After Talks, India Still Wary of China

During a visit to India last week by Chinese defence minister General Liang Guanglie, the two countries agreed to resume joint military exercises. But India remains wary of China’s growing presence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, including its acquisition of a strategically important Pakistani port and plans for space facilities in Sri Lanka. From Minnie Chan at the South China Morning Post:

[…] “This has been done by extending huge financial assistance, as well as military assistance in a few cases, such as Pakistan, to the extent of affecting the military balance of South Asia,” [Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan, a defence analyst at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation] said.

“China’s proactive approach towards South Asia appears to be a result of its own deepening relationship with South Asian countries as well as fulfilling its objective to emerge as a kind of ‘guardian’ to all [those] countries.”

[…] Sun Shihai, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that if the two countries were keen on improving bilateral relation, both Beijing and New Delhi should give up old concepts such as “big brother of the third world countries” and “leading power in South Asia” respectively.

“It’s a long way for the two countries to build up a strategic partnership as India so far is too sensitive to China’s military development.”

The Associated Press reported on the visit last week:

No dates were set for the exercises. The ministers said in a statement that closer military ties would help deepen trust and friendship between the two countries. The exercises were frozen after Beijing denied a visa to an Indian general who worked in Indian-controlled Kashmir, the Himalayan region also claimed by Pakistan.

India and China’s tangled relationship dates to a 1962 border war. They also have unresolved territorial disputes, are competing for leadership across the continent and are vying for energy sources to supply their growing economies and huge populations.

Analysts said that Beijing was likely to have used the brief talks to ask India to stay out of a dispute in the South China Sea. Beijing is coming under increasing American pressure to agree to a regional code of conduct to reduce the risks of a conflict there. China’s claims in the area have created tensions with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

Any such negotiations took place behind closed doors, however. The Hindu newspaper conducted a written interview with Liang, noting that questions on the South China Sea and US-China relations had been rejected as incidental to the purpose of the visit. Accordingly, the interview covered issues regarding China’s borders with India and Pakistan and naval cooperation and anti-piracy activities in the Indian Ocean, with Liang insisting that Indian fears were unfounded.

The Chinese government persists in following a peaceful development path. The PLA has never established a military base overseas. The PLA Navy ships, while conducting long-distance voyages, often went to close ports of littoral countries for logistic supply. This is a common practice of world navies. Since the beginning of their escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia at the end of 2008, the PLA Navy ships have conducted logistic supply from the ports of Djibouti, Oman, Yemen, etc. According to the need of escort missions and other long-distance voyages, we would also consider having logistic supply or short rest at appropriate ports of other countries. Such logistic supply activities do not have any connection with establishing military bases overseas.

[…] It is regrettable that some media in India occasionally make some groundless comments when reporting about China-India relations. Some even distort China’s normal activities of developing economy and improving people’s livelihood, even some humanitarian assistance, into “China’s preparation for war against India.” Some of these untruthful remarks were made due to lack of understanding and knowledge of the truth. And some others were intentionally fabricated rumours by some interest groups.

We believe that releasing false news to the public amounts to hiding the truth. I hope the Indian media can carefully check and verify the accuracy of news information… and also clarify rumours, so as to bring truth to readers and ensure the public’s right to know.

The trip hit some minor turbulence when two Indian pilots inadvertently accepted large cash tips from General Liang, in breach of air force regulations. From Gaurav Raghuvanshi at India Real Time:

[… T]wo Indian Air Force pilots who flew China’s Defense Minister General Liang Guanglie from Mumbai to New Delhi on Monday were perhaps unprepared for the gift they received: 50,000 rupees ($900) each, in sealed envelopes.

The Chinese side was perhaps equally unaware of the implications of their gesture. After all, in Chinese culture, the concept of “Hong Bao” — literally, a red envelope — is commonplace among friends and families and also extends to senior colleagues giving cash to their juniors.

The pilots gracefully accepted the ‘gift’ envelopes thinking it to be a pen set or some small gift. But when cash tumbled out, they were left baffled.

See also ‘Chinese Minister Stresses “Harmonious Co-Existence”‘, on CDT.