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Musings of the mandarins - The Indian Express

K. N. Ramachandran ()
June 26, 1998

Title: Musings of the mandarins
Author: K. N. Ramachandran
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: June 26, 1998

There has been a series of reports, commentaries and statements
>from China on India's nuclear tests. Most of the statements
underline how the nuclear tests have caused instability in South
Asia, unleashing the prospect of an arm race. Moreover, the
Indian tests have proved that Delhi seeks hegemony in South Asia
and thus accentuates Pakistan's security vulnerabilities.

At the global level, the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement of
May 14 observed that India has shown "brazen scorn" and dealt a
"heavy blow" to the "common wish" of the international community
to ban testing and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Hence, the world should take a "unanimous stand". It rebuked
India for describing China as a "nuclear threat" as this was only
a pretext for legitimising its nuclear programme. Similar views
were expressed by vice-premier Qian Qichen and Foreign Minister
Tang Jiaxuan in their meetings with the Sakigaki Party delegation
>from Japan and during talks with the visiting Sri Lankan Foreign

The mouthpiece of the military, the Liberation Army Daily (LAD)
carried on May 19 a page full of articles expanding on these
themes. One accused India of adopting an "offensive" strategic
posture and said that its goal was to "dominate South Asia,
contain China, control the Indian Ocean" and become a major
military power. Yet another, while attacking the views of George
Fernandes, said that they are at odds with those of former prime
ministers and "even different" from that of Vajpayee, and that
they "run counter" to "the wishes of the Indian people to develop
relations with China". Another commentary attributed nuclear
tests to the domestic compulsions of the BJP.

It is very clear from these statements and the subsequent "deep
regret" about Pakistan's tests - a mild observation to paper over
the Sino-Pak military nexus - that Beijing still views India in
the South Asian context, while exaggerating the implications of
the tests for political dividend.

It appears that Beijing was as much taken aback by the tests as
other major powers. It was perhaps of the view that the Indian
coalition government, despite its commitment to review the
nuclear agenda, would not be able to test so soon after coming to
power. Moreover, the scientific sophistication displayed by the
different categories of tests to produce strategic, tactical and
miniature theater-oriented weapons systems, may also have come as
a surprise.

Currently, there is indeed a debate in China on the implications
of these tests for its security framework.

The debate in Beijing - the contours of which are visible -
suggests that there is a differentiated perception of the tests
and their implications. There is a view which suggests that the
China threat is a mere pretext and actually India seeks global
status. Another is that the weapons are directed more against
Pakistan than China. On the other hand, one commentator has
opined that China should increase its vigilance as such weapons
mated with the Agni missile could reach areas "south of central
China". This implies that India's nuclear weapons will be an
input in China's strategic framework.

Second, there is quite a bit of articulation now on China's no-
first-use doctrine. This originated from perceived threats from
the USA and the then USSR launching a pre-emptive strike on its
nuclear facilities after it became a nuclear weapons power in
1964. It has undergone subtle modifications down the years to
suit political requirements.

In the current avatar there are two basic propositions that have
remained constant for quite some time now. The Foreign Ministry
statement on the Indian tests reiterated the position that China
has unilaterally committed not to use or threaten to use nuclear
weapons against non-nuclear countries. Since India has declared
itself a nuclear weapons state, is it an implicit message that it
will be taken into account in China's targeting doctrine? Or will
China abide by the other proposition that nuclear weapons will
only find retaliatory use, a theme that was articulated by
President Jiang Zemin recently in an interview to AFP? But he
also accused India of targeting China and Pakistan. More
significantly, one of the current commentaries (May 17) also
observed that "China will not be the first to use nuclear weapons
at any time and under any circumstances".

To sum it up. the fact that India has declared itself a nuclear
weapons state will indeed be included as a variable in China's
overall nuclear doctrine, but China's position on no first use
has perhaps not changed - although some ambivalence is evident in
the Foreign Ministry statement. Moreover, it needs to be noted
that China indicated it had accepted the concept of the usability
of tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons when it held a war
game involving such a weapon in the Ningxia region in 1982.

Taking this fact into account and the current doctrine of local,
high-tech wars, one may also say that India's sub-kiloton tests
will be perceived as tactical weapons capability and will became
a part of China's tactical calculus. These trends suggest that
there is a need for a nuclear dialogue with China to clear
misunderstanding, if any, and to build mutual confidence.

One cannot accept with equanimity China's call to India to accept
the NPT, and CTBT regimes which are blatantly discriminatory.
China became a party to the CTBT after 45 tests and for a quid
pro quo from the US without jeopardising its strategic assets. It
may be recalled that in the Sixties and early Seventies, China
justified its nuclear weapons programme as a drive to smash the
nuclear monopoly of "imperialism and revisionism", that is, the
US and the then USSR. Having become a member of the nuclear club,
it seeks to blackball other aspirants. It is like Casanova
extolling the virtues of abstinence.

The current irritants should be seen as a brief interlude in the
process of mutual confidence-building to find solutions to issues
in other areas. India's nuclear weapons are defence-oriented, as
indeed China's weapons are. On the basis of this reality the two
countries should proceed to abide by, and carry forward, the
agreements reached in the last ten years, beginning with the
China visit of Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. The two most populous
nations of Asia who share a common border - a geostrategic
reality - have shared goals to pursue in meeting the challenges
of the twenty-first century.

(The welter is with the Institute for Defence Studies and

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