By D. S. Rajan
(Bài viết này có đưa đinh nghĩa “Lợi ích cốt lõi” (core interests) của TQ. Theo Thứ trưởng Ngoại giao TQ Dai Bingguo (Dai Bỉnh Quốc) đưa ra cuối 7-2009 thì “lợi ích cốt lõi đầu tiên của Trung Quốc là duy trì hệ thống nền tảng của nó và an ninh quốc gia, thứ hai là chủ quyền quốc gia và toàn vẹn lãnh thổ và thứ ba tiếp tục sự phát triển ổn định nền kinh tế và xã hội” (Statement of Dai Bingguo, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister, Zhongguo Xinwen She, http://www.chinanews.com.cn, 29 July 2009(as translated in China Digital Times, 7 August 2009). Nhưng, trong những phạm vi đặc biệt, Tây Tạng, Tân Cương và Đài Loan chính thức được liệt kê theo thể loại ‘lợi ích cốt lõi”, các phương tiện truyền thông nhà nước kiểm soát còn thêm các đảo Biển Đông cũng như nguồn tài nguyên chiến lược và các tuyến đường thương mại (China Daily , 13 July 2010). Họ cũng đã khẳng định/quả quyết (averred) rằng Trung Quốc sẽ không thỏa hiệp về các vấn đề “lợi ích cốt lõi” và không bao giờ từ bỏ quyền của mình để bảo vệ chúng với các phương tiện quân sự (China Daily , 13 July 2010 and Global Times Editorial , 26 July 2010).
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) since its inception has always had a broad vision of its role in the world ; its substance of course varied under different leaderships in the country as the PRC traversed from the stage of ‘revolution’ to that of ‘reforms’. To illustrate, Mao Zedong stood for a role to China in accordance with the concept of ‘proletarian internationalism’, whereas his successors including Deng Xiaoping, chose an alternate path giving supremacy to economic interests of the country. Notable, at the same time, is the common feature of varying visions – the link between China’s domestic goals and foreign policy objectives.
To illustrate, in the Mao Zedong era (1949-76), the domestic goals of ‘class struggle’ and ‘self-reliant development’ were matched by an external strategy of ‘leaning to one side’, in other words getting the support of socialist allies, for consolidating the Communist party rule at home. Internal priorities underwent a major change in the post-1978 period, with veteran leader Deng Xiaoping initiating reforms as part of building ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’; the selected matching ‘open door’ external line was meant primarily to bolster modernization efforts at home.
In the post-Deng era, President Jiang Zemin formulated national policies centering round his theory of “ Three Represents”, with the objective of making the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) a representative of majority of the people and codified ‘three major historic tasks’ for China – Modernization, National Reunification and Safeguarding World Peace and Common Development. His regime evolved an ‘Independent Foreign Policy of Peace’ to support accomplishing of these talks
The current Chinese President Hu Jintao, who succeeded Jiang, brought forth a domestic development model marking a shift in emphasis – from GDP centric growth to ‘balanced development’; to be backed by his own theoretical concept of “ Scientific Outlook of Development”, of which creation at home of a ‘Harmonious Socialist Society’ and ‘Sustainable development’ constituted main elements. Correspondingly, Hu put in place an external strategy based on the idea of a “Harmonious World” aimed at realizing a ‘win-win’ solution in international relations’. The PRC Premier Wen Jiabao, was explicit in tracing the links between his country’s domestic goals and foreign policy objectives by saying “What China needs for its development first and foremost is an international environment of long term stability and a stable surrounding environment.”
The vision of the present Hu Jintao regime is to transform China into a fully modernized country by 2050. It has set an immediate goal – to “build a moderately prosperous society in all respects’ by 2020. In that year, the targets of quadrupling the country’s GDP of 2000, to US$ 4 trillion and increasing the per capita GDP to US$3000 are to be achieved (US$ 4400 already in 2010 ). China’s declared final objective is to ‘build a moderately developed country by 2050’ along with the level of per capita GNP reaching that of the ‘medium-developed countries’. By the same time, i.e mid-21st century, military modernization is also to be completed. Externally, China’s stated diplomatic objective is “to safeguard the interests of the country’s sovereignty, security and development”. To realize these goals, China has put in place suitable domestic and external strategies, which in particular spell out measures to safeguard the country’s ‘core interests’ against the perceived security threats from abroad.
Needing a close look is the ‘core interests’ concept which dominates the strategic thinking in China today. Defining them, the Chinese Vice- Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo said (end July 2009) that “the PRC’s first core interest is maintaining its fundamental system and state security, second is state sovereignty and territorial integrity and the third is the continued stable development of the economy and society.” In specific terms, Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan stand officially listed under the ‘core interest’ category; state-controlled media have added South China Sea Islands as well as strategic resources and trade routes to that list. They have also averred that the PRC will make no compromises on ‘core interest’ matters and never waive its right to protect them with military means. The obvious top priority given to the need for protecting the country’s fundamental system, i.e the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), coming at a time when the modernization process has given rise to a pluralistic society in China aspiring for deeper political reforms, looks politically very significant.
How does China explain the rationale behind its current stress on “core interests”? In the words of Chinese experts, the PRC is ‘going global and its international influence is becoming more visible and assertive and the nation’s diplomatic strategies accordingly need to comply with the changes in the international environment and domestic conditions’. Evolving ‘multipolarity’ and ‘multilateralism’ as well as global challenges including climate change and energy security, mark the changes in the external conditions, according to Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi.
Notwithstanding official explanations, the Chinese emphasis on protecting ‘core interests’ appears to be driven in the main, by their perceived fears on internal security challenges and their external dimension (relating to ‘Western anti-China forces’ as being put by Beijing), with respect to issues of ‘sovereignty’ over Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. Not to be missed is the fact that ‘core interest’ articulations have followed the ethnic unrest in Tibet (March 2008) and Xinjiang (July 2009). Experts  point out that “a unique feature of Chinese leaders’ understanding of their country’s history is their persistent sensitivity to domestic disorder caused by foreign threats”.
How China perceives external threats, is a question tied to its strategies. Notable is the PRC’s current position as conveyed through its bi-annual Defence White Paper (Beijing, 30 March 2011) captioned ‘China’s National Defence in 2010’. The paper finds that the international power balance is changing as a result of ‘growing influence of emerging powers and developing countries’, along with recognition of the important role being played by the G-20 mechanism. It at the same time views that international strategic competition and contradiction are intensifying with major powers‘re-aligning’ their security and military strategies. It also notes the existence of ‘hegemonism and power politics’, local conflicts and regional flash points, as well as the linkage between traditional and non-traditional threats. In a nutshell, the document makes it clear that China expects a multi- polar world order to emerge fast. Beijing is sure to further intensify its drive to modify its foreign and security policies accordingly.
The paper in particular justifies the applicability of the ‘Harmonious World’ concept to foreign policy making in China. In international security matters, it lays stress on China maintaining the present course based on the ‘new security concept’ providing for ‘mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and co-ordination’. It especially calls for setting up a ‘just and effective collective security and military confidence building mechanisms’ implying that the existing traditional mechanisms may be ineffective to cope-up with the developing scenario.
While analyzing the Asia-Pacific security situation, the White Paper assesses that conditions in that region are generally ‘stable’. It describes Asia-Pacific security as ‘volatile’ and notes that regional powers are increasing their strategic investment. The US is ‘reinforcing’ its regional military alliances and increasing its involvement in regional security affairs and by selling weapons to Taiwan, it is ‘damaging’ cross- straits relations. The paper also expresses China’s opposition to the deployment of overseas missile defence systems ‘by any state’. Most significant is that the paper is without criticism of any power by name for attempting to ‘contain’ the PRC, a theme which otherwise remains constant in China. In contrast, the 2008 edition of the paper had paid attention to ‘strategic maneuvers and containment from outside’.
Next comes the important question – what is the PRC’s actual performance in implementing its domestic and external strategies meant to protect the country’s “sovereignty, security and development? Taking first the development, the strategic shift made by China from a GDP-centric growth model to that ensuring a balanced development, is indeed a correctional step, but a big challenge still remains to be addressed satisfactorily – filling the growth gap between rural and urban areas as well as between the advanced coastal region and the interior backward parts. Much would depend on the success of the 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015) announced. From the point of view of security, the prevailing situations in the ethnic minorities-inhabited Tibet and Xinjiang go to show that the government’s strategy of establishing stability there through a mix of security measures and economic development projects is yet to bear fruit.
In the foreign policy front, China’s concentration is on maintenance of a stable international situation, in the interest of its modernization programme. Accordingly, its diplomacy is more and more focusing now on adoption of an approach based on ‘multilateralism’ for addressing issues like global financial crisis, counter-terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, energy security etc.
At the same time, what is being witnessed now is China’s mix of assertiveness and politico-economic cooperation in its strategy towards entire Asia-Pacific region. It is becoming clear that wherever China’s ‘core interests’ are involved, Beijing’s response is becoming assertive showing the complex nature of China’s regional strategies; the reasons for China’s unmistakable assertiveness need to be examined in a historical perspective.
We should first look into the traditional mindset of the Chinese on the territorial aspects. The mindset is well-rooted in their “Tian Xia” (Under the Heaven) concept which views all territories as belonging to the Chinese Emperor, who is the son of heaven. Under its influence, the Chinese, traditionally, attach no sense to territory. In the modern era, the Tian Xia concept is manifesting in the Chinese not showing any hesitation to claim other territories which they believe as belonging to their country.
In the current context, the following factors seem to be responsible for China’s assertive external behavior – (a) Beijing’s growing confidence internationally especially after its success in holding the Olympics and in maintaining high growth rates despite the global recession, (b) China’s feelings that due to its enhanced position in the world, an opportunity has arisen for itself to increase its influence globally, at a time when the world balance of power is shifting from the West to East and a multi-polar world is emerging gradually, (c) The PRC’s compulsions to protect land and sea trade routes in the interest of the much needed import of resources from abroad and (d) Beijing’s perceptions on threats to internal security, making it to think that without China’s assertive approach in this regard at this juncture, the task of finding a permanent solution to the sovereignty-related issues of Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan may get complicated in future.
Taking the case of China’s strategy in East Asia first, it can be seen that since 2010 till today, Beijing’s assertive behavior in the region is being prominently witnessed on a variety of issues – US arms sales to Taiwan, US –South Korea joint military exercises in the Yellow Sea, ownership of Senkaku islands in East China Sea which are under Japan’s control and sovereignty over the resources-rich South China Sea island chain. On its part, Beijing explains its stand by saying that all concerned nations should “accommodate each others’ core interests and understand each others’ strategic interests” and that the PRC stands for “shelving disputes and seek joint development” as well as pursuing bilateral cooperation and participation in regional and sub-regional cooperation. Hidden in the term “Shelving” is the PRC’s tactical line in favour of a temporary lull in the disputes, without indicating any change in its fundamental positions on territorial claims; naturally this should merit the attention of those neighbors of China having land and sea boundary disputes with the PRC.
Also a good example is the PRC’s role in Southeast Asia where Indian and Chinese interests intersect. China is playing an important role in Southeast Asia with its development interest as driving force. It has performed very well in the region in the economic front. It has been particularly successful in establishing close trade ties with ASEAN. Well-known are the China-ASEAN free trade agreement signed in 2010 and its participation in a lot of sub-regional cooperation arrangements. On the contrary, in the military, territorial and resources fronts, China’s policies are giving rise to conflicts between it and other regional nations. Through its U –shaped curve, called ‘dotted line” by Chinese scholars, drawn rather unilaterally, China claims vast territories in South China Sea. The result is emergence and continuation of serious sea territory conflicts between China on one hand and Southeast Asian nations on the other. To buttress its claim, Beijing is projecting its force and this is causing fears in countries like Vietnam, the Philippines etc. In 2002, China signed the “Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea”, which was not legally binding on the parties concerned; this apparent loophole appears to have given China an excuse to become regionally assertive. No doubt, the PRC joined with Southeast Asian nations at the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Bali ( 23 July 2011) in accepting a set of “Guidelines” to better implement the 2002 Declaration , but that move only looked like Beijing’s new temporary flexible approach, without signifying any shift in its fundamental position on the South China Sea issue.
With respect to China’s strategy in North and Southeast Asia, we should consider another equally big phenomenon – the changed US role in the region. Both the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama have declared that the ‘US is back in Asia’. It is evident that the US strategic focus is shifting from the Middle East to East Asia. Washington has been able to inject fresh vigor into its “alliance” relationship with Japan and South Korea; with other ‘partners’ like Singapore, the US has been successful in cementing strategic relations. The emerging US-Vietnam relations and Washington’s growing interest in Indonesia are also worth noting.
There are fundamental positional differences between the US and China, which affect the strategic situation in East Asia. The US stand that the case of the disputed Senkaku Island comes under the jurisdiction of US-Japan security treaty, is being considered as a serious challenge by Beijing, irrespective of the Obama regime’s inclination of late ‘not to explicitly mention the stand’ in order not to anger Beijing.A second example is the US contention that the South China Sea islands dispute should be solved by multilateral efforts. China strongly opposes the same with its counter point that the issue should be solved bilaterally.
Another point is that in their perceptions of China, the member states of ASEAN are not homogenous. The military junta in Myanmar is heavily dependant on China not only for military and economic support, but also for its legitimacy; Malaysia and Singapore would like the US and China to co-exist peacefully; but Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines are, in varying degrees, wary of the short term and long term consequences of the emergence of China as a major political, economic and military power.
The PRC appears to be not happy about India’s entrance into the East Asian scene. Its objection to India’s cooperation with Vietnam on oil exploration in the South China Sea is an example. Beijing has also reservations on India playing a leading role in the East Asian integration process. It views India, Australia and New Zealand as “outsiders” to that process; the Chinese policy is that the leadership of that process should be in the hands of ASEAN plus 3.
To address these differences, New Delhi should engage Beijing bilaterally. India should also begin building firm bridges with Japan, South Korea and ASEAN nations which all welcome India’s participation in the regional cooperation. The ASEAN-China free trade pact provides more advantageous terms to the regional nations than what India’s recently signed similar pact does. The “services” sector is still outside the purview of India-ASEAN FTA. India needs to fill this gap. Also, India can offer assistance to regional powers in building capabilities to protect the sea lanes of communication. There is also tremendous scope for India’s cooperation with Southeast Asian nations in the non-traditional security field.
Like China’s strategy in its other neighboring regions, the one in South Asia is also based on Beijing’s requirement of a ‘peaceful periphery’ as a pre-requisite for the country’s domestic development. Since end seventies, a recalibration of Beijing’s attitude towards the region has been gradually taking place in pursuance of that pre-requisite.
Authoritative experts in China visualized the visit of Premier Wen Jiabao to South Asia in 2005 as signifying Beijing’s “Balanced South Asia Policy Under a New Situation” intended to develop relations with South Asian nations in a parallel manner and assure that China’s strategic partnership with India and Pakistan is unprecedented in the sense that each relationship is not directed against any third country. As instances, the PRC started modifying its pro-Pakistan stand so far kept on Kashmir issue. China now says that that the Kashmir issue is one ‘left over by history’ and that ‘India and Pakistan should properly solve the problem through dialogue and negotiations’ (PRC Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, November 24, 2009). Beijing makes no references to ‘self-determination’ for the Kashmiri people and does not consider the ‘Kashmiri people’ as a third party to the dispute. Its official media (People’s Daily, November 23, 2009) have declared that Beijing takes no sides on Kashmir issue. with the state-controlled media dropping references to ‘India-occupied Kashmir’ and using instead the terms ‘India-controlled Kashmir’ and ‘Pakistan-controlled Kashmir’. Earlier, in December 1996, President Jiang Zemin favoured New Delhi – Islamabad ‘consultations and negotiations’ on Kashmir issue, during his speech to the Pakistan Senate. During the Kargil conflict in 1999, China refrained from taking sides and adopted a neutral position..
Besides the ‘peaceful periphery’ factor, India’s ‘rise’ also seems to have contributed to a change in China’s South Asia approach. Indicative of this are the willingness of Beijing to stabilize ties with New Delhi through signing important agreements with India like Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity and Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for Settlement of the Boundary Question’ (2005) and ‘Shared Vision for the 21st Century (2008). China has come to treat India not as a threat to it and the vice versa has also emerged true. Another point relates to Beijing’s view that Sino-Indian ties have attained a global character. China seems to realize that cooperation with India is essential in tackling global issues like the WTO, climate change, reforms in global financial systems and revamping of UN. It can be seen without difficulty that congruence, to a good degree, of policy interests among China and India has emerged over the years; under its impact, in general, the comfort level in their relations has been increasing..
It will not be out of place to mention about the existence of some other factors motivating China’s South Asia policy. They include neutralizing the perceived US strategy to contain China with support of regional nations, developing economies in areas bordering China, cooperating with South Asian countries in exploitation of much needed energy resources, protecting oil transport security in the Indian Ocean, getting support to ‘One China’ policy and last but not least securing cooperation from the nations in the region in the matter of meeting terrorism threat to China’s South West border coming from outside.
Though at government levels, there is a tendency on the part of India and China to downplay their perceptional differences, Beijing has conveyed to New Delhi that it will take care of each other’s “core interests and major concerns” during the visit to China made by the special envoy of the Indian Prime Minister in July 2010. Chinese Foreign Ministry has observed (Beijing, 16 September 2010) that exchanges between two sides will remain unaffected by disagreements over individual issues. As a sign that India also feels so, it has sent high level delegations to China.
However, at top levels in India, a feeling persists that China is displaying its assertiveness in South Asia. The Indian Prime Minister has said, “China would like to have a foothold in South Asia, and we have to reflect this reality. There is new assertiveness among the Chinese; difficult to tell which way it will go”. India’s Defence Minister has commented “China is increasingly becoming assertive. It is improving its military and physical infrastructure along the borders”.
There is no doubt that the assertiveness being shown by China since 2009 has raised questions on its ‘balanced’ South Asia policy. The PRC has taken harder positions on the issues of Sino-Indian border, Tibet and China-Pakistan nexus. Regarding the first, it is becoming more vociferous in claiming India’s Arunachal Pradesh as part of its ‘Southern Tibet’ for e.g its objection to Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. A solution to the boundary problem seems to be far way. Fourteen rounds of border talks held so far at the level of Special representatives have not resulted in any substantial result. Chinese experts close to the government treat the border issue as an ‘imperialist’ legacy reject McMahon line and expect India to make ‘practical concessions’ in the Eastern Sector (Professor Wang Hongwei of Centre for South Asia Studies, CASS). Both sides view the issue as a complex one requiring a long time for arriving at a solution and are keen to promote bilateral ties looking beyond the border Issue. The boundary problem has so far not been included by China under the ‘core interest’ category. Beijing may not do so, as ‘core interests’ involve no compromise, whereas it has been preferring to solve the border issue on the basis of ‘mutual understanding and mutual accommodation’ principle which provides for a compromise. This being so, New Delhi needs to carefully watch for any future movement of Beijing on this account.
Tibet is not a bilateral issue, with New Delhi recognizing Tibet as part of China. But the two sides have differences on the Dalai Lama factor, which may sharpen as a result of China’s growing assertiveness. No immediate breakthrough in talks between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama sides are likely in near future. China’s campaign to prevent internationalisation of the Tibet issue, while implementing its domestic strategy chalked out at a national conference linking Tibet’s stability with development, may get further boost. On India’s policy towards the Tibetan leader, despite New Delhi’s assurances that he would not be allowed to engage in any anti-China activity from India’s soil, Chinese suspicions in this regard are not going to disappear soon. Authoritative views in China (Prof Wang Hongwei) allege that India wants to play the Tibet ‘card’ against the PRC and as examples, point to the India’s not banning the Tibet government in exile and the continuing support to the Dalai Lama coming from ‘eminent’ Indian personalities. New Delhi’s nod for the visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh has been looked at with concern by Beijing.
China has further consolidated its ‘all weather’ partnership with Pakistan, especially by providing military assistance to the latter, knowing fully that Islamabad cannot guarantee the use of Chinese arms against India. Significant to note could be the PRC’s peace treaty signed with Pakistan in 2005, unique in South Asia, providing for mutual support in protecting each other’s national sovereignty and integrity. This treaty found a mention in the China-Pakistan Joint Statement issued at the end of Premier Wen’s visit to Pakistan in December 2010. It is being viewed in China as a legal document providing for an ‘alliance’ between the two sides against any foreign threat.
The PRC is taking up of road and railway projects designed to link Pakistan and China via Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and is reportedly deploying Chinese troops for infrastructure building in the POK’s Gilgit-Baltistan region. Fears are being expressed in India whether such projects could become strategically important to the Chinese military in the event of another conflict with India; in particular, the China-Pakistan project to modernize Karakorum Highway could be useful for the PRC as an overland route for moving Chinese missiles and spare parts to Pakistan.
There appears to be a deeper meaning to the issuing of stapled visas by Beijing to Kashmiri Indians, indicating that China is shedding its traditional neutrality on the Kashmir issue. Indian analysts feel that this new nuanced position on Kashmir could be a dilution of China’s past stand of accepting Kashmir as a de-facto part of India; the PRC at the same time appears to have started treating Pakistan Occupied Kashmir including Gilgit-Baltistan region as de-facto and de-jure parts of Pakistan. Questions arise- Is China’s stand a quid pro quo for Pakistan’s help to Beijing in fighting against Uighur separatism in Xinjiang? Is Beijing developing future options for questioning India’s locus standi to negotiate with China on the territory in Ladakh ceded by Pakistan to the PRC?
In addition, what many consider as a pressure tactic against India, Beijing is increasing its strategic presence in other countries in India’s neighborhood with its increased economic aid to the latter as foundation. It has been attempting to build maritime infrastructure in Gwadar (Pakistan) and other South Asia ports, ostensibly in the interest of its energy security. However, becoming visible are Beijing’s moves to increase its strategic influence in Indian Ocean littorals including Seychelles and Mauritius. China’s official media have talked about “waters of China’s interests”, which may be intended to cover Indian Ocean also. With ‘strategic resources’ and ‘trade routes’, also coming, albeit unofficially, under ‘core interests’ category, China’s profile in the Indian Ocean, the vital sea route for its energy import from the Middle East, has become more important. In this context, the real meaning of the bold views, but without official contradiction, being expressed by influential military and strategic experts in China on overseas naval bases to protect the country’s energy supply routes need to be carefully analyzed; New Delhi may have reasons to fear over the future military potentials of China’s port projects in India’s neighborhood, like Gwadar (Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Sittwe (Myanmar) and Chittagong(Bangladesh), which are ostensibly in the PRC’s energy security interests.
Is China, by getting strategically close to Pakistan, trying to limit India’s pre-eminence in South Asia? What knowledgeable scholars in China have said, give credence to such feelings. An authoritative article in Chinese language ( 21 May 2010) captioned “South Asia’s Position in the International Order and Choice Before China”, written by Professor Zhao Gancheng, Director of South Asia Studies, Shanghai Institute for International Studies has called for ‘redefining’ India’s position in South Asia in the interest of a stable and peaceful regional order. It has alleged that India’s current policies are absolutely aimed at realising ‘hegemony’ in South Asia; they do not address the ‘strategic autonomy’ requirements of other South Asian nations. This reason is prompting China to reassess its South Asia policy. The article has declared that the goal of China’s South Asia policy will always be in favour of maintaining regional peace and stability and is related to the emergence of a regional balance of power and the gaining of ‘strategic autonomy’ by all South Asian nations. India’s strategic autonomy should not be detrimental to the corresponding autonomy of other regional powers and that India must rectify its policy which can enable other regional nations to accept its dominant position.
Overall, China appears to be showing two faces to India. On one hand, it is of the view that ‘Sino-Indian cooperative partnership oriented towards 21st century’, has entered into maturity and stability period and in this connection, points to the mechanism set up by the two sides to talk on border, contacts between two militaries, Chinese infrastructure projects in India covering sectors like power, telecom and steel, and cooperation between them in multilateral fora on issues of financial crisis, climate change, multi-polar world and North-South dialogue. On the other, Beijing is adopting a hard line position strategically vis-à-vis India. The net result therefore is the existing trust deficit between the two sides, for which there appears to be no early remedy.
How India can respond to the evolving China’s approach towards South Asia? It will be important for India to realise that China’s new assertiveness could be meant to redefine its boundaries of its economic and diplomatic clout and military influence in the present international scenario. In such circumstances, it will be desirable for India to get closer to its neighbours through measures like extending economic aid. Countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have developed proximity- induced mistrust of India and intend to hedge their ties with India with some kind of balancing act with China. New Delhi’s aim should be to eradicate such mistrust and that will be possible if India is prepared to share its new prosperity with its weaker neighbours. At the same time, it would be necessary for India to ‘engage’ China on the basis of its assessment that ‘there is enough space for both to pursue their ambitions of economic development’. No doubt, while doing so, New Delhi should evolve an effective approach to counter the evolving China’s overall postures in South Asia, which can impinge on India’s long-term interests.
To conclude, it can be said that there is a deep contradiction between the two basic elements in China’s strategy towards Asian neighbors- the aim for a ‘win-win’ bilateral relationship on one hand and adoption of assertive positions on the territorial issues on the other. In short, assertiveness hurts China’s diplomatic interests in the region. Beijing cannot but be aware of the same, but will it abandon its assertive path? When seen against China’s consistent position that it cannot compromise on matters of ‘core interests’, the answer can be taken as ‘no’. For India, other Asian powers and also the US, all of which have a stake in the region’s stability, there seems to be only one choice – be prepared to face China’s rise, peaceful or non-peaceful!
(The writer, Mr D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India, email:firstname.lastname@example.org This formed the basis of his presentation on the subject at an international seminar on “ India in the Asian Century- Expectations and Implications”, organised by the Centre for Southeast Asinan & Pacific Studies,Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, India, on 7 September 2011).
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