Rediff Navigator News


Capital Buzz

The Rediff Poll


Crystal Ball

Click Here

The Rediff Special


Commentary/Rajeev Srinivasan

The dragon and the elephant

A manifesto for coexisting with our esteemed, but unstable and dangerous northern neighbour

Now that the hoopla over Deng Xiaopeng's death is behind us, and the eulogies are, thankfully, over, it is appropriate to take a hard, long look at India's strategy vis-a-vis China. Deng's reign was an example of the kind of regime that works for China -- ruthless central authority, like the imperial dynasties under which it prospered, never mind such niceties as personal freedoms.

India needs to deal with these king-emperors by clearly pronouncing her power equation with China. We have failed dismally so far. We cannot afford to muddle on for long, because in the perception/marketing game that diplomacy is, India is falling far behind China.

The Chinese word 'kowtow' means an abject obeisance, the kind of thing a vassal entity does when confronted by its master. Last year's visit to India by Jiang Zemin, the strongman of China, showed Indian leaders kowtowing for all their worth. Zemin came, he saw, he conquered: Like a Caesar visiting a minor serfdom. It was absolutely appalling.

For several reasons: one, that obsequiousness does not win (and nor does it deserve) any respect. Second, it is by no means certain that China is going to the incredible superpower (economic and military) everybody claims it is going to be. Third, here finally is a cause in which the US, Japan and India can see eye to eye: 'containing' dangerously imperialistic China.

First, on the issue of posturing and bluster, it is clear that might is right. The primary reason that China is seen as a force in global matters is that it has military (and nuclear) power, and it has demonstrated that it will use it. It has taken on the Soviets (in a tense stand-off across the Ussuri River), the Americans (in wars in Vietnam and Korea) and world opinion (in Tibet, in state-authorized intellectual property thefts, in Tiananmen Square, and in bullying Taiwan).

India is seen as a scold, a shrill, hectoring nation that pontificates on all sorts of moral issues, but in reality is a nonentity. In my personal opinion, the most important foreign policy signal India has given in years is the resolute, and absolutely correct, stand on the CTBT. For once India did not preach: She simply declared she had interests she would stand behind. Kudos, Arundhati Ghose!

The Chinese have always looked after their own interests, morality be damned. In fact, this is the way all major powers function. You create an easily voiced vision, and stick with it through thick and thin. In the case of India, it should be quite simple: absolute regional supremacy in South Asia and among the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. My nationalist friend Bapa Rao calls this Pax Indica -- what a lovely idea!

India has suffered for centuries from having no well-articulated national purpose. Ask yourself why the Chinese harnessed their energies and built a Great Wall, fifteen hundred miles long, to keep out invaders. Yet we did not, although we knew with absolute certainty that every twenty years or so some invader would come down the Khyber and Bolan passes, to loot and rape and pillage.

Alexander of Macedonia, the Scythians, Mohammed of Ghori, Mahmud of Gazni, Tamurlane, Nadir Shah, Babur the Mughal -- every last one of them came down those self-same passes. We did not have the simple wits to build a Great Wall of India, which could have been a mere fifteen miles long. Because we did not have a sense of purpose, and we had a crisis in leadership.

In an incisive commentary in The Times of India, defense analyst K Subrahmanyam spoke of the 'Panipat Syndrome': How Indians never engaged invading forces by heading them off at the mountain passes, but waited until they had reached Panipat -- 40 miles from Delhi. Then, mad panic and ineffectiveness, followed by a crushing defeat. A devastating lack of strategic sense, in either offense or defense.

Today, as a modern nation, we can and should have a purpose. It is now or never. India has to make up a mythology that it is her manifest destiny to control Southern Asia and the Indian Ocean sea-lanes around us. We need to form an Indian Ocean alliance with Southern Africa and ASEAN, and demand to be taken seriously as an Asia-Pacific power. In fact, if we deploy the Agni missile and satellite-based command and control, India can possibly police the entire ocean.

This may sound preposterous, but it is far more likely to bring dividends than our current policy of wimpish obeisance and mealy-mouthed verbosity. Pax Indica, the major powers (i e, the US, Russia, China, Japan and Germany) can deal with. They would work their policies to take this into account as a ground reality. Sigh! Where is the wily Chanakya when we need him?

Second, we have all been taken in by Chinese propaganda about their alleged march towards superpowerdom. Any day now, scream the headlines, the Chinese economy will overtake America's. Rubbish! People are extrapolating from the last ten years of China's growth and assuming this will continue ad infinitum. Economics is not that simple. There are points of diminishing returns that will come back to bite these valiant prognosticators.

In particular, the infrastructure in China is not quite suitable for moving up the value chain. Their ill-educated and surplus labor (according to The Economist, up to 100 million peasants displaced from their farms form a permanent, underemployed underclass in their cities), their poor roads, ports and airports, and their restive minority populations make China less impressive than it might appear. The economy is most suited to labor-intensive, relatively low-value production.

The tensions between China's regions is legendary: the booming southern coast does not wish to share its prosperity with the depressed northern hinterland. In Tibet, there is a simmering revolt. In Xinjiang, the Uighur Muslim population occasionally explodes in bloody rebellion -- ironically, the very Karakoram Highway that the Chinese built to export arms to Pakistan may be importing radical Islamic sentiments back to Urumqui. China's internal cohesion is more myth than reality.

It is true that today the Chinese trade surplus with the US is increasing rapidly, and that the US seems incapable of asserting its will against questionable Chinese trade practices. Part of this is based on genuine Sinophilia among US companies, who have invested in China and now face increasingly onerous technology-transfer conditions imposed on their operations.

Beijing is no longer quite the darling amongst US industrialists that it has been. Many are now aware of the fact that profits are hard to come by in China. The non-existent legal system, which means there is little recourse for resolving disputes, and the cavalier disregard for contracts, are beginning to irritate. Even more so, the blatant violations of intellectual property rights and the straightforward theft of technology are becoming real concerns for US industry.

This leads to the third point: a shift in the American mood towards China. The honeymoon may be over, despite the efforts of Henry Kissinger et al. There is an increasingly acrimonious debate amongst the American public about Chinese involvement and interference in their internal affairs.

Wall Street might have soured on China. As early as 1995, lead articles in the Wall Street Journal have sounded warnings about China's hostile and anti-American stance. Even the Far Eastern Economic Review, hitherto a major cheer-leader and one of the most starry-eyed of the Hong Kong English media, has become less complimentary. Since the global money-men of Wall Street are more powerful than mere nations, all this does not bode well for China.

There is also talk of impeaching President Clinton based on allegations that he received large, illegal campaign contributions from, among others, the Chinese army's civilian front organisations. And reciprocated with kid-glove treatment of Chinese interests. This would be immoral and unlawful. Red-blooded Americans don't like this at all: treason, they cry.

There is also the small matter of a $200 million fund used, allegedly, by the Chinese to 'buy' Congressmen and Senators. Apparently, the FBI has a list of contacts, and the National Security Agency is worrying about 'moles' on Capitol Hill. Most recently, there has been a big fuss over the Chinese Overseas Shipping Company's effort (it is owned by the Chinese army) to take over an old naval base in Long Beach near Los Angeles, supposedly to ship civilian goods.

Unexplained are the two truck-loads of weapons - -military items like grenade-launchers and assault rifles--that has been found recently in nearby San Diego: it was bound for Mexico. Reports in US newspapers suggest that these arms caches with an unknown destination--drug traffickers, separatist rebels, whatever -- were of Chinese origin, and had somehow bypassed normal customs checks. Americans are beginning to wonder: is it the Red Menace redux?

One might attribute that to the paranoia of the hoi-polloi, but there is more--a recent book by Ronald Reagan's secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger: The Next War. He paints five war scenarios that are highly likely, and one of them is a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in 1998. Another book, by journalists Richard Bernstein and Ross Munro, The Coming Conflict with China, talks about how China is 'an unsatisfied and ambitious power whose goal is to dominate Asia'.

Well, Indians -- stung by Chinese perfidy in 1962 -- knew this already. But the point is Americans have, for unfathomable reasons, viewed China with rose-colored glasses for years. Maybe now they are beginning to look at it as a serious military rival. An analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative US think tank, wrote in the Wall Street Journal about China's new DF-15 missiles with global-positioning-satellite-based pinpoint accuracy: A non-trivial threat to US naval ships.

All this is leading to a re-evaluation by Americans of the role that China will play in Asia; and this means they have to look for allies to 'contain' China. The most obvious allies would be Japan and India, both of whom face dire threats from the Chinese. If the Americans were to take India seriously, especially with her newly promulgated Pax Indica doctrine, then we would have the beginnings of a beautiful relationship.

So there you have it: one man's view of how a resurgent India should deal with her dangerous neighbour: instead of bending over backwards to appease a bully -- this is manifestly futile -- India should stand up to China, not yielding on any issue of significance to her. India should then build alliances with concerned neighbours to create a flanking attack on China, given that China is too powerful to take on in a frontal assault. Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz would approve.

In all honesty, the outcome of such a strategy couldn't possibly be worse than our hitherto fruitless policy of self-abasement. There are great similarities between Germany between the two world wars and with China today. In Munich in 1939, Britain's Chamberlain gave away Czechoslovakia to appease Germany ('We have peace in our time'!). It didn't work then. Appeasing China won't work today. China understands resolve and firmness. Those must be India's watchwords.

Rajeev Srinivasan is marketing director for a San Francisco Area multinational. He also contributes columns to India Currents and The Sunday Observer.

Tell us what you think of this column

Rajeev Srinivasan

Home | News | Business | Sport | Movies | Chat
Travel | Planet X | Freedom | Computers

Copyright 1997 Rediff On The Net
All rights reserved