The much-touted US pivot/re-balance to the Asia-Pacific has drawn considerable flak of late. From the Syrian chemical weapons use to Russia’s revanchism, the questioning of America’s leadership has seen the pivot naysayers become louder. President Obama has firmly recognized the limits of American power. The Commander of the US Pacific Air Forces has admitted that the resources for the pivot haven’t come his way even as the head of the US Pacific Command has made clear America’s inability to conduct amphibious assaults. To top these off, the US Defence Undersecretary for Intelligence has made it known that the US considers the Syrian civil war, Iran and even a vague ‘persistent volatility’ across South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa as greater threats than China.
Tag Archives | India-China Relations
I have already described the continuity that pervades Indian foreign policy decision-making. Modi’s worldviews do not represent a major break with the past. Aside from Bangladesh and one or two others, India is the only relatively stable country in an unstable region that stretches from the Horn of Africa to South East Asia. Although there has been much speculation about Narendra Modi’s foreign policy Modi himself has dismissed such talk as conjecture.
“We cannot afford to be weak at sea…history has shown that whatever power controls the Indian Ocean has, in the first instance, India’s seaborne trade at her mercy, and in the second, India’s very independence itself.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
Indian strategic culture has been characterized by a preoccupation with land based threats (PDF), a bias evident from an examination of budgetary allocations to the three services. The Navy has traditionally received the least funding, resulting in it being called the Cinderella Service, which is due to several factors. First, India has a history over millennia of being repeatedly invaded from the Northwestern plains. Second, the British stymied the growth of the Indian Navy, seeing it as a potential strategic competitor. Third, all of India’s major 20th century conflicts in 1947, 1962, 1965, 1971 and 1999 were against land powers. Finally, the trend was reinforced by the US alignment with Pakistan as a response to India’s perceived tilting towards the USSR, which had the effect of keeping India focused on remaining a land power and not transitioning to a maritime one.
Since the 1990s, India has rejected inward-looking economic models of growth and has increasingly integrated itself into the global economy. As a result, 75% of India’s trade is now carried by sea. Sustained rates of economic growth towards double figures are required for India to pursue its primary national goals of lifting large proportions of its population out of poverty, and once again becoming a pivotal nation in global affairs. Fuelling this growth requires great quantities of energy.
“As in the past, so in the future, the people of India will stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Burma, and whether we have to share good fortune or ill fortune, we shall share it together.”
Those were Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s words in 1948, on the day of Burma’s independence from Britain. Since then relations between the two countries have fluctuated between friendship, neglect and outright hostility, yet India’s rise on the international stage and Myanmar’s “democratic transition” are forcing both governments to reassess the nature of bilateral relations based on regional geopolitical developments.
India views Myanmar’s emerging political transformation as a strategic and ideological opening that offers New Delhi an opportunity to dilute Chinese influence while expanding India’s strategic depth. While India cannot expect to rival China’s influence in Myanmar in the near or even medium term, it can have an impact on that relationship. In turn, Myanmar stands to gain from a stronger relationship with India on a variety of levels, whereas China views the strengthening relationship between India and Myanmar as a strategic threat.
For decades the Chinese government has deployed both soft and hard power to promote China’s influence and status, while at the same time discouraging interference in Chinese affairs.
China’s foreign policy has been premised on its desire to ensure uninterrupted economic growth while at the same time promoting political stability and prolonging the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. In doing so, China has portrayed itself on one hand as a good neighbor while at the same time pulling its weight and making sure its neighbors know who’s boss. China’s modern geopolitical psyche is characterized by the often used Chinese saying “hide one’s brilliance and bide one’s time.” China sees its return to global prominence as inevitable, based on its modern history as a global leader in such areas as trade, finance, and industrial production. Today China’s global strategy, and its path to global prominence, are to embrace multi-polarity while supporting the principle of state sovereignty and self-determination.
Multi-polarity generally works well for China in the international arena, where China has perfected the art of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for an end game to emerge, then swooping in and claiming the spoils. A good example of this was the Iraq War, where China did not participate in combat but aggressively pursued oil contracts, ultimately winning a large percentage of them. However, China prefers uni-polarity when it comes to its relations with Asian nations. While it maintains a veil of collaboration and cooperation with its Asian neighbors, in reality, China prefers that its neighbors snap to attention when China makes a proclamation, or takes action in the region. This is very much in evidence with the Senkaku and Spratly Islands.
“India will have to play a very great part in security problems of Asia and the Indian Ocean, more especially of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as India is the pivot around which these problems will have to be considered.” – Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India
The changing geopolitical environment in Asia and in particular in the Indian Ocean region brings attention to the role of oceans in shaping a country’s strategic and security policy. The launch of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, Vikrant, on August 12, and later, a military satellite from French Guiana, on August 30, appears to form an integral part of India’s Asia-Pacific strategy or India’s Look East Policy (LEP) 3.0 Strategy. China views the Indian aircraft carrier and military satellite as a power projection by New Delhi in the region. For example, the official, China Daily, quoted Chinese analysts, “the development of the aircraft carrier (as well as the readiness of India’s first nuclear submarine for sea trials) were significant steps towards enabling India to project power across the oceans, not only in the Indian Ocean, but also eastward in the Pacific.”
Similarly, Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Naval Military Studies Research Institute is of the view that these developments have contributed to India’s efforts “to quicken its pace to steer eastward to the Pacific.” Therefore, the question that arises is whether this maritime component is a new feature of India’s LEP 3.0? Why and how is the Asia-Pacific significant for India? What is India’s stake in the region and how does New Delhi perceive this region in terms of India’s evolving strategic interests?
China’s proposed dams on the Yaluzangbu River in Dagu, Jiacha, Jiexu and Zangmu have added a new roadblock to improving Sino-Indian relations. What has aggravated tensions is China’s reluctance to accede to India’s call for a water commission or an inter-governmental dialogue or a treaty. Although Indian and Chinese officials have held talks and the latter have agreed to share hydrological information through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Brahmaputra and the Sutlej in flood season, the absence of a bilateral treaty makes it next to impossible for India to verify China’s claims as of now.
China’s determination to implement the Great South-North Water Diversion (SNWD) Project could have serious environmental implications for China and its neighbouring countries by affecting the flow of rivers downstream. The project consists of three stages – eastern, central and western routes – out of which the first two stages involve diversion of waters from China’s internal rivers while the third has transboundary ramifications, especially for South Asia. The western route leg targets the Salween, the Mekong, the Brahmaputra and the Jinsha. Some reports even suggest that China is planning to build the world’s largest dam and hydropower station on the Brahmaputra at the Great Bend (where the river takes a U-turn to enter the plains of Assam via Arunachal Pradesh). Approximately, 354 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water flows from Tibet to India out of which 131 BCM is accounted in the Brahmaputra River; on this river alone China is allegedly planning to build twenty-eight dams.
In China’s struggle to rise to its perceived natural place at the “center of the earth,” its key competitor is not the United States but India.
Of China’s neighbors, only India can challenge China as a regional hegemon. This regional conflict has the potential of escalating into a military confrontation over the sovereignty of the South China Sea. India’s civilian government has made clear that it views balancing against China a high priority. In late 2011, Vietnam sold blocks of oil and gas rights in the South China Sea to India’s state-owned oil company (ONGC Videsh Limited or OVL).
Disregarding a warning from China, India followed through on the purchases. In response, the Chinese energy company CNOOC then auctioned off nine energy blocks in the South China Sea, including those already purchased by India. Vietnam stated that China’s actions violated international law because the disputed area is less than 200 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast, well within its exclusive economic zone. Vietnam declared the action illegal, saying, “This is absolutely not a disputed area. (CNOOC’s move) is illegal and of no value, seriously violating Vietnam’s sovereignty.”
Asia is currently in the middle of an unprecedented arms race that is not only sharpening tensions in the region, but competing with efforts by Asian countries to address poverty and growing economic disparity.
The gap between rich and poor—calculated by the Gini coefficient that measures inequality—has increased from 39 percent to 46 percent in China, India, and Indonesia. While affluent households continue to garner larger and larger portions of the economic pie, “Children born to poor families can be 10 times more likely to die in infancy” than those from wealthy families, according to Changyong Rhee, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank. This inequality trend is particularly acute in India, where life expectancy is low, infant mortality high, education spotty, and illiteracy widespread, in spite of that country’s status as the third largest economy in Asia, behind China and Japan. According to an independent charity, the Naandi Foundation, some 42 percent of India’s children are malnourished. Bangladesh, a far poorer country, does considerably better in all these areas.
And yet last year India was the world’s leading arms purchaser, including a deal that will spend $20 billion dollars on high performance French fighter planes. India is also developing a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads, and buying submarines and surface craft. Its military budget is set to rise 17 percent this year to $42 billion. “It is ridiculous. We are getting into a useless arms race at the expense of fulfilling the needs of poor people,” Praful Bidwai of the Coalition of Nuclear Disarmament and Peace told the New York Times.