The China challenge: Present and former NSAs debate India’s options

February 28th, 2012 - 11:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Feb 28 (IANS) Can India pursue a new 2.0 version of non-alignment in a world marked by the rise of China as a rival to the US? The China challenge sparked an impassioned discussion here Tuesday that brought together on a common platform India’s national security adviser and his two immediate predecessors with former diplomats and academics.

“China is a hostile country. The strategic objective of China is the Middle Kingdom. China feels there is not a question of anyone being superior to China,” former national security adviser Brajesh Mishra said.

“China knows that as long as you (India) are embroiled in South Asia, India will not be able to play a larger role in Southeast Asia or in the larger world,” said Mishra, while alluding to China’s consistent backing of Pakistan to keep India confined to South Asia.

Mishra, who served under prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was speaking at a panel discussion held at the Hotel Ashok to launch a document entitled “Non-Alignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for the 21st century.”

The publication, authored by an independent group of analysts and policy makers, seeks to outline basic principles that should guide a rising India’s foreign and strategic policy over the next decade.

“China will, for the foreseeable future, remain a significant foreign policy and security challenge for India. It is the one major power which impinges directly on India’s geopolitical space. As its economic and military capabilities expand, its power differential with India is likely to widen,” says the publication in a chapter entitled ‘The Asian Theatre.’

The debate on India’s options in dealing with an emerging China, among other things, coincides with the two-day visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to India that begins Wednesday.

It’s difficult to say what China’s next move would be, said Mishra while recommending that India forge closer ties with the US to keep Chinese ambitions in check.

In the same breath, Mishra, however, said that the challenge before India would be to reconcile strong ties with the US with Washington’s global agenda, with which New Delhi will have some differences from time to time.

Pointing to the emergence of two powers in the post Cold War world, the US and China, Mishra asked rhetorically how India could be non-aligned in the context of changed global realties.

Calling the simultaneous rise of India and China as a salient feature of international relations, M.K. Narayanan, a former national security adviser under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and now governor of West Bengal, stressed on China’s overriding ambitions, aggressive diplomacy and its actions in the neighbourhood.

There is a tendency to underestimate or overestimate China, he said while underlining the need for India’s foreign policy and strategic thinking to deal with new challenges and national security threats.

Without naming China, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon underscored the need to pursue a comprehensive and long-term geopolitical vision.

Menon emphasized on the continuing relevance of non-alignment as a strategy, and not as an ideology.

Shyam Saran, a former foreign secretary who played a key role in negotiations that led to the landmark 2009 India-US nuclear deal, said closer relations with the US has made China more amenable towards India.

“China is seen to be more amenable when you are seen to have many options,” said Saran.

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