American voice with Chinese accent

How panic and populism underwrite the crude binaries of U.S. assessments on the rise of China and India

August 13, 2012 11:30 pm | Updated 11:30 pm IST

CHINESE AND INDIAN STRATEGIC BEHAVIOR — Growing Power and Alarm: George J. Gilboy, Eric Heginbotham; Cambridge University Press, 4381/4, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 995

CHINESE AND INDIAN STRATEGIC BEHAVIOR — Growing Power and Alarm: George J. Gilboy, Eric Heginbotham; Cambridge University Press, 4381/4, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 995

Unprecedented growth rates of 10.1 and 6.2 per cent by 2.5 billion strong China and India for last thirty years make their ‘rise’ staple food for academic analyses and media commentaries around the world. Like in most things, the lead again is provided by the sole surviving superpower — the United States — except that mostly panic and populism seem to guide its assessments and initiatives which do not augur well for the long-term.

The book under review underlines three fundamental flaws in U.S. assessments. First, they assume continued growth on current trajectories of both China and India. Second, the bulk of research examines them either as country-studies-in-isolation or as perfectly amalgamated ‘Chindia’ with no cracks sapping their rising power and influence. And finally, most studies remain premised exclusively on ‘regime-type’ binaries rather than on empirical analysis of their actual track record. This is the vacuum that the book seeks to address and it does present a rather thought provoking perspective that is bound to ignite further debates.

Comparative framework

Gilboy and Heginbotham, both China-experts, employ side-by-side comparative framework to assess the strategic behaviour of China and India and the implications for the U.S. They examine this strategic behaviour in four areas: (a) strategic culture, (b) propensity to use force (c) trends in military modernisation, and (d) foreign economic engagements. Based on their detailed examination, they challenge the commonly held argument in the U.S. that while authoritarian China is an outlier in the international system, democratic India exhibits ‘natural’ alignment with U.S. strategic interests.

The authors highlight how the problem also lies with the increasing U.S. preoccupation with propagating ‘democracy’ as a panacea to all ills. This makes U.S. leaders view China and India as poles apart: India as commensurate with U.S. interests and China as a potential threat. Excessive interpretations of ‘democratic peace theory’ remain at the base of this flawed contradistinction. Recent U.S. interpretations of this theory go way beyond its tentative conclusion that ‘democracies do not fight one another’ and extrapolate that democracies are both internally orderly and externally more pacific and therefore ensure international peace in the long run.

Second, they underline how this hype of rising China and India remains confined to their trade-led development which is only gradually adding to their military modernisation and political influence. Even here, in terms of their relative economic power they remain far apart. Per capita GDP for year 2010, for U.S., China and India stood respectively at $ 47,000, $ 4,280 and $ 1,180 which leave a lot of catching up to be done. What makes it interesting is that till early 1980s, China and India had started from the same level except that China seems to be catching up fast. This worries India and the U.S. and brings them closer.

But is China’s rise really Chinese rise? About 60 per cent of China’s foreign trade is by ‘foreign’ investors who exploit China’s labour, environment and resources to earn profits for themselves. Notwithstanding all this, China’s rise has also resulted in reduced poverty levels from 84 per cent of its population in 1981 to 16 per cent by 2005 while India reduced it from 60 per cent to 42 per cent. This again makes the world stand up and take notice of China whereas India stays largely outside global scrutiny of a similar nature.

The book shows how most studies on China’s defence expenditures add up off-budget items (like military pensions, military R&D and paramilitary forces) and then calculate it in purchasing power parity to show it threateningly high. But measured in terms of either as percentage of GDP or share of national budget, India’s defence can be projected as far higher than that of China. Especially, in terms of weapons procurements, India can be projected as far ahead of China. Between 1980 and 2010, while India was the world’s largest importer with weapons procurement worth $65 billion, China ranked only fifth with its total imports of $33 billion (both in constant 1990 US dollars).

In politics as well, while both China and India do have starkly different domestic regimes — chaotic and slow-moving democracy versus adaptive and enduring authoritarian regime — most U.S. analysis, driven by this ‘regime type’ binary, end up making misleading projections. This book contends that in spite of some important specific differences, neither China nor India can be described as more prone to either realpolitik based use of force or offensive military doctrines, protectionism, or collaborating with rogue regimes for ensuring energy security.

Similarly in their military doctrines, where again the focus remains far more on China than India, both emphasise ‘offensive action at the operational level’, and generally ‘espouse aspirations that their respective forces cannot yet achieve.’ China may have scored higher in space, nuclear and missile technologies and even in amphibious warfare capabilities, yet in aircraft carriers and long-distance naval patrols, India remain far superior. India, on the other hand, has weaker industrial and manufacturing capabilities and it experiences significant political and bureaucratic disputes and delays in implementing its plans.

Optimism in caution

The book concludes that the broad patterns of Indian and Chinese strategic behaviour is not widely different and they do pose for the U.S. complex sets of dual challenges that must not be confused with simple singular challenge of balancing the rising China where India appears an ideal partner. They underline how, in many ways, the U.S. has shared common interests with both China and India. All three countries oppose religious extremism and terrorism, support the continued deepening of global economic integration, and are explicitly committed to a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Asia.

At the same time, the U.S. has conflict of interest with rising China and India when it comes to dealing with countries such as Iran, Myanmar and Sudan. Likewise, both China and India, while benefiting from U.S. leadership in the international system, work closely to shift it from US-led unipolar to multipolar international system and to ensure restraint on American power.

However, in the end, the book leaves the reader with a sense of a strong pro-China bias. This may be the result of their long exposure to China and none to India. While China is projected as a victim of anti-China populism, India ‘appears more eager than China to define a global role for itself as a player with major power status.’ Especially their repeated comparison of Taiwan and Kashmir betrays ignorance. Most interesting is their assessment that ‘most distinctly, the issues of Kashmir and Taiwan both challenge U.S. interests’ which extends their flawed understanding to their own motherland.

To say the least Taiwan is formally recognised as a sovereign state by over two-dozen nation-states. At times it becomes repetitive, too descriptive and even commonplace, yet their exhaustive research presents a new perspective.

CHINESE AND INDIAN STRATEGIC BEHAVIOR — Growing Power and Alarm: George J. Gilboy, Eric Heginbotham; Cambridge University Press, 4381/4, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 995

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