Thirty Hindu tributaries for the Middle Kingdom

How China might reshape the world—Undo the Indian Union edition

A realist theorist in Beijing goes into the forest to do tapasya. After 9 years of meditation and a hard ascetic life, there is a flash of light and Lord Shiva himself appears in a flash of light. He grants the Chinese realist theorist a boon. “Ask, O mortal, what ist thy dearest wish?”

The realist then asks for something similar to what appeared (via C3S India) on several websites in the People’s Republic of China, including on that of the China Institute of International Strategic Studies (CIISS) (here’s a Google translation of the article). “O Ni-La-Kan-Ta” he says, “then let China break India up into 30 small nation-states.”

But then, in the real world, realist theorists in Beijing don’t do tapasya for 9 years. So such wishes remain wishes. But let’s grant one thing—if you are a growing global power north of the Himalayas, you would rather not have another one next door. Not only is the absence of a peer-competitor better from a strategic perspective, it is also more comforting to a Middle Kingdom mindset—one that sees tributaries in neighbours, not sovereign equals. So calling for China to bring about the break-up of India into 20-30 small states is perfectly understandable.

Now it is all very well if Beijing’s think tanks allow their theorists to fantasise in this manner, but an article appearing in government- and party-linked publications must be interpreted as a subtle threat that China might revive its long-running programme of supporting separatist insurgencies in India’s North-east and elsewhere.

The cocksure Chinese realist didn’t account for two things: that China’s political fragility is all the worse because of the rigidity of the Chinese state, and might yet implode even if India doesn’t attempt to return the favour. And second, an event that leads to the break-up of the region south of the Himalayas into ethnic nation-states is unlikely to spare the region to their north. It makes sense, therefore, for Chinese realist theorists to be careful in what they are wishing for.

Rejecting Rebiya Kadeer’s visa application

…was a prudent and astute move by New Delhi

Rebiya Kadeer is indeed a remarkable woman. In recent weeks—not least due to China’s propaganda campaign to demonise her—she has emerged internationally as the best known symbol of Uighur separatism in China’s Xinjiang province. She has unequivocally advocated a non-violent political struggle, claimed that she is inspired by the Dalai Lama’s principles and is almost surely sustained by US government funding.

The Calcutta Telegraph reports that India has denied her a visa (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony via twitter). That is both prudent and astute. Whatever the merits of the Uighur cause, it is not in India’s interests to further escalate the level of direct antagonism with Beijing. Doing so would almost certainly draw attention away from the real faultline: between China and Turkic-Islamic world.

The ethnic riots in Xinjiang have caused a major rift in China’s relations with Turkey, after Receb Tayyib Erdogan, the popular Turkish prime minister, accused Beijing of conducting genocide and suggesting that it be taken up at the UN Security Council. China-Turkey bilateral relations are at a low. The Central Asian republics are also likely to be re-examining their own positions with respect to relations with China.

In contrast, the ‘Muslim world’ of popular imagination—the one that President Barack Obama spoke to in Cairo—has been conspicuously silent. Apart from a threat by a North African ‘affiliate’ of al-Qaeda, even the tapeworm and his traveling videographic studio has been silent about Chinese atrocities on Xinjiang’s Muslims. It is understandable that the regimes of such representatives of the ‘Muslim world’ as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran are beholden to Beijing but even the civil society in these countries has given China the pass. But if the Uighur unrest continues, it is likely that Islamabad, Riyadh and Tehran will be put in an uncomfortable but well-deserved position. [Update: Rohit Pradhan notes that “Death to China” chants were heard at Rafsanjani’s rally in Tehran]

India should let the issue play out among the direct and self-appointed stakeholders. Intervening in a way that China sees as unfriendly will only draw the heat away and give the megaphone-wielding, concern-expressing capitals of the ‘Muslim world’ an undeserved reprieve.

The issue of an Indian visa for Ms Kadeer is only of symbolic importance. If she wants to meet the Dalai Lama, she could catch up with him on his travels abroad.

Is the president of China responsible for riot control?

Xinjiang, stability and saving face

Why does the president of the People’s Republic of China have to leave the G-8 summit in Italy and rush back home? So there are unprecedented riots across Xinjiang’s towns and cities, but surely, controlling them doesn’t require the president’s personal presence. Therefore the official explanation, that he returned to China “due to the situation” in Xinjiang, is both vague and unconvincing.

In fact, taken at face value, the official explanation suggests that the Chinese government is not too confident of its ability to maintain social stability in the face of public unrest. This supports the view that “authoritarian states”, as the Wall Street Journal writes today, “are typically less stable than they appear, and China is no exception.” Therefore the triumphalism surrounding China’s arrival as a global power should tone itself down a little.

On the other hand, panicky as the Communist party leadership might be, the Chinese government has shown time and again that it is capable of suppressing mass unrests—even if its methods make you queasy. Going by this line of reasoning, it could well be the queasiness factor that caused Hu Jintao to fly back to Beijing in a hurry. He would have found it rather embarrassing to have to face questions from the international media assembled in the Italian town of L’Aquila on the Xinjiang situation, or indeed on the China’s treatment of its ethnic minorities.

It’s probably both. The international leaders attending the G-8 summit will certainly miss Mr Hu. They should contemplate on the implications arising from the reasons of his absence.

On Pakistani passports

Cross-border terrorism, directed northwards

The terrorists were travelling on Pakistani passports. They may have been locals, but trained in jihadi training camps across the border. The mastermind is suspected to be a Pakistani national. The plan was to bring down an commercial airliner flying from the restive separatist region to the national capital by igniting gasoline hidden in soft-drink cans.

Sounds familiar? Well, this is the story of China Southern Airlines flight CZ6901 from Urumqi in Xinjiang to Beijing. The two terrorists on flight were arrested when they failed to set the bombs off, and were overpowered by the crew. And according to some reports the Pakistani national who masterminded this plot is at large. According to others, the third was arrested in a week and has confessed to the crime.

China has not officially revealed the link to Pakistan, perhaps not to unnecessarily embarrass its ally in public. It does not need to. General Musharraf is perhaps already sweating. A crackdown against jihadis is on the cards. It’s not as if Pakistan’s new prime minister needed this.

Related Link: A Chinese journalist’s account of eyewitness accounts and censorship. (via Violent Eclipse)