Barely a year ago, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee stressed that in determining its national security policies, India should never forget that it had been invaded by China in 1962. Barely a year later Mukherjee was singing a different tune to audiences in Japan, China and India. On June 5, the China Daily, an official mouthpiece of the Chinese Government, quoted Mukherjee as having said that he does not see China as an immediate military threat.
Refuting the view of his Japanese hosts that China's military build up was a source of concern Mukherjee said: “China is an important military power from the beginning. We are fully aware of it, but every country has its own perception of the development and modernisation of its armed forces”. Later, in India Mukherjee proclaimed, “We do consider that India is no threat to China and they are no threat to us… There is enough (strategic) space for growth of both of us”.
What has transpired in the time that elapsed between the two contesting views? On the positive side, trade and economic relations between India and China are booming. The Sino-Indian border has been tension free. The navies of India and China have held few joint exercises recently. India and China have agreed to hold training programmes in the fields of search and rescue, anti piracy, counter terrorism and other areas of mutual interest. Border Trade between Tibet and Sikkim through the 15,000 feet high Nathu La Pass is set to resume next month. There is thus an environment of peace and tranquillity along the Sino-Indian border and growing economic and cultural co-operation.
Despite these developments, China remains the most destabilising factor for Indian national security. It has consistently sought to undermine India's influence in Asia and across the world. The most dangerous manifestation of this role has been its continuing nuclear and missile cooperation with Pakistan. After having provided Pakistan with nuclear weapons designs, enrichment technology, un-safeguarded Plutonium facilities for developing thermonuclear weapons capabilities and nuclear capable missiles, China has recently transferred Cruise Missile technology enabling Pakistan to test Cruise missiles that can endanger our land and maritime security.
China took the unprecedented step of joining Pakistan in providing military supplies to the beleaguered and unpopular King Gyanendra in Nepal, at a time when India and the international community were trying to promote political reconciliation and democracy in the mountain kingdom.
During the past year, China has effectively lobbied against our efforts to seek Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council. There is now growing evidence that both in Washington and in the capitals of the 45 member Nuclear Suppliers Group, China is, behind the scenes, seeking to undermine the Indo-US nuclear deal that is designed to end global nuclear sanctions against India. In maritime terms, there are disturbing signs to indicate that China is seeking naval and monitoring facilities across the Indian Ocean from Myanmar to Pakistan, in a bid to challenge India's maritime security interests. Moreover, a Chinese naval presence in Gwadar port in Pakistan, can seriously challenge the security of oil supplies from the Persian Gulf to India.
Unlike India, China takes a long-term view of its national interests. It does not allow its policies to be influenced by sentimentalism. In the last few years China has seen India slowly, but steadily, emerging as a growing economic power that has been able to expand its influence in South and South East Asia. The 1998 nuclear tests and the failure of international sanctions against India, established that India has the potential to become a nuclear power independent.
Given the fact that China has serious differences on its maritime boundaries with neighbours like Japan, Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, it would not be in China's interests to allow border tensions to escalate with India. Thus, while China has an interest in maintaining peace and tranquillity along the Sino-Indian border, it will keep India uneasy by laying claims to the Monastery town of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, making any border settlement very difficult. It will also seek to ‘contain’ India by arming Pakistan and undermining any Indian effort to expand its regional and global influence. There is no place for sentimentality or illusions in dealing with our powerful northern neighbour.
The writer is the former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan.