OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion through Blogs and Podcasts.

China’s President, Hu Jintao, is set to make the first visit to India by a Chinese head of state in 10 years. China has expressed guarded support to India’s quest for civil nuclear energy by supporting the Indo-US Nuclear deal with some qualifications. His four-day trip could also see the emerging trilateral ties between India, China and Russia and their joint push for multilateralism in world affairs receive a further push. India and China may however not be making any historic headway on the boundary negotiations during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit. With trade and not borders on the chinese agenda China has asked India not to “discriminate” against its companies. The “security barriers” that inhibit Chinese firms’ attempts to make inroads into strategic areas of the Indian market has long been a bone of contention for the chinese.

The recent gaffe by the Chinese Ambassador on Arunachal Pradesh have once again brought to fore Indian suspicions on Chinese intentions. Offstumped in the past has commented on how China was buying influence through loans and investments to underdeveloped nations in its quest for energy security. The recent Africa Summit in Beijing case in point as well the Chinese ambivalence on the Iranian Nuclear Program. The most insightful read into the chinese mindset and where China is headed comes from a close examination of the recent visit to china by French President Jacques Chirac. Offstumped has analyzed some of the media coverage of this visit to gain some insights.

The Chinese Government mouthpiece People’s Daily Online in its english edition carried an Opinion piece on the occassion of Chirac’s visit in which it praised Chirac for what it called “strategic farsightedness”. The op-ed piece noted the enthusiasm within the chinese circles for Chirac’s visit with superlatives like “greet and salute”. It also hailed the “good impression” Chirac had created in Chinese minds. It also saw in Chirac “a broad vision of culture” and “a modest and eager-to-learn attitude”. The piece wrapped up by terming the visit as “far reaching” for its “enduring impact”.  Offstumped has also scanned about 200 articles with references to India in the last 30 days that have appeared in the People’s Daily Online. There was barely any opinion column on the impending Hu Jintao visit to India. There were a couple of news items on the impending visit with speculation on whether China could clinch a Free Trade Agreement, FTA, with India. In fact the People’s Daily pretty much disposed of this trip with those to Vietnam, Laos and Pakistan.

So while the Indian media has gone to town over the Hu Jintao visit, it must be asked what did Chirac do to earn so much Chinese adulation and attention ? In understanding the answer to that question lay the key to understanding the Chinese mindset and in further deducing where its strategic interests lie. The opinion piece in the People’s Daily Online provides clues on this as well. In fact the opinion piece gets to the point right away when it praises Chirac for what it calls his “independent foreign policy” (read not toeing the American Line) and the creation of “a multi-polar world”. It goes further to praise Chirac for his opposition to the American war in Iraq calling it ” courageous and farsighted”.  It also notes that Chirac had done more to earn Chinese adulations. “four China trips in less than 12 years since he became the French president in 1995” as well as the “French investment in China has risen 400 percent in the past decade with 600 French firms having settled down to do business in the country“. The recent Airbus decision to manufacture in China during the Chirac visit case in point.

This brings us back to the original question of Indian suspicions and Chinese intentions. China’s agents in India, the twin Communist Parties who have little to say by way of praise for free trade or open markets have once again demonstrated to us their utter lack of appreciation of Indian Strategic Interests and their perverse world view and ideology. Some free market advocates as well have poohed poohed security concerns and have pitched for okaying the FTA with China. It is not hard to see why China is keen to clinch a free trade agreement. China with its GDP growth predicted at 10.4% is currently experiencing what economists call over capacity due to increased private investment. The Government has tried to cool down the growth with some economic measures but there are predicitons of a painfull pullback of economic activity. Domestic demand in China unlike India is not keeping pace with its growth. Hence the Chinese need for new markets and a free trade agreement with India.

So what should the Indian response be ? On the one hand we had the silly spectacle of the BJP President Rajnath Singh protesting the date of arrival of Hu Jintao on the grounds that it coincided with the Chinese ceasefire of 1962 war with India over Aksai Chin. The BJP president could have done well to have articulated a more thoughtful and strategic response to the Chinese FTA question in line the role of the Principal Opposition.

Well despair not Rajnath Singh, Offstumped has some advise for you from the ancient wisdom of Chanakya (Kautilya) in Book VI of his Arthashastra “Source of Sovereign States”.

The king who, being possessed of good character and best-fitted elements of sovereignty, is the fountain of policy, is termed the conqueror.        The king who is situated anywhere immediately on the circumference of the conqueror’s territory is termed the enemy.

        The king who is likewise situated close to the enemy, but separated from the conqueror only by the enemy, is termed the friend (of the conqueror). 

That my enemy, possessed as he is of immense power, will yet in the near future, hurt the elements of his own sovereignty

Throwing the circumference of the Circle of States beyond his friend’s territory, and making the kings of those states as the spokes of that circle, the conqueror shall make himself as the nave of that circle

It is exactly this mindset that in the last century saw China conquer Tibet, indulge Pakistan and claim Aksai Chin that Nehru failed to understand as he went out of his way to broker a deal favoring China in the previous Korean crisis. It is also the same mindset that is now seeing China invest in Myanmar.

Offstumped Bottomline: The relative lack of profuse adulation for Sino-Indian friendly ties as reflected by the Chinese Government mouthpiece is a timely reminder that intentions of peaceful co-existence cannot be equated to a convergence of strategic interests. Sino-Indian strategic interests will always be at odds given the geography and natural competition. Nothing reflects Indian naivety when it comes to securing Strategc Interests than “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai”. The Manmohan Singh lead UPA Government must take a dispassionate view of the implications of a FTA with China which is not just rooted in present day reality. It must make the case for such a FTA with a long term view of where Indian strategic interests lie while not being burdened by suspicions of the past.

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