By Ahmad Hasan Sheikh
TAKING ITS CUE FROM Moscow or most probably in concert with it, India has started cooing to China to facilitate its hegemonistic sway over South Asia.
As a former Indian Foreign Secretary, Mr. Rasgotra, puts it,” a frozen relationship with China places severe limits on India’s foreign policy options and diplomatic maneuverability, especially in relation to our neighbors.”
He says that “in a sense our relations with China are a key to our relations with our South Asian neighbors,” and adds, “it is not my impression that China is eager to be drawn into South Asian relationships to India’s detriment. It is rather our neighbors. Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan who anxiously solicit China’s intervention in South Asian affairs from time to time as counterpoise to India’s naturally preeminent position in the region.”
Another former Indian Foreign Secretary, Mr. Venkataswaran pursues the same line and says that * Pakistan holds a special place in China’s foreign policy mainly because of our problems with both these countries and any improvement in our relations with China should be welcome since it would result in a beneficial fallout vis-a-vis our equation with the other neighbors on our periphery.”
He therefore advocates “a settlement or at least an understanding on the border”, with the Chinese and recalls with regret that * we were very near to solution of the border question in 1983 and again in 1985, but our own hesitation and vacillation prevented us from grasping those opportunities.”
To him the implication of the “developing rapprochement” between China and the Soviet Union is that “it lessens compulsions for China to come to terms with India” and reminds his people that “we are unlikely to be permitted the luxury of ignoring China very much longer.”
For Mr. Rasgotra however “an improvement in Sino Russian relations is not something for India to fear. “ Rather, it can only heighten China’s traditional sense of caution and responsibility.” India should. Therefore, “press on with Indira Gandhi’s initiative to keep up a dialogue with Beijing with a view to normalizing Sino Indian relations.”
” The time has come.” emphasizes the Hindu of Madras. to break the set thinking, the conservatism, the inhibitions and prejudices of the past Sino Indian relations and to demonstrate the will, and the bold statesmanship needed to come up with a framework for a settlement” of the border question. In fact, the impulsion seems to be so pressing that Mr.E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the veteran Communist leader, after talks in Beijing with the Chinese leadership said that “his party would be perfectly willing to back a political decision by India to sort out the border matter and the 25year old dead lock, even though this would mean overriding a 25year old Parliament resolution that ‘not an inch of territory’ would be compromised further to China in the search of a solution.”
The Indian press, bearing the unmistakable imprint of official briefing has become so solicitous about mending fences with China that it has started accusing “the Western Press of consistently distorting and misinterpreting events and statements concerning Sino Indian relations”.
Although India has fast expanding multidimensional relationship. with the ‘citadel of imperialism’, the United States comes in handy as an ogre going about spoiling a recrudescence of courtship between the two Asian neighbors. At times one is almost tempted to relate the anti-American rhetoric to effulgence of the heady days of Hindi Cheeni Bhai Bhai.
Writing editorially, the Amrit Bazar Patrika says that “the U.S. calculations have already been upset by the steady improvement in Sino Indian relations in recent years, though complete normalization still remains a distant goal. On top of that, a border settlement between India and China will make a mockery of the U.S. strategy in this region, based on an assumption of permanent hostility between China on the one hand and India and the Soviet Union on the other.”
The paper believes that * U.S. is keen to prevent its strategy from going awry. The reports of belligerency on the border are meant as a spanner in the works”.
Indian analysts, in their own perception, base indications of softening of China attitude towards India on two factors, both relating to Pakistan. One, says the Indian Express, the most significant part of the shift in the Chinese policy has been in relation to Kashmir, Earlier. Beijing lost No opportunity of joining Pakistan in calling for a solution of Kashmir problem on the basis of self-determination. In recent years, the Chinese have scrupulously avoided doing So. They have, instead, favored an amicable settlement between India and Pakistan.”
Second, Inder Malhotra in a political commentary in the Times of India notes that “during the border tension between this country and Pakistan. The Chinese media took no sides despite Beijing’s known commitment to Islamabad.”
Another news analyst, Dileep Padgaonkar, terms as “significant” both China’s “silence” on India’s Operation Brasstacks and its “sober views” on India’s relief mission to Sri Lanka as well as its repeated calls for an “early, fair, and reasonable settlement” of the border question. From this, he says, it could be inferred that the Chinese “may now be willing to adopt pragmatic attitude on the border question. And indeed towards the entire gamut of SinoIndian relations, as they have done in the case of the Soviet Union.”
But, he points out, that “all this still does not quite settle the issue of China’s overall policy towards South Asia,” because the Chinese Premier’s statements during his recent visit to Pakistan “left little room for doubt that Beijing does not acknowledge, let alone accept, India’s security concerns provoked by the massive flow of sophisticated arms into Pakistan.”
Consequently, some show of fist is also considered necessary amidst outpourings of milk and honey. Padgaonkar, therefore, reminds that it “cannot possibly ignore enhanced military capability. Pressing the point too much, 1987 not 1962. For another the course developments in Indo Sri Lanka ties leave the Chinese in no doubt that fact of India’s preeminence in the subcontinent cannot be wished away. Nor can they brush aside the advantages that accrue from an entente between three most important Asian Powers China, India, and the Soviet Union
What are those “advantages”? The Moscow correspondent of New Delhi’s Patriot quotes a top Soviet observer of the SinoIndian relations as saying: “India, China. and the Soviet Union are the three biggest countries of Asia. A restructuring of the relations between the three countries would improve the Asian security atmosphere to a great extent,”
Picking up the thread, Inder Malhotra writes in the Times of India that “it is in the best interest of both (India and ‘China) to maximize the areas of agreement while minimizing those of disagreement.” and adds. “India and China are the two Asian giants, potentially even more than actually. If relations between them are bad, the whole concept of Asian Pacific security becomes an arid one. If, ‘on the other hand, relations between them are good, friendly, an cooperative, every possible conflict in Asia can be contained and controlled.”
The bait offered to China by India, on Moscow’s prompting or with its backings, bristles with traps. One, China is sought to be inveigled into reneging on its principled stance against hegemonies: and instead collude with India and Soviet Union to parcel out Asia among themselves as their exclusive spheres of influence.
Two, China is being asked to beat a retreat from South Asia, in particular extinguish its present relationship with Pakistan, leaving India free to lord over the region falling to her share. While India has left no doubt about its sphere of influence, it has not condescended to demarcate China’s,
If the Soviet Union moves closer to China, India wants to be reassured that this will not affect Indo Russian friendship. Such assurance is promptly available too. The first Deputy Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, Mr. Yuri Voronstev told UNI in Moscow that “in developing relations with new partners, be it South Asia or elsewhere, we have no intention of sacrificing even slightly the interest of our time tested friend, India.”
But when it comes to Pakistan, India alone now stands between the dream and the reality.