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How China is using Pakistan to counter India

Last updated on: September 6, 2010 13:28 IST

How China is using Pakistan to counter India

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China has been using Pakistan to counter India by arming it with nuclear weapons, missiles and conventional weapons, says K Subrahmanyam

There can be no doubt that China is trying to apply pressure on India through measures like refusing a visa to India's northern army commander in Jammu and Kashmir, issuing stapled visas to people from that state visiting China, undertaking large-scale projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and discussing the possibility of a limited war against India.

The New York Times has reported that 7,000-11,000 Chinese troops have been deployed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and that the area is closed to the world. Questions are naturally being raised in India as to why the Chinese are indulging in such pressure tactics at this stage.

There was a brief honeymoon period between China and the United States, when there was speculation in both countries about the world order being governed by G-2 (China and the US).

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Image: Chinese President Hu Jintao with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari
Photographs: David Gray/Reuters
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China is increasing its military assertiveness

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After their interaction on economic issues, in which they reached an understanding on the stability of the dollar and continuing Chinese purchases of US treasury bonds, they reverted to their normal stance of competition. China has become more assertive on its 'core' concerns, including its interest in international waters as being its 'waters of concern'.

With China's military modernisation speeding up and its navy expanding, increasing military assertiveness is becoming evident in China's international behaviour.

China has overtaken Japan as the second largest economy in the world, and it is expected to become the number one economy in the world in the next two decades. Meanwhile, the Chinese aim is to assert itself as the dominant power in Asia.

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Image: Soldiers from the Chinese People's Liberation Army
Photographs: Reuters
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China sees India as the only hindrance

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They see India as the only hindrance to their achieving that aim, in view of India's comparable population, its likely advantage of a youth bulge as China ages and its growth slows down, and the developing Indo-US strategic partnership.

A pluralistic, democratic and secular India as one of the world's largest knowledge pools is seen as a challenge by China, which emphasises harmony over pluralism and single-party-directed order, as against democracy with emphasis on individual human rights, espoused by India.

China has been using Pakistan to counter India by arming it with nuclear weapons, missiles and conventional weapons. India as a poverty-free country having one of the largest knowledge pools in the world is challenged on two sides by the religious-extremist fundamentalism of Pakistan and the single-party state ideological fundamentalism of China. Moreover, they are bonded together by their nuclear and missile proliferation relationship.

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Image: The China Aviation Museum on the outskirts of Beijing
Photographs: David Gray/Reuters
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China has questioned India's sovereignty over Kashmir

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Both countries are interested in fragmenting India. Both have tried to encourage extremist and secessionist groups within the country in J&K, the North-east and the Maoist areas. It is therefore natural for China and Pakistan to attempt to ensure that US President Barack Obama's forthcoming visit to India does not take the Indo-US relationship further forward.

China has questioned India's sovereignty over Kashmir with its stapled visas and denial of a visa to India's northern army commander, and its ostensible military presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir/Pakistan has activated its 'sleeper agents' in various Kashmiri towns to stage stone-pelting protests.

In a move to reassure Pakistan, China has discussed in its media the possibility of a limited war against India, copying the Indian debate on the 'cold start'. China wants to duplicate the Indo-US nuclear deal by offering two more reactors to Pakistan in defiance of the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines.

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Image: A signboard on the Indian side of the Indo-China border at Bumla
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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China's communist ideology did not come in the way

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How does India deal with this Chinese pressure? We should learn from China. In 1971, China was a nuclear weapon power with thermo-nuclear weapons and missiles. Yet, when it faced the Soviet Union after the Ussuri clashes, it felt the need for allies, overt or covert.

Though it had fought the US in the Korean war and lost 150,000 lives, including that of Mao Zedong's pilot son, it entered into an entente with the US against the Soviet Union.

China made available to the US monitoring stations in Xinjiang against Soviet missile tests and subsequently developed close economic relations with the US, which made China the economic and military power it is today. China's communist ideology did not come in the way of its national security interests.

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The Chinese are masters of statecraft and strategy

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It was to demonstrate to China the credibility of the US as a covert ally that Henry  Kissinger ordered the USS Enterprise mission into the Bay of Bengal during the last days of the Bangladesh war.         

The Chinese are masters of statecraft and strategy. In the wake of Chiang Kai-shek's defeat, when they faced a hostile United States, they allied themselves with the Soviet Union, and when they had problems with the USSR, they switched to a covert alliance with the US.

Once the Soviet Union was dissolved and was no longer a threat, China became Russia's largest arms market. National security interests and not ideology become the primary determinant of national strategy.

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Image: Chinese soldiers put up a flag atop their post at the India-China trade route at Nathu-La Pass
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China's geo-strategic decision

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Though it is not always fully recognised, it was Indira Gandhi's astute balance of power strategy that produced the Bangladesh victory. At the time she concluded the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty, she was denounced as a Soviet stooge and a 'poodle' of Moscow.

The Western media talked of Soviet bases in India and Soviet advisers to the Indian armed forces, just as, today, accusations are hurled at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh charging him with toeing the US line and acting under US instructions.

Similarly, while Krishna Menon committed many mistakes in our defence policy vis-a-vis China, he recognised instinctively that when a country goes for purchase of fighter aircraft and transfer of technology, it is not a mere procurement decision but a geo-strategic one.

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India should use its ancient strategic wisdom

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He overrode all objections and decided on the MiG-21 aircraft and thereby established a geo-strategic relationship with the Soviet Union which has served the country well ever since.

Times have changed, as has the international strategic milieu. Even while retaining Russia as a friend in the Asian context, India has to develop a new balance of power equation to deal with the challenge from China and Pakistan not merely to our external security but to our national development as a pluralistic, secular and democratic nation.

India too has its ancient strategic wisdom, preached in the Panchatantra, Hitopadesa and Arthasastra, encompassing  sama (cooperation), dhana (buying up), bedha (causing division) and dhanda (use of force). It is time to invoke that ancient wisdom and devise an appropriate international strategy to counter the Chinese-Pakistani challenge.

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Image: A photograph showing China's President Hu Jintao shaking hands with US President Barack Obama
Photographs: Jason Lee/Reuters
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