‘Be Prepared For Chinese Incursions’

‘Be Prepared For Chinese Incursions’

26 May 2013
Deccan Chronicle
Sridhar Kumaraswamy

New Delhi: T.C.A. Rangachari was part of the China policy set up in South Block and has been ambassador to Beijing. In this interview with Sridhar Kumaraswami, he says that India must maintain its defence preparedness while pursuing economic cooperation with Beijing. In terms of outcomes, is there a qualitative difference between the visit to India this week of the new Chinese PM Li Keqiang and Chinese leaders in the past? Chinese leaders draw their real power from party positions; Premier Li ranks second in the Communist Party of China (CPC). He has said that he wanted to convey the importance China attaches to the relationship with India by choosing to make his first official visit abroad to India. He said the right things, emphasising the theme of “Handshake across the Himalayas”. But the visit should be seen as part of a continuum rather than a point of departure. Premier Li has spoken in rosy terms of a “str­ategic partnership” bet­ween India and China. Is there a basis for this, given the China-Pakistan axis? For a strategic partnership to be successful we have to see to what extent China is willing to respect In­d­ia’s concerns. How amenable is China to an early resolution of te boundary row? On our side, there is the Parliament resolution that all Indian territories occupied by China must be handed back. China lays claim to all of Arunachal Pradesh, apart from areas in Kashmir. With both countries taking maximalist positions, how likely is a border settlement? There is the Pakistan aspect too - nuclear weapons and missile technology, and the Chinese role in PoK. So what role does China envisage for India in the region, and globally? Why is there hesitation to support India’s UN Security Co­u­ncil candidature? Is China wary because of the boost this would give to India’s role? Clearly, strategic partnership will remain issue-based. Why do you think the recent Chinese military incursion into Ladakh took place before the Chinese Pre­mier’s visit? Will similar incidents recur until the boundary question is resolved? There is no official explanation from China. We have it on the authority of our external affairs minister that this issue was not raised with the Chinese side, and that India has not yet completed its own analysis. So we can only speculate. But we should not be surprised if similar incidents take place again. There needs to be clarity on the LAC. Till we have that, we should be vigilant, prepared. If tranquillity on the border is not maintained by China, will economic ties suffer? Is this something that PM Manmohan Singh conveyed to Li? Initially, the incursion was termed “localised”. Now we seem to be saying that if border peace is not maintained, trade ties cannot be strengthened. Both positions are tenable, but not simultaneously. Also, we have to assess whether our interests are well served by curtailing economic ties with China. Indian companies are obviously buying Chinese equipment because it is competitive - the Chinese are estimated to have completed some $35 billion worth projects in India. We have to be clear: is there zero tolerance for any Chinese provocation; if not, what is the trigger level? If we are going to create barriers, let us ensure that our own interests are not adversely affected. Do you think it is in China’s geopolitical interest to sort out the boundary issue with India for a smooth relationship in the future which may actually be “strategic” in nature? Territorial integrity is one of the “core” interests spelt out by the new leadership in China. CPC general secretary Xi Jinping told the Politburo in January that “no country should presume that we will engage in trade ignoring our core interests or by harming our sovereignty and security.” I do not think it serves China’s interests to keep territorial issues unresolved. China resolved its border dispute with Russia. But the maritime disputes with Japan, and those in the South China Sea remain. If the Chinese can get the terms they are looking for with India, there is no reason for them not to sort out the boundary. Is it a fair exchange what Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping is said to have proposed - Arunachal Pradesh in the east for India and Aksai Chin “plus” in the west for China? Deng Xiaoping is credited with having made an “as-is-where-is” offer in 1979. As far as I know, it is not on the table. Even if it was, how willing would India be to accept it? Conceivably, can trade and economic ties with China go on rising if the disputed LAC remains tranquil but is not resolved? In 2012, our two-way trade was $66 billion and the target for 2015 is $100 billion. Compare this to China’s trade with the developed world. China-EU trade was $546 billion; the US ran a deficit of $315 billion with China. China is the world’s largest merchandise trader - that figure of $3.87 trillion is larger than India’s GDP! China has over $3 trillion worth of foreign exchange. It is invested in the euro and in US debt. India is looking for finance for its infrastructure projects. If China offers financing at competitive rates, why should we not accept it? India’s strategy should be to invigorate its domestic economy, improve governance, develop its border infrastructure and strengthen defence preparedness.