When China “felt” threatened: Sino-India nuclear quagmire

India- China relations

Years after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, PRC and India managed to “maintain” a healthy relationship.

The extent of the two nations’ “relationships” can be measured from their cooperation in ratifying the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in the Agreement on Trade between India and the Tibet region of China”. The then Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, acknowledged Tibet as an “integral part of China”, as the two nations “adopted” the policy of “friendship” with each other. In the wake of Chinese PLA invasion in Tibet, Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959. Since the incident, Dalai Lama’s active movements in India, continues to be a strain on “Sino-India’s” relationship.

Sino-India relationship is further strained by “territorial disputes”. Beijing, continues to reject the McMahan Line, drawn by the British in early 1914, demarcating boundaries between India and China, limiting it to, nothing more than “forced colonialism”. The territorial disputes, in 1962, resulted in an “aggressive” warin which India Army faced a “proficient” Chinese PLA along the eastern and the western boundaries of Himalayas. After “two months” war, Chinese PLA aggressively pushed Indian Army and offered a “cease fire” offering to withdraw their troops“twenty kilometres” within the LAC.

This decisive defeat “from the hands” of Chinese PLA left a deep scar on Indian Armywhile creating a “scenario” of territorial conflict which continues even today, questioning the “territories” Chinese PLA occupied in the war.

China conducted its first “successful” nuclear test in 1964. During the early 1960s, China-Soviet “friendship”, which was established in early 1950, had taken an “ugly road”, as Beijing was confronting against the US and erstwhile USSR. Considering Mao’s “humour” for nuclear weapons,in an effort to defend itself from a “probable” nuclear attack either from Soviet, the US or both, it began to initiate a nuclear weapons program of its own.

In the light of such “antagonistic” events, India took a different approach. With a recent defeat in the hands of Chinese PLA along with Beijing’s nuclear weapons program, India had “probable” cause to begin its own nuclear weapons program. In the light of a “probable” nuclear weapons development program by China, then, intelligence agencies and nuclear experts in India, began to cite numerous reasons for New Delhi to “setup” its own nuclear weapons program. Publicly, many political leaders cited “unfavourable” reasons for New Delhi to have nuclear weapons, some even at an extent stated, “India’s economic downfall”, as an aftermath of New Delhi’s ambition for nuclear arsenal. The end of the 1960s saw, numerous voices in support for New Delhi to prepare its nuclear weapons program. One of the important reason for New Delhi to deny India’s ratification of CTBT was “China’s ambition for nuclear weapons”, which posed a credible threat.

With India, successfully detonating nuclear device in 1974 at Pokhran, New Delhi proved its entry into “nuclear race”, becoming the first “developing economy” to develop its nuclear weapons program, diminishing the hegemony of “power nations” in the nuclear race. Moreover, it is important to note that, even after India’s successful nuclear tests, many civil officers advised the then government to strictly “adhere” to non-nuclear policy, in the time when military officers hailed India’s nuclear program as a “apt defence against aggressor” neighbours. During the time of, what experts called, “strategic victory”, serving senior diplomats including the then Foreign Secretary M.J.Desai warned “New Delhi not to against China in nuclear race” since it would hamper “India’s socio-economic policies” and further diminish India’s “political influence” in the region. This statement by the then Foreign Secretary received massive criticism from strategic experts along with the top leaderships.

Sino-India relations continued to deteriorate in the 1970s. In an effort to “strong-arm” New Delhi, Beijing aligned with Islamabad, while New Delhi advocated to support Saigon, Vietnam, China’s immediate “neighbour-rival”. During the period of 1980 till 1989, Beijing and New Delhi exchanged ambassadors, which pledged to resolve the “territorial dispute” through dialogue and diplomacy. The two “temporary friends” met for over eight sessions between 1981 and 1987 but the talks proved to be inconclusive. With wounds still young, Indian Army military exercises between 1987-89resulted in fresh rounds of “allegations and accusations” between the two sides.

Under the leadership of a new Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, New Delhi in 1988 took considerable efforts to improve “Sino-India” relationship, beginning with the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing. Both the parties agreed “unanimously” to establish a “joint working group” in an effort to identify “peaceful resolutions”to maintain “peace and security” in the region. The then Chinese premier, Li Peng, on his visit to India in early 1991, resulted in numerous “border agreements” ranging from trade, to science and technology. Relations between the two nations improved phenomenally after the then Prime Minister Narsimha Rao’s visit to China where the two nations ratified the“Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity”for LAC.

The agreements with respect to security included biennially joint military meetings, followed by installation of military communication on the north and the eastern borders, along with transparency for both the militaries and their troops location on LAC, pre-notifications on joint “High level military talks”.

With respect to Sino-India military “complex” relationships, policy makers then tried to divert New Delhi’s nuclear development program, citing grounds of “socio-economic vulnerability” as an aftermath, which experts even today, considers this as “India’s diplomatic weakness”.New Delhi needs to understand that, China has been a nuclear “war-head” state for over three decades nowand its nuclear capability, in the light of “Continental Ballistic Missile” has perhaps increased concerns for India’s borders. Moreover, its active support in providing “nuclear fissile” materials to Islamabad further increases concerns for India. So, the question is, why does China, in the light of India’s active engagement with developed economies on civil nuclear arrangement, feels threatened? Especially when India is approaching aggressive measures for membership of the NSG?

Threatened China? Or India? Or both?

In the onset of India’s first “successful” nuclear explosion at Pokhran in 1974, India remained “cautious” of China’s ambitions of becoming a “nuclear” state. In the light of Pakistan’s “nuclear development” program, relations between India and Pakistan worsened, Indian intelligence agencies shifted their attention towards Pakistan. Till the early 1980s. intelligence agencies had adequate evidence to prove Pakistan’s “nuclear ambitions”; which then became the epicentre of Intelligence agencies, leaving Chinese nuclear ambitions unchecked.Pro-Chinese supporters even then advocated “friendship for peace and security” especially during the time, when both the nations became weary of their nuclear program.

In such a “weary” situation, policy makers seems to be divided with respect to the “strategic nuclear” policy of India. Many experts cited reasons pertaining to “china’s aggression”, some went too far to stated India’s “nuclear policy” as a big “hurdle” in border talks with China. On one end, key strategic affairs applauded New Delhi’s nuclear policy as a “bold” step against China, while others stated India’s aggressive nuclear policy as a “probable” excuse for Chinese aggressions on the border. Military experts hailed New Delhi’s “nuclear diplomacy” a “strategic victory for India in South Asia politicswhile many argued New Delhi to isolate China using bilateral and multilateral relations in South Asia.

Armed with nuclear capabilities, the issue of Tibet and Dalai Lama resurfaced during many bilateral talks.

China undoubtedly was “enemy number one” for India. With Chinese previous history of “complex entanglements”, Beijing’s “erratic” behaviour not only concerned India but many neighbouring nations such as Vietnam.

Today, China continues to pose a threat to India “territories”. However, in the light of recent “paradigm shift” in India’s diplomacy, the situation has, rather “altered”. India’s repetitive support for NSG is continued to be hindered by China, forcing experts to uncover “China’s contentions” against India. India remained alarmed about China’s aggressive and “erratic” history of “decision making”, the message which Chinese top leadership continued to restrain. For Chinese top leadership, India remained a step ahead.

India’s nuclear power threatens China?

Two PLA senior colonels said in interviews that they were not surprised by India’s nuclear tests because that country has simply shifted from being an undeclared to being a declared nuclear power. This tells exactly how well the Chinese are aware of the Indian nuclear program. Despite China’s more mature nuclear development, India’s looming nuclear potential has had a substantial impact on China’s national security.

Tibet, remains today an “unsolved” controversy, which not only hinders in China’s concept of “hegemony in Asia” but also diminishes its “strategic options”. The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, frequently criticises India’s “diplomatic engagements” in interfering in Tibet and “allegedly” claims Dalai Lama’s support of Indian authorities as “hostile” and “probable cause to create hindrance in peaceful discussions”. While stating “India’s sinister relations with Dalai Lama as aggressive”, agitated Chinese top leadership then focusses their attention to prevent India from entering NSG.According to China, India has made an aggressive approach in the northern territory and continues to occupy over 90,000 square kilometres, a claim which many experts state as “rhetoric”. According to the Chinese PLA records, India invaded its territories in the war of 1962, a fact which again supports its “rhetoric” theory of India’s “aggressive tactics”.

The reason behind China’s “strategy” to prevent India from joining NSG might point towards China’s apprehension of India’s probable first nuclear strike, which many experts stated to be “too impractical and rhetorically impossible”, which further relates to China’s close “watch” over India’s nuclear program. In the light of an already established Nuclear “no-first” use policy, to Beijing, New Delhi pose a grave threat.As per Beijing, “India is a hostile nuclear weapon state”, with an unclear nuclear doctrine and a flawed “no-first” use policy. “China’s security is threatened” and it will do whatever it takes to protect its hegemony in Asia.

Not long ago, a senior Colonel of the Chinese PLA pointed stated India’s rapid militarization of armed forces along with deploying of strategic forces command such as the ICBM Agni in the north, in an effort to check China’s actions. China’s “intense” relationship with Pakistan further worries India. With a “bloddy history” along with the first war for Kashmir, Beijing points “India’s active militarisation” as a “future threat”.

With China on Pakistan’s sideespecially its biggest supplier of short and long-range missiles, a nuclear war with Pakistan would means a war with China, a fact which also worries Beijing. As a matter of fact, the nuclear “complex” entanglement would not only jeopardies Chinese hegemony in Asia but also prove “fatal” for Beijing-Islamabad relations, especially when Pakistan “repetitive” military defeats in the hands of India.

Furthermore, China continues to struggle from Wahhabi Islamic factions in the North-East provinces, hence an active conflict between India and Pakistan would further strengthen the movement in the North-East, giving “domestic” troubles to China.

Why does China want India to follow CTBT first and then “discuss” on India’s future at the NSG? India had already denied signing CTBT back in 1998, in the light of two eminent threats.Rapid advancement in military technology along with an aggressive multilateral and bilateral civil-nuclear agreements with global nations continues to hinder China’s hegemony in Asia, its dominance of Asian waters and influence over neighbouring nations.

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Anant Mishra

Anant Mishra is a former Youth Representative to the United Nations. He has served extensively in United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council along with the Economic and Social Council. He is also a visiting faculty for numerous universities and delivers lectures on political economics and foreign policies.