India has had more contentious issues with the US than it has with China. This ranges from diplomatic (the Devyani Khobragade matter; the almost-humiliating frisking at US airports of former Indian Presidents) to commerce (trade barriers; New Delhi’s recent refusal to sign on the dotted line at the World Trade Organisation; intellectual property rights) to strategic interests (repeated monetary help by Washington, DC, to Pakistan for the purchase of arms despite the US knowing that much of these get directed against India; US’s failure to act against Islamabad/Rawalpindi for the latter’s overt and covert support to anti-India terror elements that operate from Pakistani soil; the American Establishment’s refusal to share crucial information about David Coleman Headley who made the 26/11 attacks possible). By contrast, the only real running dispute New Delhi has with Beijing is to do with the demarcation of the border. Yet, despite their deep differences, India and the US are friends. India and Beijing, on the other hand, have at best a working relationship, and are far from being friends. What explains the contrast? It’s one short word: Trust.
Hectic efforts have been made from the Indian side to repair the damage. This is ironical given that China has been the one to breach that trust, not just in 1962 but on subsequent occasions in relatively smaller measures. It is the over-eagerness to remain on the right side of Beijing that one minister in the earlier Manmohan Singh regime had termed a major Chinese incursion into Indian soil as a mere “acne” on the face, while another minister had downplayed the outrageous Chinese conduct as being a “localised problem”. One hopes that such condescension will end during the Narendra Modi Government’s rule.
Perhaps the reason why New Delhi has not been aggressive enough has to do with its belief that there is no point in stirring up trouble. But, as American author Criss Jami once said: “It’s not about going around trying to stir up trouble. As long as you’re honest and you articulate what you believe to be true, somebody somewhere will become your enemy, whether you like it or not.”
The Prime Minister staunchly believes that mutual commercial interests between India and China will pave the way for stronger ties. Commerce, as he loves to remind the people on every occasion that he gets, runs in his blood. Modi has been an unabashed fan of China’s economic revival and believes that greater trade synergy between the two countries will positively impact India. The trade target between the two nations by 2015 is pegged at $100 billion. However, the Prime Minister must bear in mind the blunt remark US businessman Richard M DeVos once made. He said: “Money cannot heal ruptured relations.”
The subject of Sino-Indian ties has gained fresh currency with the upcoming visit of China’s President Xi Jinping to India in a few days from now. Beijing is eager to put its money in India; it may want to match the unprecedented investment of over two lakh crore rupees spread through the next five years which regional competitor Japan committed when Modi visited that country recently. China showed an accommodative spirit when it supported the Indian candidacy for the first presidentship of the proposed BRICS bank, while India reciprocated by accepting China as the location for the bank’s headquarters. But New Delhi will be committing a gross mistake if it gets carried away by the euphoria – the same sort of blunder which Jawaharlal Nehru made when he was so floored by Beijing’s syrupy statements that he closed his eyes to its real designs with regard to both India and Tibet. Thus, it would not be out of place to caution and ask ourselves, using the title of former Union Minister, columnist and author Arun Shourie’s book on India-China relations: “Are we deceiving ourselves again?”
We mustn’t forget that, while China has publicised its ‘deep commitment’ to improving ties with India, it has lost no opportunity to belittle the latter, even when these issues have had nothing to do with the border dispute. For instance, a little over two years when India first successfully launched its long-range missile Agni V, a Chinese daily, which is said to reflect Beijing’s official position, called it New Delhi’s “missile delusion”. Further, it ridiculed the claim that India had developed an ‘inter-continental ballistic missile’, and said that ICBMs had a range of 8,000km while Agni V could target just 5,000km.
Beyond the technicalities lay Beijing’s contempt for success by a neighbour with whom it claims to be committed to improving ties. And what a way it chose to promote that commitment: It (through the daily) warned that India would gain nothing from the Agni V test other than “further hostility” That’s not how a would-be-friend speaks.
This isn’t the first time that China has been speaking in different voices on India; it has converted hypocrisy into a state art over the last six decades. The question is: Is India once-bitten-twice-shy, or is it ready to forget everything and plunge into more disasters packaged in so-called commercial gains? For New Delhi, the real test of Chinese intent must remain its action on the ground over the border dispute. The only action ‘on the ground’ that we have seen from Beijing is that of routinely sending its troops into Indian territory, getting into scuffles with Indian jawans, and departing after having made their ‘point’, which is: ‘We don’t accept that this is Indian territory. We can be back again’.
Shourie’s book, an updated version of which was out recently, clinically outlines how China trampled upon India’s trust during the 1950s and the 1960s – and how this task was made simpler by the implicit faith Nehru had placed on Beijing’s leaders, and by his own vanities which refused to let him believe that his statesmanship had been a colossal failure (and a disaster for the nation) when it came to China.
If the Chinese could let down Nehru, who had backed them on a variety of issues, such as their claim over Tibet (read also the excellent book, Tibet: An Unfinished Story by Lezlee Brown Halper & Stefan Halper), what can stop them from driving the knife yet again at an ‘appropriate time’. Like Shourie, the authors of this book also have laid bare Nehru’s failures and illusions, which led to, among other things, Tibet becoming part of China against its wishes.