The Chinese, as Henry Kissinger pointed out in 1971, are eminently pragmatic people. They became communists when they felt that it would help to accelerate their development. They gave up communism and allied themselves with US capitalism when they concluded that it was a better strategy for their purpose. They treated India with contempt when it was economically, militarily and technologically weak.
Now they are hailing India as a partner as they see the world looking at India as a possible engine of world economic growth bracketing it with China.
They proliferated nuclear weapon technology when they thought it would serve to countervail India, became a preacher of non-proliferation norms to India and today, as they realize the world is getting ready to abolish the technology apartheid against India they are not going to oppose civil nuclear cooperation with India, either their own or that of other nations.
Now that India is accepted as a balancer of power and a strategic partner by the US, Russia, European Union and Japan, the Chinese have no reservations in accepting India as a partner either. China understands that any impression of its animosity towards India would only compel India to move closer to US and contribute to US sustaining its economic and technological pre-eminence in the world, which they resent.
The best strategy open to China to countervail US is not to step up pressure on India. China opposing India getting waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) when US, Russia, France, Germany and others are in favor of incorporating India into the global non-proliferation regime will persuade India to befriend US intensively. That explains China accepting India-China civil nuclear cooperation, which cannot materialize unless the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is finalized, the waiver of NSG is obtained and the 123 Agreement with US is signed.
It would be supremely ironic if our Indian communists now stand in the way of India-China nuclear cooperation by opposing further moves to operationalize the 123 Agreement. China has clearly stated that China-India nuclear cooperation will be with due consideration to China's international obligations which encompass IAEA safeguards and NSG waiver.
China has also come to appreciate the need for military exercises and strategic dialogues as confidence-building measures among nations seeking strategic partnership. In a multi-polar balance of power world, any nation is likely to have such military exercises and dialogues with as many partners as it can. Therefore China has decided to step up its own military exercise and strategic dialogue with India. China has not so far used its veto against any major move of the US in the Security Council. China went along with the US in imposing sanctions on Iran.
China's all-weather allied state, Pakistan, is now considered a state of international concern. China, in spite of its close relationship with Pakistan, never had any serious objection to close US-Pakistan relations. Therefore it is unrealistic to assume that China views the world only through anti-US spectacles. China has no intention of confronting US. India, therefore, does not have to make a choice between the two powers for the next two or three decades to come.
China has correctly asserted that partners are not rivals. Given the poverty and underdevelopment in the developing world and the problems likely to be produced by ageing and decline in the fertility rates of populations in Europe, Japan, Russia and in China itself, there is scope for simultaneous fast growth of economies of both China and India and this has been recognized by both countries during the just-concluded visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to China. The declaration in the joint statement that India-China partnership is not directed against any third party is also an acknowledgement that partnership of either with other powers need not be directed at the evolving India-China relationship.
Whether it is the issue of greenhouse gas generation and global warming or the Doha round of trade talks, China and India have common interests in spite of their relationships with other major industrial powers on other issues. Therefore, there is large scope for their cooperation on these two global issues.
In trade, Singh has highlighted that China has to provide a level playing field. In a sense, India has to look at trade with China not merely in bilateral terms but as one between two major suppliers of consumer items and white goods for the entire world. While in their bilateral relations the two countries may not be rivals, they are bound to be competitors in their roles as manufacturing hubs and suppliers of consumer items for the world. The leveling of the field for trade for the two countries has to be looked at from a global point of view and not restricted to bilateral trade. In this respect, India has to go far and its progress is being held up by the doctrinaire fundamentalists in our country.
Objective and qualified observers have analyzed and identified the competitive edges in different areas in the two rising economies. A much greater economic and trade interaction between the two countries for which the present visit of Manmohan Singh has laid the foundation would help Indian entrepreneurs to level the field between the two countries for their future global competition.
There has been no advance on the territorial issue though Manmohan Singh is holding out hopes for the future. India has neglected the development of infrastructure in the border areas mostly because of the fear of our diplomats, bureaucrats, military and politicians who have been treating the Chinese as though they are ten feet tall. What is needed is a crash programme of border infrastructure development. If infrastructures on both sides of the border are equally well developed, the undemocratic side will have a lot more to worry about than the democratic side. This elementary fact was overlooked by our government in the last six decades. This situation should be rectified rapidly and then we should be able to seize the initiative.
What India has to fear is fear of China. Once Indians get over that fear then India will be able to rise and get level with China. While the claims of the government and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) about the great success of the visit or of the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and sections of academia of the total lack of results have both to be taken with a pinch of salt, what should not be missed out are the subtle changes in the stand of the Chinese leadership towards India over the last three years in view of international developments and progress in globalization.
China is the only non-democratic nation among the major powers, but it has accepted the economics of the marketplace. Its communism is only a facade for a single party dictatorship and has no doctrinal content in it. Consequently, a non-democratic China poses a challenge to other democratic major global powers. In today's world there is no alternative to deal with China's challenge but for all major powers to engage it increasingly till such time that interaction will bring about democratic changes within China.
Manmohan Singh's visit must be viewed as the first step in engaging China towards that end.
(K. Subrahmanyam is a leading Indian analyst on foreign policy and strategic affairs. He can be contacted at email@example.com)