30 May 2017

Tackling China? See its history

Abhijit Bhattacharyya

Historically, the Hans of mainland China are known for clear thinking, intelligence, ingenuity, the art of war, the craft of diplomacy and their indifference to outsiders. They still do, specially when it comes to contemporary issues — like South Asian (read Indian). They suddenly become alert, yet inert (or unreactive). Is that a contradiction? Perhaps. Because what spurts is a rigid, inflexible, aggressive “containment of India” policy that results in India’s counter-rigid posture and thus the Beijing regime’s inability to get a firm commitment on its grandiose dream project called “Silk Route”.

Also known by the fancy name of “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR), it’s meant to be the reincarnation of an exotic economic empire of the Hans of the Tang era (618-908 CE), passing through the sparsely populated, vast swathe of barren, deserted, remote land routes of the great Euro-Asian heartland. While as a student of history, one learns of the “Silk Route” going through both land and sea lanes, it’s also a fact that as two opposite civilisations, “each stood unchangeably firm in itself, with no possibility of fruitful exchanges”, interaction and socio-religious exchanges between India and China notwithstanding. Indeed, there once existed three lines of communication — across Central Asia, via “Bamiyan and Bactria, via Kashgar across the Tarim Valley and via Kashmir, Gilgit and Yasin across the Pamirs”. These routes became important after the 2nd century BCE, and till the end of 9th century CE, when Islam interposed an effective barrier, they were the most important highways of communication.

Strangely, today too, it’s once again Islam in the form of the terror-sponsoring Islamic Republic of Pakistan that is a stumbling block between two great ancient civilisations of Hwang Ho-Yangtze Kiang and Ganga-Godavari.

No doubt historically the Chinese hardly ever extended or expanded beyond the Kunlun Mountains and rarely controlled areas around the lofty mountains and desert terrain of Gobi, which again is surrounded by Altai, Yablonai, Stenovai, Altyn Tagh, Nan Shan chain of mountains, not to speak of extending their power across the Pamir, Karakoram or Himalayas. Thus, Xinjiang and Tibet, even in the best of times, did exist, but more in theory in the pages of Chinese atlases and maps than under the direct military rule of Chinese monarchs.

One thing remains constant: the Chinese psyche. China has always considered itself the “centre” of the globe — hence the name, since times immemorial, as “Chung Kuo/Guo”, or “Middle Kingdom”. China, in its own perception, is in the “middle”, with the world revolving around it, and with all countries on its “periphery”. If one goes by the pictographic “script” of Chinese alphabets or words, it shows two drawings: the first denoting a small quadrangle penetrated by a vertical line symbolising the centrality of China; and the second a bigger quadrangle, signifying the state boundary “Kingdom/Kuo”, with its sword sign, so essential for its very existence.

The second most important and constant feature of Chinese history is that foreigners are always regarded as inferior. The Chinese never liked the presence of foreigner in their midst. Hence, cross-border movements of people have usually been less than what could have been. The Chinese could go out with ease, but foreigners’ entry was always an anathema — a virtual no-no zone. It is this single characteristic of the Chinese that must be appreciated by all those who deal with China’s rulers, or have through the ages.

Today, however, this has turned into a single-point obsession — to make India’s 1.25 billion-strong market join OBOR/CPEC/BRI. Whether this is good or bad is, of course, a matter of conflicting, contradictory and competing opinions, but one thing is clear. There is a tinge of desperation on China’s part — or else how does one explain a scholar at China’s top think tank offering unsolicited “blow hot, blow cold” advice to India? That “Pakistani-dominated Kashmir is not India’s”? The use of words is significant — “Pakistan-dominated”, and not, as is reality, “Pakistan-occupied” Kashmir. Avoiding the truth is deliberate. Obviously, if someone illegally occupies a part of J&K, it does not have India’s footprint. But does Pakistan’s illegal occupation imply that China could have a legal presence? Is he trying to suggest that India’s physical absence from PoK gives China the right to fill the vacuum?

Then comes more absurd logic: “India says it will resolutely oppose the corridor as it is a matter of sovereignty”. However, “in the 1960s, the Chinese government began to build the Karakoram Highway linking Xinjiang with Karachi. The Indian government was not against (it) then”. Look at this voluntary self-confession of guilt! This means China fully knew it was entering a territory that it should not have entered. Yet the Sino-Pakistan Karakoram Highway was conceived in 1959. The Chinese scholar missed the vital point: Sino-Indian relations till China attacked India in October 1962 was still guided by the Indian hallucination of “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai”. Thus to suggest that the Indian government was not against the highway then has little meaning. Whether India was against the highway or not, China was definitely “against” India as it deliberately trampled on the sovereignty of what it then claimed was one of China’s closest friends! In the words of B.N. Mullick, former Intelligence Bureau director, this was a part of the “Chinese Betrayal”. Thus, instead of pointing finger at India, China’s “erudite and wise” scholars need to focus on the role of their own leaders — Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai — for brazenly stabbing “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” in the back.

Again, look on it this way. If I, P, C (does this sound like the Indian Penal Code?) are neighbours, and I and C are just like brothers, despite some irritants, but one morning C conspires with P, who (P) does not enjoy cordial ties with I, and clandestinely and maliciously gangs up to harm I. I, a gentleman par excellence, and taking C’s behaviour at face value to be true, being a trustworthy friend, either does not come to know the diabolical game being played by C and P behind I’s back, or decides to feign ignorance out of sheer trust, faith and confidence in C. How then do the Chinese defend the indefensible? Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s November 1950 letter to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru comes to mind. Sardar Patel had seen through the Chinese “perfidy” and “malevolence” much before any of his wise Indian contemporaries could even imagine the looming disaster on the horizon. Now the wheel has turned full circle again as OBOR or BRI (that includes CPEC) is all set to harm Hindustan.

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