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(Talk delivered on July 21, 2008 at the Annexe, India International Centre on July 21, 2008 on behalf of Eco Monitors Society)

Eco Monitors cordially invites you to a talk on ‘Reappraising China’, chaired by Ms. Kapila Vatsayan

The speaker: Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Vinod Saighal

Executive Director, Eco Monitors Society.

The speaker Maj. Gen. (retd.) Vinod Saighal

Good evening to the distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen assembled here.

I am going to make the shortest introduction about Dr. Vatsayan. She is the epitome and exemplar of Indian art and culture. In her persona she embodies all that is sublime in India ’s heritage, coming to us from the mists of antiquity.

The subject for this evening - just about two weeks before the Beijing Olympics - is Reappraising China, or to put it differently ‘Wither China’. The perspective is global. However, China and India and their relationship figures prominently in the presentation that I shall be making.

Toward the end of the last century, around the turn of the millennium, I delivered two talks, which were futuristic in nature. One of them was the ‘Resurgence of Russia in the 21st Century’. It was a time when Russia was nearly on its knees after the Yeltsin years. The national dept of Russia was $175 billion. The scientists were leaving the country in droves; many of them were grabbed by China . There was talk of default in the payments due. The military was demoralized and Chechnya was in flames. Mr. Putin had just taken over. Oil was at 13 dollars a barrel. So when I delivered the talk on the resurgence of Russia , it evoked a lot of interest about the extent of the resurgence that could take place. I was even invited to the United States to repeat the talk.

The second talk was on ‘Dealing with China in the 21st Century’. At the start of the talk I borrowed terms from astronomy and astrophysics to define the three models for the growth of China in the 21st century. The first model was the ‘steady state expansion model’. The second was the ‘dynamic expansion or the explosive expansion model’. The third was the ‘implosion model’. I was slightly wrong about India when comparing the two countries to the extent that the economic condition of India is now much better than what I had projected at that time. I am again going to be somewhat futuristic in this talk.  First of all:

Where is China Headed

We take a bow in the direction of China ’s remarkable achievements in the recent past. Please recall the accounts of the ravages caused by the Cultural Revolution. It was one of the most horrific severing of the link with its civilisational traditions, which goes back several millennia. The event was without parallel in recorded history in that this destruction was self-inspired, self-induced and self-organised; When finally a halt was called and a tally taken of the devastation caused to China’s cultural and intellectual capital, those who had survived its ravages were dumbfounded at the havoc that had been wrought.

Enter Deng Xiaoping. That is about the time we witness the arrival of Mr. Deng Xiaoping on the scene. Just after the last decade there was remarkable achievement on the part of China . We take note of the economic liberalization and infrastructural development on a scale not witnessed before anywhere in the world, in such short time frames. There was the major reform and modernization of the People’s Liberation Army after the setback of the Vietnam misadventure at the end of the 1970s decade. The economic upliftment of 200 million people or more in little over 10 years is again without parallel. Perhaps the most important achievement relates to the reviving of education. Some months ago I had attended the presentation of an eminent educationist from China , an emeritus professor from one of the universities. He mentioned that at the end of the Cultural Revolution there was hardly a single Ph D left in China . There might have been slight hyperbole in the statement that he made that there was nobody available, who could be inducted to teach the sciences and other modern subjects in Chinese universities. Today China has the largest number of engineers in the world. Within a decade or more it has set up two hundred thousand vocational institutions. India has reportedly only forty seven hundred of them. It is a remarkable pattern of growth of Chinese society. I believe the architect of modern China is in reality Mr. Deng Xiaoping, who looms greater than Mao Zedong himself in the history of the later period of China ’s modernization. The human resource mobilization ability, on the scale undertaken, is unmatched in the world. While the world clamours for democracy, the credit for these achievements must go to the political dispensation that rules China . Of course there are negative aspects, the price for which will have to be paid some time in the future.

What are the factors that helped China to come up to be the number two power in the world as of now? A very brief recapitulation follows:

First of all I attribute this to governance stability. Look at the landmass and the demographic size of the Peoples Republic of China ; compared to what is happening in countries of similar size there has been remarkable governance stability. That is the leading factor.

Then you have the collective will of the people. Whatever the system of totalitarianism, there is remarkable mobilization of the will of the people.

In as far as it relates to economic liberalization, the audience being well aware of it, I will not elaborate.

The other contributory factor was accession to the World Trade Organization.

The Chinese Diaspora or the overseas Chinese have helped considerably in bringing China to the stage where it is now. Concurrently there were large-scale investments by Japan , Taiwan and South Korea , followed by western multinational corporations. The latter also parted with sensitive technology, an aspect that they were loath to admit.

Last, but not the least, one of the most important factors contributing to the growth of China was Russia . I will talk about this in greater detail a bit later but there are two points that I want to stress. The first was that the Chinese were watching the experiment undertaken by Mr. Gorbachev and how it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union . They were horrified by what befell USSR . They were not going to allow a repeat of it in their country. That was the first contribution made by Russia to China . Mr. Deng Xiaoping had no doubt in his mind as to how he was going to deal with unrest that took place in1989 on Tiananmen Square . The second aspect was the resurgence of Russia seen in contrast to the Yeltsin period. Russia was reaching out to the West. The West did not respond. It pushed Russia into China ’s lap. Russia parted with high-end military technology which they would not normally have passed on to China . Today we talk of China as a military power, perhaps not yet on the global scale. Much of it is owed to the assistance provided by Russia .

After this brief recapitulation of facts that most of you would generally be aware of, we address a simple question: “As a world power is China going to play a benign role or will it flex its muscles as it goes along”. In the opinion of this speaker it is inclined to take the latter course, going by its past history. Why should that be the case?

Several millennia ago Chanakya in his Arthashastra had written: “It is the nature of power to assert itself”. The United States of America has been the world power for only a century plus; see the degree of assertion that it is exercising on the globe. China has been a great power for thousands of years. There is hardly any parallel to it in the entire world. The assertion of power comes to it naturally. It is almost programmed into its psyche.

One of the greatest manifestations of exercise of power by China relate to the hold it exercises – subliminally or sub rosa, so to say - over hundred and ninety-two countries that are part of the United Nations. China has demanded from each one of them that their leaders shall not entertain the Dalai Lama. If a referendum were to be taken across the globe the two most revered personalities today would undoubtedly be Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. In spite of that China is able to demand, across the world, that the heads of state do not interact with the Dalai Lama. What is more remarkable - and amazing – is that out of the 192 nations, full 170 or more  have bent the knee to China on this score. Isn’t it strange? What is happening in the world? Great civilizations with a culture going back several millennia in South-East Asia will not give a visa to the Dalai Lama to visit their countries. China has already started exercising hegemony on a global scale that even the superpower USA is unable to match. Were it to give a fiat on the lines of the fiat given by China in the case of the Dalai Lama not more than a handful of countries in the world would obey the dictates of USA as to whom a head of state of a sovereign country should or should not meet. Yet China is able to demand compliance from practically the whole world and, what is more, get it. A type of infringement of national sovereignties not witnessed before in the modern world on this scale.

There are a few exceptions. Surprisingly, one of the few people who had the temerity to stand up to China was the Singapore Prime Minister. On first taking over his new post he wanted to visit Taiwan . China at once demanded that the new prime minister not undertake the visit. In a remarkable reply, which should win the admiration of the world, Mr. Lee (the son of the elder statesman), the prime minister of tiny Singapore reportedly said that while he had the highest admiration and respect for the People’s Republic of China, were he to bow to its dictates, he would thereby diminish the sovereignty of all the people of Singapore. Mr. Sarkozy made a somewhat similar statement recently that no country had the right to set the agenda as to whom the president of France could or could not meet. There are other examples of proud holdouts like Germany , Canada and a few others. But well over 80 per cent of nations bow their head. This is real exercise of power. One fails to grasp the nature of infirmity that makes over 170 nations around the world succumb to Chinese blandishments. One just has to look at the President of USA, Mr. George W. Bush. Remember what he said after the March 14 uprising in Lhasa . Recall the statements made by the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi and the President’s wife, Mrs. Laura Bush, as also the statement made by President George W. Bush when he gave the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. Now the same president wants to attend the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing . In Tokyo he made a statement that not attending the Olympics would be an insult to the people of China . It is a reversal of what went before. Conceivably the president’s statement could be construed as an insult to a lot of other people being oppressed by China and whom the president had been supporting earlier on. The bare fact is that Beijing ultimately had its way.

But there is something else which is deeper that is taking place. I am inviting the audience to look where China is headed. In fact, practically all countries are bowing to China , including great nations like Russia , Japan and India .

The West and Russia

The next item I want to talk about is China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). As I said earlier, the SCO came about because the West ignored not only the overtures from Russia when it was trying to get up on its feet it went on to push Russia into the Chinese lap. That is basically how the SCO came into existence. Of course there was the added threat from radical Islamist elements operating in Afghanistan and the Ferghana Valley . What did China do? Before addressing any other item on the SCO agenda it settled the boundary question with all countries of Central Asia , virtually agreeing to all their demands. It wanted to seal the borders with Tajikistan , Kurdistan and Kazakhstan . China made concessions to the Central Asian republics in order to first seal the border and then go on to the economic, common security and counter terrorism agendas. In this manner it was able to make sure that the Uighur nationalists were denied cross-border sanctuaries.

In fact a very senior European diplomat visited Central Asia and met the heads of the Central Asian Republics . They privately mentioned to him that they were comfortable to be members of SCO, and in dealing with China as part of it. They said at present there were about 30 million Han Chinese opposite them. But should the figure go to 300 million they would be obliged to have a re-think. They are not unmindful of what is happening. China having ensured, after sealing of borders with CAR, that there would be no question of any ingress from the closed frontiers, went on to bring about double sealing. How was that done? Two million Chinese are reported to have moved in to northern Myanmar . This figure had been reported earlier. A confirmation of sorts became available after reading a remarkable book written by the grandson of the former secretary general of the UN, Mr. U Thant. The name of the book is The River of Lost Footsteps. It is a remarkable account of what is happening in Myanmar these days.

China has resorted to this type of sealing so that people cannot move in or out. The sealing on the Tibet border is already in place. In Nepal a similar exercise is taking place. When there were peaceful demonstrations in March at Katmandu by Tibetan people Chinese policemen were allowed to come and deal with the Tibetans. Therefore, this double sealing has taken place. We do not know what will happen in the post- Olympic period to the protesting minorities. The same thing is happening in Africa ; wherever money is being pumped in, thousands of Chinese labourers move in as well. They do not interact with the local people.

It is necessary to revert to the West and Russia . Having lost its Asiatic Republics , Russia was looking for an opportunity to interact with the West; to come closer to the West. It was one of the greatest mistakes made by the Western world to thwart Russia ’s attempts to come closer to them. The most shortsighted act after the fall of the Berlin Wall was not to accommodate Russia . Had the West responded positively to Russia with quasi-integration with the European Union much of what is going wrong in the world today could have been avoided. In fact the world would have been a far safer place. Even now the west should reconsider their options and engage with Russia far more meaningfully. A few signs were evident during the NATO summit in April in Bucharest . At the summit some of the continental European countries cried a halt to the eastward movement of NATO by postponing indefinitely the consideration of Ukraine joining it. It is a step in the right direction. If the Americans are not yet ready for the change, then the European Union and some powers in continental Europe who have had a moderating influence should ensure that Russia is not pushed further toward China , thereby helping it to become a military superpower. It will be forced to do so, if the west pushes into Ukraine and Georgia . Changing their stance toward Russia is one of the most important challenges before the United States and the European Union.

In fact the European Union has to go further. A resolution should be passed in the European Parliament that the demand being made by China to sovereign nations around the world that they may not interact with the Dalai Lama constitutes an insult to individual leaders as also undermines the sovereignty of the people of those countries and vitiates diplomatic harmony around the world. It is surprising that the leaders of a great civilization that has been around for four thousand years should have shed their gravitas. It is unthinkable that leaders of this great nation use the terms that they have used to describe the Dalai Lama. It diminishes the stature of the great country China when its leaders talk in that fashion; besides the epithets used are so patently absurd. How can a handful of the Tibetan Diaspora – the numbers are pitiably small - destabilize China , which has 1.4 Billion people?

It is remarkable. It is the type of logic that ordinary people around the world fail to comprehend. But the majority of the leaders of many of these countries go along; that is the problem. After the Bucharest summit European Union and some of these countries have to make sure that balance is retained between Russia and China . Therefore, there should be no question of missile bases coming up in Poland and the Czech Republic . It is again some of the stronger continental European powers that have to step in now. There is going to be a new incumbent in the White House. They say that no mater who comes there is always continuity of policy. But in the long-term interest of this truly multi-polar world it is very important for the West not to force Russia to give the latest military technology which so far it has denied to China .

I want to mention here that while the Americans may have come a cropper in Iraq and American economy may be in decline, America remains the superpower in the world. Its technological might will remain unchallenged for perhaps the next fifty to hundred years. I cannot see any country in the world carrying out manoeuvres of the type the Mars Lander is doing today on the Martian soil or what the Cassini spacecraft performed between the rings of a faraway planet. I don’t think any country in the world (other than Russia ) has matching technical capability - not for fifty years; unless, that is, technology is stolen or Russia provides technology of similar nature to other countries. America will remain the superpower; and it can be a more benign power should it go in for accommodation with Russia . Russia creates a balance in the world, especially on the Eurasian landmass. France and Germany have to take the lead in translating Napoleon’s dream, even if they do not go to the extent of uniting Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.

Looking at Tibet

We next take a quick look at Tibet . I think the move west of Han Chinese is irreversible. Most areas of China where the most rapid industrial growth has taken place over the last two decades are going to face environmental problems that could make life extremely difficult in the coming years. Most of China ’s waterways and water bodies are heavily polluted. It is said that in many years the Yellow River , which is fast becoming a sewer, hardly reaches the sea. In the North, besides the acute shortage of water the desert is slowly creeping up on Beijing . When the effects of global warming are felt with rising sea levels people from the coastal plains will perforce push westwards towards Xinjiang and Amdo and Kham provinces of Tibet that were incorporated into China. The railway line to Lhasa and beyond will allow many more Han Chinese to move in. At some stage the trickle could become a flood.

As mentioned earlier, currently it is estimated that about thirty million or so Han Chinese live in close proximity of the neighbouring Central Asian Republics . This figure too is bound to grow to hundreds of millions by mid-century. Spillover of the Burmese variety will surely take place. There is talk that large numbers have already moved into the thinly populated vast reaches of Kazakhstan . The fate of Russia is similar. The Russians are worried, but seem unable to do very much about it. According to Mr. Putin, when he met one of the governors in Siberia , the latter reportedly said that fifty years hence the spoken language there would be Chinese or Korean not Russian. It is already coming about. They don’t know how many million Chinese have already moved across the border. Mongolian is an independent country, but the tie-up that is taking place economically has made that country totally dependent on China for its economic well-being.

Tibet was pushed out from the headlines once the earthquake disaster struck China . The scale of damage was such that it united the Chinese people. The Tibet question was put on the backburner by the world at large. Tibetans are one of the fifty plus minorities in China . The Chinese constitution provides for the minorities to enjoy autonomy. Fifty percent of Tibet has been set outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). What is the change that took place since the uprisings of March? The poison has seeped into the hearts of the Tibetans. The bitterness is slowly seeping into the other minorities as well. For the first time the Chinese Muslims, known as the Hui are showing signs of separateness, in that they have started feeling that they are distinct from their Han brethren. It is a very recent phenomenon. I am not talking about the Uighurs in the east. I am referring here to the Huis. These developments do not augur well for China . It is also not a good sign for the world because a stable China is in the global interest as part of a multi-polar world. Just as it is not in the west’s interest to attempt to marginalise Russia , it is not in the world’s interest to encourage fissiparous tendencies to develop in China . Some of the unrest that has spread across Tibet was magnified by misreading of the situation as also mismanagement and insensitivity in dealing with it. For about two thousand years they have tried to overcome the problem of the minorities in their frontier regions by a sustained effort to move Han Chinese settlers into these areas and to sinicise them. For sixty years, after spending half a trillion dollars in Tibet , at the end of the day they found that within Tibet they have not been able to sinicise the Tibetans at all. This has upset China ’s leaders and one can sense their anger clearly in the type of statements that have been made by them about the Dalai Lama. It is a result of their frustration. Their policies have proved to be totally wrong. The unrest in Tibet is not only in the cities, but has spread to the outer regions. Of late the Chinese have started to put curbs on the great nomadic movements of Tibetans across the vast plains of Tibet . They have started putting them into corrals. Tibet itself is suffering oxygen depletion due to massive deforestation. Reforestation efforts have started, but such was the havoc caused in the earlier decades that the effect of new afforestation schemes will not be felt for hundreds of years.

Much of what has been spent on the communication system, basically on airfields, transportation routes and the railway to Lhasa was basically for exploitation of Tibet ’s natural resources, primarily for the benefit of mainland China . Before moving away from the Tibetan question I would like to leave with a rhetorical question because I find some people from the Tibetan Diaspora present here: “Should China settle the boundary dispute with India , does India , thereafter, abandon the Tibetans”? This being a rhetorical question I shall leave it hanging in the air.                                  

China and India              

Next a few words about China and India , more by way of a passing reference. There is the claim on Arunachal Pradesh that the Chinese have started pushing with greater vigour than heretofore. Surprisingly, there is no word for China in the languages spoken by the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. 

The US factor in the India-China relation is too vast a subject to be discussed here. Talking, however, of the McMahan Line on the boundary question between India and China one can see the double standard operating, because Burma ’s boundary question was formalized in 1960 on the basis of the McMahan Line. China had no hesitation in accepting it in the case of Burma .

By occupying Tibet , China has created a potential for using water as a weapon of war because the occupation of Tibet bestowed on China control of the water systems emanating from Tibet from the Indus in the West to Yellow River in the East. The Tibetan plateau is the source of water for most of the countries like Laos , Cambodia , Thailand , Burma , Vietnam , Bangladesh , India and Pakistan . The Chinese do not allow for coordination between the states. There have been sudden floods in the Sutlej for which no prior warning was given by the Chinese, nor was India allowed to carry out a joint survey as to the cause. Water is going to be a major issue for South-East and South Asia in the years ahead.

Another big question in India and China relations is the question of Tibet . At this point of the time India has acquiesced almost totally in what China has done in Tibet . Right from the time of the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to Atal Behari Vajpayee they have taken the same line. To all intents and purposes India has accepted Chinese control, suzerainty, sovereignty and hegemony over Tibet . It does not question China ’s occupation of Tibet at all. In fact, it hardly ever lends support to the Dalai Lama on the question of Tibet . The curbs that have been put up on the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Diaspora have been considerable. China knows about them. The world accepted China ’s position in Tibet . In spite of the above, the militarization of Tibet and the westward movement of the Chinese forces remain formidable. China at this point of time is militarily the stronger power vis-a-vis India . India remains on the defensive and has shown no desire to challenge China , being content that it would be able to safeguard its national interest on its frontiers. India ’s military ambitions do not go beyond that. Having said that, should the excessive Chinese build up or some misstep by either side lead to a major conflagration in the Himalayas, China must understand that regardless of the outcome, the settled Tibetan question would become unsettled. Were India to challenge China ’s position on Tibet as a consequence thereof, then many other countries in the world might also have rethink and follow suit. There is a lot of danger in what China is trying to do.

When analysts speak about Pakistan they usually speak about the three ‘As’ to denote Allah , America and the Army. The situation is likely to change. In five to ten years from now, it will not be the three ‘As’, but CAA which would then denote China, Allah and the Army. The American hold, sooner or later, is likely to slacken; the Chinese could replace them very fast.

Such is China ’s felt hegemonic hold on them that no country on the periphery of India can allow the holding of anti-Chinese demonstrations. It is simply not possible. Even the state of India , West Bengal will hardly ever allow anti-Chinese demonstrations.

The Taliban are becoming stronger in the western periphery of Pakistan . It has to be recalled that up to September 11, 2001, when the Taliban were in the ascendant in Afghanistan and were leaning on Central Asia , at that point of the time the entire world was worried about them. China , however, had entered into an agreement with the Taliban and direct flights between Kabul and Kashikar were in the offing. That was just before 9/11. Even now Chinese weapons are turning up in many parts of the tribal areas. These weapons may not be supplied directly by the Chinese; nevertheless Chinese make weapons do keep turning up frequently.

What is the greater overall worry? It is not only India ’s worry, but it is a worry for all those countries whose forces operate in close vicinity of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean . China is in the process of creating naval bases on the coast of Myanmar and Gwadar on the Makran coast, north of Karachi , coming up very fast. These are designed to become submarine bases. Should the Chinese submarines commence operations in the Indian Ocean, west of the Malacca Strait , it turns the flanks of the entire US-NATO deployment in the Middle East and around this area. So it is something that has to be watched very carefully.

China seems to have been exercising some form of diplomatic psycho-economic hegemony around the world, more so on India . Right from the 1970s onward Taiwanese delegations have been coming to India looking for investments of the type that have been made in China . These empowered China considerably. India accepted the hegemony of China even in this field and neglected to benefit from Taiwanese overtures for thirty years. The Taiwanese were not allowed to set up industries in India in areas where India was technologically deficient and perhaps still is.

China Again

So we revert to China once again with the question “What after the Olympics”? I believe that everybody assembled here wishes China great success in the Beijing Olympics. It is in the interest of China and the world that these Olympics go off successfully and should that happen there is hope that having managed this Olympics successfully China might turn a benign face toward the its minorities. China is capable of demonstrating remarkable energy in whatever it undertakes.

On Taiwan , it is a personal feeling that the assimilation of Taiwan is inevitable, provided China does not indulge in military adventurism. China does not have to go and invade Taiwan . In the coming decades Taiwan could be incorporated with China peacefully. Whenever that comes to pass, China would be tempted to flex its muscles in a much bigger fashion.

I am not touching upon China ’s economy in the interactive session to follow. I hold the opinion that China ’s growth pattern must suffer decline. In the next three years or so the growth rate will come down to 6 per cent and no more. Should China pursue double digit growth in the years ahead it will be environmentally dead well before 2050, the year it is supposed to catch up with America, and perhaps overtake the superpower. The same holds good for India . Double digit growth will cripple India environmentally.

For China the movement westward is irreversible because of the superlative ecological degradation that is taking place in that country. It is not a choice, but a compulsion. It is an irreversible phenomenon. You have to take note that. China has shown its enormous capacity to turn things around. It is hoped that the remarkable energy which only China is capable of mobilizing will henceforth be utilized for saving the planet from its headlong ecological decline.

Concluding Remarks

Tibet since millennia has had spiritual bonds with India and physical links with China . In the latter case with many ups and downs. The spiritual bond is unshakeable and inviolable. It is eternal. The physical bond has been broken from time to time. It is sincerely hoped that China , after the turmoil of the decades following the Cultural Revolution will come to respect Tibetan culture, because over several millennia what has flowed down from Tibet into China has been benign and spiritually edifying. Buddhism has enriched Chinese culture. It went over to Japan from China . China should revere that bond, because it could only end up by harmonizing Chinese society. I would like to end by repeating what I have often put across to audiences in India and abroad: “the Tibetan sacred space is too precious a heritage of mankind to be lost to the world”. Moreover, it is too precious a heritage of China to be lost to the Chinese. I do hope the Chinese take note and reverse the course they have taken so far in dealing with Tibet , which really is the jewel in the Chinese crown.

I thank you all for your patience in listening to my discourse.


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