China and India must be friends, not turn into foes
By M.D. Nalapat (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-15 07:53

The co-existence of the modern with the traditional in China and India sets the countries apart from the rest of the world. People in the two countries have embraced new technology and carved a niche for themselves in today's knowledge-based global economy. But they have not allowed outside influence to play with their cultures.

The two neighbors have had friendly relations for thousands of years, marred only by the 1962 border conflict.

I believe the conflict was the result of gross misunderstanding. Jawaharlal Nehru, then India's prime minister, did not understand the depth of the desire of the Communist Party of China (CPC) under Chairman Mao Zedong to unify the country. Nehru and other Indian leaders had earlier agreed to the British plan of dividing India into "Hindu" and "Muslim" states. Nehru, therefore, assumed mistakenly that Mao was like him, and would compromise on the one-China principle.

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After China entered the Korean War (1950-53), the fierce resilience of its soldiers and people alarmed the capitalist world. So some capitalist countries began a proactive campaign to weaken the People's Republic of China (PRC), and thus made Dalai Lama a tool in their fight against the PRC.

Nehru's decision in 1959 to not only provide sanctuary to the Dalai Lama, but also welcome any Tibetan exile to India and allow the setting up of a Tibetan "government in exile" created tensions with China.

Throughout 1961 and up to October 1962, the Indian prime minister thought the Chinese government would act the way his administration had done, which was to talk a lot but not act. That's why he ordered ill-equipped soldiers to try and occupy areas that were under the People's Liberation Army (PLA) control, believing that the only Chinese response would be verbal.

The welcome given to the Dalai Lama in India, combined with Nehru's "Forward Policy" of expanding the land under Indian control served as the catalyst for Beijing's 1962 decision to administer a strong dose of bitter medicine to New Delhi. Once the medicine was administered in the form of a swift military takeover of land along the Indo-Chinese border, Mao ordered his troops to withdraw.

These days, some Chinese friends say that that decision was "stupid" and that Mao should have allowed the PLA to hold on to the land under its control.

This is a wrong assessment, for it was the withdrawal that showed Indians that Mao's China did not want any Indian territory, and was not therefore a threat to India. Had the PLA not withdrawn, Nehru would have agreed to join a US-sponsored military alliance and we could have seen the birth of a "Southeast Asia Treaty Organization". There would have been frequent military clashes between India and China, just like there has been between India and Pakistan.

Stability in Asia requires permanent peace between China and India, and it is Mao's wise decision to withdraw his troops in 1962 that has ensured peace in the region will become a reality.

Before the border conflict, Mao sent Premier Zhou Enlai to India twice to put forward a border agreement based on status quo. The offer was not accepted by India, a fact that deepened China's suspicion that India had become a wiling partner of the US to weaken the socialist nation.

The 1962 collapse of the Indian army, which had been neglected by the pacifist Nehru since 1947, saw the end of the Indian prime minister as a world statesman. But he refused to resign, and continued in office till his death two years later.

Thirteen rounds of Sino-Indian boundary talks since then have produced zero result. Indeed once again the media in both countries are carrying hostile reports about each other. In India, there is a powerful group that would like to see New Delhi join Tokyo as the other strong Washington ally in Asia. And it is using the present Sino-Indian border tension to push for such an alliance.

Should the present situation continue, some elements may be provoked to take action, such as shooting down a PLA helicopter or killing a Chinese soldier. This would inflame public opinion in the PRC, and perhaps lead to counter-measures. Such a cycle of action-reaction could lead to another Sino-Indian conflict, which would be a disaster not only for China and India, but also for the whole of Asia and even the rest of the world.

India and China need to defuse the tension. One way of doing that would be to order their troops on the border to carry light, not heavy, weapons. China and India should also ensure that their troops, or planes or helicopters do not cross into the territory held by the other till a map is drawn to demarcate the border.

It is the wisdom of Chairman Mao (who withdrew his troops in 1962) and Premier Zhou (who called for status quo to be maintained) that shows the way forward for India and China to settle the border issue.

The two sides have to make concrete commitments to respect each other's security interests and refrain from any action that would compromise security in the other country.

The common interest of the more than 2.3 billion people of the two countries demands that the leaderships return to the path of thousands of years of peace and friendship, rather than continue the four decades of tension. For Asia, at least, China and India must be friends.

The author is UNESCO peace chair and professor of geopolitics in Manipal University, India.

(China Daily 10/15/2009 page9)