Fear of the Dragon

The Chinese People's Liberation Army. Source: AP

The Chinese People's Liberation Army. Source: AP

Far too many strategic thinkers and members of the elite in Russia and India have irrational beliefs when it comes to China.

A recent conversation with a retired Russian intelligence officer was an eye-opener for me. The 66 year-old, who stayed close to the establishment after the break-up of the USSR and well into the Putin era, harbours a deep mistrust of China. “This is a marriage of convenience,” he says referring to the warming of ties in the last decade between Russia and its gigantic southern neighbour. “When they become strong enough they’ll make us dance to their tune.”  When I tried to state the merits of a Sino-Russian alliance that would protect many smaller countries from Western neo-colonialists, he laughed and mocked Russia, saying the USSR never needed any junior partners to protect its allies. “Our veto was enough to stop an American sponsored aggression on India in 1971,” he roared.

The retired KGB/FSB officer’s views were echoed by some Russian diplomats and strategic thinkers. “They have their eyes on the Russian Far East and they will colonize it one day,” said a young man who joined the Russian diplomatic corps a few years ago. He insisted that there were 4 million illegal Chinese immigrants in the under-populated stretch of land beyond Siberia. Of course, he had never been that far and Ekaterinburg was as east as he’d ever set foot in Russian territory. When I told him that such numbers were great exaggerations, he refused to budge. “They plan things centuries in advance and they are working on a plan to annex the whole region!” I was talking to a brick wall.

India isn’t that far behind when it comes to the fear of the next superpower. At a recent conference in an Indian university, a few of the attendees, again those close to the elite’s way of thinking, wasted no time in attacking China. “They plan to split India into many pieces,” shouted one young officer in the Indian armed forces. When I retorted that a destabilised India would mean Chinese exporters losing a fortune from one of their most lucrative markets, a silence followed and then a comeback about sinister plans from Beijing to minimise losses from a balkanisation of India!

An Indian analyst then continued the attack on China stating that the country had territorial disputes with all its neighbours. But then doesn’t India have a similar problem, I asked. “No, it’s different, we don’t send our ships to threaten peaceful neighbours and claim entire bodies of water!” Others took a cue from this analyst. One man said China was arrogant to suggest a “G2” with the United States and ignore countries like India. “Well,” I said, “if that was the case wouldn’t it be nice to be ignored by the Chinese instead of them plotting to dismember us?”

Another Indian armed forces officer said China was propping up Pakistan against India. I asked this man why it was evil of China to help Pakistan, while America and Saudi Arabia weren’t being called out for equally (if not more) sinful behaviour. When silence ensued, I answered my own question by suggesting that the large Indian Diaspora in those countries may have something to do with it. “No,” said one of them. “China attacked us in 1962, America has never attacked India!” My reminder that 9 years after the “Chinese attack” on India, America sponsored a UN Security Council resolution in favour of a genocidal West Pakistani regime against India and Bangladeshi freedom fighters, once again kept them quiet momentarily before another analyst spoke of Chinese plans to take over the world! I wonder where these fantasies come from.

To the Russians who think that China plans to launch a demographic invasion of the Russian Far East, all I can say is that such fears are unfounded. If any action drastically reduced the number of Chinese citizens on the wrong side of the Amur River, it was Vladimir Putin’s ban on foreigners working in Russian outdoor markets in 2007. The only Chinese you’ll encounter in those parts are those who are on contract to pave roads and build bridges and impressive buildings from Russian federal funds to develop the region.

As for my fellow Indians, who are sure of a Chinese invasion or a proxy war, I would recommend a visit to China. The Chinese are more liberal in handing Indians visas than the other way around. A visit to the great northern neighbour would be an eye-opener for those who obsess over it. China is on a new Long March, a march to becoming an economic superpower. The country wants wealth and quite frankly nothing else. War is expensive and sets countries back by decades and this is something China has learnt. Let’s face it, if the Chinese Navy wanted to swallow the islands in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, very little could be done to stop it. But China wants wealth and for wealth the world needs stability.

Thinkers in Russia and India need to shed illogical fears concerning China and concentrate on how the R and I in BRICS can keep economic pace with the C. 

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