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Charm defensive

The following is an excerpt of an article published on Hindustan Times on February 17, 2011.

by John Lee

In a recent security conference in Washington, a Chinese delegate caused an awkward silence among the congenial group at a post-event drinks session when he stated that India was “an undisciplined country where the plague and leprosy still exist. How a big, dirty country like that can rise so quickly amazed us”.

Source: business-in-asia.com

It is this Chinese sentiment of disdain and also grudging admiration that explains much of Beijing’s attitude towards New Delhi. Indeed, one needs to go beyond strategic and military competition to understand the depth of rivalry between Asia’s two rising giants.

China shares land borders with 14 countries. Over the past 30 years, it has made concerted attempts to improve relationships with all of them by settling border disputes. In the case of Russia, China granted significant concessions in order to improve its relationship with Moscow. But the one exception is India.

Outstanding disputes such as the one over the Switzerland-sized area of Arunachal Pradesh continue to bedevil relations. China’s militarisation of the Tibetan plateau — including placing a third of its nuclear arsenal in that region — is a direct challenge to Indian sensibilities. Indeed, India is the only country not formally covered by China’s ‘no first use’ nuclear policy.

Add to these the growing naval rivalry in the Indian Ocean that is driven by resource competition and insecurity and we have what Chinese leaders openly admit to be a “very difficult relationship” with India. These factors point to the persistence of the India-China rivalry.

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