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People's Liberation Army influencing China's policy to India

October 15, 2009 19:52 IST
B Raman asks why the Chinese media has taken a harsh anti-India line.

Simultaneously with the publication of a strong anti-India editorial by the Global Times of China on October 14, the party-run People's Daily has come out with an equally-strong anti-India editorial the same day under the title 'Indian hegemony continues to harm relations with neighbours.' The text of the editorial is annexed at the end of this column.

The Global Times belongs to the People's Daily group of publications of the Communist Party of China. While the Global Times seeks to project itself as an independent newspaper not necessarily voicing the opinion of the party, the People's Daily continues to be the voice of the party. It is generally believed that the editorials and op-ed articles carried by it have been pre-approved by the party before publication.

Ever since the Global Times started publishing editorials and articles critical of India and making derogatory references to India after April, the People's Daily followed the policy of occasionally reproducing some of the Global Times comments without identifying itself with those comments. It did carry opinion pieces on Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but they were largely free of any negative references to India.

Thus, till recently, one saw a three-pronged approach by Beijing in matters relating to relations with India. Governmental spokespersons continued to be conciliatory while referring to issues relating to India. The Global Times was increasingly critical of India -- even virulently sometimes -- and the People's Daily sometimes reproduced Global Times comments without any anti-India comments of its own editorial department.

This policy seems to have changed from October 13. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson's comments on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent electoral visit to Arunachal Pradesh are anything but conciliatory. Instead of following its past policy of seeking to lower the rhetoric in the local media, the foreign ministry itself seems to have taken the initiative in stepping up the rhetoric. Taking the cue from the foreign ministry, the Global Times and the People's Daily have come out with no-holds-barred criticism of India.

Whereas the editorial of the Global Times was Arunachal Pradesh-centric in the context of our prime minister's visit to that Indian state, the People's Daily's criticism is focussed on the general directions of Indian policy towards its neighbours. It tends to be critical as well as derogatory.

It does not contain the kind of warnings to India that one noticed in the editorial of the Global Times but the bluntness of its depiction of India and its attitude to its neighbours recalls to one's mind the similar depiction of India by the Chinese media and party circles before Deng Xiaoping introduced a more nuanced and a more conciliatory policy towards India starting from 1978.

The People's Daily's projection of India as a hegemonistic power, its underlining of the common experiences and common difficulties of China and Pakistan in dealing with India with which both have pending border disputes and its references to India's war with China and Pakistan disturbingly indicate a reversal to the pre-Deng projection of India in negative terms and to the pre-1978 rhetoric.

Its description of India's policy of 'befriending the far and attacking the near' is unmistakably a reference to the developing strategic relations between India and the US the foundation for which was laid by the previous US President George W Bush. Since President Barack Obama assumed office, he has been trying to exclude from this relationship aspects which could cause concern to China.

Despite the Obama administration's positive attitude to China, Beijing continues to view the India-US strategic relations with suspicion and continues to suspect a common Indo-US objective of countering China.

The anti-India rhetoric in the party-controlled media and even from the foreign ministry has come at a time when there has been speculation of a weakening of President Hu Jintao's position following the July outbreak of violence in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang province, which forced him to cancel his participation in the G-8 summit in Italy and return ahead of schedule to Beijing to handle the situation in Xinjiang.

Reports from Tibet and Xinjiang indicate that the People's Liberation Army has been increasingly in the driving seat of decision-making in matters relating to these two provinces and China's relations with India.

The more hawkish line adopted by the Chinese foreign ministry and the party media indicate that the hawks in the PLA and the party have started influencing the policy towards India.

It is important for the leaders of the two countries to get in touch with each other to eliminate the possibility of trans-border incidents caused by a misreading and misinterpretation of each other's intentions and moves.

It is clear from the present campaign against India that Beijing has come to the conclusion that it has made whatever concessions it could to India and that it is India's turn to make concessions to China in the negotiations on the border dispute.

ANNEXURE:

People's Daily editorial, October 14,2009

Indian hegemony continues to harm relations with neighbours.

Nobody can deny that today's India is a power. In recent years, Indians have become more narrow-minded and intolerable of outside criticism as nationalism sentiment rises, with some of them even turning to hegemony. It can be proved by India's recent provocation on border issues with China.

Given the country's history, hegemony is a hundred-percent result of British colonialism. Dating back to the era of British India, the country covered a vast territory including present-day India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh as well as Nepal. India took it for granted that it could continue to rule the large area when Britain ended its colonialism in South Asia. A previous victim of colonialism and hegemony started to dream about developing its own hegemony. Obsessed with such mentality, India turned a blind eye to the concessions China had repeatedly made over the disputed border issues, and refused to drop the pretentious airs when dealing with neighbours like Pakistan.

Many Indians didn't know that Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had once said that India could not play an inferior role in the world, and it should either be a superpower or disappear.

Although the pursuit of being a superpower is justifiable, the dream of being a superpower held by Indians appears impetuous. The dream of superpower is mingled with the thought of hegemony, which places the South Asian giant in an awkward situation and results in repeated failure.

Throughout the history, India has constantly been under foreign rule. The essence for the rise of India lies in how to be an independent country, to learn to solve the complicated ethnic and religious issues, to protect the country from terrorist attacks, to boost economic development as well as to put more efforts on poverty alleviation.

Additionally, the hegemony can also be harmful in terms of geopolitical environment. The expansion of India is restricted by its geographic locations. It has Himalaya Mountain to its north, a natural barrier for northward expansion; it has Pakistan to the west, a neighbor it is always at odds over the disputed border issues.

To everyone's disappointment, India pursued a foreign policy of "befriend the far and attack the near". It engaged in the war separately with China and Pakistan and the resentment still simmers. If India really wants to be a superpower, such a policy is shortsighted and immature.

India, which vows to be a superpower, needs to have its eyes on relations with neighbours and abandon the recklessness and arrogance as the world is undergoing earthshaking changes. For India, the ease of tension with China and Pakistan is the only way to become a superpower. At present, China is proactively engaging in negotiations with India for the early settlement of border dispute and India should give a positive response.

B Raman