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IA-Forum Interview: Madhav Nalapat

International Affairs Forum: You were in Taiwan recently for the presidential election in which Ma Ying-jeou defeated the incumbent, Chen Shui-bian. What did you make of what you saw?

Madhav Nalapat: That the earlier distinction between the KMT (as the party of Mainlanders) and the DPP (as the party representing indigenous people) is no longer valid. Several with a "Mainland" family background are backing the DPP, because of their ideological commitment to causes as diverse as a "Green Planet" and democracy promotion. At the same time, many with centuries-long roots in Taiwan have moved to the KMT, in significant part because that party has moved a long way towards accepting an identity for Taiwan quite distinct from that for Mainland China. Such a melding of different groups within the same political framework is a sign that societal tensions in Taiwan are within safe limits

The public participation in the political process was impressive. Huge rallies took place, some of which I attended, and the enthusiasm seen there was very different from the "Rent a Crowd" listlessness seen in less participative electoral exercises. Both the DPP as well as the KMT have a pan-Taiwan appeal, and in 2008, the more popular individual won. He did so without using fear or rancor, the way - for example - some politicians are presently doing in the U.S. presidential primaries. Such emotions are negative and widen rather than heal social rifts.

IA-Forum: Taiwanese voters also had the opportunity to vote on whether the island should apply for a seat at the United Nations under the name Taiwan. The response rate to this referendum fell short of the 50 percent necessary to ensure a binding decision, but is this something you think the international community should support if a future Taiwanese leader presses for independence?

Nalapat: Taiwan was abandoned for the People's Republic of China (PRC) by Richard Nixon and subsequently left to its fate by Jimmy Carter. Both gave huge concessions to Beijing to follow a course of action that the PRC would anyway have adopted, that of opposing the U.S.S.R. That Taiwan is not even an observer in the World Health Organization is a commentary on the actual - as distinct from professed - commitment to international equity and justice on the part of some countries that moralize incessantly. In my view, less than 10% of Taiwanese wish to see a unification with the PRC, at least under present circumstances. 90% would favor Taiwan entering the United Nations, but nearly half of this group abstained out of fear of a consequences of a PRC response. That they did is indicative of the fact that fear of a PRC riposte is a pervasive factor in Taiwanese policy. Unlike in the past, these days the U.S. and the EU inspire only a diminishing confidence in the Taiwanese about the willingness, and indeed the ability, to take on the PRC over Taiwan. The frequent U.S. statements against President Chen Shui-bian have only reinforced the widespread regional perception that the U.S. has ceded the top spot locally to the PRC.

IA-Forum: Another ongoing territorial dispute for China has been Tibet. What do you make of the way China has handled the issue recently?

Nalapat: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), by its own internal worldview and logic, sees no alternative way of handling Tibet except by enforcing the CCP monopoly over temporal power. The popular support that the CCP has within China is based on the perception that the party can assure the re-emergence of the Han people as the primary force in human civilization. Such a "Han Assertion" has been harnessed into support by the CCP, who consequently find it impossible to accept His Holiness the Dalai Lama's condition that Han should leave Tibet. Not simply present-day Tibet, but in the view of His Holiness, the Kham and Amdo regions as well. This constitutes a land area more than a third of present-day China.

And as for the spiritual aspect, the reality is that many Tibetans look upon the Dalai Lama as their temporal leader as well, a fact that goes counter to the CCP policy of monopolizing the political space. This is why the CCP is opposed to the Dalai Lama exercising any sort of influence in Tibet. Hence, events in Tibet are likely to continue down the same road that they have been since the 1950s

IA-Forum: The Olympic torch traveled through India. Do you think the relay has been a good idea, or unnecessarily provocative?

Nalapat: Ironically, the worldwide reaction to the Olympic torch has only confirmed the view that China has arrived as a superpower that has a global influence that creates a reaction across the world. Only western countries have allowed protest near the torch, while others have cordoned it off by the use of extraordinary levels of police. In the case of India, the precautions taken were so intense that the ceremony was reduced to a formality. However, given the sensitivity of the Chinese side towards any possible disruption, as well as the presence within India of 130,000 Tibetan refugees, this was not unexpected

The torch has been a lesson for the CCP in international relations. The comforting feeling that soft words and PR gestures can wipe away mistrust ought to have dissolved in the protests. China is coming of age as a superpower and will excite the same tensions as its predecessors did, and the United States still does.

IA-Forum: How would you describe India's relations with China?

Nalapat: Not satisfactory. Beijing refuses to settle the boundary issue on the basis of the 1960 Zhou Enlai proposals. China is repeating now the mistake made by India then, when Nehru rejected the Zhou offer (of an acceptance of the status quo). Also, nuclear and missile help to Pakistan continues, as well as strategic help to theocracies such as Iran. In my view, such policies are against the interests of the Chinese people. China needs a friendly India, but is unwilling to walk even an extra few centimeters to achieve that, leaving all the "walking" to the Indian side, which of course is puffing along.

IA-Forum: Do you think Indian policymakers feel threatened by a rising China?

Nalapat: So long as the boundary issue remains unresolved, and nuclear and missile assistance continues to Pakistan and Bangla Desh, yes.

IA-Forum: Do you think, to use the terminology employed by successive U.S. presidents, India should treat China as a 'strategic partner,' or 'strategic competitor?'

Nalapat: What world are U.S. presidents living in? The PRC is the most potent challenger to western primacy ever seen for centuries. As for India, the question before India is the extent to which the country should ally with the West, especially as concerns the PRC. As things stand, China is less of a partner than a competitor for India. Hopefully, such dissonances can be managed without recourse to force

IA-Forum: Finally, on the U.S., do you think there is any chance of the India-U.S. nuclear deal being salvaged?

Nalapat: The Hyde Act reveals a mindset that sees India as less than a first-rank power. Until the U.S. accepts that India has at least the same status and rights as France and the U.K., a fair deal is out of the question. As times move on and India grows, the U.S. will finally come around to accepting the reality of India as a great power, and not grudge it the technologies needed to power its growth and maintain its security. The West is like the monkey that grabbed a fistful of peanuts from inside the jar and wont let go. By wanting it all, it may end up with far less than it could have got were it willing to compromise with the rising powers of the world - India, Brazil, South Africa,. Indonesia.

As for the U.S., I have long said that the country ought to see itself as quadricultural, rather than simply another Western country. So long as the U.S. acts as though only the European tradition and culture matters to it, and ignores the other strands in its culture and population, it will not be able to tap into the enormous international goodwill for American culture, a fusion of four continents and multiple traditions that has created such a powerful resonance across the globe.

Madhav Das Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and is a professor of geopolitics at Manipal University, India.

Comments in Chronological order (3 total comments)

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Sun, December 27, 2009 05:40 PM (about 111723 hours ago)

Quite right, It was China who openly denounce INDIA's illeagal annexation of Sikkim state, It was China who openly confront INDIA's ambitions of hegemony in south Asia. INDIA could not bully Pakistan during his three invasion against Pak. unfortunately INDIA dismembered Pakistan in 70s.

If INDIA is so saber-rattling in South Asia , I f INDIA dare to get involve in China's own affairs, I guess India will receieve another round of blow similiar to 1962 conflict between India and china.
Sun, December 27, 2009 06:25 PM (about 111722 hours ago)
Nehru's India government made claims on the disputed border area in Tibet autonomous zone,based on its so-called legacy from British India. British India forced the Tibet local government to cede part of Tibet land. That "accord" never approved by Qing Dynasty then KMT central government. There is no legal rights for india to occupy Tibet land( which historically belong to China). So when Zhou suggest keep border peace for final political solution. Nehru rejected by saying "Map or no map , those disputed areas belong to india."

Moreover Nehru held a "forward policy" aiming to oust china from the disputed area by force. That irresponsible action lead to a total debacle of india. Nalapat seems don't understand premier Zhou's position.
Sun, December 27, 2009 06:41 PM (about 111722 hours ago)
[Nalapat: The Hyde Act reveals a mindset that sees India as less than a first-rank power. ]
India desperately promote its supper-power's ambition and potential. I take a very dim view on India's future. A country ,which take pride in British colonization and its legacy - "English literacy", is anything but a joke. I know hierachical classification and discrimination rooted in India for thousands of years. unfortunately Indian's elites bring their thoughts into geo-politics. In their mind UK and US are the first-class. most of time India guys despise other country. Nalapa should not beg for US's favor here. India was , is and will be West power's cortege. Caste system in geopolitic will grant no position for india .
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