China Descends

 

Premier Wen Jiabao is visiting India with a 400 strong business delegation from 15 to 17 December soon after the Nobel Peace  Prize diplomatic difference between the two countries. The list of issues at the geo strategic levels between the two Asian Giants has been adequately covered in earlier posts. There are issues ranging from Dalai Lama, Border Disputes, stapled visas, dams on Brahmaputra and military support to Pakistan apart from the emerging five fingers and the string of pearls theory. To the discerning reader it appears that India has chosen to continue to do business with Wen Jiabao despite these anomalies in relations between the two countries.

Brahma Chellany tweets that “Wen Jiabao is coming with a large business team to fortify an asymmetrical trade relationship, even as China steps up its needling of India.” He further adds that “India largely exports raw materials to China and imports finished products, as if it were the appendage of a neo-colonial Chinese economy.”

Of particular focus during Mr. Wen’s visit is trade, which has rapidly grown from $18.7 billion when the Premier was last in India in 2005 to an expected $60 billion this year.

As per reports in Chinese media ahead of the visit, China was willing to work with India to help address the widening trade imbalance, which reached a record $16 billion in

Wen Jiabao

Indo China Relations

 

China’s favour last year, as per Liang Wentao, deputy director-general at the Ministry of Commerce. China planned to

Indo China Relations

send more trade and investment missions to India to help improve the trade structure. India, he said, had become “one of the most important overseas project contracting” destinations for China.

The two countries are expected to sign a number of financing deals for import orders placed by Indian companies. Mr. Liang singled out Reliance Powers recent $ 8.3-billion purchase of 36 coal-fired generators from Shanghai Electric as a “highlight” of the trade ties.

The External Affairs briefing on 13 December skirted all the needles and articulated that the visit aimed at mellowing down and diffusing tensions while promoting people to people contact and trade. Will this second largest Chinese business delegation ever to visit India open the doors to Free Trade between the two countries or will India continue to supply raw materials in lieu of finished products?

Zhang Yan, China’s Ambassador to India, has said relations with India are “fragile”, but the two countries can work together to emerge as a “world factory and a world office”.

Indo US Relations

At the strategic level, China played down growing Indo US relations when China said its deepening relations with India were “a natural outcome” and it would continue to strengthen the engagement regardless of the state of New Delhi’s ties with Washington.

A number of commentaries in the Chinese official media during U.S. President Barack Obama‘s recent visit to India spoke of Beijing’s anxieties about New Delhi appearing to move strategically closer to Washington. Many of China’s neighbours, from Japan and South Korea to Vietnam have, in recent months, appeared to seek closer military alliances with the U.S., amid rising territorial tensions in the South China Sea, prompting some Chinese analysts to speak of a U.S.-led “encirclement.” This concurs with our post Chiense Encirclement or China Encircled?

Nuances of the emerging cold war between US, China and India were discussed earlier in our post here. Not much has changed since then except further escalation of hostile attitudes in the South China Sea in the aftermath of the Korean imbroglio.

The Pakistan Factor

A greater game is unfolding through a China Pakistan ploy to destabilise India as per K Subrahmanyam. “Both countries are interested in fragmenting India. Both have tried to encourage extremist and secessionist groups within the country in J&K, the North-east and the Maoist areas. It is therefore natural for China and Pakistan to attempt to ensure that US President Barack Obama‘s visit to India does not take the Indo-US relationship further forward”. China wants to duplicate the Indo-US nuclear deal by offering two more reactors to Pakistan in defiance of the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines.

Indian policy makers have to ensure that the balance of trade does not turn the larger balance of power in the region askew when India accedes to Chinese business overtures without resolving the major issues of geo strategic balancing. That the premier is headed straight to Islamabad from Delhi with the same contingent indicates Chinese insensitivity to the problem at hand. Will India measure up to the challenge and seek a quid pro quo on all counts of slippery relationship between the two nations is the question one can ask today. Silk route should not lead to China arming and aiding its rouge partner Pakistan to trade blows with India on all counts.”It’s not a zero sum game,” says Talat Masood, an independent Pakistani defense analyst. “It’s a question of where each country finds itself and gets the most out of the other.”

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s upcoming visit to Pakistan is intended to reassure Islamabad that the two countries’ energy, military and economic ties will remain tight, despite Beijing’s growing relations with New Delhi. China and Pakistan are set to deepen their strategic relationship. China wants to use Pakistan as a gateway to the Muslim world and as a new Silk Road for China’s energy-hungry interior, as well as a balance against India’s military rise.

Pakistan, in turn, plans to further rely on China for the bulk of its weapon systems, as a major investor for its ports and roads, and as a counter-weight to American demands and conditions in the fight against Islamist militancy. Key to the maintenance of this seemingly happy relationship is China’s treatment of Pakistan as an equal to India.

As per Reuters, Pakistani diplomats like to refer to China as an “all-weather friend” but the reality is more nuanced.

“Pakistan is the only country that can really be counted as China’s ‘friend’, but that’s still essentially underpinned by a deep alignment of strategic interests vis-à-vis India,” as per Andrew Small, a China analyst at the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

Those interests generally align when it comes to hemming in India as a rising military power in the Indian Ocean or East Asia.

“In a way they give us (Pakistan), say, annually $2 billion,” says Hamayoun Khan, an independent analyst and former China-Pakistan expert at the Institute of Strategic Studies. “What do we do? … We’re a pain in the ass for the Indians.”

Chinese weapon sales to Pakistan, which make up a significant chunk of its annual arms exports, focus less on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency as favored by the United States, and more on fighter jets, air-to-air missiles, tanks and other conventional weapons systems.

Such sales, as well as close diplomatic ties, mean China encourages Pakistan’s military focus on India, to the annoyance of the United States. Washington wants Pakistan to rein in its homegrown militants and tackle sanctuaries for al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and related groups on its western border with Afghanistan. China has its own issues with Pakistan’s ties to militants as well, Khan said.

Tread Carefully

Ravi Shanker Kapoor, in his post No Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai in October this year had articulated that “China’s insistence on issuing stapled visas should be seen in the context of its policy of encirclement: Beijing wants to keep our country bogged down in every possible manner—politically, militarily, economically and diplomatically. Brazenly dismissing New Delhi’s assertion that Beijing should respect India’s sensitivities on Kashmir, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said, “Though China had friendly relations with India, its policy towards the stapled visas for residents of the state remained unchanged.”

As per conclusions of SIPRI Paper 26, as China’s global reach has expanded, so has the range of issues debated as potential core interests. The wording of China’s foreign policy objectives, summed up as a pursuit of a ‘harmonious world’, are often so lacking in specificity that it is possible to justify any sort of action.This assumes added ambivalence to the foreign policy when all stake holders defining the foreign policy, especially the PLA are keen to keep America at bay, regionally. This explains a series of belligerent actions in the neighbourhood which run counter to the ancient Chinese mantra of a peaceful rise.

Should this change in stance be pegged as a turning point in Chinese stance or should India issue stapled Visas to Chinese businessmen?

That may well decide the future of the talks in an era of encirclement.

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Photo Credit: Greg Baker/Associated Press

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About the Author

A strategy and security expert on South Asia. Research and exploratory work is aimed at authoring a series of books on what makes South Asia tick.