China’s inveterate discordance with India is intuitively visceral rather than cerebral; a flagrant exposition of a primordial instinct driven by the crude urges of supremacy, jealousy and vengeance—base traits that militate against pragmatic co-existence, the mantra of the modern world. China, despite its pomp as a modern technologically advanced nation, remains a medieval suzerain wedded to an archaic mindset. This is the difficult conundrum that India needs to unravel to interpret China’s recent actions, especially its decision to stall the UN ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar.
At the heart of Chinese animosity is a sibling rivalry of sorts. Both China and India, the bearers of rich ancient civilisations, came into being as modern states almost simultaneously in the late 1940s: one, a champion of democracy and the other professing Communism. However, it was India with its charismatic leaders Gandhi and Nehru and its message of non-violence that caught the world’s attention much to the chagrin of China.
India’s ascendency became an eyesore. Reacting to India’s contention of having introduced China to the non-aligned powers at Bandung in 1957, Zhou Enlai, China’s first Prime Minister chafed at the idea of a “third rate power like India claiming to introduce to the world the Prime Minister of a first rate power like China” (Kuldip Nayar, India: The Critical Years).
The 1962 war, ostensibly a fallout of a contentious boundary dispute, was in reality a ruse to humiliate India and establish Chinese dominance. Sarvepalli Gopal corroborates this in his authoritative biography of Nehru by quoting a Chinese official who explains that the prime objective of the war was to demolish India’s “arrogance’ and “illusions of grandeur” and that China “had taught India a lesson” and, if necessary, they would teach her a lesson “again and again”.
Post the 1962 war debacle, India suffered a severe loss of face, receded into relative obscurity and posed no real challenge to China. Things, however, changed in 2014, when India elected an energetic Narendra Modi, who left no stone unturned to shore up India’s image abroad; a whirlwind global tour increased India’s visibility and reaffirmed its potential.
Co-incidentally, world conditions too turned favourable. The global economy suffered a meltdown, and China the kingpin stumbled, leaving India with its consistent growth rate as the only shining spot in an otherwise grim economy. There was even talk of the Indian growth rate trumping China’s.
India was on the rise again: China had to make good its threat of punishing India “again and again”.
China’s veto of the UN ban on Masood Azhar must be juxtaposed on this changing geo-political milieu.
Pakistan’s chicanery in this affair is undeniable, but more significant is China’s own inherent interest, which cannot be overlooked. Sequence this action with the sudden rash of cross border intrusions by China late last year and a larger game plan emerges: the destabilisation of India with an intent to halt its progress.
Link the recent happenings in Kashmir to the UN veto and the picture becomes even more sinister: an insurgency in the near future instigated by Pakistan and covertly supported by China. India must be alert.
China’s current pique also stems from closer India-US military ties and India’s collaboration with Japan, Philippines and Vietnam to deter Chinese expansion in the South China Seas, a payback for its “string of pearls” strategy that aims to upstage Indian Navy’s dominance in the Indian Ocean by building ports at Gwadar (Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Chittagong (Bangladesh), Sittwe (Myanmar) and Maroa (Maldives).
Obviously concerned about the growing India-US military co-operation, the official Chinese paper, the Global Times (17 April 2016) cast the US as an outsider, invoked common interest and advocated regional stability ahead of the meeting of foreign ministers of Russia, India and China in Moscow on 18 April: “Regional stability is a common pursuit of both China and India.
The US, as an external power, has different interests from the regional countries of China, Russia and India. Eurasian stability particularly requires trilateral cooperation among China, Russia and India.”
For India to reciprocate, China must reconsider its UN veto and actively disassociate itself from the terrorist activities of Pakistan, the greatest threat to regional stability.
Vivek Gumaste is a US based academic and political commentator.