November 29, 2009

No ease with Chinese

November 29, 2009 Posted by Vijay , No comments
The past few months has seen some unusual posturing  by India on the international stage, especially against China. There are a lot of factors backing India's new found confidence. India has come out largely unscathed from the economic recession, posting a strong growth of over 6% thus far in the preceding quarters. That the Indian prime minister, was hosted by Obama for his presidency's first state visit is testament to India's growing stature.Issues, which plague India quite often, have not subsided though. Drought due to a delayed monsoon, and then the monsoon itself unleashing its fury, has befuddled farmers and the government alike. Inflation which was in the negative territory after the government stimulus is on the rise and food prices are already shooting through the roof. Issues which, by design or ignorance have left a blemish in an otherwise healthy growth scenario.

Unfazed by these domestic issues, India has sent out a slew of strong messages to China. Even at the White House during his visit a week ago, Manmohan Singh, though unprovoked, minced no words in questioning China's human rights record, while conceding China's far superior growth rate. Earlier, the Indian establishment expressed its displeasure in no uncertain terms, on the Sino US statement of China having a role in South Asian matters. India clearly conveyed that no country needed to play mediator in Indo-Pak disputes. Both China and US issued clarifying statements, allaying Indian concerns of external mediation.

Using its strong growth story,  India seems to be asserting more against China's recent posturing at the border areas in Sikkim, Arunachal and Ladakh. Frequent incursion related incidents had raised eyebrows on the Indian government's inaction. India now, through its own diplomatic measures has sent a strong signal back to Beijing. In the past few months, China has been trying to rake up its claims on Arunachal Pradesh repeatedly. By conducting peaceful and successful elections with a high voter turnout India sent out the apt signal of what its citizens want. On top of this, India hosted Dalai Lama, in Tawang in November, despite constant protests from China, questioning India's motive in entertaining the Tibetan leader's visit. China has has also been issuing stapled visas for Indians of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh domicile. India, finally took action and declared any such stapled visas as invalid. Three strong signals in a span of a month, have surely acted as a rebuttal to Chinese assertions.

The importance of India to be assertive has not been lost on the Indian defense establishment. India has been a soft target, from elements within and its vicinity. India's location is vulnerable, from all its borders, owing to hostile neighbourhoods. Pakistan has always been provocative, and has been responsible for launching terror attacks within India. China on the other hand, has always been surreptitiously supporting Pakistan. Revelations of China helping Pakistan's nuclear programme are certainly worrying with reports of Pakistan possessing more nuclear warheads than India. China is also being seen as having a hand in Maoist violence in India and arming and training miltants in Mizoram.

Bangladesh has not been far behind, being a safe haven for terror elements infiltrating into India's porous borders.Sri Lanka, finally suppressed the LTTE menace and has ended the rebellion. That certainly would be one respite for India. The other worry for India has been the much talked string of pearls strategy by China. China has been working on this for decades now, and India is slowly waking up to the concerns. China's growing influence, especially economically, has given it the muscle power to woo the South Asian countries, by helping build ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The strategy is multi purpose, starting from enhancing military bases in countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, in the guise of economic development.

India has had the larger influence in the maritime locations in the Indian Ocean, until now. Though China's larger objective of the string of pearls may seem as one to gain easier access to fuel supplies from the Arabian nations, encircling an entire Indian ocean can only spell greater worries for an already encircled India. Realising this, India has sought Maldives' help for setting up a naval base there.

India also opened its airbase in Ladakh, 2.5 km from the LAC a few weeks back. In another display of military might, India recently carried out a military exercise near the Sino Indian border in Sikkim. Though the recent meeting between the Chinese premier and the Indian prime minister played down rising tensions, India cannot afford to trust China blindly. Though India is no match to China's military might, India has grown in significance as a world power, which definitely is harming Chinese interests along the Sino Indian border.

A more assertive and strong India, will be harder to negotiate with on border disputes. The time is ripe and apt for India to be posturing and assertive.The reasons are plenty. A confident Government elected unanimously. A literally unscathed economy, growing at a rapid pace. A far more supportive US government, who will be more than willing to reduce Chinese influence by using India as the balancing weight.

India would definitely have to grow its presence and significance in Afghan development, and better relations with Russia to counter an encirclement plan by China. Times certainly have changed and China would think multiple times over before even thinking of any conflict with India. While China has suppressed human rights, and expanded its infrastructure, India has thrived on its multiple diversity and democracy, encouraging freedom of speech and thought. The difference ? While Chinese military and defence would seem more like mechanical robots at work, Indian military would have the heart in its place and certainly have more brain power to compete effectively against any Chinese misadventure. But India definitely has to be more watchful than ever before to counter an increasingly insecure China at its borders.