The Mao-era People’s of Republic of China (PRC) is very different from the country as it had been during the Deng era. The Great Helmsman saw conflict as a good way to resolve a situation. And while his internal battles, such as the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward, were disasters for his people, his external interventions — in Korea, India and Vietnam — proved to be successes.
The United States got such a shock in Korea that it has never afterwards seriously challenged the Chinese. As for India, the years of neglect of the armed forces under Jawaharlal Nehru fused with the lack of command ability of Lt.Gen. B.M. Kaul to craft a disaster on all fronts where the PLA challenged the Indian Army in 1962, a conflict which cast a continuing shadow over Sino-Indian relations.
Since then, Beijing has pursued a policy designed to box in India by converting Pakistan into a nuclear and missile power. It has sought to outflank India across its periphery, using its superior resources and diplomatic clout. Beijing’s policy on India is largely set by the PLA, an institution that shares with its Pakistani counterparts a desire to see the country contained, if not broken up. While Mao indulged the PLA, making it his central pillar of authority, Deng Xiaoping was wiser, confining the people in uniform to the periphery and stressing the importance of peaceful resolution of conflicts. Had Rajiv Gandhi been given a second term in office rather than get blown up, the odds are that he would have come to an agreement with China on the basis of the Zhou Enlai formula of 1961, which is the legalisation of the status quo. Unfortunately, none of his successors had the chemistry that Rajiv enjoyed with Deng Xiaoping, ties that continue to the next generation. When Priyanka Vadra was in Beijing, she had a long meeting with Deng Rong, the daughter of the patriarch.
Sadly, since Deng passed on, his successors have not been strong enough to ensure that the PLA confine itself to military matters, so that since then it has interfered in policy matters unrelated to their field. Deng’s successor, Jiang Zemin, lavished attention and resources on the PLA, promoting an unprecedented number of officers to higher positions, including star ranks. Hu Jintao has done the same in his decade of control as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), while successor Xi Jinping (who takes over next year) has familial links with the PLA, his musical wife being a senior officer in the military. Thus, the Mao-era tradition of the PLA being at the core of the CCP is likely to continue. This is bad news for India, a country that — together with Japan and the US — comprises the Axis of Evil of the PLA.
Weeks ago, Chinese spokespersons responded with hysteria when referring to an Indian public sector company’s oil agreement with a Vietnamese entity. Pressure and blandishments have worked in the past in preventing several Indian overseas oil deals from fructifying. Clearly, there are those in our petroleum sector who are willing to sell out the national interest in the interest of foreign players, for a price that allows them and their families to live in luxury thereafter. It is to the credit of Jaipal Reddy that this has not happened with the Vietnamese deal, which is as good for both sides as the several mysteriously aborted deals (in Africa and Myanmar) were in the past. Had Hanoi signed an agreement with a New Zealand or a Belgian entity, the PLA would have not been as frisky as it has been over the Indian deal.
Since then, military-linked blogs have been fuming with threats and curses, while even official Chinese media has solemnly threatened war in case India goes ahead with extracting oil from the South China Sea. Clearly a case of the PLA seeking to scare the Indian establishment into a retreat from its commitments, a stance that will be substantially helped by the numerous Macau bank accounts of prominent Indian politicians.
Dropcap OnTo claim the South China Sea as wholly belonging to the PRC is as ridiculous as averring that the Indian Ocean belongs in its entirety to India. Since 1949, Beijing has used fact and fiction to claim huge territories, including Arunachal Pradesh. What would be its reaction were Delhi to claim Tibet, on the ground that the Maharaja of Kashmir was “Tibet Adhipati”, a title mentioned even in the Instrument of Accession? Clearly, the PLA needs to be told where to get off. China has the potential to have $300 billion in trade with India over the next ten years, a crucial factor of it is not to suffer massive regression in growth. But there is no reason why India ought to accept the destruction of its handicrafts and small industry in the face of an uncontrolled flood of imports from China, if the PLA continues to call the shots on policy towards China’s most important neighbour, and seeks to prevent India from accessing resources in international waters.