Sino-American Strategies and the Indian Point of Weakness

M.L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur
The Telegraph, 2001

An intriguing and a dangerous thought process and pattern of alignment is emerging in Chinese and American attitudes about Indian foreign affairs which could undermine India’s external position if left unchecked.  China’s approach is to build special links with the Islamic world despite evidence that Chinese allies have been active in promoting terrorism; and the corollary is to actively marginalize Indian positions. America’s approach as expressed by the State Department in Washington and the US posture in India too has a sub-text and a hidden agenda where anti-terrorism is fast becoming a side show.  It is important to examine the emerging agendas and the subtext in Chinese and American policies because they have a common purpose i.e. to marginalize India and to confuse the Indian political establishment with wrong inputs.

Recently developments show the growing reliance on deception as well as the development of an indirect approach in Chinese and American foreign affairs in Delhi.  They reveal the influence of Sun Tzu’s ideas in Chinese strategy in the classical Chinese manual on statecraft ‘The Art of War’ Tsun Tzu emphasized three essentials.  First, false appearances must be promoted to confuse the enemy, where black is projected as white and vice versa.  This is known as black propaganda which communists since Lenin’s days have promoted and which Western intelligence practitioners like Allen Dulles recognized as the basis of modern statecraft.  Secondly, Sun Tzu stressed that tactics must be flexible and they must adapt to the enemy’s condition.  Thirdly, there must be quick concentration on the enemy’s point of weakness.  Sun Tzu is widely studied in American military and diplomatic academics as well as in business schools and forms the basis of statecraft against friends and foes in American foreign relations as well.

What is the current Indian point of weakness in Chinese and American thinking about Indian affairs?  The point of weakness as always goes back to the Nehru-Mountbatten days, and the point can be stretched further back to the days of the East India Company or earlier to Mughal empire building.  It lay in the vulnerability of the ‘Indian political centre’ – whether it be the Maharaja or the Emperor before 1947, or the Indian Prime Minister after 1947, to palace intrigue and to external manipulation and advice.  This is the dominant pattern in Indian political and military history.  Such intrigue and manipulation is easily organized when the political centre is disunited and lacking in a consensus about ‘national’ strategies and methods, when it has not developed a strategic game plan and moves in relation to external enemies.  The exercise is asymmetrical now because Indian political and bureaucratic practitioners are wedded to the propaganda that nations naturally seek peaceful relations, and Indian security lies in peace talk and search for friendly relations, whereas the rest of the world thinks of India as a country to be managed and contained by increasing internal frictions within the political establishment i.e. at the center of decision making and at the level of society.  The Vajpayee-Advani feud is an example of the former; the situation in Kashmir and Gujarat is an example of the latter.  Because the frames of reference are different and asymmetrical the advantage lies with the foreigner who is better organized and has a clear strategic purpose.  The problem is made in India.

American and Chinese moves in India show how quickly and quietly the Beijing-State Department combination is applying itself to confuse the Indian political establishment with wrong inputs.  The false appearance is that America and China are fighting Islamic terror and that Iraq will be disarmed.  These are public relations dramas and well managed side shows.  Beijing has excellent military supply and diplomatic relations with Islamic countries which are implicated in the advancement of terrorism pre- September 11 and thereafter e.g. with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan.  So does the USA.  In Delhi Indians are being told that neither the USA nor China will act against Islamic terrorism in the Subcontinent not is there backing for early Indian action against terrorism.  For India anti-terrorism is intended to be a 20-year campaign which is a good way to sap Indian energy, resources and political will. In the meantime policies are being developed to detach Kashmir from India and foreign advice is to support the Kashmiri separatists.  Even Bush’s international campaign against Saddam Hussein gains an interesting twist in American diplomacy in Delhi.  Indians are encouraged to give lukewarm support to Saddam even though this is against the official Bush line.  There is a calculation in such wrong inputs.  Lukewarm Indian support for Saddam earns India no points in Baghdad and it can be used by Washington and Beijing to show that Indians are ambivalent about Saddam when the international community in the Security Council is so firm.

The quick concentration on the enemy’s mind and 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 is that Beijing has a desire to alter Himalayan geopolitics in its favour by securing Indian consent or concession for Chinese policies in the Himalayan region as well as in Pakistan and in Myanmar and the Indian Ocean area.  In the Himalayas China wants Indian support for the Maoists in Nepal and the pro-China King, and by default for the Nepalese Maoists in Bihar.  Secondly, Beijing wants to demoralize the Tibetans with the thought that Delhi is in favour of China’s policy of accommodation which currently is a game of words and propaganda.

 The attempted confusion stems from the articulation of a simple and a false idea i.e. the Sino-Indian problem centres around the Himalayas.  The border issue is the symptom, not the cause of the controversies.  The border issue has nothing to do with PRC-Pakistan-North Korean nuclear and missile trade, with China’s naval policy in the Coco islands and the Indian Ocean, with China’s view that the Indian Ocean should not be called ‘Indian’, with Chinese indirect support to insurgencies in Kashmir and fundamentalism in Afghanistan and so on.  The geopolitics of the Himalayas cannot and should not change unless there is a fundamental reassessment of China’s worldview in relation to India as well as other Asian powers.  Opening up Sikkim to Chinese trade is also to open the gateway to Chinese military transport in a region where geography favours Chinese military movement.  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 akin to the opening up of Myanmar to China which has led to a military presence in the Bay of Bengal.  In other words, the centre of gravity for Indian practitioners is not the Himalayan region, rather it is the mind-set of the Chinese decision makers just as Chinese and American practitioners are trying to mess with the Indian decision cycle and with the Indian mind.  To open up Sikkim to Chinese trade is to invite China to cut off India’s northeast through the Siliguri corridor in a military crisis.  Such ideas are na´ve and incoherent and show a lack of understanding of modern geopolitics.

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