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SOUTH ASIA AND CHINA’S POLICY RECORD: An Analysis

 Paper no. 387    04. 01. 2002

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

(The views are those of the author)

China’s Single Point Agenda in South Asia: Historical review of China’s policy record in South Asia indicates that China has followed a single point agenda in the last 50 years or so. China intruded into South Asia in 1950 itself by its military occupation of Tibet which was facilitated by the United States and the West’s pre-occupation with the Korean War.

Its focus in South Asia, ever since, has been to strategically and politically de-stabilise India and thereby prevent its emergence as a major power.  This thrust is clearly discernible throughout till today, despite the many vocal statements of China’s ardent desires for eternal friendship with India, said to be centuries old.

China’s policy record in South Asia needs to be analysed at this moment in view of the forthcoming visit of the Chinese Prime Minister to India in January 2002.  China should not be led to believe by the vocal protestations of the large tribe of China apologists in India, that the Indian people are fond of China.  The Indian people carry a grievous wound of 1962 in their national psyche.

China’s single-point agenda in South Asia  to keep India strategically de-stabilised manifested itself in many forms, the major ones being discussed below.

China’s Balance of Power Politics in South Asia: In South Asia, India’s pre-eminence as the major power stands out prominently.  This arises from a natural bestowal on India of the attributes of power - human resources, natural resources, size and geo-strategic location and industrial and economic infrastructure.

The fact that such a major power in the making, like India, bordered Tibet, made India look sinister in Chinese threat perceptions.  Since China could not cut down India’s geography or resources, China embarked actively in playing " balance of power" politics in South Asia.

China chose Pakistan as a strategic ally in South Asia for this role.  This was, not-withstanding Pakistan’s active involvement in Cold War alliances of the West aimed at China.  Expediency makes strange bed- fellows as the China-Pakistan strategic nexus of the last four decades highlights.

Pakistan was a fraction of the size of India, partitioned in 1971 by a civil war and on the move towards Islamic fundamentalism.  China in the absence of other choices, built up Pakistan as a regional "strategic balancer" and regional "strategic spoiler" state in South Asia.

Fortunately, for China in the hey-day of the 1970s and 1980s, this single point Chinese agenda found congruence with United States policies in China.  Even in 1990s, President Clinton once declared that China should act as the regional policeman in South Asia.

The means chosen by China were; (1) Military build-up of Pakistan; (2) Pakistan’s emergence as a nuclear weapons and nuclear missile state; (3) Creating a ring of Chinese weapons client states around India.

Military Build-up of Pakistan: China has relentlessly built up Pakistan’s military build-up since the 1960s.  Pakistan’s Armed Forces military hardware inventories are overwhelmingly of Chinese origin.  China has built up the entire Pakistani indigenous defence production infrastructure.

Pakistan’s armed forces present a strange paradox of Chinese military hardware being sought to be integrated into Western pattern strategies and tactics.

China’s Role in Emergence of Pakistan as a Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Missiles State: China stands credited with the dubious honour of building a ‘failing state’ like Pakistan into a nuclear weapons and nuclear missile state.  China’s clandestine contributions stand well documented by CIA and US Congress documents.

China, once again not only supplied ‘off-the-shelf’ nuclear capable missiles with IRBM ranges, but also set up missile productions facilities in Pakistan.

Chinese designs here were not to contribute to Pakistan’s defence capabilities or deterrence but to once again strategically de-stabilise India’s security.

Chinese Military Equipment for Client States: In South Asia, China has attempted to build a ring of military equipment client states around India.  Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal did go in for some Chinese military hardware but have since backed off.

Myanmar, however, has received special attention from China in a big way as Pakistan.

It seems that the smaller states of South Asia saw through the Chinese game and have since refused to be a part of Chinese strategy.

China’s Role in Terrorism and Insurgencies in South Asia: China has not played any constructive role to curb terrorism and insurgencies of the cross-border type in South Asia.  China has in no way restrained Pakistan, its sole strategic ally in South Asia from such nefarious activities.  Pakistani mercenaries operating in the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir have most often than not been captured with Chinese arms and ammunition besides those of Pakistani origin.

China’s Balance Sheet in South Asia: The balance sheet in South Asia in terms of results indicates clearly that: (1) China has failed to achieve its single point agenda in South Asia i.e. to strategically destabilise India and limit it to South Asia; (2) China’s protege and ‘strategic balancer’ and ‘spoiler state’ in South Asia, namely Pakistan,  has ended up as a ‘failed state’ by all international standards (3) India has broken out of its South Asian confines and destined to play a major role in the Asia Pacific and globally too; (4) China’s South Asia policies (with particular reference to India) do no longer enjoy congruence with or fund support from the United States; (5) Pakistan, today finds itself under global focus for its nuclear assets being under control of an Islamic fundamentalist military hierarchy.

Questions for Chinese Prime Minister on His Forthcoming Visit to India: The balance sheet above should be staring in the face of the Chinese Prime Minister when he visits India, this month, and provide some soul-search for China’s South Asia policies.

Major questions which China has to face are:

* China has not been able to achieve its strategic designs in South Asia, vis-a-vis India.  Would it like to change course?

* Pakistan’s continuing value as a strategic asset for China’s strategic policies in South Asia?

*Can China afford to continue being insensitive to India’s strategic sensitivities in South Asia?

*China’s options in its South Asian policies, if a strategic partnership emerges between United States and India?

*Can China continue to be strategically aligned or in a supportive role of states noted for use of Islamic Jehad as an instrument of state policy?

India’s public as opposed to China’s apologists in India would be looking forward to discern any change in Chinese attitudes during the Chinese Prime Minister’s visit to India this month.

Conclusion: International relationships are built on  faith and trust.  Both these elements have sadly been missing from China’s policy record in South Asia, with special reference to India.  Mere absence of conflict on the India-Tibet border does not promote trust in China’s intentions towards India.  The Indian public demands to know that if China’s professed friendship for India was genuine, then what Chinese impulses led it to create a nuclear and terrorist monster on India’s borders.

China has always demanded that India should allay Chinese concerns about India.  In view of the above analysis it is China which has to allay fears about Chinese intentions in South Asia both to India and the Asia Pacific countries.

Failure to allay such fears can only lead to the growing distrust of China’s strategic designs and her intentions to be a genuine and a responsible major power contributing to global and regional security.

(Dr. Subhash Kapila is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst.  He can be reached on e-mail for discussion at esdecom@vsnl.com

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