Inaugural Address at the Colloquium on China at the Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam. Dec 23, 2011
I am grateful that the Mahatma Gandhi University has invited me to inaugurate this colloquium on China. I welcome this opportunity to return to foreign affairs in the midst of my preoccupations with the issues of higher education in Kerala since the last two months.
I am glad that this colloquium is under the auspices of the KPS Menon Chair. Though Shri. KPS Menon was identified with Indo-Soviet ties by the time I came to know him in Moscow, he had a pioneering role in Sino-Indian relations. We know his contribution through his books and the legends about him, but I know personally how charming and gracious he was. I congratulate Prof. TV Paul on assuming the Chair established in the name of one of our greatest diplomats.
I am no expert on China, but I have followed Sino-Indian relations and I have occasionally expressed my views on them. The last time I wrote about China in December 2010 soon after the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister to India provoked a response from the Global Times, the voice of China. I said then: “ We have assurances from those who know China well that that 1962 will not happen again. They contend that China is no more an isolated dragon… As it has grown large and powerful, it has become domesticated and would like to tango with the elephant. The elephant can relax in the thought that the dragon will not step on its toes or its fiery breath will not incinerate it.”
I went on to say, however, that there was clear evidence to show that there were more contentious issues between the two countries in 2010 than in 1962. I made a list of the issues that provoked a war in 1962 and a list of issues that plagued the relationship in 2010 and drew the obvious conclusion that the second list was longer. In addition to the land occupied by China in Ladakh and Kashmir, their claim of Arunachal Pradesh, the stapled visa, more nuclear stations for Pakistan, and the disappearance of 1600 km of the border between India and China in Chinese maps. The only silver lining was that India and China were cooperating at the international fora. “Otherwise, those who know China would not be complacent enough to think that the Chinese threat is an illusion”, I concluded.
In a sharp reaction to my article, The Global Times, the official voice of China said, “Some people in India continue to make provocative statements with regard to China-India relations. A few days ago, former Indian Ambassador, Mr.T.P.Sreenivasan made an irresponsible assertion that the future of China-India relations is bound to result in conflict. He also said that “the current state of China-India relations is even worse than 1962.” The Global Times did not deny the points raised by me, but quoted the then Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and our President to the effect that the friendly relations between the two peoples would last for generations.
In my article, I had commented positively on India-China cooperation in the multilateral arena. I would like to examine today whether this cooperation is entirely benign or dictated by selfish considerations on the part of China.
The most recent occasion when India and China worked together was at the Durbin conference on climate change. The Chinese delegate was the first to support our Environment Minister when she said that India would not surrender the principle of burden sharing between rich and poor. “We should maintain the principle of common, but differentiated responsibility”, said the Chinese delegate. But a close examination of the Chinese position since the Rio summit of 1992 will show that China has been hiding behind India in the climate talks, while increasing its CO2 emissions, reaching a higher level of emissions than the US. China’s share in emissions is 23%, while the US has 18.11% and India’s share is only 5.78%. Our argument of per capita emissions suited China and it argued for equity, but it worked closely with the developed countries before and during the Copenhagen conference for a new consensus on climate, which eventually resulted in the virtual rejection of the Kyoto Protocol. Faced with the possibility of being subjected to mandatory cuts in emissions, China decided to let the US off the hook. It was the shift in the Chinese position that resulted in a Copenhagen package, which was rejected by most developing countries. China hides behind India in the environment debate, but works with the developed world to protect its own interests.
The situation is not very dissimilar in the case of trade, another area in which India and China cooperate in the multilateral system. Both India and China are committed to an open, fair, equitable, transparent and rule based multilateral trading system, in cooperation with other developing countries. We demand measures to eliminate trade distortions and to open their markets. At the same time, China has itself imposed trade restrictions on certain items in India and built up a trade imbalance with us. Even while professing solidarity with the developing countries, China has been making deals with the developed countries to develop its own trade.
In fact, the fundamental posture that China adopts in the UN is that it is uncompromisingly on the side of the developing countries. The joke is that a Chinese representative said that “China is a developing country and it shall always remain one.” China sees itself as a developing country and identifies itself with the G-77 without becoming a member. Even when it is vying for the position of world number one with the US and hobnobbing with the other permanent members, it finds it convenient to have the developing country image. The celebrated Chinese veto against Waldheim over and over again when he sought a third term as the UN Secretary General endeared China to the developing world. There are other examples of this kind. But China rarely confronts the western P-3 and has developed the practice of abstention, which, in effect, is a positive vote. The Charter prescribes that the concurring votes of the five permanent members are necessary to adopt a resolution, but many crucial resolutions, including the last one on Libya, which were adopted with Chinese abstentions. The double face of china in the UN needs no further elaboration.
As members of the Asian Group, India and China often come face to face for posts in which both are interested and in the name of cooperation, we make adjustments and let China retain positions for years together. This year, however, India decided to challenge China’s effort to retain a position on the Joint Inspection Unit after serving on it for ten years continuously. India had not served on it since 1977 and was fully entitled to it on the basis of rotation. Even though the Chinese candidate happened to be the Chinese Ambassador to India, we decided to contest and won it with a clear majority. I am sure that China must have played its solidarity card to persuade India to withdraw. Our victory in the first ever direct contest between India and China was indeed a landmark for us in the UN. The presumption that a permanent member can win any election was proved wrong several times in the case of the US because the US often took positions against developing countries, but this is the first time that another developing country confronts China and defeats it. This shows that the world at large has begun to question China’s profession of being a champion of the developing world.
China’s position on the expansion of the Security Council is a classic case of double talk. China professes that it supports the interests of the developing countries, most of whom wish to see an expansion. In the case of India, China maintains that it wants India to play a bigger role in the Security Council. But China has not even gone as far as the US in support of the Indian aspiration. China hides behind the US in its opposition to the expansion of the Security Council and it will not hesitate to use the veto if the situation warrants it. China is firm in its position as a permanent member and acts in that spirit even when giving lip service to G-77 solidarity.
India-China cooperation is the first casualty when India-Pakistan differences come to surface. We are aware as to how China argued in favour of a nuclear deal for Pakistan. When it failed to block the US-India deal, China supplied two reactors to Pakistan in open violation of the NSG guidelines. Pakistan’s objection to the expansion of the Security Council is also a factor in the Chinese position.
In conclusion, I would suggest that we should be cautious about China not only on our border, but also at the UN and other multilateral fora. China will not hesitate to be adversarial even there if it feels challenged by us.