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Saturday, June 28, 2003

Appeasers selling India short

NEW DELHI -- Belgian scholar Pierre Ryckmans coined the phrase the "100 percenters" to describe Beijing's international fans who support whatever China says 100 percent. Publishing under the pen name Simon Leys, Ryckmans compiled the statements of these toadies in defense of Chinese actions, including Mao Zedong's disastrous Great Leap Forward and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and how the same sycophants later pitifully joined Beijing's denunciations of the very "successes" they had extolled. Today such hangers-on are trying to market China as a "near-superpower."

While 100 percenters in the West remain on the fringes of the decision-making processes, they have influenced the policy debate in India from the very beginning, despite China's record of gobbling up the Tibet buffer in 1950, invading India in 1962 and supplying technologies to Pakistan for the manufacture and delivery of weapons of mass destruction.

This tribe of Indian appeasers operates on the tenet that China can do no wrong but India can and does. They have an explanation to justify any Chinese action against their country's interests.

A classic illustration is how the 100 percenters, echoing Beijing's line, blame their country for "provoking" the 1962 military invasion. When the People's Liberation Army marched hundreds of kilometers south to annex independent Tibet and nibble at Indian areas, this supposedly was neither expansionist nor forward policy. But when the ill-equipped and short-staffed Indian Army belatedly sought to set up posts along its unmanned Himalayan frontier to stop Chinese land grabs, the appeasers and their masters dubbed it "forward policy" and "provocative"!

Mao needed no Indian provocation to invade India. He was provoked by his own cold logic to rout the alternative model that democratic India represented in the developing world and the ideas symbolized by the then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the architect of the nonaligned movement. Nehru, having allowed the appeasers to gain the upper hand in his policymaking, died a bitter man, admitting that China had returned "evil for good."

It took a long time for India to recover from the 1962 defeat and deal with China confidently. The decisive step came in 1998 when India went overtly nuclear through a series of underground tests to counter what Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee frankly told the Group of Eight heads of government by letter were China's direct and surrogate WMD threats. The tests were a serious setback to China's strategy to keep India bottled up on the subcontinent by building Pakistan as a military counterweight.

Now, with Vajpayee having just concluded his visit to China, the Indian 100 percenters and their Chinese mentors seek to show that Sino-Indian relations are improving rapidly and that China poses no threat to India. For the old apparatchiks who constitute the new leadership in Beijing, Vajpayee's visit was an opportunity to further Chinese interests. They believe that Vajpayee wanted to show success on the China front because of the little headway he has made with his peace initiatives with Pakistan and the slow progress on building a U.S.-Indian strategic partnership, which was to be his foreign-policy centerpiece.

So the Chinese intensified their now-familiar "peace" spiel -- that two ancient civilizations, China and India, need to live in peace; that the main priority of both nations is economic progress, including rural development and tackling unemployment; and that China wants peaceful borders with all its neighbors so it can concentrate on development.

Beijing believes it can use Vajpayee's yearning for a successful visit to alter the fundamentals of India's China policy. But It is dead wrong in its calculations.

If anything, the Chinese are providing valuable training to Indians on how to talk peace but aggressively pursue national interests. Clearly, Beijing wants peace with containment, a win-win posture that permits it to maintain direct strategic pressure on India through Tibet and mount stepped-up surrogate threats through Pakistan and Myanmar.

The China lobby in India has for long mouthed timeworn platitudes and regurgitated Chinese statements of good intent, shying away from any discussion or even mention of the disputes that divide the two Asian giants. The fact is that China's communist rulers have shown little sign of revising their basic approach toward India, as can be seen from the following:

* Despite 22 years of continuous border negotiations -- the longest between any two states in modern history -- India is the only country with which China has not settled its land frontiers or even fully defined a line of control. China has now deliberately injected confusion by suggesting that instead of trying to define the line of control, the two sides should seek, as agreed during Vajpayee's visit, an overall border settlement through negotiations. This is clearly a clever ploy to further prolong the barren border talks. If the Chinese are not willing to even define the line of control, why would they be willing to resolve the border problem through a package settlement?

In private, Chinese officials say if they define the line of control or settle the border it would lead to the concentration of India's military assets on the Pakistan front and thereby decisively tilt the balance against their "all-weather friend" Pakistan.

* Contrary to repeated Chinese pledges to honor international norms, the flow of WMD and missile technologies to Pakistan continues, even if at a lower level. Some Chinese missile items have been routed through North Korea to Pakistan.

* There is increased Chinese military activity in Tibet and Myanmar directed at India. China is also expanding its strategic interests in Nepal and funding anti-India political activity there. Due to mounting Chinese pressure, Nepal ignored United Nations and Western protests and, for the first time ever, deported 18 new refugees from Tibet on May 31, setting a precedent that could cut off he main route for Tibetans trying to reach India.

* The continuing Chinese cartographic hostility toward India is reflected in official maps of three Indian states outside India: Sikkim is shown as independent; Arunachal Pradesh, as part of China; and Jammu and Kashmir as disputed (but not the Kashmir parts occupied by China and Pakistan). Now the Chinese are saying they might be willing to accept the reality of Sikkim but only if the Indians grant them a major concession -- opening the Sikkim-Tibet land trade route, which China had used in 1962 to supply its troops invading India. But why should India hand China a card by negotiating the acceptance of a reality recognized by all other nations?

* Chinese leaders remain scornful of India's aspirations to be a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and of its being the world's largest democracy. In the way Mao that derided the Indian model and then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin made fun of India in a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in a discussion with American academics in 2001, dismissed as meaningless all talk of learning from India's democratic experience, calling India "a tribal democracy." The Chinese have come to believe that only a tribal democracy could tolerate a tribe of 100 percenters openly beating the drum of an adversarial neighbor.

* While singing the virtues of a multipolar world, China aspires to be the sole pole in Asia, so it is free to limit U.S. influence, contain India, bully Taiwan, shame Japan, divide the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and make use of semi-failed states that serve as its clients -- Pakistan and Myanmar against India, and North Korea against Japan.

In the nearly 54 years since the communists seized power in Beijing, no nation has undermined India's interests more than China. The Chinese Communist Party and its institutions, particularly the People's Liberation Army, remain implacably antagonistic toward India. Without the collapse of the anachronistic Chinese political system, it is unlikely that China will become a benign neighbor of India. That collapse in a country buffeted by rapid changes could happen sooner than many expect. Time is on India's side.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor and strategic-affairs analyst in New Delhi, is a regular contributor to The Japan Times.

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