Fifty years ago, China launched a massive invasion along the border springing a surprise in India, the US and elsewhere in the world. While the golden jubilee of this incident has refreshed painful memories in India as can be seen in news and views expressed in various Indian media, it is not the same scenario in China. Chinese are not celebrating the victory over India. But China has been watching India and its domestic and foreign affairs very closely.
What all happened about fifty years ago are not dead history. In fact, in international relations 50 years can be considered a very short duration. A brief journey to the past reminds that India-China friendship had begun to develop cracks by mid-1950s. India’s earlier recognition of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet failed to please China in the wake of Tibetan uprising that culminated in Dalai Lama and his tens of thousands of followers seeking asylum in India.
Fifty years later, one finds that Tibet issue not only remains alive but also now and then hits the global headlines-a development quite irritating for China.
The US declaration of support to Tibetan ‘self-determination,’ supply of weapons to and training of Tibetan guerrillas by the Central Intelligence Agency had blinded the Chinese to acute political differences between India and the US and rather had convinced the Chinese leadership that India and the US were conspiring against China. Today, Dalai Lama’s presence in India and his acceptability in political circles in Washington are resented by the Chinese government.
Fifty years ago, the United States followed a declared policy of containment of China. China, on the other hand, supported wars of “national liberation” by communist groups and was virulently anti-imperialist-more than the former Soviet Union that, unlike China, believed in “peaceful co-existence.”
India adopted a policy of constructive engagement of China for Asian cooperation and to keep the imperialist forces at bay from the Asian continent. The US at this time detested Nehru’s non-alignment and his leadership of the newly independent countries.
Significantly, even China abhorred India’s leadership of the Third World. The US disliked India’s softness for international communism, including Chinese communists, and China considered India’s non-alignment not-hard-enough against the imperialists. Still worse, China viewed India to be a lackey of US-led western imperialists!
Fifty years later, American suspicion of India and Chinese views on India has not qualitatively changed much. Despite a growing strategic partnership and closer defense ties with India, some Americans view India as an unreliable strategic partner and others view with suspicion Indian concept of “strategic autonomy.”
Those in Washington who think that India can be a better counterweight to a growing Chinese hegemony feel disappointed to see rising China-India trade and investment ties and diplomatic coordination on international issues, such as climate change and trade negotiations.
Others who consider ‘strategic autonomy’ mantra as a redefined ‘non-alignment’ oppose closer defense and security ties between the US and India, particularly sharing of defense technology and selling of sophisticated weapons to India.
However, the mainstream Chinese perception of Indo-US relations in recent years is not very positive. Some believe that India’s economy is a third of Chinese economy and India cannot win a conventional war against China.
Consequently, India has developed nuclear weapons and is building defense ties with the US. Indo-US defense ties, growing stronger by years, are viewed as aimed at China. Chinese perception of Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy, where India finds a place, veers between critical to outright disapproval.
In addition, around the time, India and China went to war, the world viewed China and India as two competing models of growth for the Third World. In fact, the crushing defeat of India in the war was viewed by many as rejection of Indian model as well. Some argued that one of China’s motivations for going to war was to destroy the Indian model
Today, once again there is talk of “Beijing consensus” and “Mumbai consensus”. The two countries are large, populous, old civilizations and among the fastest growing economies of the world. There is talk in the international community about the Chinese and the Indian model of growth. Such talks have assumed added significance after the American economic downturn and the Eurozone crisis.
When Japanese investment in China got affected by the ongoing spar over the Diaoyu/Skenkaku islands, some analysts in China have begun to argue that Japanese investment will now move to other emerging economies, including India. They think that it would be a Japanese strategy (read US-Japan strategy) to slow Chinese economic growth! Before long, growth in Indo-US economic cooperation may be viewed in similar ways.
What is different after 50 years since the 1962 war is, however, equally significant. Both China and India are nuclear weapon powers. If China has enormously engaged the US in economic field, US-India defense ties have transformed the paradigm of their relations. China can be rest assured that this complex web of triangular ties will force the US to adopt a non-aligned strategy in any future conflict (not necessarily war) between two Asian giants.
(The author is a Tagore Chair professor at Yunnan University, China)