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Friday, October 9, 2009

Stand up to China

Chenghis Khan would be proud of today’s China, the so-called socialist heir to Marx and Engels that has more in common with the marauding hordes of times past. No wonder then the portrait of Stalin was prominently displayed at the parade celebrating Beijing’s 60th anniversary. One of the world’s most tyrannical and inhuman rulers, responsible for the murders of tens of millions of Russian women and children, his picture still takes the pride of place in the office of the CPM politburo in Kolkata.

Therefore, it was not surprising that CPM secretary-general Prakash Karat underplayed China’s recent intrusions and attributed Indian criticism to the strategic alliance between India and America. Those who remain sentimental about Beijing are confusing China with communism that represented the cleansing thoughts, reformist ideals and passions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Such people cling to China with all its faults because they themselves have drifted away from the ideology of the true Left. If they had any spark of intellectual honesty left in them, they should have tried to rescue communism from China and not allow themselves to use this ideology to justify their conquests.

Both the CPI and CPM, which claim to represent the Left, still have the same reverence for Beijing as they did when the Chinese were undertaking Long March under the leadership of Mao Tse-Tung. Then the goal was to build an agrarian economy from below. Capitalism, which the country has now adopted for development, did not fit into the scheme the Chinese were pursuing at that time.

The way China is behaving towards India today invokes memories of the run up to what happened in 1962. The forcible building at that time of the infamous Aksai Chin road and the gruesome murders of our border patrol men, whose bodies were tied to the tails of horses, is a sad chapter in the history of our bilateral relations and something we hoped had been buried.

But recent incursions by the Chinese soldiers into Arunachal Pradesh have been accompanied by written boasts that they can take over the whole place in a couple of days. This is hardly a manifestation of the ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’ equation. Beijing may be the beneficiary of $50 billion bilateral trade, but the Chinese officials seem to be asking how a pygmy like India can compete with the economic and military might of China.

I thought China occupied in 1962 all the territory it claimed and declared a unilateral ceasefire. It did not even agree to the Colombo proposals which suggested the withdrawal of 12.5 km from the positions the two sides held. India, even though a victim, complied with the proposals. Many years later when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Beijing, he agreed to give sanctity to the Line of Actual Control.

New problem

Over the years, the border talks between the two countries have not resulted in any firm borders either on the Ladakh or Arunachal side. But the middle sector, including Sikkim, has been recognised by China. Why has it now intruded into Sikkim and left its evidence in the shape of large red Chinese characters painted on rocks?

The latest irritation has come in the shape of visas granted to people originating from Kashmir. Instead of the standard type, the visa has been attached to a separate piece of paper stapled on to the passport. This is nothing more than a childish prank designed to convey that China can lay down the law and get away with it as well. The result has been that the students who were given the new type of visas could not go to the universities of their choice in China because India did not recognise the visa given to them.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continues to commend a relationship of peace and goodwill despite these provocations. I concede that China is far ahead of us in military prowess. They have more conventional weapons as well as nuclear devices. Yet, India is not the same as it was in 1962. It is economically an emerging giant. It may not have allocated as much money to defence as the dangers on its borders warrant.

Jawaharlal Nehru also made the same mistake. He wanted to develop the country instead of having a large military arsenal. But if the Chinese want to articulate that power lies in the barrel of the gun, New Delhi may also be forced to re-order its priorities. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Vietnam’s book. Here is a small country that has also suffered a border dispute with China but stood its ground and refused to kowtow.

We are not on weak ground, but what I cannot understand is the series of statements by the service chiefs one after another declaring that India could not take on China. These are not statements for public consumption. If we are ill-equipped in military strength, the chiefs can communicate this to the government, which is the right authority to take care of any inadequacies. Otherwise they are not only demoralising the people, but also misguiding the government.

One thing evident is that we do not have enough expertise on China. India by now should have encouraged the development of scores, if not hundreds, of experts capable of dissecting and analysing every Chinese move. Both Russia and Japan have, over the years, amassed sufficient information to help them deal with the Chinese. We can learn from them and see how they have been neither cowed down nor intimidated. Force, however strong, cannot and should not have the last word.

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