China: Reading Beijing’s ‘Blue Book’ on India

28 May, 2013    ·   3951

Rana Divyank Chaudhary deconstructs the document and its implications for bilateral engagement

Rana Divyank Chaudhary
Rana Divyank Chaudhary
Research Intern

Much attention is riveted on the way in which India-China relations are shaping up in the aftermath of the PLA’s incursion into Ladakh. The incident would probably not have stood out had the new Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, not already chosen New Delhi to be his first destination abroad. Even as the joint statement by Premier Li and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was being put out, the internet became abuzz with news on the first Chinese ‘Blue Book’ on India containing accounts on its defence planning and growing power. 

What is the Blue Book and what does one specifically focused on India have to say? What do its contents signify with particular regard to the current developments in India-China diplomacy and bilateral engagement? Even as the full document, which is in Chinese language, gets interpreted, how should New Delhi be reading it?

Know Thy Neighbour
The Blue Book is typically a special report published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), China’s premier think tank, which discusses and analyses subjects important to Chinese interests. The first such report on India makes note of some of the well established facts about national politics, New Delhi’s foreign and defence policy, its relations with neighbours, and the measures being taken at various levels for advancing and securing Indian interests in the region and beyond.

It lays out the Indian perception of the South Asian security environment and how New Delhi is dealing with the multiplicity of external and internal threats to national security. The belief that India is preparing to fight a limited two-front war with Pakistan and China is common wisdom and so its inclusion in the document hardly raises any eyebrows. China's strategic relationship with Pakistan presents an unchanging zero-sum game for India. The common cause of posing a two-front challenge to New Delhi and keeping India’s great power aspirations contained within the subcontinent has been pivotal to the Beijing-Islamabad entente since its inception.

The report follows up with an account of India’s defence modernisation and weapons acquisitions in recent years. This, combined with a hike in defence spending, increase in troop levels on the Indian borders, and expansion in the order of battle, is taken to indicate long term changes in New Delhi’s military strategy and planning. More importantly, India’s growing maritime interests have been highlighted as the new threat on China’s horizons. These are reflected in the Indian naval deployments in joint exercises, long range operations on the high seas, and indigenous development of platforms of naval power projection which include two aircraft carriers and two nuclear ballistic missile submarines with plans to construct more.

The many political scandals currently harassing the UPA government have also been found particularly noteworthy. Internal political crisis is seen as the foremost challenge India must tackle to tide over the difficulties of pursuing a consistent and rational foreign policy and exercise strong diplomacy. Therefore, India’s relations with its neighbours and the peace process with Pakistan are both seen in continuance of the ‘Gujral doctrine’ of offering unilateral aid and reassurances to South Asian neighbours to enhance mutual trust and cooperation.

The Fine Print
The Blue Book has not yet been discussed in the Chinese press or media nor is the complete report, whether in Chinese or translated, available on the internet. But, it has been crafted primarily for a Chinese audience. Insofar, it is significant that the report does not discuss in great detail China’s territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh, Sino-Indian border disputes, or the activities of Tibetan refugees under the Dalai Lama’s leadership in India. As an official project, the report introduces all areas of potential conflict between India and China in moderate tones. Interpreting such documents to complete India’s China puzzle has to account for the perceptions and misperceptions characterising bilateral relations and the role of information and disinformation in sustaining them.

Depicting Pakistan as the ‘real threat’ from the Indian point of view is not only an incomplete assessment but also implies that it should remain so. The pursuit of the ‘Gujral doctrine’ takes a long term perspective on prioritising the peace process and is not contingent on short term concessions. The concerted defence revamp is intended to eliminate India’s decades-old policy atrophy on meeting China halfway in terms of strategic planning, capabilities, and battle preparedness. The possibility of India fighting and winning a two-front war which may escalate into a nuclear exchange is also incredulous. Yet, surely, planning and equipping for that eventuality bolsters India’s two-front strategic deterrence and nipping the bogey of simultaneous east-west theatres in the bud.

Security and inter-state stability in South Asia is not threatened by an arms race as much as it is by a vacillating balance of power wherein India has yet to gain a decisive edge and all-round parity. Failing to highlight unresolved issues in a manner which would convey serious intent to clear past deadlocks would seem disappointing from a policy research point of view. On the other hand, this would do little to further a positive image of India and mutual concerns in China’s public domain which its authors have promised in interviews. But to take a leaf out of the Blue Book, India will stand better advised to set its house in order before true balance and confidence can harmonise the relationship.