Originally Published 2005-04-12 10:48:08 Published on Apr 12, 2005
There has been considerable spin from Islamabad as well as New Delhi regarding the results of the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr.Wen Jiabao, to the two countries. The fact that the Chinese have carefully refrained from joining this race for spin and
The India-China-Pakistan-US Quadrangle
There has been considerable spin from Islamabad as well as New Delhi regarding the results of the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr.Wen Jiabao, to the two countries. The fact that the Chinese have carefully refrained from joining this race for spin and have not been as articulate as the Pakistanis and the Indians over the true significance of the results does not necessarily mean that the Pakistani and the Indian spins are unfounded. It only underlines the need for caution and a healthy dose of skepticism in assessing the results of the visit.

A careful reading of the statements of Ms.Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, during her visits to the two countries last month and of those of Mr.Wen Jiabo during his just-concluding visits once again indicates certain common constants in the policies of the USA and China in respect of their relations with India and Pakistan:

Firstly, their desire for the continuance of Gen.Pervez Musharraf in power as the President of Pakistan. Both of them accept his sincerity when he talks of his determination to make Pakistan an enlightened and moderate Muslim State. For the US, his continuance in power and the success of his policy are essential for political stability and progress in Afghanistan, for preventing another 9/11 in the US homeland, for ensuring that Pakistan's nuclear assets do not fall into the hands of jihadi terrorists and for neutralising Iran's nuclear capability. For China, his continuance and success are essential for political stability in the Muslim majority region of Xinjiang, for giving the Chinese Navy a strategic presence on the Mekran Coast in Balochistan overlooking the supply routes for oil for keeping the Chinese economy growing and for checking what they have always looked upon --- but which they no longer openly say so--- as India's hegemonistic ambitions. 

Secondly, their anxiety to reduce Pakistan's feelings of vulnerability vis-a-vis India by bolstering its military strength---conventional in the case of the USA and conventional as well as nuclear in the case of China. The US looks upon an insecure Pakistan as a factor for instability and their military supplies to its Armed Forces as an investment for strengthening their influence over the Pakistani Armed Forces and preventing them from indulging in adventuristic actions such as their pre-9/11 support to the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and their military conflict with India over Kargil in 1999. The US policy-makers have convinced themselves that it was the termination of the military supply relationship between 1990 and 1995 and again from 1998 to 2001 due to Pakistan's clandestinely acquiring a military nuclear capability which contributed to its adventuristic acts. For the Chinese, a militarily strong Pakistan would serve their objective of keeping India preoccupied on two fronts and thereby safeguard their national security interests. It is in this context that one has to view the resumption of US military supplies to Pakistan since 9/11 and its recent decision to meet Pakistan's request for F-16s overriding India's concerns and China's continuing nuclear and missile supply relationship with Pakistan and its assistance to Pakistan for strengthening its Navy and Air Force. Its role in strengthening the Pakistani Navy and Air Force was once again highlighted during and immediately before Mr.Wen Jiabo's visit and in strengthening Pakistan's nuclear capability was underlined by its decision to help Pakistan in the construction of a second nuclear power station at Chashma. It is noteworthy that the US, which has been opposing Russia's civilian nuclear assistance to Iran and had tried to come in way of Russia's assisting India in the construction of the new nuclear power stations at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu, has remained discreetly silent on the continuing Chinese assistane to Pakistan in this field. The significance of the Treaty of Friendship concluded by China and Pakistan during Mr.Wen Jiabo's visit has also to be seen in the context of Beijing's desire to reduce Pakistan's sense of vulnerability, externally as well as internally. Its internal sense of vulnerability arises from the growing unrest in Balochistan and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan) bordering Xinjiang. The unrest creates in Pakistan's mind fears of what happened in the then East Pakisdtan in 1971. 

These two constants will continue to influence the pace and the quality of the development of the relations of the USA and China towards India. However, whereas before the late 1990s, the two countries were relatively unconcerned over the likely consequences of their policies towards Pakistan to their relations with India, since 1996, one has been seeing a greater sensitivity in Beijing as well as in Washington DC to the concerns of India and a greater understanding of the need to alleviate Indian concerns even while maintaining their traditional policies towards Pakistan. This sensitivity and understanding were first reflected in the quality of their political relations with India.

China's adoption since the visit of its former President Jiang Zemin to India and Pakistan in 1996 of a neutral stance on Jammu & Kashmir instead of every time automatically supporting Pakistan as it used to do before 1996 and the almost similar stand taken by the US and China during the Kargil conflict in 1999 when they exercised diplomatic pressure on Islamabad to stop its military adventure and respect the Line of Control in the State by withdrawing its troops from the territory occupied by them in stealth have to be seen in this context.

Since 2001, one has been seeing in Washington DC as well as in Beijing a realisation of the growing importance and capability of India as a military and economic power and of the advisability of not allowing their stakes in Pakistan to stunt the growth of their relations with India. The newly-acquired importance of India in the eyes of the US arose from the desire of the Bush Administration to facilitate the growth of the Indian power to balance the emerging Chinese power without creating fresh concerns in the minds of Islamabad.

The equal importance of India in the eyes of China arose from its desire to checkmate what it perceives as the long-term US designs against it by calming India's concerns over Chinese policies and by providing incentives for India to reciprocate its overtures. These overtures came in the way of its decision of 2003 to recognise Sikkim as a part of India and the post-2003 signs of a greater flexibility and adaptability in its negotiations with India on the border question which has bedevilled the bilateral relations. The incentives came in the form of the galloping bilateral trade, which has proved more beneficial to India than to China due to the large-scale purchase of Indian raw materials by the Chinese to meet the growing demands of their economy. The new proposals emanating from China for working towards the ultimate objective of a free trade zone involving the two countries and for making them the twin towers of the global IT power----China in hardware and India in software--- have also to be seen in this context.

The agreement signed by the two countries during the visit of Rajiv Gandhi, the then Indian Prime Minister, to China in 1988 underlined their intention to negotiate a solution to the border dispute on the basis of the principles of mutual friendship, mutual understanding and mutual accommodation. This led to expectations that in due course of time, the two would accept the status quo and make it de jure---with India reconciling itself to the Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin region of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir remaining a part of China and China reconciling itself to the Indian-administered Arunachal Pradesh in India's North-east remaining a part of India.

The continued reiteration of the Chinese claims to Arunachal Pradesh during the last 17 years came in the way of any significant forward movement in the border negotiations. While the Aksai Chin area was unpopulated when the Chinese occupied it, Arunachal Pradesh is populated. Both India and China have national security concerns in Arunachal Pradesh---- India because of its importance in safeguarding its sovereignty over the entire North-east and China because of its lingering memories that it was largely through this area and Nepal that the USA's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with the suspected support of India's Intelligence Bureau (IB), allegedly armed the Khampas of Tibet and instigated them to rise in revolt against Beijing and its lingering fears that Arunachal Pradesh could once again become a platform for joint Indo-US destabilisation operations in Tibet, if there is fresh unrest there following the death of the Dalai Lama, when the Chinese are expected to designate a Dalai Lama of their choice.

The greater flexibility now shown by China as marked by its agreement to seek a solution to the dispute on the basis of the principles of mutual consideration to each other's strategic and reasonable interests and mutual and equal security and safeguarding the interests of settled populations reflects its growing confidence in its hold on Tibet. From all accounts, the people of Tibet have immensely benefited from the economic development of China and the Dalai Lama himself is showing signs of having reconciled himself to the impracticability of his former vision of an independent Tibet. His representatives are already once again in touch with the Chinese authorities in order to pick up the threads of negotiations on the future of Tibet as a continuing part of China.

Fears of a possible destabilisation in Tibet, jointly instigated by the US and India, after the Dalai Lama are no longer as strong a motivating factor as hitherto in determining Chinese policies vis-a-vis Arunachal Pradesh. What has been agreed to during Mr.Wen Jiabo's visit are only the broad principles which would govern the future negotiations. The future scenario as envisaged now by the two countries might again come unstuck should there be unrest in Tibet after the Dalai Lama. Large sections of the Tibetan youth in the diaspora in India and the West are not yet reconciled to giving up their dreams of a free Tibet as one saw during a daring demonstration by a lone Tibetan youth during Mr.Wen Jiabo's visit to Bangalore.

While the agreement on the broad principles to guide the negotiations on the border dispute was expected, what was a pleasant surprise was the reported statement of Mr.Wen Jiabo to the Indian Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh, that China would be happy to see India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Till now, China had been non-committal on this issue partly because of its reluctance to share the political primcy in Asia with India and partly because of its receptivity to Pakistani concerns over the implications of India becoming a permanent member of the Security Council.

If the Indian version of the talks on this issue is correct, it marks a significant departure in Chinese policy. It shows that Pakistani sensitivities on this issue no longer influence China's policy. India's aspirations of becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council are, however, likely to remain unfulfilled so long as the US remains in the way of major reforms of the UN and the Islamic Ummah continues to insist on the right of Indonesia, as the largest Muslim country, to become a permanent member to represent the Ummah.

The visits of Ms.Rice and Mr.Wen Jiabo show , firstly, that India figures more and more in their policy calculations and formulations in this part of the world, secondly, that the sensitivities of Pakistan, while continuing to be important to them, would have a lesser role in determining their policies towards India and, thirdly, that there is increasing maturity in India's relations with the US as well as with China. 

The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently,Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter. E-mail: [email protected]

Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper no. 1334, April 12, 2005.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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