Saturday, May 15, 2010
Thus Beijing spoke
‘Jairam Ramesh wins support in China’ titles The Economic Times.
In recent months, very often one comes across Indians who speak for China, regardless of India’s national interests. This role of self-appointed spokespersons for the People’s Republic of China is not the prerogative of politicians, in fact the case of Jairam Ramesh is rather unique: but the virus often bites academics, think-tankers, ‘experts’ or journalists who lend their voice or pen to Beijing’s policies.
The incident with Mr. Ramesh is more noticeable as it ultimately needed the intervention of the Prime Minister himself.
The Economics Times explains: “Beijing seized upon Jairam Ramesh’s stand on Chinese investments and asked New Delhi to follow the ‘prudent’ line articulated by the environment minister.”
The Global Times, one of the mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party, clapped with two hands when Mr Ramesh argued against his Cabinet colleague and Home Minister; Ramesh spoke of the need for removing ‘needless restrictions,’ stating that India should view its ties with China from the ‘broader perspective’.
Mr Ramesh was obviously carried away when he spoke to the Indian media representatives in Beijing; he stated that India’s ‘paranoid’ attitude towards Chinese investment, including Huawei Technologies, the company manufacturing telecom equipment, could damage the India-China relationship and spoil the ‘Copenhagen spirit’, developed last year around the climate change table. The minister affirmed: “The point is that Huawei is creating assets in India, it is hiring Indian professionals, over 80% of its employees are Indians.”
Apart from the fact that he has no business to speak about subjects which are not under his direct responsibility, there is something called 'Cabinet collective responsibility' and he should have respected it. If he does not agree or is not able to make his colleagues change their views, he always has the alternative to resign. It is the way 'Cabinet collective responsibility' works the world over.
He was rightly pulled up by the Congress President and the Prime Minister.
The China Daily, another Chinese official newspaper also takes Mr Ramesh’s side: “A higher degree of political trust is needed to build a healthier economic and trade relationship.” Adding: “In fact, skirmishes over trade have arisen from time to time in recent years, with most such disputes being instigated by the Indian side. The latest import restriction violates World Trade Organisation norms. Worse, it could chill Sino-Indian friendship, which has been warming of late due to positive efforts by leaders on both sides.”
That is not all, believing that he was still Union Power Minister, Ramesh declared that India should use Chinese expertise to implement its hydrological projects in Arunachal Pradesh.
As the Environment Minister, he should perhaps look into the Environment clearance for these projects before ‘awarding’ contracts to Chinese firms, even if the Chinese are known to have more expertise that their Indian counterparts in building dams.
As a Union Minister, he should think of the consequences of his utterances. Has he forgotten that China still claims Arunachal? Does he know that these areas are included in the Chinese Five-Year Development Plan prepared by Beijing? To say, "But our ability to handle vast hydel projects is much less compared to China," is not only childish, but it creates a lot of confusion in the already-complicated relations between Delhi and Beijing. The good ‘contact’ between India and China during the Copenhagen Conference has nothing to do with the present issue.
Around the same time, Mid-DAY reported that according to intelligence agencies many Chinese were settling in Arunachal Pradesh and the power projects in Sikkim and Assam had become the easiest entry points for these infiltrators. Mid-Day affirmed: “An estimated 200 of the 500-odd Chinese labourers hired from contractual jobs escaped from Sikkim and headed for Arunachal Pradesh.”
This is not the first time that Indian officials have become the spokespersons for China’s view and policies. In November 1950, a month after Tibet was invaded by the People’s Liberation Army, K.M. Panikkar, India’s Ambassador in Beijing pleaded the Communist cause with his Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Sardar Patel, the Deputy Prime Minister had to write to Nehru: “My own feeling is that at a crucial period they [Chinese] manage to instill into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means. …The final action of the Chinese, in my judgment, is little short of perfidy …Our Ambassador has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and actions.”
If one goes through the declassified cables from Panikkar to Nehru, one comes across the ambassador constantly arguing the Chinese point of view, without taking into account India’s strategic and historical interests.
In the same letter, Patel ironically added: “In Peking we have an Ambassador who is eminently suitable for putting across our friendly point of view.”
The fact that Panikkar advocated China’s stand had incalculable consequences in the relations between India and China. The Indian diplomat’s constant kowtowing to Beijing did not bring an improvement, but made the situation worse. This is often not understood in India. Scores of ‘good-hearted’ people are under the impression that by being kind or ‘good’ to China, the Communist leadership will return the consideration.
‘Kind-heartedness’ is one of the motivations for Indian politicians, diplomats, journalists or academics to speak for China.
There is also this nebulous Asian ‘brotherhood’ inherited from Nehru’s days. In fact, whenever there is close collaboration between the two Asian giants, like in Copenhagen for example, it creates a great euphoria, not to say ananda amongst many Indian peace-lovers.
But there is a more serious issue than the ‘peacenik’ clique: when Indian ‘experts’ defend Beijing on issues such as the proposed diversion of the Brahmaputra or speak of ‘sending back’ the Dalai Lama to China to solve the border issue, it raises serious suspicion. Ditto for the recent support received by the Chinese firm Huawei in its campaign to enter the Indian market.
It is not difficult to trace where the ‘inspiration’ comes from.
A few weeks back, The Times in London quoted confidential intelligence reports about the steps taken by British Telecom (BT) “to reduce the risk of attacks by hackers or organised crime.” British Intelligence asserted: “we believe that the mitigating measures are not effective against deliberate attack by China”.
According to The Time, the British agencies told “ministers of their fears that equipment installed by Huawei, the Chinese telecoms giant, in BT’s new communications network could be used to halt critical services such as power, food and water supplies.” At the same time, several Indian papers were questioning the government about its so-called ban on the Chinese company.
Rather strange, it isn’t? Why can’t the Indian press take care to get proper and balanced information?
The answer is perhaps in a book published a few years back, “The KGB and the Battle for the Third World”. Edited by Christopher Andrew, it is based on documents exfiltered by a former Soviet agent, Vasili Mitrokhin. It quotes Oleg Kalugin, the head of the KGB’s Foreign Directorate Intelligence, who describes India as ‘a model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government’. The author says: “The openness of India’s democracy combined with the streak of corruption which ran through its media and political system provided numerous opportunities for Soviet intelligence.”
Kalugin spoke of ‘scores of sources’ in the Indian government.
An article (Chinese 'gifts' worry India) written in 2006 by the present Chief Editor of Sify.com always comes to my mind. At the time of President Hu Jintao’s visit to India, a senior Indian intelligence official had expressed his concern over “the dramatic increase in Chinese attempts to woo Indian politicians and business leaders with gifts, some of them phenomenally lavish.”
The article affirmed that those who receive these gifts ‘spanned the political spectrum’; the Intelligence officer expressed serious worries “over this alarming trend, which has increased in leaps and bounds over the past three or four years."
With the tremendous ‘rise’ of China, the new importance of the Middle Kingdom in world affairs and the tough economic competition between Delhi and Beijing, this trend was bound to increase.
Today, China is wealthier and less shy to play a role on the International scene. Therefore the easiest and ‘cheapest’ way to influence a ‘brotherly’ nation like India is in getting politicians, media and academics ‘on board’. The KGB or the CIA worked the same way in the 1970’s in Delhi.
The book quoted earlier explained: “The CIA’s hand could be detected in material published in certain newspapers. We of course paid them back in the same coin… Like us, the CIA diligently and not always successfully did what they had to do. They were instruments of their government’s policy; we carried out the policy of our State. Both sides were right to do so.”
Similarly, Beijing today is carrying out the policy of the Chinese State, not only in India, but on the entire sub-continent.
After the SAARC meeting in Thimbu (Bhutan) I was shocked to read in an article about South Asia in The Islamabad Post: “In the early 50s it used to be called the Indian Subcontinent. In the 60s it was called the Indo-Pakistani Subcontinent. It would now be true that that the euphemism of South Asia could be called the Chinese Subcontinent.”
Though Mr Ramesh may have not been influenced by these considerations, his utterances should be seen in this context. It is a pity that the Prime Minster sacrificed a mature and seasoned diplomat (Mr. Shyam Saran) to hand over the negotiations to a perhaps too bright minister. Climate change negotiations are often a boring and tough business; a lot of sweat, for little glamour to put it in cricket terms.