China’s superpower dream
China is universally known for its subtle diplomacy. And for mysterious moves, too, when it has to handle or attend to, issues concerning ‘outsiders’. Nevertheless following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing now does not conceal its altered or altering perception and policy on the changing global scenario. Indeed at a time like this, an average Chinese is found nourishing a desire to see China emerging as a superpower.
And this desire, ostensibly, is the product of the complete fall of the Soviet Union as the second superpower after the United States of America (USA). Shortly after the Indian prime minister, Mr. P.V.Narasimha Rao, addressed a well-attended gathering at Beijing University on September 9, I had a brief informal chat with a professor on the campus itself. His obvious reference was to the USA when he advocated unity of purpose, unity of action by countries like China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The Chinese professor’s viewpoint surfaced at a time when his country’s leading newspaper, ‘People’s Daily’ had virtually warned the United States to change its ‘hegemonist style’ and put more trust in other countries for the sake of world stability. In fact, the newspaper carried a signed article, which accuses the USA of harassing Chinese cargo ship ‘Yinhe’ destined for Iran in its normal business activities by sending naval ships and aircraft to shadow the ship for reconnaissance and photo-taking.
At the same time, one point, which has already become debatable, is America’s repeated accusation against China since July last that it is violating the convention on banning the use, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons. Washington did allege that ‘Yinhe’ was carrying chemical products, which can be used in the production of chemical weapons. No wonder, the average Chinese official or administrator is sore over America’s attempts to spread its allegations against Beijing everywhere and “to put pressure on some countries in an attempt to distance these countries from China.”
If Beijing can easily afford to enter into heated arguments with the only surviving superpower (USA), can India afford to undertake a similar exercise in case China would not like it (India) to become ‘leader’ of the countries in Asia? Perhaps, the answer would be in the negative, considering the inflated ego of China after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This apart, China is also militarily stronger than India as well as bigger in size. True, India has increased the number of her troops several-fold since 1962. But the gap between the Indian and Chinese military strength is perhaps still sizeable.
It is a different matter altogether if a month before the arrival in Beijing of Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao on September 6, government-controlled ‘Beijing Review’ insisted that China’s does not seek hegemony now, nor will it do so in the future even when it is economically developed. Even as the Chinese officials and leaders insisted that China is firmly committed to the continuation of its independent foreign policy of peace and that it would always be a ‘positive force’ for peace, stability and development in the Asia-Pacific region, India has no option but to be cautious - indeed, more cautious than before - while handling matters with China, particularly the Sino-Indian boundary dispute.
If Chinese vice-premier and foreign minister, Mr. Qian Qichen, recently placed himself on record by saying that both China and the countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) stand for establishment of a just and rational new international order based on the UN Charter, the Five Principles of peaceful coexistence and the Ten Principles of Bandung conference, it did not, in any way, suggest Beijing’s intention to tackle Pakistan in accordance with Delhi’s desire or requirements.
There is no denying that while the atmosphere in Beijing was relaxed during Mr. Rao’s China visit, the discussions between him and his Chinese counterpart, Mr. Li Peng, revealed a great amount of understanding between the two leaders. However, with the announcement of the signing of the border agreement, several Indian opposition leaders created a furore against Mr. Rao’s perception on the matter.
No wonder, official sources in Delhi had a tough time, after Mr. Rao’s return from China and South Korea, explaining that India had made no territorial concessions to China by signing the agreement on peace and tranquility along the border areas. Obviously, the explanation, repeated as it was officially, proved that the Rao camp had been disturbed by the standpoint of the BJP against the content of the agreement.
The external affairs ministry officials - ostensibly at the instance of the prime minister - while arguing that the two countries had accepted the ‘reality’ on the ground, as it now exists seemed under pressure as they reiterated: “We have not conceded anything. We will come to it when the line of actual control (LAC) is drawn after further negotiations.” They were of the view that it was not proper for any political party to make ‘speculative’ assessments of the nature that the LAC would eventually be accepted as the boundary between India and China.
The line of actual control had never been demarcated on the ground. Nor was it cartographically delineated. In fact, on both sides, a string of military posts existed along the border of which each side was aware, by the time the summit talks took place in Beijing between Mr. Narasimha Rao and Mr. Li Peng. And by the time I returned from China, it had become real than apparent that Beijing and Delhi had now accepted that the status quo shall not be changed by the use of force with the result that a lasting pattern of peace can hopefully emerge.
The mutually agreed confidence-building measures may be given institutional shape, as would the redeployment of forces to eliminate any confrontation or clashes along the border in future. But the general feeling persists that there cannot be complete understanding between India and China unless the question of Indian Territory in possession of China is settled. And as far as the Aksai Chin area, across the trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh in eastern Kashmir, is concerned, China would like to retain it.
No wonder, six rounds of talks between the two countries through the Joint Working Group (JWG) simply maintained a steady progress towards building mutual confidence between the two Asian neighbours Nonetheless, significant achievement of the sixth round of talks that continued for four days instead of the scheduled two days, was agreement on additional confidence-building measures, which would permit mutual troops withdrawals following discussions at the level of army commanders.
If the Indian foreign secretary, Mr. J.N. Dixit, was to be believed, India and China appeared gradually moving away from past differences. Happily for New Delhi, the representatives of the Chinese Government agreed to support India in enhancing mutual confidence and ensuring peace and tranquility along the LAC. Even as the boundary dispute formed the main topic for discussion, the two sides also discussed extension of border trade and other subjects of mutual interest - bilateral, regional and international.
At the same time, it was not surprising to come across difference of views on the question of nuclear non-proliferation. Such a phenomenon was certainly significant, since China is a signatory to the NPT. One important pointer to China’s recognition of the Indian position on nuclear proliferation was that while it supported the NPT, it did not make any specific suggestion in this regard. The commonly expected Chinese view might have been that India should agree to join the proposed five-nation meeting to declare South Asia a nuclear-free zone.