China – Our Northern Neighbours

November 26th, 2009

Round Table Discussion – ‘China – Our Northern Neighbours’ by Maj Gen. G.G. Dwivedi, SM VSM – Former Asst. Chief Integrated Defence Staff and Prof. P. Stobdan – Senior Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses; chaired by Mr. Shashank, Former Foreign Secretary, GOI in collaboration with ASSOCHAM in ASSOCHAM House, 47 Prithviraj Road, New Delhi.


  • China, though one of India’s largest neighbours with almost 4,000 kilometres of border between the two of us, somehow does not occupy our consciousness strongly, except for people from the north-eastern part of the country, who are more affected by the issues with regard to India-China relations.
  • The population of both India and China is young, but in the next 20-25 years, India will overtake China in terms of its young population. Already, 75% of our population is below 35 years.
  • We must not look at India-China relations in the context of only the boundary issues or military matters. India’s relations with China will have elements of both competition and co-operation, though competition need not necessarily be adversarial. China’s progress may be speedier, but India’s model of inclusive development is better in the long run. How India respond to China’s growth will be determined by how we shape ourselves in future.
  • The early nineteenth century was a period of China’s decline with nature of trade was adverse with Western countries. The famous Opium Wars of 1839-42 and 1857-60 made the Chinese lose their sway to the Japanese, French, and British. The colonisation of China is remembered by the Chinese as "the century of humiliation."
  • Chinese history is quite similar to Indian history, with successive dynasties having ruled China from almost 1500 BC. The last dynasty to fall was the Ching Dynasty in 1911. From 1911 to 1949, China had to tackle civil war between the communists and the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Second World War.
  • In 1949 the communists were successful in capturing power, heralding the beginning of the Maoist era in China till 1976. Mao’s experiments for rapid industrialisation led to the disastrous ‘Great Leap Forward’ from 1957-60, in which more than 30 million Chinese perished of starvation and repression. The Cultural Revolution from 1964-76 too ended in a terrible fiasco with millions being killed.
  • By 1976, China was a very poor country, with its share of world trade being hardly 2 percent. In 1949, China was well behind India in every conceivable spectrum of economic activity. Deng Xiao Ping, who came to power in 1978, was the architect of present-day China. He dumped the communist ideology to enable China open up China to the modern world. The period of reform under Deng began sometime in 1978-79.
  • The four modernisations in agriculture, industry and defence were taken up. This was the roadmap laid down by China’s rulers for becoming a great power.
  • The Chinese take pains to present their rise as a ‘peaceful rise’ and declare that they do not pose any threat to any nation, big or small, either in their neighbourhood or far-off. China’s rise is not a miracle, but the result of strategic planning by a visionary leadership that has its sights well beyond the horizon.
  • In the 21st century, China presents two very different images, one of a strong nation with a rapidly growing economy. China’s land army, the largest in the world, is part of the country’s decision-making process and a part of the government. The Chinese believe only a strong centre can hold the disparate elements together. The internal dimension of China, reveals a very fragile nation, susceptible to even falling apart. The internal stability of China is one of its fundamental vulnerabilities.
  • The three likely flashpoints the Chinese are concerned about are Taiwan, Tibet and Xingjian, or the Uighur region. The latter two areas saw widespread disturbances and even bomb blasts during the 2008 Olympics, causing considerable worry to the Chinese leadership. China follows a very repressive policy in these two areas, while Taiwan is an independent sovereign country.
  • Inequity in Chinese society is a major area of concern, especially glaring inequality between its western and eastern regions, as also between its urban and rural people. Almost 90,000 demonstrations, big or small, took place last year over various issues. Unemployment in China too has touched the level of 4.2 percent, or close to over 150 million.
  • The world has accepted the reality of China’s rise. The Chinese themselves are fired with nationalism. On the international stage, China is a member of most institutions.
  • India’s foreign policy has not been proactive enough to cope with changes. A close neighbour can never be a friend. China has made friends of all countries in our neighbourhood and is now gaining a very strong footprint in South Asia. They have always used their proxy (Pakistan) to check India. US President Obama’s recent visit and his public pronouncements about China having a role in both South East and South Asia should not be taken lightly.
  • China has two very fundamental designs in Asian politics – isolate Japan and contain India, as these are the only two countries that have the capability to pose a tangible threat to Chinese hegemony.
  • India’s response and outlook must be to develop its own strategy to deal with the challenges from our neighbourhood. Beliefs that India and China can be ‘great friends’ are utterly naive. India and China can never be friends because of conflicting interests, competition for the same resources and the same geopolitical space.
  • The Chinese have two key words: ‘Lee’ and ‘Luan’, meaning strength and chaos, respectively. The Chinese respect strength and despise the weak.
  • India and China will be dealing with each other in a spectrum of co-operation, competition and conflict, issue by issue, with national interests of both countries determining the shape relations will take. How India responds will be determined by how we shape ourselves in the future.
  • Recent Chinese border incursions have now been officially admitted by the Government of India. From earlier denials about any border incursions by the Chinese, there is indeed quite a shift in the government thinking. But why are the Chinese behaving like this now, when everything is going so fine for them?
  • We started the normalisation of our relationships two decades back since 1988 when the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Beijing. Under confidence building measures (CBMs) we agreed not touch the touchy irritant issues, but promote ties in other areas like trade, business, culture, education etc. But even a growing trade relationship has not been able to overshadow the fundamental nature of our problems, i.e. the political aspect.
  • China’s view is that in the eastern sector India illegally occupies territory, while in the western sector India illegally claims territory. They say that the 1962 war. In many rounds of special representative level talks, the Chinese have been repeatedly shifting their focus from the western to the eastern sector and back only to keep us confused. While we recognised the Tibet Autonomous Region, they have gone back on their recognition of Sikkim as a part of India and have started making noises.
  • The Chinese were forced to make a reassessment about India after India went nuclear overtly in Pokaran II in 1998 and then later in 2005. They began to take India more seriously, acknowledging us as a growing power. Even until January 2008, the rhetoric between the two countries was cordial.
  • The Chinese had a fond hope that the Indo-US nuclear deal and a growing and closer partnership between India and the United States would not materialise as they had a great deal of faith on their stooges, the CPM and CPI, who were expected to kill the deal in the parliament itself.
  • The Chinese have occupied much of the neutral zone close to the LAC on the border near Ladakh. Much of Chinese behaviour could also be linked to its internal problems. India’s and especially its politicians’ behaviour during times of crises leads the Chinese to assess that India is a soft state, divided politically.
  • China also buys influence in India by lavishing its hospitality and largesse on chosen sections of India’s academia and media, through lavishly funded travel and ‘scholarships’. Many such elements in India are then only too eager to sing eulogies of China and see nothing wrong in its behaviour.
  • China has developed a "string of pearls" strategy of having ports everywhere in India’s neighbourhood to contain India. The present Chinese assertive posture is also because they want to bail out Pakistan from the mess that country is slowly sinking into. India refuses to learn from crises, encouraging the Chinese to take liberties with us.
  • China seeks to create a favourable worldwide image for itself, projecting its rise as a ‘responsible power.’ But, we must also remember that China does not practice what it says, a lesson we ourselves have learnt. The Chinese will have no hesitation in using force on any other country. The ‘treaties of friendships’ and ‘strategic partnerships’ do not matter to them. This has been India’s experience in 1962, after the much-touted "Panchsheel, bhai-bhaism".


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