Why Is India So Polite?

The Indian Defense Minister’s admission last week that his country is in an arms race with China speaks volumes of India’s intention to establish itself as a regional hegemony; or counter another global ‘rising empire.’ Defense Minister A.K. Antony was quoted saying: “just as what China is doing, we are also trying to strengthen our capabilities.”

India has issues with all her neighbors; China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. But it is not only border issues with China that’s keeps New Delhi excited. I agree with A.K. Antony’s assessment that in spite of “occasional troubles”, India wants to resolve its issues with Beijing only through negotiations. But I read his statement knowing Indo-Sino border dispute is rather permanently intractable and 13 bilateral talks have yet to yield anything meaningful.

Of course India does not want to wage war against China and for that matter other perceived regional foes. But conflict with China has been making headlines lately and it reflects the popular mood as well. Indians will not forget the1962 war and understand that the border dispute is still unresolved. But there is also an envious, competitive India that is unwilling to allow China to become “the most powerful nation” in the next 3-4 decades. My Indian friends frequently send me emails arguing how India can surpass China in economic and technological growth. Of course military prowess goes with it.

As you may have noticed from my previous opinion pieces I think a hawkish Indian media is fueling a false sense of national pride and aggression and it shows: the Pew Global Attitudes Survey claims that 47 percent of Indians have negative feelings about China. And, 62% of Indians consider China’s growing military power a “bad thing” and 45% of them rated China’s growing economy the same way.

You can argue that this distrust is historical. But if you look through the archives of Pew Global Attitudes Survey you will find that this situation was substantially different in 2002- when Indian TV channels had not mushroomed all over the place. Although India appears ‘soft’ on Tibet these days but issues such as separate visas for residents of Kashmir trigger such hysteria that peace seems rather semantic.

India and the United States are both equally concerned about China’s growth. Indian TV journalists and analysts are constantly talking about how China will match, if not supersede the weight and potential of the US by 2050. Some Indians argue that it will be sooner. This is one issue of convergence for the American empire and it’s regional associate; India.

I talked to Prof. Noam Chomsky last week and India’s ‘complicated’ foreign policy came up. I agree with Professor that India’s foreign policy is rather complex but on many issues including China there is complete convergence of opinions between India and the US. We should not forget that Pakistan – even at points in history when it was a complete proxy of the United States maintained independent relations with China. Not only did Pakistan open the back door diplomacy channels between China and the United States but also maneuvered China’s entry in the United Nations.

And, despite all good mannered statements from Foreign and Defense ministries, Indo-Sino conflict along 3,500 km border is heating up. Recently the Indian Air Force chief, Fali Homi Major, called China “certainly a greater threat than Pakistan.” He is correct: China is no Pakistan. Indian diplomats have to mind their language, diplomatic manners when talking about China. They cannot ridicule and bully China the way they have treated Pakistan.

And, unlike Pakistan where the Indian government tries to be a mirror image of popular opinion- on Chinese issue these same Indian representatives are much more ‘stately.’

Watch a portion of my interview with Prof. Chomsky:

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