China and South Asia

Print edition : February 24, 2006

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf with European Organisation for Nuclear Research's Director Robert Aymar in Geneva on January 27. - MARTIN BUREAU/AFP

FOR all its talk of conciliation with China and Pakistan, it is apparent that India's foreign policy is driven by one dominant, if not overriding, consideration; namely to forge an entente with the United States under whose protection it can pursue a hardline policy vis-a-vis Pakistan and, if need be, a tougher stance towards China. Folly has its own momentum and an unwise intimacy with a vastly more powerful country creeps imperceptibly over the relations.

Every major country in the world seeks friendly relations with the U.S., Russia and China included. It is very much in India's interest to forge such a relationship focussed on matters where national interests coincide. They do not coincide on the U.S.' agenda in Asia. Time there was when, on June 30, 1998, a Sino-U.S. joint statement, after President Bill Clinton's visit to China, said: "Our shared interest in a peaceful and stable South Asia and in a strong global non-proliferation regime has been put at risks by these tests" in May 1998, which made India and Pakistan nuclear powers.

Seven years later, the U.S. is seeking to enlist India as a counter to China while professing to preserve a balance of power. The U.S. will monitor the balance of power between India and Pakistan, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said (vide the writer's article "Balance of power in South Asia"; Frontline; April 22, 2005). In Beijing on November 21, she said: "We expect that we will be able to keep a balance in this region." How? Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in Singapore on June 3: "We anticipate that relationship with India will continue to be strengthened. With respect to China, it is not clear which way they are going." An Indian daily gave a revealing headline to the report of his speech: "Rumsfeld backs India to hit China". He expressed concern at China's growing military power and asked: "Since no nation threatens China, one wonders why this growing investment?"

The U.S. would do well to answer the same question when it is asked of its military might. On March 9, 2002, Los Angeles Times leaked the U.S.' revised Nuclear Posture Review which contained contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against China and six other countries, including Russia. Former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert S. McNamara writes: "I know from direct experience that U.S. Nuclear Policy today creates unacceptable risks to other nations and to our own." He notes that "a decade after the end of the Cold War, the basic U.S. nuclear policy is unchanged. It has not adapted to the collapse of the Soviet Union." Quite to the contrary, the Pentagon's Defence Planning Guidance for 1994-1999 said: "Our first objective is to present the re-emergence of a new rival" (Frontline; April 10, 1992, from The New York Times of March 8). McNamara raises a pertinent question. Since the U.S. keeps "such large numbers of weapons" and is not seriously working on their elimination, why should any other state "restrain its nuclear ambition"? (Foreign Policy; May-June 2005).

India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran's speech at the India Economic Summit on November 28, 2005, dwelt on India-U.S. relations. At the end he referred to "a major realignment of forces taking place in Asia", China's increased capabilities "in this region and beyond", India's rise as a "major player in Asia". In Iraq? Iran? Afghanistan? Where outside South Asia? "I think India and the U.S. can contribute to a much better balance in the Asia region." He referred to Sino-Indian relations, to the "need to bring more and more countries within the discipline of a mutually agreed security paradigm for the region. I think both the U.S. and India can contribute to that." The emphasis is on this equation and that vitiates a good idea he threw out (emphasis added, throughout).

India must resolve its disputes with Pakistan and China and proceed to craft an understanding among all three on nuclear security. A sad feature of discourse on the subject in India is neglect of Chinese sources. They tell us a lot which we should know. Zhao Gancheng, Director of South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, wrote recently: "From Chinese point of view, the core of South Asian security lies in a continuous reconciliation between India and Pakistan, and by the same token, the core of China's South Asia policy may also lie in a proper handling of its relations with the two great neighbours. While the old concept of `geopolitical game' is vanishing, efforts to look for new approaches will be yet tested by many events, and the fundamental goal, as far as China's South Asia policy is concerned, is to establish relations between China and South Asian countries on the basis of new ideas of security."

New problems are likely to come, he warned: "The major one could be China and India's perception of each other's position and role in Asia and in the international community. It is not only because of China's rapid growth, but also India's fast development... From the Chinese side, it is indeed imperative to acquire a better understanding of India's growth and behaviour, and how India is going to use its increasing power in the region and in the world at large. Some strategic consensus does not guarantee steady development of Sino-Indian relations that have witnessed ups and downs since the end of the last century, but it is a necessary step for both sides to take into serious account whether more power the two nations acquire would or would not lead to more power politics." ("China's South Asia Policy: Balancing and Stabilising"; Regional Studies, Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad, Summer 2005.)

China's stand on the India-U.S. nuclear accord of June 18 is negative. Xin Benjian wrote in People's Daily of October 26, 2005: "The United States put forward a proposal at a meeting of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on October 20 demanding a lift on the ban on sales of nuclear technologies to India, but was turned down. Always calling itself a `guard' for nuclear proliferation prevention, the United States often condemns other countries for irresponsible transfers but this time, it hesitates not a bit in revising laws, taking the lead in `making an exception'. This will bring about a series of negative impacts. Such an act of the United States once again proves that America is not at all a `guard' of NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and the Treaty however, is no more than a disguise serving the U.S. interest... While pressing Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), how can the United States win support from the international community? And how can it qualify itself for ordering others about on Russia's sales of nuclear technologies for civilian use to Iran? Now that the United States buys another country in with nuclear technologies in defiance of international treaty, other nuclear suppliers also have their own partners of interest as well as good reasons to copy what the United States did. A domino effect of nuclear proliferation, once turned into reality, will definitely lead to global nuclear proliferation and competition."

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.-CHAIWAT SUBPRASOM /AFP

Ming Zhang ridicules the U.S.' fears of China in his book China's Changing Nuclear Posture: Reactions to the South Asia Nuclear Tests (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999). The U.S. will retain more destructive power in one Trident submarine alone than China has in its entire long-range missile fleet. Each Trident has 192 warheads on 24 missiles. China can attack U.S. but lacks a first strike capability. It seeks to acquire a second strike capability to deter attack.

"China is aware of India's potential to target it with nuclear weapons, and it keeps a watchful eye on the development of Indian nuclear doctrine." The theme recurs in an able work by Waheguru Pal Singh Sindhu and Jing-dong Yuan (China and India: Cooperation or Conflict? published by India Research Press, New Delhi). Fundamentally, China does not accept India as a member of the nuclear club but treats it as a gate-crasher.

Professor Lowell Dittmer's compilation is almost unique because it has essays by Indian, Chinese, Pakistani and American scholars. Jing-dong Yuan formulates three sets of issues: "First, the consequences of India's nuclear tests for international arms control and non-proliferation, South Asian security and Sino-Indian relations; second, India's rise as a major power and the challenges this poses for China; and third, Chinese analyses of how to manage the post-Pokhran-II Sino-Indian relationship, given both the interests they share and the disputes that remain."

His discussion draws on his interviews of top Chinese South Asia/India analysts as well as an extensive review of the growing Chinese literature on Sino-Indian relations, regional security, and the implications of a rising, nuclear India for China' security interests. "Although the majority view favours the development and maintenance of a stable Sino-Indian relationship, there are also voices expressing serious concerns over the direction and implications of India's policy and ambitions. Each views the post-Pokhran developments through a particular conceptual prism that not only influences its perspective on Sino-Indian relations and regional security, but also predisposes it to a certain set of policy prescriptions.

More than one Chinese scholar has written of divided opinion in China immediately after Pokhran. "Some analysts I interviewed suggested that China had not been wise in taking the lead in condemning the Indian nuclear tests; Beijing had wrongly thought it shared common concerns with Washington regarding the South Asian nuclear issue but it turned out that the United States had different priorities. China's seeming inflexibility in this regard is now constraining its ability to undertake dialogue with India."

Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant. China does not support the U.S. opposition to Russia's sale of nuclear technology to Iran.-VAHID SALEMI/AP

He is, nonetheless, very concerned: "India's emerging nuclear capability poses a serious challenge to China's security and puts its no-first-use (NFU) policy under strain. While an NFU between China and India could help to establish nuclear stability between the two countries, any hint of such a policy move would be tantamount to acknowledging India's NWS [nuclear weapon state] status, which Beijing is reluctant to do. As India continues to move toward acquiring the capability to strike deep into China's heartland, it would likely necessitate a reassessment from Beijing of its nuclear posture and missile deployment. In addition, with continuing Indian efforts at missile development, China now has to contend with the unwelcome prospect of its major cities becoming potential targets of attack." India's self-image as a great power infringes on China's interests.

There is more than a touch of resentment in these remarks: "Beyond tacit U.S. acquiescence in India's de facto nuclear status is an improving Indo-U.S. relationship that is perceived by some Chinese analysts as an attempt by Washington to enlist New Delhi as a potential counterweight, if not part of a containment strategy, against China. In addition, India is actively engaged in great-power diplomacy to raise its own profile on the global stage. And finally, there is growing awareness among Chinese analysts of India's post-Pokhran diplomacy of engagement and entente with countries beyond New Delhi's traditional strategic domain: Japan, Vietnam and to a broader extent, members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), many of which have ongoing disputes with China. India's desire to be recognised as a major power, and not just to be confined to South Asia, is no secret. Its pursuit of great power status has been persistent since independence even though the results have not always matched the ambitions." The U.S.' policy of containing China "whets New Delhi's ambition for great-power status".

Both Ming Zhang and Jing-dong Yuan support China's entente with Pakistan. The latter accuses India of trying to "suppress Pakistan". Jing-dong's comments on this sensitive aspect bear quotation in extenso: "From a realpolitik perspective continued support of Islamabad constitutes a key element of Beijing's South Asian policy. Pakistan's value in regional geostrategic terms remains. At the same time, the emerging problem of ethnic separation and terrorism in Xinjiang also requires a stable relationship with a key Islamic country. This explains why China continues to maintain a robust security relationship with Pakistan, although somewhat more cautiously, despite the improvements in the Sino-Indian relationship. Over the years, China has adopted a more neutral stand on the Kashmir question, but it has continued to provide substantial assistance to Pakistan's defence through military exchanges and conventional-weapon transfers. On the other hand, China clearly does not want to make any firm commitment to Pakistan out of concern for being unable to control the dynamics of the Indo-Pakistan conflict and for becoming involved in an unwanted nuclear entanglement with India."

The U.S. uses India as a counterweight to China, and China uses Pakistan to check India. But China is not a monolith. Opinions on policy towards India differ. But Chinese scholars have a positive approach and suggest solutions to the problem. China, Russia and the U.S. have agreed not to target each other with strategic nuclear weapons. India and China should do likewise. No first use is another proposal. Jing-dong endorses it, besides others; namely, "risk-reduction measures, which range from de-alerting and no first use to missile limitation zones, need to be contemplated and negotiated. However, long-term peace and stability in bilateral relations require significant changes in Beijing and New Delhi's threat perceptions, avoidance of open rivalry over regional issues, better management of their respective relationships with Pakistan and the eventual resolution of territorial disputes... . A stable Sino-India relationship requires the effective management of the delicate China-India-Pakistan triangle."

At its core is the India-Pakistan equation. Neither country is in a mood to cap its nuclear arsenal. India refuses, citing China. That is how the triangle is formed. Zhang Gui Hong of the Institute of International Relations, Politics, Zhejiang University at Hang Zhou has written an insightful paper on "China's Peaceful Rise and Sino-Indian Relations" (China Report; Sage; February 2005). He asks India to "improve its strategy with wider perspective and higher stand which means that it is necessary for India to reduce the weight of the China factor in its dealings with China" and also refrain from using the Taiwan or the U.S. card to "contain China". In return, he suggests a host of measures to address India's concerns.

A GOOD few works of varying quality have appeared on the India-Pakistan nuclear equation. Professors Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty's book is one of the best. It analyses six crises in relations between the two countries in 20 years. They say: "In 1984, the Indian government considered launching preventive air strikes to destroy Pakistan's evolving, but as yet disaggregated, nuclear capabilities. In turn, alarmed Pakistani leaders warned that they would respond to such an attack by ordering their own air strikes against India's nuclear facilities, and thereby spread lethal radioactive materials into populous areas. Ultimately, both countries restrained themselves, and they subsequently reached an agreement not to attack each other's nuclear sites. In 1986-87, the two countries endured a month-long crisis emanating from India's `Brasstacks' military exercises, the largest in South Asia's history. Then, in 1990, India and Pakistan engaged in an intense crisis over the emerging Kashmir insurgency. Despite large military build-ups, heightened alert levels, ongoing nuclearisation, and mutually fearful perceptions, these crises, too, were resolved peacefully."

The 1998 tests, Kargil and Operation Parakram complete the tally of six. "This book attempts to answer one central question: what accounts for the fact that India and Pakistan have avoided a major war over the past two decades, despite profound mistrust, chronic everyday tensions, an intractable political conflict over Kashmir, a prior history of three Indo-Pakistani wars, and the gradual but steady refinement of both sides' nuclear weapon capabilities - all of which in combination suggests to many analysts that South Asia is ripe for war, even nuclear war?"

They urge three propositions. "The Indian and Pakistani governments, despite compelling incentives to attack one another during the crises under examination, were dissuaded from doing so by timely and forceful U.S. intervention." Secondly: "The Indian and Pakistani governments, despite compelling incentives to attack one another during the crises under examination, were dissuaded from doing so by the fear that war might escalate to the nuclear level." And lastly: "The Indian and Pakistani governments, despite compelling incentives to attack one another during the crises under examination, were dissuaded from doing so by their lack of sufficient conventional military superiority to pursue a blitz strategy."

The six cases yield to the authors their main overall conclusion: "The nuclear deterrence proposition provides the strongest explanation for the absence of major war in the region over the last two decades, especially in the four crises beginning with that of 1990. U.S. intervention in the form of crisis management sometimes played a secondary, but important, role - particularly in 1990, 1999, and 2001-02. Washington was most influential during the Kargil war of 1999, when the Clinton administration resolutely eased Pakistani leaders into ceasing their ill-fated incursion into Indian Kashmir. At other times, U.S. policies were neither timely nor forceful; indeed, they were occasionally counterproductive, as was the case in 1984."

To begin with, in none of the six cases was there a "compelling" incentive to go to war. The authors greatly exaggerate the impact of the U.S.' involvement. Some of their conclusions are far-fetched. The 1984 scenario is overdrawn. Above all, the deterrence of the bomb is exaggerated. In none of these crises was a vital non-negotiable interest involved or presented an opportunity or temptation for quick success; as did the 1947-48, 1965 and the 1971 wars. In none did India really mean to go to war. There were two major crises in 1950 and 1951 when troops were moved. Neither had the bomb. Pakistan was pathetically weak. There was no war. The authors' third conclusion is closer to the mark. This is a reasoned, documented study which deserves attention.

Arpit Rajan's book Nuclear Deterrence in Southern Asia: China, India and Pakistan (Sage; pages 495, Rs.480) considers the strategic culture of this region. He reflects a triangular relationship refreshingly. He urges a nuclear weaponised India "to serve the cause of disarmament". But, he warns: "A qualitative and quantitative improvement of Chinese nuclear forces would lead to an increased threat perception in New Delhi. An expansion of China's nuclear arsenal could also alter India's and Pakistan's strategic calculus... Once better and improved delivery systems have been tested, a natural corollary would be to miniaturise the warhead. Given the pressure of domestic constituencies, no political leader would want to appear weak on national security issues. While India might continue to develop delivery system indigenously, Pakistan might be compelled to rely on its `strategic allies' China and North Korea for new missiles. While Pakistan might be content with acquiring a strategic equilibrium with India, Indian ambitions may compel it to project a regional power image, thus adding an impetus to a regional arms race."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.-ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP

Rajesh Rajagopalan's Second Strike (Penguin, Viking; pages 237, Rs.395) is complacent. The probability of use of nuclear weapons is little. Rodney W. Jones' Religious Radicalism and Nuclear Confrontation in South Asia (Media House, Delhi; pages 158, Rs.175) contains excerpts from pertinent documents and a useful survey of diplomacy. As the title indicates, the author is not a bit complacent. Clearly, the two main factors are: India-Pakistan relations and the future course of China's policy. It depends not only on its relations with the U.S. but also on Russia's growing assertion. Dr. Jyotsna Bakshi's book is an admirably thorough study (Russia-China Relations: Relevance for India; Shipra; pages 318, Rs.650). Particularly useful are the chapters on the boundary agreement and on Central Asia.

How does Russia view the growth of China's power? Alexander Lukin is Director of the Institute for Political and Legal Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. His book The Bear Watches the Dragon (M.E. Sharpe; pages 440, $74.95 hardback, $29.95 paperback) authoritatively records Russian reservations amidst the cordiality. Both are strongly committed to the concept of a multi-polar world. How genuine is India's commitment? There is no serious disagreement on this between Moscow and Beijing.

Power is not the only consideration which drives states to acquire the bomb. It has acquired a mystique and adds to self-esteem. The Great Powers are responsible for that. Professor Gerard J. De Groot's massive work surveys the persuasive historical, political, social and cultural influences the bomb wields despite its capacity for destruction. It is a biography of the atomic bomb as it was nurtured by its many parents - the U.S., the Soviet Union, France, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Pakistan and India. "If the bomb has been, as Bohr and Oppenheimer once hoped, big enough to destroy war itself - or at least major war - was it necessary to have so many? Probably not. Mutually assured destruction could easily have been achieved with a tiny fraction of the weapons actually deployed. But the very bigness of the bomb has ensured an obsession with bigness. Its only defence is itself, thus the quest for absolute safety inspired a quest for absolute power. Both superpowers wanted merely to protect themselves, yet the process of protection was itself threatening, inspiring a tit for every tat."

Despite all its extravagance, mutually assured destruction was balanced. That balance is now gone. "The Cold War is over. Gone, it seems, are the justifications for deterrence. If the weapon was indeed only ever designed to keep the peace, where is the logic for keeping these weapons, especially if [except perhaps in the case of Pakistan and India] there is no animosity between those who possess them? Without an enemy to deter, the Bomb becomes simply an aggressive weapon. Yet against whom can it conceivably be used, and under what circumstances? And, is it possible to discourage proliferation if the current nuclear powers insist on retaining their weapons? It should come as no surprise that some nations are jealous about the exclusive membership of the nuclear club."

U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.-MOLLY RILEY/REUTERS

The U.S. bears a heavy responsibility for this. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's Racing the Enemy establishes from archival material in the U.S., Russia and Japan that the U.S. did not have to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war and, impliedly, save human lives. It was a race between Truman and Stalin to force Japan's surrender. Truman did not issue the Potsdam Proclamation as an "ultimatum to induce Japan to surrender but as the justification to drop the atomic bomb... the Soviet entry into the war had a greater effect on Japan's decision to surrender than the dropping of the atomic bomb". Truman was ecstatic when he heard that Hiroshima had been bombed.

Dr. Helen Caldicott's book is a scathing denunciation of current U.S. policies and of its military-industrial complex. There is a well documented expose of U.S. policies in Iraq. "The people of Europe must resist the constant call from America to arm and re-arm. So too, the people of Canada, of Australia - and indeed all the people of the world. We cannot continue to behave as primitive animals killing for pleasure, killing for money, killing for religious imperatives, killing for greed and territorial imperative. Conflict resolution and peacekeeping must be our new priorities.

"Even after the catastrophe of September 11, 2001, it is still inappropriate to rush off and kill thousands of innocent people for revenge. The only reaction by a civilised nation should be, as mentioned above, to work together with the international community to bring these criminals to justice. Never forget thousands of nuclear weapons remain continuously on hair-trigger alert. Any disturbance of the international situation could trigger their launch and cast us all into the pull of conflagration and nuclear winter."

Right now the bomb holds South Asia in thrall and there seems little prospect of release. The best one can hope for is that its leaders will learn from happenings elsewhere and rise to the challenge by establishing a structure of peace in which nuclear conflict is rendered unthinkable - between China, India and Pakistan.

South Asia's Nuclear Security Doctrine: India, Pakistan and China by Lowell Dittmer (ed.); M.E. Sharpe; pages 274, $69.95 (hardback), $28.95 (paperback).

Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan Crisis in the Shadow of Nuclear Weapons by Sumit Ganguly and Devin T. Hagerty; Oxford University Press; pages 223, Rs.495.

The Bomb: A Life by Gerard J. De Groot; Harvard University Press; pages 397, $27.95.

Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman and the Surrender of Japan by Tsuyoshi Hasegawa; Harvard University Press; pages 382, $29.25.

The New Nuclear Danger by Helen Caldicott; The New Press, pages 302, 10.95.

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