M. K. Bhadrakumar
China's rise has been singularly dramatic. Its extraordinary economic growth has begun transforming the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region. China is embroiled in a host of problems at home. All the same, there is immense interest in seeing how the surge of Chinese power and influence is going to play out.
Interwoven with it is the angst that the United States' “unipolar moment” might be coming to an end. While the Europeans see the rising China as an economic opportunity, the Americans perceive it as an economic threat. As the balance of economic power in Asia is shifting in favour of China, the U.S. watches with nervousness. As China's GDP rises, the countries on its periphery get irresistibly drawn into its economic orbit, attracted by the hugeness of its market.
The Rise of China — Implications for India speaks of an imperative need to “counterbalance” China and advocates an alliance system under U.S. leadership to achieve it. The volume presents a collection of essays as part of a “project”, portraying that China is bent on preventing the rise of other regional powers — especially Japan and India — “in order to attain primacy” in the Asia-Pacific, “concentrating on the accretion of military might”, and “changing the military balance in Asia and beyond”.
Harsh Pant, editor of the volume, is convinced that, as China grapples with intractable internal problems, its “communist political regime” would be constrained to use nationalism as a tool to divert domestic public attention and tempted to rely on “targeting its external adversaries and India, in many ways, presents an easy target.”
The Sino-Indian relationship is already strained and an arms race is certain, and he would, therefore, argue that India's strategic interests would be served by an Asia-Pacific arrangement “where the U.S. retains its predominant status.” On its part, the U.S. happens to favour a strong bilateral alliance with India to “act as a bulwark against the arc of Islamic instability running from the Middle East to Asia and to create a much greater balance in Asia.” Yet, Pant doesn't let us into his secret as to how America's tryst with “Islamic instability” could be the leitmotif of a U.S.-India “alliance”.
The book imposes a fundamentalist viewpoint. It overlooks the geopolitics of the U.S.'s “return to Asia” and blithely assumes that Uncle Sam is all dressed up in military fatigue raring to fight the Chinese dragon. The essays in it, though, do not necessarily bear out Pant's thesis, and some of them present eclectic views that reject his opinions. There is a fine piece by Bibek Debroy comparing the reform programmes of China and India and explaining how China ended up “far ahead of India, including virtually in every economic sector.”
Again, Varaprasad Dolla gives an engrossing account of domestic politics in China, where the political logic of economic development is to derive legitimacy for state power; there has been a “steady retreat of the state in regulating society”; and the communist party itself has been going through a “process of transition and transformation.”
Two American contributors — David Scott and Elliot Sperling — have respectively handled with extraordinary candour the India-China border dispute and the Tibet problem. The border dispute is a can of worms and Scott argues that “some sort of trade off involving Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh seems the most likely way forward,” while Tawang remains “problematic.” But then, the crux of the matter is also that India has “refused to lay out its formal position, other than the reiteration of its full claims.”
The book, however, fails to ask some honest questions. How far are Asian countries interested in a Pax Americana? How threatening is the Sino-Pak military cooperation for India's security? What prompts China to develop a Silk Road through South Asian countries into the Indian Ocean? Surely, the military modernisation of China and India has a greater logic in our troubled world than just their mutual tensions.
Going up the greasy pole of the world order isn't going to be easy for China and India — the two world powers that accounted for 40 per cent of global trade in the mid-19th century but were thrown out of the pedestal. The fact is that the steady shift in the locus of global power to Asia threatens to end some five or six centuries of dominance by the western world. And the West isn't going to roll over. “Projects” like ‘The Rise of China: Implications for India' fudge the great game. That brings us to a puzzle: What is the “Project” really about? The best part is that the Indian establishment wasn't even remotely associated with it.