Our Chinese Wall


Regular Member
Jul 19, 2009
Our Chinese Wall

Shekhar Gupta
Tags : shekhargupta, column
Posted: Saturday , Sep 12, 2009 at 0255 hrs

China may have recently returned to our headlines — at least on some news TV channels — and we can argue about whether the threat on the border is real or exaggerated. But, for a moment, think the unthinkable. Could it be, could it just be, that we are a nation deeply scared of China? Not merely Sinophobic in the sense that many other major nations like the US, Japan and Korea may be, but genuinely scared. Since the short, sharp and disastrous war of 1962, could it just be that we have brainwashed two or three generations of Indians to live in dread of the dragon? We glare at Pakistan all the time, we look the US in the eye all the time now. But China? Just mention the word and we start talking trade, culture, shared values, centuries-old contacts and so on. Have we, over the decades, internalised, and institutionalised, a psychology of pretending a Chinese challenge, economically, politically and militarily (I have chosen that order deliberately) does not exist? And believing that, if it does, we can do nothing about it?

We flatter ourselves often enough comparing ourselves with China, we feel flattered when, rather occasionally, we are mentioned in the same breath as China. We were obviously so thrilled when some in the global financial community started saying, particularly when they came visiting India, that China “and India” were now key to a global recovery. But let’s be honest. Do facts on the ground justify that ranking? Consider just one fact. Since the governments around the world initiated stimulus packages exactly a year ago, the Chinese banking system has pumped an additional Rs 70 lakh crore of credit in their economy. Compare this with the total credit currently outstanding in our entire economy: just about Rs 27 lakh crore. So the Chinese, in less than a year, have shored up their economy and manufacturing by releasing additional credit that is two-and-a-half-times all credit of all times in India. And we, at the same time, are so self-congratulatory, we want to teach financial regulation to the world, and our central bank is fighting so fiercely to guard its bureaucratic turf it might be an interesting idea to send some Mint Street troopers to sort out the Chinese on the Ladakh border.

The idea here is neither to justify our fear of China, nor to exacerbate it. I am only making a case for a reality check. Because it is only when we face the truth that we can hope to find answers. For nearly half a century we have dealt with China with a sense of escapism, barring, probably, two occasions. One, when Rajiv Gandhi made a bold move towards reconciliation, and second when Vajpayee gave it a fresh impetus. By and large, otherwise, we have been hiding behind an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. How escapist we have been shows in the minimal, if any, protest on our part over China’s arms supplies to Pakistan, while we go ballistic if the US even offers to upgrade a few squadrons of old PAF F-16s. We complain only in whispers when the Pakistanis modify Chinese missiles and nuclear weapon designs, but are so outraged when they fiddle with American Harpoons. The argument here is not whether this is the right approach or not. Maybe, rather than under-reacting to China, ours is a case of over-reacting to Pakistan and America. But the general approach is, say or do nothing to provoke the Chinese. Yet China never leaves our mind as our most serious security threat.

If that was not the case, why would we be so paranoid about growing Chinese involvement in what, normally, should have been entirely virtuous business, building our roads, power plants, telecom? We are now worried that too many of our new power producers are buying equipment from China. What do you expect them to do when your domestic manufacturers cannot fulfil even a fraction of the demand? We have wasted two decades of reform protecting one PSU Navratna and rapacious but rent-seeking government utilities rather than help the private sector build real turbine-making capacity. So how do you react? By delaying visas for Chinese workmen and engineers. Then how do the Chinese respond? By painting a few rocks red along the border in Ladakh. And we go into panic again: do or say nothing to provoke them. And let’s hope they are not watching the two-and-a-half of our utterly illiterate TV channels that, having failed to stir up a war with Pakistan after 26/11, are checking out the Chinese now.

You don’t have to over-react. But the time has come for us to look inwards for the solution to our half-century fear of the Chinese. We use the “Chinese threat” to justify our nukes. But have we shown any of the focus or determination required to build our economy, political system and military might (again, deliberately in that order) to be at least China’s near-equal? The disparity in our economic strength is well known. Politically, we show waffling and confusion where the Chinese display focus and firmness. If you were a Chinese analyst in Beijing, you would have read with so much delight the foreign policy section in the CMP which became the agenda of UPA-I. It dismissed the US and Russia in half a sentence each while it held forth on China in language that would do no sovereign foreign policy any credit. Just that reference, obviously put in to please the Left, had the word “supplicant” written all over it.

And militarily? We have not been able to buy a new artillery gun in 22 years. The bulk of our anti-aircraft artillery is still the six-decade-old L-70. Our navy’s missiles are blocked by just a whiff of scandal which looks more and more like no more than arms bazaar skulduggery and cynical politics. Our air force has waited 10 years to even hold proper trials of a new fighter. We are so politically muddled; and we think we can continue to be like that because the only military threat we instinctively think of is Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Chinese are engaged in the greatest military modernisation in the history of mankind.

We have to head neither for the bunker in fright, nor to the battlefield. We have to start a process now of ridding ourselves of this irrational and uncalled-for fear of China. China may be almost a superpower now, but it is not an irrational power. It has as big a stake in stability as we do. Its economy, finance, exports are all much more globalised than ours, so do not expect it to rock the boat just because it felt like picking up a fight in the neighbourhood one day. It might enjoy, however, reminding you occasionally of how far it has left you behind. But it is not about to start pushing things on the borders, nibbling territory and risking skirmishes as some of the crude and militaristic scare-mongering in some of our media suggests. We have to act like grown-ups, not think “border” or “threat” the moment somebody mentions China. We cannot exorcise the demon unless we come to terms with the defeat of 1962. One reason we have brought up two-and-a-half generations of Indians on the fear of China is that we have avoided a fair appraisal and understanding of 1962. The greater the inclination on the part of a nation, a family or even an individual to hide from an unhappy truth, rather than look it in the eye, the greater the fear that it will return. We, the people of India, need an honest process of truth and reconciliation with 1962 — and there is no better way of starting that than making the report of the Henderson Brooks commission, which probed that debacle, public. It’s only when you face up to the truth that you can learn to deal with it, particularly when the fears that haunt you lurk in your mind rather than on your borders.

[email protected]


Regular Member
Mar 30, 2009
good article. time we call a spade a spade.

By the way, I am not necessarily flattered when my country is mentioned in the same breath as a communist dictatorship

Global Defence