Great Wall of India

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Aug 23 17:12:55 UTC 2007

 November 4, 2006 Ravni Thakur
New Delhi, August 22, 2007

The Great Wall of India

Modern nation States, formed after the collapse of colonial empires,
defined territorial integrity as the yardstick of national interest.
Interventions such as culture, language and religion have shaped choices
too, but essentially these too sought to represent themselves within the
frame of territory. It is this boundary that has led nations into conflict
and shaped their choices. Not ideology.

The evolution of Chinese foreign policy is instructive. Communist China
was strongly supported by the Soviets during the first decade of its
emergence. Chinas fledgling Communist Party and all other communist
parties, including Indias, were guided by the Stalin-led Comintern after
the 1920s. They provided the educated manpower, helped build the power
plants and, of course, the ugly Soviet-style buildings. And they defined
foreign policy interests. After Stalins death, serious differences erupted
within the communist movement. Dubbed as different interpretations of
Marxism, this split demonstrated Chinas commitment to its national
integrity as more important than its fraternal and ideological ties with
the Soviet Union. Relations between the two countries rapidly deteriorated
and by 1959, border skirmishes were reported between the two nations. By
1960, the ideological leadership of the Soviet Union had been totally
rejected by Mao and by 1961, the Soviet Union withdrew its advisors and
other help.

In India, the consequences of the Sino-Soviet split were reflected in the
split within the Communist Party of India into the CPI(M) and the CPI. The
CPI(M) was, and is still, known for its pro-China line and this is visible
in their opposition to Indias growing engagement with the US and to its
strategic exercises with other regional democracies. Both parties remained
virulently anti-American. And they continue to make this pathological
anti-Americanism their chief foreign policy plank.

A closer look at Sino-US ties will show that realpolitik, not ideology,
has always been the basis for Chinas foreign relations. Today, this should
be the basis for Indo-US relations  and even India-China relations. This
was the basis for Henry Kissingers Pakistan-mediated 1971 visit followed
by Nixons visit to its one-time arch communist enemy in 1972. This was
truly a paradigm shift and China has never looked back since. For China,
it was the ticket to the international stature it enjoys today. China
became a member of the Security Council and enhanced its international
stature. It also gained access to American technology and contact with the

The US, in return, dumped Taiwan unceremoniously from the United Nations
and opened its doors to China as a strategic partner to balance the Soviet
Union. Mao, despite preaching anti-US rhetoric throughout the 1950s and
1960s  an ideology he successfully exported to India  had no moral qualms
about throwing it away in the 1970s. He knew it was in Chinas national
interest and certainly of more import than ideological rhetoric. It was
this paradigm shift to a pro-American foreign policy that allowed China to
enter the global market after its economic reforms became policy in 1978.
The gains of Chinese pragmatism are there for the world to see and China
will not jeopardise its wider economic relationship with the US for petty
ideological posturing.

During the 1980s, the US supported Chinas economic modernisation by
investing heavily in its manufacturing, retail and automobile sectors and
by providing China access to the huge US market. Wal-Mart is a success
story in retail, linking Chinas villages to the world and providing good
returns to farmers without the middle man. The US has also helped Chinas
civilian nuclear defence programme. This support was unstinting in the
period the former Soviet empire existed. The Chinese and the Americans
cooperated extensively in Pakistan during the anti-Soviet Afghan War. The
US also shut its eyes to Chinese nuclear proliferation to Pakistan. Former
US President Bill Clinton not only leaked A.B. Vajpayees letter to China
but also supported its legitimate rights in the subcontinent, after Indias
1998 nuclear explosion. Today, China and the US exist in a symbiotic
relationship. China and Japan literally finance the US deficit. China
needs the US market, just like the US needs China.

India must work to guard its own national interest, both economic and
strategic. We are not interested in containing China. We are interested in
the gains that India gets through a growing engagement with the US. We
cant allow failed 19th century ideologies to turn the clock back. Our
friendship with the US need not come in the way of the growing friendship
with China. China has benefited a great deal from American support earlier
and India would be foolish to spurn the American hand of friendship.
Geopolitics in the future may change our relationship, but like China, we
too can take advantage of it for the moment. Pragmatic foreign policy for
national interest is perhaps what the Left, led by Prakash Karat, needs to
learn.  Let us ask them how they evaluate the ideology behind communist
Chinese foreign policy and the willingness of West Bengal for American
investment. One must stop having double standards, all in the name of

Ravni Thakur is honorary Director, Euro-Asia Institute and Reader at the
Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi.


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