China: Military Media Attacks on India- A Tibet issue fall out?
by D. S. Rajan in SAAG
Almost coinciding with the beginning of the Tibetan unrest, several articles highly critical of India have started appearing in the Chinese language strategic journals and military media in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Their accusations, in the main, concern the alleged regional and global power ambitions of India, increase in defence outlay and further signs of New Delhi-Washington military collusion. What do these comments mean at this juncture when the Tibet developments are apparently casting a shadow on Sino-Indian ties? Prior to any analysis, a look at the contents of the relevant material would be necessary.
A comment in the Yadong Military website (16 March 2008) while taking note of the holding of India’s “Dakshin Shakti” military exercise in the ‘Sino-Indian border’, has raised a question whether or not the simulated manoeuvres, in which formations from the infantry, armoured and artillery units as well as fighter aircraft like Su-30 and MIG-29 took part, had China’s Southwest, even Beijing, as targets. Revealing suspicions that India has such objectives, which the “even mighty US cannot think of”’, it said that the exercise appears to reflect India’s “strategic defence” needs, i.e ‘using defence for offence and vice versa’
An article (Zhongguo Xinwen, 25 March 2008), published by the pro-Beijing Ta Kungbao of Hongkong, has alleged that India’s move to raise its defence outlay for the financial year 2008, is in response to the need felt by it to augment the country’s defence potentials, taking note of the prevailing conflict situation in the international political and military fields and the instability which has risen in South Asia. The necessity for New Delhi to dominate the Indian Ocean and protect oil transport sea-lanes, are equally important motivators. This year’s defence allocation has brought India closer to China in the Asian ranking; third along with South Korea, after Japan and China. India is also among the first 10 nations in the world in respect of defence expenditure.
A China Radio International Commentary (25 March 2008) has accused the US for its plans to search for American airmen missing in action during the second world war, in “Arunachal Pradesh, the so-called Province set up forcibly and illegally by India in Chinese territory”. Declaring that the ‘Chinese government has never recognised the legality of this province’, it alleged that after a change in its erstwhile stand in January 2008, India is cooperating with US in this regard, scheduling a meeting between the two sides in New Delhi in March 2008. The Indian Intelligence Bureau had opposed the US idea from the point of view of the region’s sensitivity, particularly in respect of entry of foreigners, but the country’s Home Ministry has not accepted such objections. The Commentary then identified New Delhi’s motivations in this regard as attempting to strengthen military ties with Washington and legalise the status of Arunachal Pradesh as an Indian province, expecting that it will contribute to an increase in India’s weight in the ongoing negotiations with China on the disputed border. The US motivations, according to the Commentary, are to further develop its military relation with India and use the Arunachal issue as means to restrain China’s intentions.
A rather ‘jingoistic’ article (authoritative China Institute of International Strategic Studies, March 26, 2008, written by “Zhan Lue”, believed to be a high level cadre) has compared the situations in the 1962 war and of now. Alleging that in the last Sino-Indian conflict, India had the support of two super powers to fight China (implied reference to the former Soviet Union and the US), the writer claimed that the People’s Liberation Army is strong now in Tibet after several years of deployment and ‘will not repeat the past 30km withdrawal’. Touching the current picture, the article has found that with the ability gained to increase its military build-up and possess nuclear weapons, India is not only aiming at opposing Pakistan, but also at realising its ‘world and regional big power ambition’, for which China is looked upon as a ‘greatest obstacle’. “ Zhan Lue” has further charged that India is stationing its border troops perceiving China as enemy, conducting ‘massive’ military exercises as means to suppress China’s preparedness and continuously importing arms, to use against China. Posing a question as to what does India think ultimately, he accused the Indian government of “walking today along the old road of resisting China”, adding that New Delhi should be told “not to requite kindness with ingratitude”.
Needless to say that in China, opinions expressed in the state- controlled media always enjoy the blessings of authorities. What looks new in the latest material is the direct Chinese media attack on India, unlike in the past when the practice has been not to single out the country for criticism. The farthest the Chinese organs went was at the time of their making comments on the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement when India was identified by name as an agreed partner of the US in the latter’s efforts to ‘balance the forces of Asia’ (People’s Daily, August 2007),
Looking from a larger context, a question arises - Are the latest outbursts, though confined to Chinese language media and not meant for international audience, a precursor to a hardening of attitude on the part of the Chinese government towards India as a sequel to Tibet developments? This needs to be addressed carefully at this juncture marked by definite differences in perceptions of Beijing and New Delhi on the unrest in Tibet.
It will be worthwhile to first mention about the definite divergence of opinion between Beijing and New Delhi on the Dalai Lama’s role. Though Beijing is fully convinced of India’s position that Tibet is a part of China, it is definitely not going to be happy over India’s not sharing the Chinese position that the Dalai Lama is the instigator of Tibet unrest. India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has on the other hand acknowledged in Washington the pre-eminent spiritual position of the exiled leader. Also, New Delhi’s position for “dialogue” with the Dalai Lama, stands in contrast to Beijing’s “ conditional dialogue” line.
Secondly, as it appears, China may have developed fears of an India-US understanding on the Tibet issue, based on, as it sees, New Delhi’s failure to prevent the visiting Speaker of the US House of Representatives from criticising China on the Tibet issue from the Indian soil and the figuring of Tibet issue, considered by China as an internal matter, in the agenda for Mukherjee-Bush discussions.
Lastly, it may not escape the attention of China that its border claims vis- a- vis India have somewhat been weakened as a result of Tibetan unrest; more importantly, with the loyalty of Tibetan population coming under a question now, Beijing may be concerned about the likely negative implication of the issue for Tibet’s defence including in the borders. After all, no defence operation can be effective without the support of local population. The Chinese summoning of Indian Ambassador at Beijing at odd hours and the reported Indian cancellation of Commerce Minister Kamal Nath’s visit to Beijing (attributed to reasons of dates etc. later), could only be seen as mere symbols of the storm which appear to be brewing now in New Delhi-Beijing ties.
(The writer, Mr D. S. Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)