Is China really a threat?

FreeperceptionThis morning I read two articles on Indo-China relations. Both by Sandhya  Jain. The intrusion of the Chinese into the Ladhak region has put out a spate of opinionated articles and highlighted the emergence of a pro China group, which has actually existed for decades.  Unfortunately our understanding of China has warped for several reasons and those of the Chinese has remained steadfast and points to a proper agenda.

Two forces were definitely at play then and exist even now. Ironically this divides (or divided) Indian thought. I can put this as the common rational emerging from the South and from a martial-invasion fearing-survivalist North. The reasons are obvious and perhaps directly related to geographical distances, which should not be the case if we want a pragmatic solution to regional geo strategy. For e.g.: The Hindu newspaper displays this pro China stance more than any other.

Krishna Menon and Paniker and many of the former Cambridge scholars represent a China friendship angle. Paniker’s book (which was presented to me by a Japanese Scholar and which was taught at Cambridge in the 50’s), ‘Western Domination of Asia’ set an alignment of thought which was not anti-west but a reasoning of history unfortunately not taught in our schools. For example he deconstructed the colonial rule as the existence of two societies, the British and the native Indian one, both ruling each other. It was so even in the Moguls period, Indian baniyas funded the British, even supported MPs in London. Then there was religion which no one dared touch.

There was a surge in India-China relations and in the 50’s many Chinese would come to Calcutta university to do a masters in literature. I met one such in the 90’s and he was suggesting an Asian Nobel prize rather than one somewhere in Sweden.

The problem started with independence and the notion of a state challenged by the need for an alignment.  India was definitely part of the allies as we had fought alongside them. China on the other hand had parted from being part of them to be ideological detractors.  At that time it would have been difficult for Nehru to make choices that would have put India into an ideological camp. Nehru had little choice but to align with the US and its interests despite Krishna Menon and his non-alignment stance. Our history does not record the theoretical conflicts of the time and a detailed study of personalities will reveal reasons for our actions. It was a personality driven decision Nehru’s over the others.

I believe there is nothing like a pro-India or anti-India lobby in the Chinese establishment. They don’t need to have it; all they need is a strong pro-US and an equally strong anti-US stance, not left to the people of course.

They had no thought about India prior to 1947. Times have a changed and they do ‘study’ India. It started in the 60’s with a desk for India, but now it is there in their policy thinking as a department (like perhaps in Peking University or their think tanks.).

On the other hand we had Zorawar’s conquest of Ladhak. I hadn’t heard of him till I was posted to Pattan some miles from Srinagar, closer to Baramulla. The Garrison cinema was named Zorawar cinema and I thought he was a Sikh. I wondered what rations he carried to Ladhak and how did he survive the rarefied atmosphere. He truly was a great general and very little is known of him and his routing in Tibet is perhaps the reason not much is written. The Hindu Dogra kingdoms owed their allegiance to Ranjit Singh and later to the British. It was through these that the British could have a military hold of the region. Tibet was loosely controlled by the Qings and the Tibetans merely fought in their name, not for them.Zorawar’s entry strengthened their defunct relationship. Later the British were able to dominate the region and thus a treaty with the Qings.

Post world war Tibet became a US cause celebre for their toils in China. Nehru was arm twisted to accept the Dalai Lama. So if Zorawar could not get the better of the situation, India through an error of 1962 has made a difference in Chinese thinking.

When these writers decry the pro china group and a soft stance to China, do they have anything else to suggest?


We have sent our best men and women to China. It was a good investment before Paniker to Nirupama and after, all the ambassadors. Despite all appearances India does follow a Krishna Menon approach to diplomacy … non alignment. His unceremonious exit was to save Nehru’s face. So really it is a question of adopting a rationale that works. Not appeasement as the articles suggest.

The Chinese are sitting in Ladhak for a reason. I think:

  1. Chinese are interested in their agenda that is the highway and reaching ports in the greater scheme of being the dominating world power.
  2. Pak elections only bring instability in the alignments. Kashmir and Pakhtunwa, the Siachen glacier is all in their path to this hwy.
  3. Pak tries to get India to vacate the region, partly because it will reduce India’s domination of the hwy. It has failed.
  4. Seeing unstable positions in Pak, the proposed withdrawal of US troops from the Af-Pak region by 2014 China wants to keep relations with India on an edge and take charge of the vacuum. Pak is their N Korea in this region and it is drifting away.
  5. The success of the Qatar talks depends on Pak participation through the Pakistani Taliban (Hekmatyar and other groups).
  6. The future is of instability and pre positioning is a smart move. We are at a tactical disadvantage but a strategic advantage if we play our cards well with the US.


Diplomacy shouldn’t be confused with appeasement. It  can be leveraged only from favourable positions. China is at an advantage and we need to understand this.

We still have the power of veto in the region and China knows this.

Having said all, may be its time for bout with China. Even if in error!


Ladakh nomads: Lonely sentinels by Sandhya Jain 21 May 2013

To succeed in diplomacy, we must tame pro-China lobby By Sandhya Jain  20 May 2013


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