China Power

China’s Image Problem in India

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China Power

China’s Image Problem in India

Manmohan Singh’s comments on China reflect a deep scepticism among Indians about its rise.

India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has come in for criticism during his time in office for being uncommunicative with the media. He might well wish now that he’d stayed that way after a rare sit-down with Indian newspaper editors backfired and he was quoted as warning over China’s growing regional clout.

According to The Times of India, Singh said ‘India had to take adequate precautions but not give up hope of peaceful resolution of issues with China…in reaction to "pinpricks" by Beijing on Jammu and Kashmir and other issues.’

The newspaper also quoted him as saying: ‘China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and we have to reflect on this reality. We have to be aware of this.’

Singh was reportedly incensed by the publication of remarks that were supposedly meant to be off the record. But regardless, they underscored the ongoing tensions between the two nations almost a year after there was fevered speculation inside India and out over whether a border dispute in Arunachal Pradesh might actually spark some kind of military skirmish.

But suspicion of China is by no means confined to the Indian government. According to the most recent Pew Global Attitudes Project, only 34 percent of Indians view China favorably—the second lowest number in Asia after Japan. This compared with 58 percent in Indonesia and 85 percent in Pakistan.

The fact that 85 percent of Pakistanis view China favorably probably says something about why China is viewed with suspicion in India. But why else? I asked a couple of our India-based bloggers for their take on this.

Delhi-based writer Shreyasi Singh told me:

‘I think Indians look at China with a mix of envy, awe and condemnation. China's meteoric rise and its incredible ability to expand infrastructure is grudgingly admired. Indians bristle at being told that we might be as much as 100 years behind China. And, I know several people who say we should temporarily adopt some of China's rigid politics to force economic development through.’

But she said that although there’s a certain admiration over the pace of its neighbour’s economic growth, Indians are also fiercely proud of the more democratic make-up of their country.

‘For many, it's the first retort when discussing China's rise, and many Indians are proud of that critical socio-political difference. There’s also a feeling that while in China the development has been top-down, India is the hotbed for technical innovation, personal ingenuity and entrepreneurial buzz, the combination of which many believe ensures India a more sustained, long-term, deeper progress.’

This point on entrepreneurism is a point she made in a recent blog entry on the issue following an Economist cover story on the rivalry between the two countries. As Shreyasi noted, it’s hard to get away from discussion of the issue at the moment, and Shreyasi’s fellow Indian Decade blogger Rajeev Sharma also took up the issue of tensions between the two in his look at how India is responding to the growth in China’s navy.

So how much of a calculation is India in China’s eyes? I got an interesting take on this from Diplomat writer and UNESCO Peace Chair Madhav Nalapat. Madhav spends a great deal of time travelling between India and China, and I wondered what his sense from meetings there was on how India is viewed by the PLA.

He told me: ‘The military still sees from the prism of the past, and is in favour of continuing the policy of ensuring that the Pakistan Army gets the help it needs to box in India within South Asia. It’s the PLA that’s driving policy towards both India and Pakistan, and which most recently has sought to add two more China-supplied nuclear reactors to Pakistan's stock.’

So how does he recommend the Indian government respond to China, including that controversial nuclear reactor sale?

He said: ‘The gifting of reactors needs to be followed on the Indian side by an immediate upgrading of ties with Taiwan (by permitting higher-level official interaction) as well as activation of the India-Vietnam nuclear agreement. Hanoi needs to be helped by India in its path to nuclear progress, the way China has assisted Islamabad.’