Stemming China?

By Dr. D.K. Giri. Dated: 11/9/2017 11:14:38 AM

"China rises to Conquer" was the catchphrase that echoed around the world, mainly in Asia, after Xi Jinping became the exalted leader of the Communist Party of China at the 19th Congress last month. Buoyed by nationalism and capitalism, twin pillars of Xi's ideology, China aspires for a world role. It seeks to fill the spot vacated by the US that looks more inward, and withdraws from positions of influence. Beijing's strategic thinking is, in the absence of US backing, its neighbours would take an accommodative stance. China is putting this thinking into test by means of both inducements and pressure.
As the investments from Japan and the western countries dwindle, China is stepping into extending loan or investment to the developing countries, mainly in the Asia. Nepalese Ambassador to India Deep Upadhyay said in a seminar: "we have kith-and-kin relation with India, but we would like tap the surplus money that China has."
India faces the brunt of Chinese world ambition, and its jealousy as a competitor in Asia. Beijing wants to scuttle India's regional and global rise. For the fourth time, it has blocked India, the US and other countries' bid to list the mastermind of Pathankot terror attack Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. It plans to build Pakistan at par with India. The China-Pakistan axis is precisely meant to stem India, in Asia's new geo-politics. Some observers in both these countries would say that their friendship is "deeper than the ocean, and taller than the mountains". These are, of course, political hyperboles, there are no permanent friends or foes in international politics, it is the national interest that guides relations.
On the other hand, China is abrasive in diplomacy, not making any sacrifices to install itself in the leadership position. It should open its markets, take a magnanimous position on territorial disputes, be firm with volatile leadership of North Korea and so on. The economic and security concerns vis-à-vis Beijing have not abated. Therefore, India should prepare itself economically, militarily and diplomatically for a long-term rivalry with it.
How is New Delhi preparing to deal with Beijing? Two current initiatives merit mention in this context. One is the recent visit of Bhutan king Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck last week with his wife queen and one-year-old crown prince. The visit was significant for at least two reasons. It followed the 73-day Doklam standoff between Indian and Chinese armies. Second, Thimpu is New Delhi's close friend. India is Bhutan's largest trading partner, 82% of Bhutan's total imports are accounted for by India and 90% of its exports come to India.
Prime Minister Modi, after assuming office, chose Bhutan to be his first visit abroad. Bhutan does not have diplomatic contact with China. But Beijing wants to bypass New Delhi, in dealing with Thimpu. New Delhi will want to thwart this maneuver, hosted the king to review the 'whole gamut of relations', and to discuss preparation for the golden jubilee celebration of diplomatic ties in 2018.
New Delhi has two other projects with Bhutan, one strategic, and the other economic. It has mooted the idea of BIMSTEC - Bay of Bengal initiative for multi-sectoral, technical and economic co-operation. This project is conceived as an alternative to SAARC, which is defunct owing to irreconcilable differences between India and Pakistan on cross-border terrorism etc.
Bhutan is the key partner in this initiative. BIMSTEC comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. These countries constitute 21% of the world population, totaling 1.5 billion people, and have the GDP of $2.5 trillion. The second is to tap into the huge potential of hydel power in Bhutan.
After India's flip-flop on Tibet under Nehru, Bhutan remains the buffer between the Asian two big powers, hence becoming the key to India's China strategy. Let us recall that Tibet was kept as a buffer between India and China by the British, but Nehru gave away all our influence on it, without reciprocal guarantees from Beijing. Now, New Delhi considers Tibetans as a State-in-exile, where as Beijing treats Tibet as one of its provinces. India's support to and perception of Tibet is like crying over spilt milk. Be that as it may, New Delhi cannot afford to equivocate or fumble on Bhutan, and must avoid repeating the blunder.
The other grand strategy New Delhi is contemplating is in fact, the brainchild of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who just won a landslide victory to run the fourth term in office. This is the policy of Quadrilateralism involving Japan, US, India and Australia. The project was conceived in 2007, but got aborted next year as Australia developed cold feet not to antagonise China. After the resounding victory in the elections, and in the wake of North Korean missile threat, backed tacitly by China, Abe has revived the project, and other three countries have responded positively.
This is Abe's pet project in Asian Multilateralism. Obviously, China's unilateralism and expansionism drive makes other Asian powers to band together. In an interview, Japanese foreign minister said, "Japan will propose a top-level dialogue with the US, India, and Australia to promote free-trade and defence cooperation across Indian Ocean, from South China Sea to Africa." Japan would like to see deep and substantive cooperation among the four on defence, maritime security and infrastructure development. In 2007, Abe had foreseen an "arc of freedom and prosperity along the outer rim of the Eurasian continent."
The 'Quad', a broader Asian network will allow the free flow of people, goods, capital and knowledge. Its principle is shared and established only the purpose and process have to evolve. For the US, they withdrew from the G-2 joint leadership with China, and wanted to install India as a pivot to their Asia strategy. For New Delhi, it is an extension of joint military exercise called "Exercise Malabar". It was initially between US and India, Japan later joined as a permanent member; Australia and Singapore also have sent their warships. China calls Quad the Asian 'NATO'.
In response to Tokyo's revived initiative on 'Quad', India, unlike in the past, has responded readily. The closer India-Japan relation, what I call Japindia vs Chinpak has helped the new initiative progress fast. New Delhi has stated unambiguously that it will be open to any move that aligns with India's interest and promotes its view point. Although Japindia predate NaMo, he has added greater depth and substance. Tokyo would like to look beyond the US, and India beyond non-alignment. New Delhi is ready to embark on any complex geo-political jousting in Asia in order to advance its interest. However, Anthony Yazaki, an expert on India-Japan relations, comments, "for India, embracing Japan is work in progress". But, it is on the right track.
On containing China, New Delhi can out-manoeuver Beijing. Admittedly, India, as of now, does not have the financial wherewithal to compete in a like-for-like fashion, observed Andrew Small, of German Marshall Fund an expert of China, US and Pakistan relations. In South-Asia India, does not have outside partners to contain China which makes forays. The OBOR - One Belt-One-Road, the biggest Chinese power game, is not met with any collective response. 'Quad' may provide one.
Significantly, India is embedded in a network of strategic relationships, unlike China, which will surely, have an edge. That is precisely Beijing's concern.
Finally, India could play the Chinese game. China took Japanese and Western investment, by offering its cheap labour, India could do the same. China promises $85 billion investment in India. So, for India, it need not be a zero-sum geo-politics with China. India could manoeuver some of the development accruing out of China's wealth to India's advantage.
At the end of the day, all these boil down to deft diplomacy. Abe said after his election victory, "strong support at home, helps one pursue bold policy abroad." Can NaMo say the same after De Mo, GST clutter, and religious vigilantism etc?
(The author is Prof. International Politics, JMI)



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