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SOURCE: DAILY PRIONEER

India’s mistake has been to read China and the character of its leaders through our eyes. The yellow giant is over 90 per cent Han by race, unlike our multilingual culture. China has been a centralised polity for over 2,000 years uninterrupted. In his heart of hearts, Mao Zedong, although a Communist, thought of himself as an emperor. He was first a Chinese nationalist and then a Marxist. He had never been to Europe, save for a solitary visit to Russia. Hence Mao was dominantly insular, rather like Russia’s Josef Stalin. While Jawaharlal Nehru talked of peace and Panchsheel, Mao Zedong believed that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

Unlike Indians, the Chinese are intuitively given more to reasoning than to faith. As a wag in Hong Kong put it, we like Confucianism for breakfast, Buddhism for lunch and Taoism for dinner. We are not so god-fearing as you people but we dread losing our face, especially to strangers.

Jawaharlal Nehru, briefed by Menon, went to the extent of reading the Chinese through the latter’s eyes. Indian history was interrupted by the rule of Islamic sultanates from 1206 AD to 1526 and, thereafter, the Mughals took over until officially 1858, when the Sepoy Rebellion ended. Thereafter, formally the British Crown took over, and Europe influenced Indian thinking for well over 200 years. We Indians are thus cast in several different moulds. On the other hand, as Jasper Becker in his book The Chinese has put it: “The Chinese State is probably the oldest functioning organisation in the world, dating back more than 2,000 years.” For most of these centuries, it was a centrally governed empire. It has been a dominantly a single race country, unlike the diversity in India. China has never experienced democracy; its people have known only imperial-style subjugation. However, all these factors do not make the Chinese invincible. It is necessary to stress this, since my generation and the next used to be in a bit of trepidation when it came to dealing with China. I still remember the 1962 invasion as it appeared to me when I was a resident in Kolkata. The Peking (now Beijing) Radio twice a day in November of the year announced that the troops of Peoples Liberation Army, as China’s army is called, were looking forward to “celebrating Christmas in Calcutta”. The possibility did seem real at the time. When on the 21st of November, we heard on the radio news at 8 am that the Chinese had declared a unilateral withdrawal, it is difficult to imagine the relief all knowing Indians then felt.

Reading through the records of the meetings with Chinese Premier Chou En-lai until 1960, it seems clear that the Chinese wanted us to concede what they had grabbed in Aksai Chin. They wanted Tibet to be connected with Sinkiang by a road which they had already built. In return, they would concede what we claimed in the eastern and middle sectors. In other words, they must even today be insisting on similar terms; India should give up wanting back the 30,000 sq km of Aksai Chin they had occupied in the 1950s, of which Nehru had said in Parliament: “Not a blade of grass grows there.” The reality is that no Government in Delhi can dare sign off this territory and still hope to remain in power. This may be possible if and when China gets into a corner, we can get a significant concession as compensation.

With the most successful of leaders, the wheel of fortune turns and the needle stops and points to misfortune. Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany could do no wrong between 1933 and most of 1942, a span of nearly 10 years. A man, who after four years of World War One could not rise above the rank of corporal, commanded the finest of German Field Marshals with implicit obedience. The saga of Napoleon Bonaparte is well known. President Xi Jinping’s ambitions are not qualitatively different.

That is when the Quad can come into real play. The US can provoke Beijing on Taiwan. Japan, with its navy, as well as Australia’s, can block the appropriate channels of South China Sea. That is when India can play its Himalayan card. India’s Foreign Ministry can and should convince the Russian leadership that the real threat to it will be from China. Russia has vast empty spaces of land in Asia and, sooner or later, China is likely to grab some of it. The two neighbours share a long border; Russia has space without people and China has people without space. The two countries fought a war across the Ussuri River in 1969 and there is no reason why they cannot clash again. In 1962, India had the misfortune to be headed by a leader who told General Lockart, the interim British Commander-in-Chief of the India Army in 1947, that India was a “peace-loving country and it did not need an Army”. The police was sufficient to protect us. Moreover, Nehru’s Defence Minister was the Communist Krishna Menon, who was absolutely certain that China was a “fraternal” country and could never attack us.