Interview : Natwar Singh
China at present is a capitalist country sans democracy, says veteran diplomat Natwar Singh in an interview with Sharad Gupta
There is arguably no one more knowledgeable in India on External Affairs than Kunwar Natwar Singh, who retired from Indian Foreign Service after 31 years of service. He served in various foreign missions, including China, besides a long stint in Indira Gandhi’s Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). He joined politics in 1984 and was part of Union Cabinet.
Of late China is emerging strongly on the international platform economically, militarily and strategically. Do you think that it can become the third super power?
It is the second super power today. After the United States of America comes China. Russia is no longer a super power. India is in the sixth position. Before that you have Germany and Japan. There is no doubt that the progress China has made in the last thirty years is phenomenal in every field.
Q. What do you think about the way China is throwing around weight globally – whether on OBOR or South China Sea?
N, they are very careful in their diplomacy. We think in terms of five-year plans, they think in terms of fifty-years. And you will see that they don’t rush into making statements. They are very careful. So now the US has provoked China by sending its warships to the South China Sea. So, they couldn’t keep quite. But, they will not take it beyond a certain point
China is taking on Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan in South China Sea. They are constructing artificial islands there. They are taking over non-occupied islands there. So aren’t they coming up very strongly against their neighbours?
They claim that South China Sea, by it’s very name, is a part of South China which is why they have a claim on it. That’s why they built the islands on it. Now their relations with the Japan are satisfactory. There is no serious tension although they will never be friends because of the way Japan treated China during the Sino- Chinese war in 1930s
Why China is supporting North Korea which has become the bone of contention between it and USA?
These relations went back nearly sixty years ago. North Korea is a rogue state. And is headed by a young man, Kim Jong-un. Now, the only person or country that can contain North Korea is China. China too is a bit concerned that the young man is going berserk and he wants to attack the United States. He must be mad to even think of doing this. But you can never tell what he’ll do. The Japanese are also very concerned because he goes on with testing missiles in the Japanese waters. They all are worried about him because he is a menace.
The Koreans don’t trust the Chinese because the latter has occupied Korea till 1865. So how did North Korea become so close to China? Are these just strategic relations?
No, because South Korea is almost like a satellite state of USA. Therefore, they are concerned. This all started during the cold war, when the Russians for all practical purposes, took over North Korea.
China is encircling India through Gwadar port, Hambantota, OBOR. Are all these countries cooperating with China because they see India as a potential threat?
No, not as a threat. But, they don’t want India to be hyphenated with China. They don’t want to be talked about as two contributory poles. This is where they are ahead of us. Now they are very close to Sri Lanka, and they are making the ports. Normally we should be making the ports.
I don’t think that China will ever cross the border, because 2017 is not 1962
Our foreign reserves are $ 3 trillion; China is five times more. That trillion they are spreading all over Africa. They are giving help there on the very good terms. We have only given five hundred million dollars to Sudan. Even East Africa, with which we have had close relations for a very long time, Chinese influence is growing. Similarly, in South America, we have nothing there while Chinese are very active there as well.
Can India ever compete with China?
Not in the foreseeable future. They are buying huge amounts of territory and property in United States. We are not buying any, and we don’t believe in this kind of a thing. But they are.
Now let us return to OBOR. How much do you think OBOR is going to influence India?
No, it will. Because we can’t do anything about it. Because they are building a corridor right up to Gwadar Port through an area which we call Pak- occupied Kashmir. We think this is a part of India, and, this act of China of making road on our territory is not at all acceptable to us. But in fact, we cannot do anything because Chinese always wanted to get into the Arabian Sea waters. They had no access to the ocean on the western side. And now they have got after getting Pakistan with them. They will create some problem for us, although we say that we are not worried, but we should be.
There are 70 countries which are part of OBOR. If we are boycotting OBOR, how will our trade get affected?
Probably we will be suffering. But it will be difficult for government of India to accept that China goes through what we consider is our territory.
Is China-Pakistan axis, bringing India closer to the US?
Not only them, but even the Russians are interested in Pakistan for the first time. So our diplomacy has to be very active. And we have to be on our guard all the time.
China has been blocking India’s entry in United Nations’ Security Council. What can we do about it?
This has to be taken care of. They will never allow us in the Security Council. See China, at the moment, theoretically represents all of Africa, half of Asia and South America. This gives them tremendous influence. So, they will not allow the expansion of Security Council with India in it as then they will have to share this area with us. In my judgment they we will never allow. And even if the Security Council is expanded, the expansion will be, India as a member but without a veto. And without veto the membership is meaningless.
So, where does this relationship go?
Nowhere. For example, for the last 30 or 40 or more years, the Sino- Indian border has been tranquil. There is nothing so serious incursion from China; which is a really a big achievement for both the countries and certainly for India.
Is it possible for India and China to resolve their border issues any time soon?
No, not soon.
So it will continue to be India’s Achilles Heal?
They already got a part of Aksai Chin and occupied it long time ago. For Arunachal Pradesh, they protested that the if Dalai Lama or someone inimical to them goes there, they will not accept that, but I don’t think that they will ever cross the border. Because 2017 is not 1962.
So our competition with China is basically on diplomatic, strategic, and economic fronts?
Well, you know our bilateral relations are not antagonistic. But, China’s geo-political policy is not in our interest. They are such a powerful country now. There is no doubt about it. They have a bigger army than United States.
How long do we continue like this?
Well, we have continued with Indo- Pak friction full for the last 70 years, so it too can carry on longer! And there has been an increase in incursions by China into Indian territory. But the Chinese have denied that. They will never accept it.
Can China be trusted? And how much they can be taken on their face value?
Trusting is a complicating business in diplomacy. You have to trust most countries. But you must never lower you guard on this. You can’t publicly say that we won’t trust China. You have to follow your foreign policy in such a way that we shouldn’t be caught unprepared. And the Chinese are aware of it. And as I told you, they are very cautious. I mean their relation with Russia is not good but there is no confrontation. And they know that Russia is not such a big country now than it was before 1990.
What about economic cooperation between China and India?
Yes, there can be. But, it will always be unequal. You see, that firstly, they run a controlled economy. There is no discussion in Chinese Parliament on their budget or anything like that. Of course, we also don’t discuss the defence budget in parliament, whereas our arm and ammunition budget is far less than that of China. I think China’s is only next to the United States whose budget is about $ 650 billion and China’s is about $ 250 billion, and we spend approx $ 55 billion on defense expenditure.
Chinese might be claiming they are a Communist State but aren’t they neo-liberals?
Since Mao Zedong’s time, it has changed. Deng Xiaoping changed it. Yet he avoided the mistake Gorbachov had made, that ushering political reform first and then economic reforms. Whereas China has done it the other way – economic reforms first and politics will be dealt with later.
The kind of communism they practice now has nothing to do with the government of Mao’s time. China at present, is a capitalist country sans democracy. Now they might have retained communism in there as their political ideology but now they have nothing to do with communism?
Not only China but even the Russians are taking interest in Pakistan for the first time
No but they still call themselves a communalist state though for namesake only. There is no freedom of speech, no free media and the laws are very strict. They make sure that there are only a few billionaires and whenever they like they fix them. That is why these billionaires are in cahoots with the Chinese government.
What is the difference in communism of Russia and China?
Russia too has abandoned communism. We are living now in an interconnected world. United States of America is on a war in economic terms or in other terms. Regan was completely responsible for the disintegration of the Soviet Union but the Chinese were much cleverer. I mean that Soviet Union had covered half of Europe.
The Chinese can walk into Hong Kong tomorrow. They haven’t. They could have walked into Taiwan tomorrow. They haven’t.
They don’t want to. They are getting all the advantages. They run a very careful foreign policy and their experience in running foreign policy goes by 100 years and ours is only 70 years.
What are the prospects of abandoning communism and taking to democracy?
I don’t foresee taking to democracy as we see it, or the way America or Britain look at it.
Not even a notional democracy?
No. Not even that. Not even in long term. Chinese feel that democracy is too full of contradictions. They feel that Asia is not suited for democracy. People’s Army (PLA) is the most important part of the Chinese establishment. In Pakistan, decisions are taken by the Army. In China decisions are taken by the civilian government but the PLA is very powerful. At some time in future, there could be some confrontation between PLA and the government, though in Tiannanmen Square in 1989, it was the army which saved the government there.