India And China

Shifting Gravity in Asia

Aloke Mukherjee

The two main players in   Asian Opera today are China, a socialist country turned capitalist, and India, a semi-colonial semi-feudal country with expansionist ambition.

It is true that both the countries are acting in a concrete geo-political setting that has developed along with the current world crisis, economic and political. The 'New World Order' that the USA sought to establish has already brought the world into a new disorder. Capitalist development is facing newer crises throughout the world. Understanding the situation under which the drama is being enacted necessitates a brief discussion of the crises faced by the so-called 'developed' countries.

The European Union has failed to stem the crises of its member countries and is now in disarray. Because of the gluts in the market, industries in Europe are curtailing production or closing their shops. The condition of the USA is not much different. According to a recent survey by Booz & Co "an average US car is currently more than 10 years old and logged more than 100000 miles." Unemployment in the European Union countries as well as in the USA is high, as demonstrated by the following statistics:
Country                Rate of                Time
                      Unemployment       Period
European Union     11.1              July, 2012
France                    10.7          October, 2012
Germany                5.5          October, 2012
Greece                  27.0       Novermber, 2012
Italy                         11.1           October, 2012
Norway               3.0           September, 2012
UK                        7.9                April, 2013
USA                      7.5                April, 2013

The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan by the NATO forces led by the USA , instead of helping the aggressors tide over their problems, have actually accentuated their problems. The situation is such that the USA is now trying to reach an agreement directly with the Taliban forces in Afghanistan, keeping its Afghan ally Hamid Karjai in the dark. Iran has become a hot potato for the US and its all lies. They are so committed to take actions against Iran that finding an honourable settlement (read retreat) is very difficult for them. In this scenario, the USA has come out with a new theme—"Look East". They are trying to overcome the grave crisis by increasing their trade with and investments in Asia, and for this purpose, they are most interested in India and China. Moreover, to protect what precious little they have achieved in the Middle-East, they want to control the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region.

Recent developments in Russia and China have further complicated the geo-political situation. Vladimir Putin has declared the aim of rearming the Russian armed forces and asserted that by the next decade Russia will be strong enough to be among the five mightiest powers in the world. Russia has also entered an alliance with China and some other countries, and has been trying to persuade India to be part of it. India has not joined them but agreed to be part of the economic and trading activities of the alliance. Both Russia and China are opposed to US actions against Iran. Of late, both countries have also opposed US efforts for a 'regime change' in Syria.

Meanwhile China has declared the South China Sea as her area of core interest, has highly increased her military spending and has started developing her military capability on a large scale. Afraid of such new alignments, the USA has increased her military expenditure on armament production to 700 billion dollars a year. This increase might help the USA to create jobs in armament industries, but given the economic crisis, she has to borrow to keep the projects growing. But where can she borrow? The gravity of the situation has been aptly pointed out by Mark Thompson in the Time magazine (25. 4. 2011). "It points to an almost tragic irony of Washington's & 700 billion annual appetites from military stores; we are borrowing cash from China to pay for weapons that we could presumably use against it. If the Chinese want to slay us, they don't need to attack us with missiles. They just have to call in their loans".

It is against this scenario that the two main actors of Asia are playing their roles.

String of Pearls
'String of pearls' are the ports and /or the naval facilities developed by China in the Indian Ocean region. Besides these strings, there are, of course, rings, bracelets, pendants etc. The USA has Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean region. As a countermove, China has developed naval facilities in the Sychilles, though her declared objective is to stop piracy in the high seas. In Pakistan, China is constructing a port at Gwador near Karachi. Moreover, China is building up ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Mynamar.

Similarly India offered to build a port at Sittway in Mynamar. It has also signed a treaty to develop jointly with Iran a port at Chabahar. India herself has a number of naval facilities on both the eastern and western coasts of her territory and in the Andaman and Nikobar Islands.

The geographical position of Sri Lanka is very important for any power willing to secure control over the Indian Ocean. From her socialist days, China looked upon Sri Lanka as a friend of strategic importance. On the other hand, with Diego Garcia and having the Phillipines, Pakistan and at times India as allies, the USA and other western powers did not pay much attention to this island. As regards India, it should be noted that even after the IPKF fiasco( 1987-89), successive governments of Sri Lanka always consulted with India in their war with the LTTE. Gothbhaya Rajapakse, brother of Srilanka's president Mahinda Rajapakse, has stated cetegorically: "The President went out of the way to keep briefed on developments at all times. In addition, a special bilateral committee was set up at the highest level, including the then Senior Presidential Adviser Basil Rajapakse, Secretary to the President Lalith Basil Rajapakse and myself as Defence Secretary from the Sri Lankan side, and former National Security Adviser MK Narayanan , the then Foerign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and the then Defence Secretary Vijay Singh on the Indian side. This Troika had continuous discussions and ensured that sensitive issues were dealth with as soon as they arose." [Quoted by M G Devashayan, The Statesman, June 2013]

In this situation, India and China, the two actors, are competing with each other economically, politically ancl diplomatically in order to exercise influence on Sri Lanka. This is illustrated by the table below in which commitments of loans and grants to Sri Lanka in 2012 by different countries are shown :
In million US dollars
India–700.34            China–1056.21
USA–5.10                   France–28.20
UK–44.14                  Germany–39.69
Japan–523.97           Netherlands–102.50
World Bank–395.31
Asian Developmcnt Bank–101.18
Other UN Agencies–68.18

China has agreed to provide defence technology and training to the Sri Lankan armed forces. Moreover, China has granted 2.2 billion dollars to Sri Lanka for infrastructural developments. These apart, China is helping Sri Lanka in building an express highway between Candy in the central region of Sri Lanka and Jafna, a former LTTE base, in the north.

India is not far behind. The Indian Railway Construction Co (IRCON) has started the work of building a 800 million dollar northern railway project of 252 kilometres of lines, of which 43 kilometres have already been constructed, in order to connect Madanachchiya in Anuradhapuram of North Central Sri Lanka to Madhu Road. Diplomatically, while China opposed the US proposal on Sri Lanka on the UN Human Rights Commission, India negotiated with the US to tone down the proposal.

The subject of Indo-Pak relationship has always been an important part of the geo-politics of South Asia. Among all the neighbours, excepting China, Pakistan alone could dare India. From the period of the CENTO, Pakistan has been an ally of the USA, but the Pakistani rulers faced, and are still facing, strong popular discontent when the USA opted for using Pakistan's soil for its Afghan war. Open violation of Pakistan's sovereignty by US drone attacks in the border regions of Pakistan, consequent killings of civilians, as well as the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden without the prior knowledge of the Pakistan government—such acts have become so embarassing for Pakistan that the Interior Minister of the newly elected government has had to warn the USA that such drone attacks are not acceptable. It is interesting that this warning and the declaration to convene a meeting of all major political parties to "discuss and formulate a comprehensive National Security Policy" was made public when Nawaz Sharif, the new Prime Minister, was visiting China. During that visit, the Chinese President Xi Jianping stated that Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan were 'good friends, good brothers and good partners' of China. He further stated that strengthening strategic cooperation with Islamabad was China's priority. China's assistance to Pakistan is not limited to Gwador Port or expansion of the Kara-koram Highway. She is helping Pakistan in constructing nuclear power plants also.

In this context, it is also noteworthy that even before the election results were to come out fully, the Indian Prime Minister congratulated Nawaz Sharif, who in his turn invited Manmohan Singh just after being elected to his office. Increasing trade relationship with India is very much urgent for a strife-torn Pakistan, and India is obliging in this respect. Notwithstanding the long-standing contradictions between the two, and the strivings of hawks of both countries to turn conflicts and skirmishes into war, both sides are at present endeavouring to develop the peace process and ease out the so-called 'trust deficit'.

In truth, India is treading cautiously, because she does not wish to anatgonize Russia and China, while seeking to act in tandem with US geopolitical interests. At the behest of the USA, India had to go back on its project of oil pipeline connections with Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the USA wants to keep the door open through India. So, India imports oil in reduced quantity, of course, from Iran still now. The recent agreement to develop the Chabahar port and to provide infrastructural assistance are additional examples. In the joint statement on infrastructure, India focused on the railway link en route to Central Asia and the Caucasus, known as the international North-South transport corridor. Such a link will be backed by US allies like Ajerbaizan and provide them with access to the warm water ports of Iran. On this issue, India played safe not to make Russia hostile, by making public that there is another route towards Simipolatinsk, an old silk route town, that connects Russia.

Echoing the US, India has also taken the policy of 'Look East.' Mynamar, which for a long time had no existence in India's diplomatic map, has suddenly become very important. India has committed an assistance of 500 million dollars to Mynamar. Moreover, along with developing the port at Sittway, India will develop both ground and waterways connection from that port to the Indian town of Aizal, the capital of Mizoram. This is being done at a time when the USA has certainly awakened to recognise the change of name of erstwhile 'Burma ' and to set up links with that country.

India has assisted Afghanistan with two billion dollars and Bangladesh with one billion dollars. The problem is that the people of Bangladesh no longer accords that honourable position to India which they used to do earlier. India, however, is putting all diplomatic efforts to maintain and develop relations with Bangladesh.

On the other hand, China has continuously stood by the side of Iran in the latter's conflicts with the USA. She has developed partnerships in a number of enterprises in Iran, including oil exploration, In the military sphere also, Iran has become, closer to China. China has maintained close friendly relationship with Mynamar and is developing ports and road links between Mynamar and China. Similarly, China's relationship with Bangladesh also has grown steadily.

Nepal and Bhutan are two small countries sandwitched between India and China. Both countries are trying to develop close ties with both India and China. Duririg Prachanda's premiership, Nepal mooted a proposal to India for co-developing infrastructures and roads along with China. But that did not materialise. India has been camping her military forces in four areas, viz. Thimpu, Paro, Ha and Phuntsoling. Of late, China has cast an eye on Bhutan. There were reports that the Chinese army entered a few places in Bhutan. The Indian press made a loud noise over these reports. But the Bhutanese embassy in India very politely refused to be part of Indian diplomacy and stated that Bhutan has friendly relationships with China and any border dispute between the two can be settled peacefully.

No doubt the economies of both countries have grown to a certain extent. While China has expanded her industrial sector, India's growth has predominantly been in the service sector, thanks to IT and ITES enterprises. Each country is trying to attain the position of power in Asia. So, both are taking very measured steps on the subject of mutual relationship. A section of the establishment in India as well as a section of the media habitually raises all sorts of chauvinistic clamour whenever there is a dispute, however small, between India and China or Pakistan.

In April 2013, India-China relationships took a dramatic turn when Chinese troops entered well inside what is supposed to be the LAC (Line of Actual Control) and set up tents there. But this did not happen as suddenly as one section of the Indian media wanted the people to believe. From November 2008, India started reconstructing Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) at Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) and Fukche in Ladakh; DBO is at a height of 18,500 ft and 80 km from Siachen. India was to build a bunch of platforms for unmanned aerial vehicles to keep watch on the Karakoram pass through which the Karakoram Highway runs between China and Pakistan. Fukche is about 14000 ft high and has better ground connection. It is about 70 km from the Chinese Western Highway that connects Xinjiang with Tibet. Finally, the stand off in April 2013 took place. Then high level military officials of both sides met, but people at large were not imformed. What transpired from that meeting? There must have been some quid pro quo, which was kept secret.

What the people of both countries came to know was that by the end of May, Li Kequiang, the newly elected Premier of China, came to Delhi and met his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh. In a joint statement, they said, "Two countries agreed to take measures to address the issue of trade imbalances. These include cooperation in Pharmaceuticals, supervision including registration, stronger links between Chinese enterprises and Indian IT industry, and completion of phyto-sanitary negotiations on agro-product." On border issues, both sides agreed to carry on mutual discussions.

As to 'trade imbalances', it is worthwhile to mention that India had a trade deficit of 40. 78 billion dollars with China in 2012-13. While India's exports to China were only 13.32 billion dollars, her imports were 54.3 billion dollars.

Real Faces
The Chinese ruling classes' fear is that their real face will be unmasked before the people of their country. 'They have abandoned socialism and took to capitalism and hence they have to follow the laws of capitalism and develop areas of influence.

India's 'courtesy' is that the people of India are gradually waking up to the fact that India has never taken the path of independent self-reliant growth. In consequence, she has had to follow or toe the path dictated by the imperialist powers, at present the USA, in the geo-political arena.

China's 'courtesy' is that she has to go on talking about her ideal of not seeking hegemony while practising just the opposite. She is trying to be an Asian power by seeking control over the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region.

India's dilema is that she has to go on harping on the ideal of non-alignment and peaceful co-existence while aligning with this or that world power according to convenience and opportunity in order to satisfy her expansionist aspirations. What China says is meant to cover up her capitalist, turning to be imperialist face, to cover up her design to be an Asian power as well as her ambition to be a world power.

What India says is to cover up her design to act as a junior partner of an imperialist power. She peddles the idea that there is no alternative to inviting foreign capital for developing the economy and thus covers up her failure to pursue the path of self-reliant independent growth, along with the fact that in India today, even tooth paste, tooth brushes, blades, talcom powder etc are produced with the help of foreign capital.

If China is willing to speak the truth, she should say that she has to exploit her own people in the name of development; she has to suck the bloods of her workers in the special economic zones for capitalist development.
If India has to speak the truth, she should admit that the process of development of the country has been such that it has been shackled by imperialism in all aspects—economic, political, military, even diplomatic. All her attempts to hide the real face get unveiled soon.

The two actors are acting in opposite directions. This is clear from the recent agreement with Japan. During his visit, the Indian Prime Minister declared that the two countries would "reinforce bilateral security co-operation, regularly hold joint exercises" between the two military forces, "to cooperate to develop counter cyber attacks, ensure safe sea lanes and boost defence, and coast guard authorities of both countries". The two countries also agreed to begin talks for import of Japanese MSDF's US-2 amphibious planes to India. If anything these efforts are directed against China in the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region.

The drama is slowly unfolding like a soap opera. The final script will be written by the power that really wants to retain its control over the region. Whether such actions will eventually lead to war depends on the balance of forces and the economic situation concerning the USA and China. Whether such a war would bring a revolution in India or China depends on the extent of discontent of the people.

Frontier, Autumn Number
Vol. 46, No. 13-16, Oct 6 - Nov 2, 2013

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