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Monday, Dec 16, 2019

Turn things around

For India, China remains a conundrum. Should we look at China through a Western prism? As the big bully on the block? Or should we see it as a country with a purely benign approach towards India? Amit Baruah examines...

india Updated: Aug 18, 2008 23:10 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times

Don't take away China's thunder. But as the run-up to the Olympic Games demonstrated, the country has many detractors. Before they actually got underway, it appeared that the Tibet issue would overshadow the Olympics. A number of factors, including the devastating earthquake, ensured that the Tibet issue got pushed away from the headlines.

All those who attacked the Chinese — including George W. Bush, Nicholas Sarkozy and Kevin Rudd — were in attendance for the glittering opening of the Games on August 8. After all, beyond a point, the US, France and Australia will not jeopardise their trade relationship with China.

Hosting the Olympics is as much about politics as it is about sport. The Beijing Games have been China's formal coming-out party. It's a statement that Beijing can do what the rest of the world can do. And better. The West, however, remains uncomfortable with any country that has a system different from the one it practises. It may be comfortable with theocratic autocracies in West Asia, but communist China rekindles old Cold War instincts.

Much dialogue has — and continues to — take place between the West and China. But the sub-text and agenda of the West is that China must change its political system and replace it with one that the West is comfortable with. Though, like in any other nation, there are fault-lines in China, the pundits who have cried themselves hoarse suggesting that the ‘bubble is about to burst’, have been proved wrong time and again.

For India, China remains a conundrum. Should we look at China through a Western prism? As the big bully on the block? Or should we see it as a country with a purely benign approach towards India? Which makes us come to the other question: is there anything like an ‘Indian view of the world’ in today's integrated world?

From a country at the margin of international affairs that came to the West’s serious attention after the 1949 communist revolution, China has travelled a long way. The country is the factory of the world, producing just about anything and everything for global consumption. This is the nation run by a communist party on capitalist lines — having embraced free trade and continues to chip away at the economic order created after World War II.

China is a country that generates fear, envy and resentment in many parts of the world, diverse sections in India included. The last bit stems from an inferiority complex handed down from the 1962 war. The easy thing for Indians to do is to follow the Western cue on China. In fact, India almost did that when it agreed to a quadric-partite ‘dialogue of democracies’ — that included Japan, the US and Australia last year — before turning away from these talks.

Unlike distant powers indulging in running down China, India has a massive, yet-to-be-resolved border dispute with China. (The non-delineated nature of the boundary ensures encounters between our security forces.) It is a measure of diplomatic success that there hasn't been a single fatality in border skirmishes since 1967 between Indian and Chinese security forces. Encounters are inevitable. But we have the diplomatic mechanisms in place to deal with such eventualities.

India, presumably, has the wherewithal to look after its security interests should the need arise. Should our China policy be predicated on the fear of the unknown? Or driven by ignorance? For those still gripped by the memories of 1962, here's a message: it's time to move on.

The West wants to play India against China, fanning our democratic ego against an autocratic State. This is a trap India must not fall into. In January this year, India and China rightly observed, “The two sides hold the right of each country to choose its own path of social, economic and political development in which fundamental rights and the rule of law are given their due place and should be respected.”

In any case, words and strategic intent are no longer driving the India-China relationship. Now it’s dhanda. In the first quarter of 2008, bilateral trade was $18.8 billion. Should these trends continue — and there is little doubt they will — China will surpass the US to become our largest trading partner.

For a country like India, which has its own ‘China-like’ aspirations, running down Beijing at a time of national achievement will be hypocritical. Instead, let's toast the success of a neighbour and a great civilisation.

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