Monday will see the arrival of Li Keqiang, China’s new Prime Minister, to India. Thanks to the ill-timed and indefensible entry of some People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers into the territory around the Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip in Ladakh, he will land in a country deeply suspicious of Beijing. For weeks after the 15 April incursion, the media in India was filled with blood-curdling rhetoric from those whose only exposure to combat is watching it on television.
Because of the neglect of indigenous private industry by the Ministry of Defence since the 1980s, this country has earned the doubtful accolade of being the world’s top purchaser of armaments. Hence, any talk of war would be music to the ears of arms manufacturers in Russia, France and other countries that together are the sources of India’s growing purchases of weapons systems, whether land, sea or air. Not surprisingly, the intelligence agencies of these countries, especially France, which is now desperate to stave off depression through a boost of its arms sales, specialise in planting reports about the imminence of an attack by China on India. The 15 April incursion was itself presented as at the very least the prelude to a full-scale attack on India.
Certainly, the Chinese military has within its ranks several individuals, who look at India through lenses manufactured by the Pakistan army. In the past, it was US policy towards India that was subject to a veto by the Pakistan army, the factor which prevented Bill Clinton from taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the 1992 collapse of the Soviet Union and a non-Nehru family PM to forge an alliance with India. The Clinton administration was obsessed with Kashmir and allowed the chance to slip, much as the Kennedy administration had in 1963, and for the same reason, the impulse to get India to surrender that part of Kashmir, which was in its possession before Jawaharlal Nehru’s 1949 cease-fire decision took effect. Indeed, despite the adoration that Monica Lewinski’s partner in aerobic exercise excites in India, the reality is that the Clinton administration was viciously hostile to India, not only in the matter of Kashmir, but on the issue of India’s nuclear program and its need to ensure high-tech platforms.
Subsequently, it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who led the successful charge within the so-called Obama (but in actuality Clinton Lite) 2009-2012 administration to deny India the hi-tech exemptions, which would have ensured that US companies had an edge in business dealings with India. Hillary Clinton’s love for India has mostly been expressed in visits to ethnic restaurants in pricey hotels in India and not in more practical ways.
Until China escapes from the death-grip of the Pakistan army’s Indiaphobia, relations between Beijing and Delhi will continue to be hostage to the PLA’s Pakistan-centric view of India as a threat rather than as China’s biggest international opportunity. In telecom, energy and infrastructure, only the India market can allow Chinese companies to win back the markets lost as a result of the EU slowdown.
Chinese companies price their offerings about 30% to 40% cheaper than do their international competitors, and hence are attractive to Indian corporates looking at options which would enable the consumer to have the benefits of telecom and electric power at rates other than extortionate. Unfortunately for them, the PLA’s friskiness on the border (which it has ensured remains undelineated) threatens to have the effect of blocking access in India to Chinese companies.
Hopefully, President Xi and Premier Li will be able to educate the generals about the fact that the economy, which is sustaining PLA expansion, needs India if it is to continue to grow near the levels seen during the past three decades. It is time Beijing overrode the Pakistan army’s veto and exchanged maps with India which show the exact ground position of troops on both sides of the frontier. Not only with India but across the arc of Asia, the PLA has become almost as negative a factor for China as the Pakistan army is for Islamabad. The immense goodwill secured during earlier decades because of Deng Xiaoping’s policy of peaceful rise is being dissipated by muscle flexing directed at India, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Should the Obama administration shed its Clintonite coils and go in for a 21st century version of Lend Lease, transferring surplus military equipment to these four countries, Washington would gain two additional allies (in India and Vietnam) besides Manila and Tokyo.
The PLA’s aggressive posturing is helping to create an Asian military alliance which excludes China, besides helping international competitors to get regional governments to block Chinese competition. Until the military is brought under control, China will not be able to actualise the vast synergy possible between itself and the neighbourhood.