Is China Changing?

Does the government know something that people don't? Otherwise why would it participate in joint military exercises with China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Indian soil at this point of time? And was there compelling need for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to go to Beijing to attend the Asia-Europe summit? Recent events have not inspired confidence in China's intentions towards India. China's stranglehold embrace of Pakistan remains. During President Zardari's recent visit to China Beijing commissioned two new nuclear reactors for Pakistan. China's claims on Arunachal Pradesh remain firm. China's buildup of infrastructure on India's border continues its frenetic pace. Chinese intrusions into Indian territory have not stopped. And yet our government persists in wooing China. Why? 

Possibly, just possibly, the government may be aware of Beijing's attempts to introduce desirable change in its policies. One is sure there is no dearth of intelligence inputs from western nations that might influence the MEA. Readers might recall that this scribe for over a year has ventured through these columns the view that a major policy shift in China could be under way. Unfolding events have done nothing to dampen that hope, nor have they in any substantial manner confirmed it. The direction of possible change, and the symptoms that provide hope that it may occur, are worth recapitulating. 

In this scribe's view the change began with the transfer of power to President Hu Jintao from Jiang Zemin. It was during Jiang's tenure that the negative policies pursued by China reached their zenith. Domestically corruption escalated. Disparity between illegally enriched party cadres and peasants in rural China widened to an alarming degree. Economic imbalance between the southern coastland and the north grew. State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) were allowed to deteriorate dangerously close to bankruptcy. Chinese banks were in a mess. They were forced to continually give bad loans to keep alive SOEs that employ 60 percent of China's urban population. All this occurred during China's stupendous rate of growth achieved through foreign capital and virtually enslaved Chinese labour. The Shanghai group loyal to Jiang Zemin accomplished this. It was during this time that the PLA provided arms aid to Islamist terrorists in Southeast Asia, and through them to India's Northeast insurgents, as well as to ISI directed jihaadis. It was during this time that China unleashed nuclear proliferation to rogue nations through Pakistan's Dr AQ Khan. It was during this time that China colluded with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. These facts are confirmed by credible authorities. 

President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao did not belong to this group. They came from peasant stock. After Jiang Zemin was forced to resign from chairmanship of the Central Military Commission which overlooked the PLA, Hu Jintao tried to root out corruption. He did not hesitate to punish senior party leaders who were Jiang loyalists. There was a covert power struggle. The contours of the struggle were blurred by the role of a third party in the struggle, the PLA. Unlike Deng Xiaoping, who had participated in the Long March, neither Jiang nor Hu exercised full authority over the PLA. As a result of this shadowy struggle foreign analysts were confused. They found it difficult to fathom who was winning and who was not. There were mixed signals from Beijing. There were contradictory signals during the North Korean nuclear crisis. There were contradictory signals in relation to confidence building measures with India. For example, the timing of Beijing's reiterated claim to Arunachal evaporated the good vibes created by Premier Wen Jiabao's meetings with the PM. It could not be determined whether this double faced approach reflected Beijing's diabolical duplicity, the impediments created by Jiang's loyalists still exercising influence, or by the intervention of the PLA. 

Gradually, however, President Hu Jinatao appeared to be consolidating his position. North Korea was compelled to toe his line. The most important change of policy direction, in the view of this scribe, was China's change of attitude towards Japan. Is it possible that hard headed self interest will lead China to substantively alter its attitude to India as well? If it does, this change would indicate China's past policies extracting their price. China, which colluded with terrorists in the past, is now itself grappling with terrorism. This is not due to a change of heart but to compelling developments of its own making. 

Earlier China used the threat of Xingjian separatism as a fig leaf to cover its covert collusion with terrorists. Some years ago Beijing sought information from Islamabad about certain Uighurs training in Pakistani camps. This indicated full awareness of Uighur participation in terrorist activity. Pakistan trained Uighur terrorists eventually were expected to go to Chechnya. Osama had guaranteed the PLA cooperation in Xingjian in exchange for telecom aid to Afghanistan during Taliban rule. The situation has dramatically altered. 

Beijing supplied arms to Iranian backed Shiite jihaadis. This help most likely was motivated not by the desire to aid terrorism but to please Iran. China's energy needs were desperate and supplies from Iran were crucial. Alas, the Iranian aided Shiite jihaadis were in direct conflict with the Al Qaeda Sunni terrorists who until then had a cozy relationship with China. Pakistan's jihaadis guided by Al Qaeda's Zawahiri started targeting Chinese in Islamabad and Baluchistan. The Al Qaeda-Beijing truce over Xingjian seems to have collapsed. That is why Beijing now has developed new interest against terrorism. That is why it is currently coming down heavily against Islamic mosques in Xingjian by interfering even with religious practice. 

Beijing may have given Pakistan two new nuclear reactors to snub India. It has not provided bailout money. After President Zardari's recent China visit Beijing officially linked terrorists on Chinese soil to training camps in Pakistan. China's forthcoming joint military exercises with India are related to anti-terrorism. Taking everything into account should India therefore encourage closer ties with Beijing? 

The answer is no, not yet. India must clearly draw the line which China should not cross. Beijing must reconcile itself to eventual emergence of SAARC as a South Asian Union minus China. It must stop encouraging our neighbours against us. It must try to develop economic and trade ties with South Asia as one entity, and not seek most favoured nation treaties with individual nations. In other words, it must respect India's turf. It should instead focus on its own trouble-spots, especially Tibet and Xingjian. 


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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