As George Fernandes Visits China …..


An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 20 April 2003

Militarily the Anglo–US war on Iraq proceeded exceedingly well and the world economy led by USA is poised to look up. Indians can be the gainers, but the Government must play its cards with finesse and stop critcising. USA, which holds the trumps. China did not criticize USA. Internally the BJP Government which had done well economically must stop bashing Nehru, stop propagating too much of Hindutva and get on with governance, while attending to India’s security concerns. It is only when security concerns are duly attended to that a Nation’s economy flourishes.

India’s security concerns are linked with Pakistan, USA and China. At this juncture, we learn that George Fernandes is off to China on 20th April and that is a very significant development. The war on Iraq encouraged debate on the India–Pakistan flash point along the LOC in the media world over. There was hope that a road map would emerge for Palestine. The India–Pakistan road map should follow but will it? BBC did a programme indicating that Pakistan had picked up economically and that ‘Op Parakaram’ which was designed to bleed Pakistan had not succeeded. Prem Shankar Jha did a brilliant piece in the Week and concluded that it was time to begin talk of LOC as the International Border. Ambassador Rasgotra warns it will be thrust on India and Pakistan, if we do not attend to it.

We hark back to the 1948 utterances by Nehru on the Cease Fire Line being an ethnic divide. The 1965 Tashkent Agreement by Shastri, Shimla Agreement by Mrs Gandhi and the Lahore bus ride by PM Vajpayee, all these gave a clear indication that India was always willing to settle the India–Pakistan border along the LOC, give or take some. Pakistan has to be forced to settle and may be ready now. President Clinton told both countries to maintain the sanctity of the LOC and Bush has also supported this stance fully, but he wants India’s ROAD MAP. Now is the time to bell the Pakistani cat. But with the general elections in 2004 with BJP wanting to gain a majority, no Government in India can say lets settle, at this time. So what is George going to China for? –– is the question being asked in Military circles. Is it to explain what he said in May 1998, or ask China to stop supplying arms to Pakistan, or help solve our border dispute? Summer is visiting times for Ministers, so is this just a diversion?

Recently our bickering politicians committed a bloomer. Just when India was poised to get on to USA's right side, they bowled a googly. Indians are rightly upset that India and Pakistan were being equated by USA and Pakistan was being molly coddled. There is no question of India being treated on a par with Pakistan in any sphere. Look at the relative size of the two countries. Compare their respective populations and GDPs. Pakistan has an estimated population of 145 million while India is a billion plus. That makes India seven times bigger. Even more significant is the relative size of their GDP –– Pakistan is a $65bn economy; India a $450bn ($700bn black) plus economy. That makes India, again, more than seven times bigger. But is that any reason to be upset with USA and pass a Parliament resolution against the American war on Iraq, about which Indians can do nothing? The Parliament passes a resolution and then the Nation goes in for nine days of holidays, while Haryana declares a full fortnight. This makes us repeat that in International relations we normally shoot ourselves in the foot.

USA is India's largest trading partner and now China has taken up the No 2 Position, which is not widely publicised. In defence, goods China is on the negative list but it is employing Indians to make its software in India. On 15th May 1998, George Fernandes called China India's No1 threat, just after the Pokhran-2 blasts, while PM Vajpayee explained in a letter to Clinton that because of China's nuclear capability India was obliged to go nuclear. The Chinese were upset and want an apology. In this light, George Fernandes’s visit will be watched.

Much water has flown down the Ganges and Yangtze and the Chinese are saying “lets bury the past”. One hopes, it is in this spirit that RM George Fernandes is proceeding to China this month and let us hope India's MEA has done its homework –– to tell the Chinese what India expects on the Border question and Pakistan. In the former case China has a plan to say, “Keep what you have in the East, lets give and take a little in the middle, and when you and Pakistan sort out the Kashmir dispute then only can we discuss Aksai Chin”, knowing it is too late already.

The Bush administration's major policy document released just some months ago, "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America", describes India as a "potential great power" along with Russia and China. The following summarizes the Bush Administration's vision of the future of US–India relations but we must play our cards well, vis a vis China:

  • The United States has undertaken a transformation in its bilateral relationship with India based on a conviction that US interests require a strong relationship with India. We are the two largest democracies, committed to political freedom protected by representative government. India is moving toward greater economic freedom as well. We have a common interest in the free flow of commerce, including through the vital sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean. Finally, we share an interest in fighting terrorism and in creating a strategically stable Asia.

  • Differences remain, including over the development of India's nuclear and
    missile programmes, and the pace of India's economic reforms. But while in the past these concerns may have dominated our thinking about India, today we start with a view of India as a growing world power with which we have common strategic interests. Through a strong partnership with India, we can best address any differences and shape a dynamic future.

We note the tone of "The National Security Strategy" document in its references to India and China is very interesting; India is cast in a positive light as a rising democratic power, while China's leaders are chided for taking that country along an undemocratic path.

Pakistan, by the way, is hardly mentioned in that document, except incidentally. India has a long border with many other countries, especially China, and India has major responsibilities including patrolling and guarding the Indian Ocean from terrorists and pirates.

US policymakers defend arms sales as a way to secure a growing relationship with India and Pakistan. The key, they say, is to balance the short-term goal of working with Pakistan's military to root out Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the longer-term goal of building close ties with both India and Pakistan. India must buy arms from USA. As per Christian Science Monitor India has purchased $8.2bn worth of arms over the past decade. Over the same period, Pakistan has spent nearly $1.7 billion on jet fighter aircraft, artillery guns, armoured vehicles, battle tanks, and surface-to-air missiles.

India has every thing going for it and George Fernandes’s visit to China is significant. He must take some good senior officers with him to assess China further, and see that the noises being made that China be barred from some businesses in India are toned down.

Disclaimer   Copyright