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China, India's Eternal Rival

Prakash Nanda

Updated: June 16, 2016, 10:52 PM IST
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China, India's Eternal Rival
The national flags of India (R) and China (Representational Image/Getty).

If history is any indication, then China's strident opposition to India’s bid for becoming a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is on a predictable course. Notwithstanding all the talks on bonhomie between India and China in recent years, the unpalatable historical truth is that China will do all its best to foil the rise of India as a global power. Chinese opposition to Indian membership in the NSG is not based on any sound principles; it rallies round Chinese aversion to an India, which, to quote the state-run Global Times, will "shake strategic balance in South Asia and even cast a cloud over peace and stability in the entire Asia-Pacific region".

Written by Fu Xiaoqiang, a research fellow with the state-run think tank China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, the article in the paper expresses concerns that "entry into the NSG will make it (India) a 'legitimate nuclear power'." It then adds, "If it joins the group, New Delhi will be able to import civilian nuclear technology and fuels from the international market more conveniently, while saving its domestic nuclear materials for military use." As a result, “the membership first, the nuclear balance between India and Pakistan will be broken" and “Pakistan's strategic interests will be threatened, which will in turn shake the strategic balance in South Asia, and even cast a cloud over peace and stability in the entire Asia-Pacific region," it said.

As a matter of fact, Pakistan is also an alibi for China to stall India’s emergence as a global power. It has now become quite routine for China to - through its officials in international meets, armed forces near the line of actual control, spokespersons and state-controlled media - say and do everything possible to humiliate India. China may extol the virtues of a multipolar world, but in the process it is striving for a unipolar Asia, where, true to its theory of “Middle Kingdom”, China will not allow another pole, whether it is India or Japan, to make the world truly multipolar. Historically speaking, that has been the Chinese tradition. China throughout the ages has done everything possible to halt the growth of Indian influence and dent India’s eminence.

Southeast Asia as a region has always been the battleground for influence b India and China. Many French and Indian scholars once referred to the region as "Farther India" or "Greater India", L'Inde Exterieure and the Hinduized or “Indianized states”. On the contrary, many Chinese writings identified the region as Kun Lun or Nanyang or "Little China".

Historian KM Panikkar had described the expansion of Indian culture and influence, both in Central Asia and Southeast towards the countries and islands of the Pacific, as one of the momentous factors of the period immediately preceding the Christian era. In fact, other historians often describe the concept of “Farther India”, a geographic area consisting of the present-day Southeast Asia, save, perhaps, the Philippines, because of the fact that this whole region developed under the India’s “cultural influence”[the “Hindu kingdoms” of Sri Vijaya (parts of Malaysia and Indonesia), Funan (Vietnam), Kambuja (Cambodia) and Champa (Thailand)]. No wonder why French historian Coedes was emphatic that but for India this whole region would not have been “civilized”. As he said, “Without India, its past would be almost unknown; we would know scarcely more about it than we know about Australia”.

The "Indianised" Mekong valley, Malay Peninsula and Indonesia in general, and Kambuja and Champa in particular, played a very important role in stemming the growing Chinese influence. Both Kambuja and Champa have exceptional claims to the gratitude of Indian people. If the ever-expanding empire of China did not extend its authority to Singapore and if the Indian Ocean remains today what its name indicates, it is due to the resistance, which Kambuja and Champa put up against the constant pressure of China. Between them they still mark the boundary of Chinese culture and expansion. However, the fact still remains that after the Mongols took over China in the 13th century, they consistently tried to establish hegemony over the countries of the southern seas. Their main tactics in this endeavour was to first split up the old Indian states of Farther India into smaller principalities and then make them constantly fight against each other so as to compel some of them to become the Chinese protectorates under the Chinese governors.

In fact, this policy of divide and alienate India was repeated in 1950s by Communist China, even though the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in his zeal for “Asian unity”, went out of way to espouse the cause of China’s entry in to the United Nations and then bring the then virtually ostracized Communist China’s Prime Minister Zhou En-lai to the first ever forum of Asian and African leaders at Bandung in 1955. It was at Bandung that emerging trends of tussle for Asian leadership between the independent India and communist China became clearly discernible. Since then Beijing’s policy “anything that diminishes Indian leadership tends to strengthen the Chinese magnetism” has been scrupulously maintained. In fact, Bandung and then the Sino-Indian war in 1962 have been the two most momentous events in eclipsing the Indian influence in Asia

A 1974 poem by Mao Zedong displays the scorn with which China viewed India. The poem is like this:

The tiger avers its head,
The tattered lion grieves,
The bear flaunts its claws,
Riding the back of the cow,
The moon torments the sun,
The pagoda gives forth light,
Disaster comes to birth,
The olive is seen waving.

As John W Garver explains, what Mao meant by this poem was that the tiger was the United states, the lion the Great Britain, the bear the Soviet Union, the moon the Islamic countries of West Asia, the sun the rich countries of the West, the pagoda the Vietnamese revolutionary struggle, and its light the prospect of imminent victory. A pagoda giving forth light is a common Chinese literary simile indicating good fortune. The phrase disaster comes to birth referred to Mao’s dictum that either revolution would prevent war or war would lead to revolution, while the olive branch referred to the people’s desire for peace. The cow was India, which, according to Mao, has no talents and is only food or for people to ride and for pulling carts. The cow could starve to death if its master did not give it grass to eat. And even though this cow may have great ambitions, they are futile.

In other words, for China, India can never be allowed to become a major power. Just look at the major irritants on Sino-Indian front. We have an unresolved border. Despite many rounds of negotiations, a border settlement acceptable to both the countries eludes. And here, China’s posture is becoming tougher. The agreed principle — which, incidentally, emerged from then Chinese premier Wen’s visit to India in 2005 that the settled population in the disputed border areas will not be disturbed in any eventual solution — has been negated by China, which is now claiming Tawang, the holy city of the Buddhists in Arunachal Pradesh, as its own.

Secondly, China continues to encircle India by developing establishments and infrastructures in all the neighbouring countries of India (Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan) that have strong military implications. It is arming Pakistan with nuclear weapons and missiles, not to speak of other India-centric ammunition. Thirdly, of late, China has been perilously interfering in India’s internal affairs by questioning Kashmir’s status and controlling water-inflow in rivers like the Brahmaputra. Fourthly, China is far from returning the Indian gesture during the 1950s of backing not only its ordinary membership of the United Nations but also the permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Fifthly, unlike every other country that matters in the world, China overlooks India’s concerns over terrorism that is aided and abetted from Pakistani soil.

Well, there is a theory that all these irritants will evaporate once China and India become economic stakeholders for each other. No doubt, there are strong merits of this theory, but then the facts remain that the growing trade between the two has been not only been strongly in favour of China but also uncomplimentary to India (India essentially exporting precious raw material in general and iron ore in particular and China selling finished products) and that the Chinese foreign direct investment in India has been miniscule.

In sum, China was, is, and will remain India’s competitor, if not enemy. This is the lesson from history.

First Published: June 16, 2016, 10:52 PM IST