Thursday, March 23, 2006

This page is dedicated to the study and analysis of all things Chinese. I begin this blog with the introduction of a book on Sino-Indian relations that I am about to launch.

First entry... just getting launched

1. Introduction

In the aftermath of World War II the first wave of formerly colonized and dependent countries of Africa and Asia (re)-gained their national sovereignty. As India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru publicly declared India’s independence on 15 August 1947. In the spring of 1949, the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong emerged as the victor of the Chinese Civil War, which had followed the Second World War at its heels, and officially declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October 1949. Both the Indian and the Chinese governments were full of vim and vigor and – initially – in agreement that their time had come to ‘turn the page in favor of Asia’. Although, there soon surfaced fundamental disagreements over the question of the pace and direction in which the ‘page’ should be ‘turned’.
The process was significantly influenced by the material and non-material structures that developed in the wake of the Cold War. By formulating a policy of non-alignment, Nehru made the decision for India to stay aloof of the bloc-building. The Chinese Communists under Mao opted for an alignment with the socialist bloc under Soviet leadership. In Nehru’s view, Asia was a zone of peace, which had been trouble-free before the arrival of the colonial powers. In his understanding, it was not only India for whom the struggle for freedom was of importance but he believed that this struggle was the precursor for world-wide de-colonization (Rothermund 1989: 122). Nehru felt he had an obligation to be a leading figure in the struggle for Asian freedom and independence.
The Chinese Communists felt the same. However, their disdain for the colonial powers seemed to go even further than Nehru’s and their determination to secure their national sovereignty and help other countries obtain theirs was enforced by methods more radical: Their approach was revolution and, if need be, violent opposition to perceived imperialist aggression. Nevertheless, the years from 1949-1953 were marked by a mutual sizing-up between New Delhi and Beijing and both sides were working on establishing good-neighborly relations. The Chinese Communists were initially very watchful of the ‘bourgeois Nehru regime’. Albeit, Nehru’s support of the Chinese before the international community after the end of the Korean War in 1953 (Lawrance 1975: 39-40; Garver 2001: 48) as well as his de jure acceptance of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet in 1954 weakened the Chinese Communists’ suspicion of New Delhi (Norbu 2001: 285-286). A predominately friendly climate in Sino-Indian relations ensued in the period from 1954 to 1958.


After 1958, the friendly atmosphere between the two Asian giants gradually deteriorated. On the surface, the two sides carried out their differences over diverging historical maps, which ‘marked’ their common boundary. Beginning with the late 1950s, both sides continued to build up border posts along undelineated and officially undemarcated borderlines and engaged in innumerable skirmishes over overlapping territorial claims. In late 1962, a war ensued.
The individual analysis of both the Indian and the Chinese views of the conflict clearly shows that the countless violent military encounters between China and India (including the war in 1962) were less related to territorial matters and the boundary question than to questions of Weltanschauung and different interpretations of the meaning of freedom. In short: the war was mainly about matters of identity. Yet, a great many scholars and journalists refer to the Sino-Indian War of 1962 as the Sino-Indian Border War of 1962. This is a misunderstanding I seek to clarify.
Since perception on both sides played a dominant role in the escalation of conflict, it could be useful to analyze the Sino-Indian War from both the Indian and the Chinese perspectives to equal degrees. However, that would be a project of a scope this volume cannot cover. There already exist a few analytically valuable works, which analyze the decision-making process of the Indian government shortly before, during and just after the war. They have done much to clarify Nehru’s and his closest advisers’ role in the conflict and war.
Thus far, such work has not been possible for the Chinese side, as the current Chinese government still blocks access to relevant inside information. However, there are other ways and methods, which permit the analysis of facts and events that are closely related to the Sino-Indian War and that allow the drawing of conclusions about the essence of the Chinese Communists’ decision-making process. Hence, a reconstruction of the most probable scenario is possible also from a Chinese perspective. There have been several attempts to explain the Sino-Indian War in terms of ‘the Chinese view’, but they have rendered dissatisfying results. The question of concept-transferability is one aspect of my critique. Another related aspect pertains to the narrow focus on material structures dictated by the approaches taken. Thus, I feel there is a need to offer a new interpretation of ‘the Chinese side of the story’.
So far, there exists no single study that has tried to explain why China attacked Indian troops along the border on 20 October 1962 and not at some other time – which could have been more than possible, seeing that the conflict had existed for years prior to the Chinese attack. At least, it has never been done by using an actor-specific approach and by taking into account factors on the micro and two macro levels, while concentrating on non-material structures. I shall attempt to do so. I am aware that the consideration of factors on three levels of analysis must be selective and that this selectiveness will come at the price of leaving many – however important – aspects out. The role of Pakistan, for instance, which holds implications for Sino-Indian relations – especially after the end of the Sino-Indian War of 1962 – could not be taken into account. The same holds true for the Himalayan states of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, over which there was some rivalry between India and China concerning spheres of influence. Also, even though this book aims at considering both material and non-material structures, emphasis is put decidedly on the latter.

A core analytical assumption of this volume is that in order to explain the rationality of political decisions cross-culturally, there exists the need to apply the concept of individual rationality (Mitra 1999: 16). Actors all over the world will act according to what seems right or necessary to them (both rationally and emotionally); they will act rationally in the pursuit of their goals. Their goals, in turn, are subject to a certain culturally rooted preference order. However, no woman or man is absolutely free to pursue their goals and desires as they deem fit, as there are objective obstacles, whether of material or non-material nature. Thus, rational acting is only possible within certain boundaries and given restrictions.

Actors in the political arena can stretch these boundaries if they possess power. Conversely, they can be forced to remain within closely confined boundaries if they have less power. According to Max Weber, power is defined by the ability to be successful against the will of other people. Thus, he or she who is able to assert oneself against the opposition of others is said to have power. The same holds true for states in international relations. During the Cold War, this definition was interpreted strictly in material terms. The materialistic interpretation of power not only dominated the thinking of actors in the political arena, but also formed the analytical basis of scholarly works on international relations.

From its inception, the Cold War was a confrontation between contending ideologies – liberal capitalism and communism – which were not only in competition over the question which side was stronger, but which side was superior. Even if the contest between the two opposed camps was essentially non-material, it was fought out in the ‘material arena’. The reason for this material expression of power very likely rested on the observation that power is easier to measure in terms of economic strength and military might than in ideological or other non-material terms. The nuclear arms race between the USA and the Soviet Union constituted a case in point.

The focus on the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party as the PRC’s most important policy-maker will draw attention to the preponderance of ideas in the world-view of Mao Zedong. For Mao, the Cold War was first and foremost a matter of ideology; and the original Chinese Communists’ term – forged just after WWII – for the Cold War indicates the weight they attached to the psychological dimension of the bipolar world order: shenjingzhan, war of the nerves (Sheng 1997: 195).

In sum, this study pursues three goals: First, it seeks to provide a new interpretation of the outbreak of war with India on 20 October 1962 from the perspective of Mao Zedong. It will be shown that the war was a crisis that had two dimensions: On the one hand, Mao exploited the war for domestic purposes, this being a strategy he had made use of in the past. On the other hand, it was an expression of Mao’s ‘post-revolution anxiety’, a fear that haunted him for most of the 27 years he reigned over the PRC as Chairman of the Party. It was an anxiety that was directly connected to the possible loss of his legitimacy as undisputed charismatic leader of the CCP and to the possibility of the reversal of his permanent revolution (Chen 2001). Second, it aims at showing that the motives to attack Indian troops in that fall had much less to do with territorial concerns than has previously been thought. Third, this book seeks to represent an antithesis to works on Chinese foreign policy during the Mao era, which apply (neo-) realist and structural realist assumptions. Such approaches neutralize the role agents play in the making of history. They leave a “totalizing anti-historical structure” (Ashley 1984: 228) in which men and women are the objects, not the makers of their circumstances, and the dominant structures are not the social classes, but modern states.