M.L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur

The Telegraph, December 25, 2002

An intriguing and dangerous pattern is emerging in Chinese and American attitudes about Indian foreign affairs which could undermine India’s international position if left unchecked.  China’s approach is to build special links with the Islamic world and the corollary is to actively marginalize Indian positions.  The American approach, as expressed by the state department in Washington, and the posturing of the United States of America with regard to India, too, has a sub-text and the agenda of anti-terrorism is fast becoming a side show.  It is important to examine these trends because they have a common purpose that is to sideline India and to confuse the Indian political establishment.

Recent developments show the major role played by deception and indirect approach in Chinese and American foreign affairs.  This is probably the influence of Sun Tzu’s ideas.  In the classical Chinese manual on statecraft, “The Art of War”, Sun Tzu emphasized three essentials.  One, false appearances must be promoted to confuse the enemy.  This is known as black propaganda which communists have promoted since the days of V.I. Lenin and which Western intelligence practitioners like Allen Dulles have recognized as the basis of modern statecraft.  Two, Sun Tzu stressed that the tactics must be flexible and they must adapt to the enemy’s conditions.  Three, there must be quick concentration on the enemy’s point of weakness.  Sun Tzu is widely studied in American military and diplomatic academies as well as in business schools and forms the basis of statecraft in US foreign relations.

What exactly compromises India’s position?  The point of weakness as always goes back to the days of Jawaharlal Nehru-Lord Mountbatten, and it may even be stretched to as further back as the raj or even the Mughal empire.  It lay in the vulnerability of the Indian political centre to palace intrigue and to external manipulation and advice.  This is the dominant pattern in Indian political and military history.  Such intrigue or manipulation is easily organized when the political centre is disunited and lacking in consensus about “national” strategies and methods, when it has not developed a strategic game plan and moves in relation to its external enemies.  Indian political and bureaucratic practitioners are still wedded to the idea that nations naturally seek peaceful relations, and that Indian security lies in peace talk and search for friendly relations.  The rest of the world meanwhile sees India as a country increasingly dominated by internal frictions within the political establishment at the level of decision-making and within society.  The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-L.K.Advani feud is an example of the former; the situation in Kashmir and Gujarat is an example of the latter.  Since the frames of reference are different the advantage lies with the foreigner who is better organized and has a clear strategic purpose.

US and Chinese moves in India show how quickly and quietly Beijing-Washington are confusing the Indian political establishment with wrong inputs.  The false appearance is that both the US and China seem to be fighting against terror, which is one reason why Iraq apparently has to be disarmed.  But this is public relations hype.  Beijing has excellent military and diplomatic relations with Islamic countries which are involved in the advancing of terrorism, pre-September 11 and thereafter – Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan.  So does the US.

In the diplomatic circles of New Delhi it is widely known that neither the US nor China will act against Islamic terrorism in the subcontinent, nor will they back India’s action against terrorism.  For India, anti-terrorism will remain a 20-year campaign which will sap its energy, resources and political will.  In the meantime, Kashmir may be encouraged to detach from India.

Even George W. Bush’s international campaign against Saddam Hussein gets an interesting twist in American diplomacy In New Delhi.  Indians are encouraged to extend a lukewarm support to Saddam Hussein, even though this is against the official Bush line.  There is a calculation in this.  Indian support for the Iraqi dictator will earn it no extra points in Baghdad, but it will be enough for both Washington and Beijing to show that Indians are ambivalent about Saddam Hussein while the international community in the Security Council is so firmly against him.

The policy to concentrate on the enemy’s point of weakness is shown by the orchestrated campaign to get Vajpayee to Beijing. To do what?  The dream merchants suggest that this visit will change Himalayan geo-politics for mutual gain.  The reality might be quite different.  This might be interpreted as an attempt on China’s part to secure Indian consent or concession for Chinese policies in the Himalayan region as well as with regard to Pakistan,  Myanmar and the Indian Ocean area.  China also wants Indian support for the Maoists in Nepal and the Nepalese Maoists in Bihar.  There could also be a long-term plan on the part of Beijing to demoralize the Tibetans with the apparent support of New Delhi for China’s policy of accommodation which currently is a game of words and propaganda.

The confusion stems from a simple and false idea, that is, the Sino-Indian problem centres around the Himalayas.  But the border issue is the symptom, not the cause of the conflict.  There are other issues involved – the China-Pakistan-North Korean nuclear and missile trade, China’s naval policy in the Coco Islands and the Indian Ocean, China’s view that the Indian Ocean should not be called “Indian”.  China’s indirect geopolitics in the Himalayan region will not alter unless there is a fundamental change in the way China looks at India with respect to other Asian powers.

India should also realize that opening up Sikkim to Chinese trade is akin to opening the gate to Chinese military trade in a region where geography favours Chinese military movement.  It is also an open invitation to China to cut off India’s Northeast through the Siliguri corridor in a military crisis.  Such ideas are incoherent and show a lack of understanding of modern geopolitics.  It is also foolish to think of Tibet as a peace zone when it is bristling with Chinese missiles, road and rail construction and mass migration of the Han population.  To open up the Himalayan region is like opening up Myanmar to China.

In other words, the target for Indian diplomats should not be the Himalayan region, rather the mind-set of the Chinese decision-makers in much the same way that the Indian mind is the target for Chinese and American diplomacy.

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