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Delhi dances around defence ban on China

October 22, 2010

In its usual political see-sawing attitude with its hot and sour relationship with China, the Indian government has invited Shen Dingli, a professor and a top strategist to the two-day golden jubilee celebrations of the National Defence College (NDC) beginning tomorrow. The invitation for a lecture at India’s top military institution comes just two months post the proposed defence ban on China, succeeding Beijing’s refusal for a visa to northern army commander Lt Gen. B.S. Jaswal.

A physicist by training, Shen Dingli is professor and executive vice-dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Fudan University, Shanghai, and director of its Centre for American Studies.

“To my knowledge he is also a (Chinese Communist) party member,” says Shrikant Kondapalli, professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University who says he has interacted with Shen for close to 20 years. The government on the other hand tried to justify the clearance on the ground that Shen does not represent the Chinese government but is an independent academic voice from China on the Chinese perspective on military and strategic issues.

Shen’s views will be great interest as he is has long defended supply of nuclear and ballistic missile technology to Pakistan, a claim that Beijing stoutly denies. Notwithstanding the Indian government’s claim that he has nothing to do with the Chinese government, Shen was allowed only last January to use the official portal to recommend a strategic shift in the official line. He had advocated that China should set up military bases overseas just like the Americans, the British and the French have done. He has argued that Beijing can better protect its interests overseas if it has bases abroad. The article raised immediate concerns in the strategic establishment in New Delhi, particularly because China is already developing the Gwadar Port near Karachi in Pakistan that can threaten India’s oil supplies from the Gulf any day.

China needs “to enhance the power in safeguarding our overseas interests. And the power should be comprehensive enough to demonstrate our political, economic and military forces. As for the military aspect, we should be able to conduct the retaliatory attack within the country or at the neighbouring area of our potential enemies. We should also be able to put pressure on the potential enemies’ overseas interests”, Shen argued in a paper titled “Don’t shun the idea of setting up overseas military bases”.

Shen does not represent —nor does he claim to represent — the Chinese government. But his views are heard for the Chinese perspective to be interpreted in international fora often because independent academic voices from China on military and strategic issues are rare.

Also on the cards is another high profile meeting a Chinese delegation led by Zhou Yongkang, Member of the Standing Committee of Politburo and Secretary of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of CPC’s Central Committee, will attend the conference, ‘China and India: 60 Years and Beyond’, to be held at the Nehru Memorial Library later this month. Zhou, ranked ninth in the CPC hierarchy, is a key strategist of the ruling dispensation in Beijing and is said to play a key role in China’s policy in Tibet. His visit is being seen as a precursor to the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the next few months.

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