May 28, 2001


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Children of a Lesser

Rajeev Srinivasan

Dancing with wolves: India and the rogue states

This has been an interesting spring; I am generally in a good mood at this time of the year. I was in rural Britain for a while; and both that and San Francisco are excellent places to enjoy springtime. The manicured lawns and meadows and fields and hedgerows and parks in the UK always amaze me: so bucolically pretty for a rogue nation whose prosperity rides on having beggared half the world! Seldom have so few stolen so much from so many!

On arriving in California, I enjoyed the cherry blossoms in the Golden Gate Park; and the lovely purple wildflower whose name I do not know was blooming along the highways. I started writing this column in mid-April; but I am now finishing it on the Memorial Day weekend, and much has happened in the meantime. All in all, a good spring!

This year I have good reasons to be pleased. For something I have been shouting myself hoarse about for a long time, the long-awaited containment, encircling of China with a cordon sanitaire, seems to be in the works. I do hope this is not a flash in the pan, but an explicit and strategic approach that will put paid to China's dreams of a Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, also known as the empire China covets.

I mean, of course, the American statements about moving forward with their Nuclear Missile Defence and Theatre Missile Defence systems. They made no bones about the fact that this is aimed at China, not at poor, bankrupt Russia. US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage went to India to 'consult'. George W Bush's annoyance at China has resulted in swift action, in the form of strong support for Taiwan and sales of weapons systems; China may lose its chance to host the Olympics, as well as find obstacles in its accession to the World Trade Organization.

India's explicit, some may say ecstatic, support of the US government's proposals has caught many observers by surprise. There was certainly an element of unseemly haste, but it has an extremely significant aspect to it that the sceptics in India did not catch. That India is finally saying, ideology be damned, let us look after our own selfish interests. I hope this is the beginning of a trend. It is in India's strategic interests to contain China just as China has contained us. George Fernandes was right, after all, in identifying them as our number one threat.

And India cannot do the containment alone: it needs to ally with Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Russia, Myanmar, Korea and of course the United States, to achieve the total encirclement of China. With India's growing ability to police the Indian Ocean sea-lanes controlling the flow of oil to Japan and China, the US would like to use India as an ally in possibly applying a choke-hold on China, should there be economic warfare with China at some point in the near future.

Of course, China has the same idea: to have Japan by the short and curlies by controlling shipping in the South China Sea. Apart from any mineral rights in the Paracels and Spratlys and Mischief Reef, China's bluster there has been intended to serve notice that it is the hegemon in the South China Sea and can disrupt Japan's economy at will.

The potential effect on China has not gone unnoticed by China's fifth columnists in India. Reader Ashish sent me an editorial in a famous newspaper that bemoaned the alleged fact that India had now lost its 'strategic autonomy' and become a puppet of the US. Why, asked the editorial, didn't India support China in the brouhaha with the US over the downed spy plane? For good measure, they continued, why didn't India support the Palestinians against Israel?

The short answer: It is none of our business. Whether the US and China shoot each other's planes down, or the Israelis and Palestinians are beastly to each other, we don't give a rat's ass unless our national interests are affected. We are, you see, no longer the hectoring, shrill voice of the Non-Aligned Movement: the Third World can go fly a kite. The diplomatic answer: We desire peace in the Pacific and West Asia, and we hope they settle their differences amicably.

There were others who worry about how China would be upset by India's acceptance of the American dogma. Oh, really, and what will they do? Arm Pakistan? Try to cripple India's nuclear and missile capabilities by lobbying in multilateral fora like the CTBT? Turn Myanmar into a listening post? Support insurgents? Guess what, they have been doing everything they could possibly do to hurt India; they couldn't possibly do any worse. Yes, I know this is an assumption: but let them see there is some cost to their adventurism.

India's 'secular' 'progressives' have been so influenced by Jawaharlal Nehru that they cannot get beyond his view of China as an invincible conqueror. Wake up and smell the coffee, boys and girls: 1962 was a debacle only because Nehru and Krishna Menon screwed up. This is true even though I do not fully buy Neville Maxwell's words on which imply that India was, in a bizarre way, the aggressor. When the Chinese attacked Vietnam in 1979, the small but determined Vietnamese army, battle-hardened and self-confident, tore the great People's Liberation Army to shreds, forcing them to retreat.

I have no illusions about the benignity of America's intentions towards India. As in the famous dictum, we have no permanent allies, only permanent interests. Our paramount interest now is security, followed by economic growth. And I say that advisedly, because we cannot have prosperity without physical security. I have repeatedly said this in previous columns, see The End of Nuclear Virginity.

This is where China has been the biggest thorn in our flesh: it sustains Pakistan, which it has publicly referred to as "China's Israel" -- that is, a smaller power that it uses for leverage by arming and supporting it. China has discovered to its delight that it can easily hobble India by merely supplying Pakistan with a relatively small amount of money, say $1 billion a year, in the form of small arms, tanks, nuclear-capable M-11 missiles, semi-knocked-down nuclear bombs, and the wherewithal and know-how to build some of these things.

Magnified by Pakistani hatred and leveraged by their burgeoning, unemployed/unemployable and Wah'abi-Deobandi-brainwashed surplus youth, the Chinese $1 billion turns into $10 billion worth of trouble for India. A terrific return on investment, indeed. If China were to stop supplying Pakistan, the holy war in Jammu & Kashmir would end within weeks, and we all know this.

Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji's recent visit to Pakistan to commemorate 50 years of China-Pakistan ties emphasized that this mutually profitable little arrangement will continue for the foreseeable future -- there were pledges of eternal friendship. There is no negative consequence to China for abetting Pakistani mischief against India, and so they will continue to indulge in it. Anything that causes China to pay a price is therefore welcome. Containment is one such.

Of course, the Chinese may rue their closeness with Pakistan when Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang secede, enflamed by fundamentalist Islam imported from the Taleban and Pakistan over the Karakoram Highway. That would be poetic justice, but for the moment they are enjoying the pluses and not worrying about the minuses.

I believe the Chinese made a major miscalculation in provoking the Americans over the downed spy plane. I have consistently talked about China being a middling power (see my previous column China Doesn't Matter) which has delusions of grandeur and has mastered the art of diplomatic theatre: of bluster, bluff and blather without substance. They have begun to believe their own propaganda about how the American economy needs them more than they need the Americans.

This is patently hogwash: for, after all, the balance of trade is $80 billion in China's favour. That is, China takes away $80 billion from the US each year. So what will happen if America decides to impose a trade embargo? China will lose $80 billion in sales and be left with a mountain of their low-end goods (Reader Manny called it "rubber dogshit from Hong Kong") that nobody else has the demand to consume -- China will have to dump it at fire-sale prices and lose billions. And the US can source it from other low-cost countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and India, if not instantly, in a short while.

And what will that do to the US middle class? It will raise the prices of a lot of things like toys, small electronic goods, trinkets, low-end clothing, etc. But since when is the US government worried about the pocketbooks of the consumer? America's mercantilist system worries only about the interests of big business. And after all, George W Bush has four years before he has to worry about facing the voter again.

Part II: The Chinese will blink

Rajeev Srinivasan

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