Indians sceptical of China`s policy towards Asia, India: Poll

Last Updated: Monday, May 20, 2013 - 15:41

Melbourne: As Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived to a red carpet welcome in New Delhi, a new poll released here on Monday found Indians were "deeply apprehensive" of China`s ambitions in Asia and its policy towards the country.

A large majority of 83 percent Indians considered China a security threat, said the poll, jointly conducted by the Lowy Institute and Australia India Institute (AII).

The poll was supported by MacArthur Foundation.

The poll found that multiple reasons for this mistrust, including China`s possession of nuclear weapons, competition for resources in third countries, China`s efforts to strengthen its relations with other countries in the Indian Ocean region and the China-India border dispute.

Although China has become India`s largest trading partner, only 31 percent of Indians agree that China`s rise has been good for India but in responding to China`s rise.

While 65 percent agreed India should join other countries to limit China`s influence yet a similar number of 64 percent agree that India should cooperate with China to play a leading role in the world.

`India Poll 2013: Facing the Future`, which surveyed 1233 Indians, was carried out late last year and much before last month`s incursion by Chinese troops in Ladakh.

"It found that a big majority of Indians surveyed in a new opinion poll see China as a security threat," said Amitabh Mattoo, the director of AII.

"The poll suggests that Indians are deeply apprehensive about the perceived threats posed by China, but most want better relations with Beijing and would welcome a reconciliatory move towards Pakistan by the Indian political leadership," Mattoo said.

But while there is great warmth for the US, and discomfort at China`s rise, there is ambiguity in the Indian response to any plans to contain China, said authors of the poll, who described it as "the most comprehensive survey of Indian public opinion in recent years."

Predictably, there continues to be deep concern within India about possible terrorist attacks from Pakistan as well as the motives of the Pakistan Army, but a courageous reconciliatory move towards Islamabad by an Indian Prime Minister would invite widespread domestic support.

The poll also suggests that anti-Americanism, once a defining feature of Indian public opinion, is now part of history. Indians, not only, feel more warmly towards the US than any other country, but see it as a role model in terms of governance.

Over all, Indians feel relatively secure, are optimistic about the future, but concerned about issues of governance and sensitive to the non-traditional threats to their security.

Nearly 63 percent of Indians would like relations with China to strengthen as compared to 75 percent who wanted Indo-US ties to strengthen further over the next 10 years, according to the poll.

An overwhelming majority of 94 percent of Indians saw Pakistan as a threat, citing terrorism as a major reason while 31 percent thought the US posed a threat to India, the poll found.

Even so, 89 percent of Indians agreed that ordinary people in both countries wanted peace and 87 percent agreed that a big improvement in India-Pakistan relations requires courageous leadership on both sides, and 76 percent agreed that India should take the initiative.

The poll also confirms the `argumentative` Indians` great faith in democracy.

The Director of the International Security programme at the Lowy Institute, Rory Medcalf said, "With Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visiting India this week, the poll results suggest that China and India face major challenges in achieving trust and cooperation."

The poll found that Indians were more united when it came to Indian power and leadership in an ocean that is seen as India`s natural sphere of interest. An overwhelming 94 percent of Indians agreed that India should have the most powerful navy in the Indian Ocean and 89 percent agreed that India should do more to lead cooperation in that region.

Indians have clear views about which countries they would prefer as security partners in the Indian Ocean.

The US fares best, with 72 percent agreeing it can be a good partner for India in the Indian Ocean, the poll said.

Despite some frictions in India-China relations, a sizable 39 percent of Indians agreed that China can be a good partner for India in the Indian Ocean.

On issues like corruption, the poll found an overwhelming majority of 94 percent consider there to be a lot of corruption in the country, and a similar majority (92 percent) considers the level of corruption to have increased over the past five years.

Asked to agree or disagree with a range of statements about corruption, an overwhelming majority of Indians (96 percent) agreed corruption was holding India back, with 78 percent holding this view strongly.

Similar proportions agreed that reducing corruption should be a top priority for the Indian government, with 94 percent agreeing and 73 percent doing so strongly.

Only 74 percent Indians were optimistic about prospects for their economy while a small majority of 56 percent saw themselves as economically better off than five years ago.

Aroung 18 percent felt worse off and 27 percent did not think their economic situation has changed.

Most Indians saw major problems looming and shortages of energy, water and food, along with climate change, registered as the most important challenges, with 80-85 percent Indians rating these issues as `big threats` to their country`s security.

Other issues rated as big threats by large majorities of Indians include possible war with Pakistan (77 percent), home-grown terrorism (74 percent), foreign jihadist attacks (74 percent), possible war with China (73 percent) and a continuing Maoist insurgency (71 percent).

PTI



First Published: Monday, May 20, 2013 - 15:41

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