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2 'Headless chickens' and the China
threat By M K Bhadrakumar
dependence on China for
advanced-technology products is steadily
increasing. Neither the US nor China can exit from
their mutual interlocked relationship, except on
extremely painful terms.
the deal Beijing refuses to criticize
India for entering the nuclear deal with the US,
but Chinese statements have taken note that Delhi is
driven by an all-consuming
desire to become a "great power", and that the
deal is, by Indian reckoning, its key to unlocking
the door leading to the big league in world
politics. If China has doubts about the efficacy
of India's imminent passage to greatness, it
hasn't said so.
Indian strategic thinkers
have alleged that China will help India's
arch-enemy Pakistan to have a nuclear deal. But on
Monday a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman flatly
dismissed the Indian allegation. "There is no such
deal in the making," he told an Indian
correspondent in Beijing.
On the other
hand, Chinese commentators have trained their guns
on Washington's "double standards" and on the
"damage" that the accord with a power that has not
signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will
have on the global non-proliferation system. China
has pointed out that the nuclear deal may affect
the strategic balance in the South Asian region.
China has expressed grave reservations about US
efforts to draw "India in as a tool for its global
But China draws
comfort by saying, "India's DNA doesn't allow
itself to become an ally subordinate to the US,
like Japan or Britain." All in all, there is
reason to believe China is unhappy with the
nuclear deal between India and the US. But China
sidesteps any direct criticism of India. In fact,
senior US officials say that in all likelihood
China may not oppose the deal when it comes up at
the Nuclear Suppliers Group, where it has to be
So where is the problem? Soon
after nuclear tests in 1999, the government in
Delhi attempted to rationalize them in terms of
the "atmosphere of distress" prevailing in India's
relations with China. But there were no takers of
the Indian thesis. So, once the dust settled,
Delhi swiftly backtracked, and the process of
dialogue with China resumed.
China problem The "problem" today is not
entirely dissimilar. It is to be partly explained
in terms of a political campaign to malign and
isolate the Indian left wing's opposition to the
deal by portraying these parties as lacking in
patriotism and as serving China's geopolitical
interests. Thus even Hindu fundamentalist
spokesmen who distrust the nuclear deal changed
tack once the deal began to be projected as a way
to block China's ascendancy in Asia.
Underlying all this is the main challenge
for India. India is yet to figure out how to come
to terms with China's rise. There was a phase
until recently when the Indian strategic community
fancied that India's growth rate would
incrementally give China a run for its money. The
realization that China has by far outstripped
India has been slow in coming. But it is now
As a former Indian diplomat,
Rajiv Sikri, put it recently against the broad
context of Sino-Indian relations, "The latent
mistrust of China, which was well entrenched among
the security agencies but of late was missing in
the public perceptions and within the strategic
community, has now resurfaced at a popular level."
The US has no doubt found it expedient
quietly to encourage such a trend in Indian public
opinion. An odd statement here or there over the
specter of China doesn't really upset Paulson's
agenda. But it keeps the Indian strategic
community on edge.
A sizable chunk of the
Indian strategic community sincerely believes that
the US desires to see India develop as a
counterweight to China's rise in Asia. Some among
them believe that India may have already begun to
act as a "balancer" in international politics. But
Sikri, who headed the Indian Foreign Ministry
until recently, thinks that at the official level,
India's overall relationship with China hasn't yet
been "thought through".
At any rate, the
China bogey has come in very handy in Delhi for
invoking Indians' intense sense of patriotism, and
for garnering it in defense of the nuclear deal.
Patriotism, in fact, has become the last refuge
for those defending the nuclear deal with the US.
The fact is that it is very difficult to attribute
a raison d'etre for the nuclear deal except
in terms of what in actuality it is, namely the
alignment of Indian foreign policy with US
geostrategy in Asia.
The Indian trait of
self-righteousness that Raphel referred to is in
full cry. Sen's undiplomatic outburst reflected
that. He asked, "So nothing happens by accident.
It's not just symbolic. It's much, much more. But
will we be able to get benefits out of all that
without this [nuclear agreement]?"
on to answer: "All of this is inter-linked. We
cannot insulate this. People don't seem to realize
The result is, like headless
chickens, ageless Indian politicians are "running
around". Not a seemly sight for a great power in
M K Bhadrakumar
served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign
Service for more than 29 years, with postings
including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and
to Turkey (1998-2001).