance to fast track its economic diplomacy with other members of SCO. Another example, which is more contemporary, is India’s relationship with Bangla Desh. A regime change in Dhaka has opened up enormous prospects for strengthening of Indo-Bangla relationship. However, Indian government is too slow in grabbing the opportunity and would wake up only when China makes moves towards Dhaka.
In this context, it is imperative on Indian government to sharpen its diplomatic efforts in a multi-directional ways. The primary requirement for India is to increase trade with China, which will act as an important confidence building measure for the relationship between two Asian giants. India should take clues from rapprochement and development of Sino-US ties since 1971 wherein both the countries continued to engage each other through trade and investment without giving up their fundamental positions on issues such as human rights, Tibet and Taiwan. As a result, probability of differences turning into military conflicts between these two nations has sharply decreased. Apart from trade and business, there are tremendous prospects for constructive engagements in the field of academics, culture, tourism and sports. The concerted efforts to forge partnerships in these fields will result into greater interpersonal relationship between citizens of two countries.
It is in fact an irony that world’s two leading developing nations share very little academic, scientific, technological and cultural knowledge for common prosperity. The consistency in high level political engagement should pave way for constructive engagement between elites of two countries. It should also be noted that China is consistently alluring smaller South Asian nations such as Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal by way of benevolence and generosity which sometimes comes in sharp contrast with India’s big brother attitude. India and China also need to expand their co-operation in multilateral forums for mutual benefit. The Copenhagen climate summit has laid a solid foundation for such cooperation. There is also need for both the countries to cultivate common interests in altering the existing international order. It is a fact that neither China nor India are satisfied with their place in the current world order as carved out through United Nations, World Bank and IMF. However, both the countries have not taken up joint initiatives to usher changes in the system. On this front Indian government must pro-actively engage Beijing to make it take positions on expansion of Security Council or further democratization of IMF and World Bank. Apart from engaging China, Ministry of External Affairs must tap each and every opportunity to enhance co-operation with Central Asian and South-East Asian countries so that India is not left behind China in these two regions. The diplomatic innovations can also see joint India-China ventures in these two key regions for mutual benefit. There is no option for India but to adopt pro-active but co-operative approach towards China. The political leadership must also encourage the military establishment to build confidence measures with Chinese counterparts, which will help in clearing the air on the Line of Actual Control and international borders between two countries. India must show confidence, innovations and urgency for building purposeful relationship with China. Enforcing co-operation rather than harping on threats is a smart diplomacy that India must adopt.