Sunday Levity: Buffet style

Pick, choose, enjoy

Dilip D’Souza is so unmoved by “realpolitik” that he has published another post on the topic to register his inertia. His post lightens up the Sunday. It is a must-read post for those who are interested to study the fine art of buffet-debating: just the the bits you like, ignore the bits you don’t, and enjoy your meal.

Dilip selectively quotes from two posts, and one comment, to declare that Realist prescriptions for a policy towards China leave him confused. He could have saved himself the trouble, and the confusion, if only he had looked at what was on the a la carte menu: the old post on One China Policy (there isn’t one) was even re-published in April this year as it was ‘pertinent to the current situation’.

If he had done that, he would not have had to, buffet-style, take some bits and drop others from the paragraphs he decided to quote. (the bits he dropped are in italics)

India’s accumulation of power and influence in Asia will be perceived as a threat by China to the extent that it relatively diminishes Beijing’s own influence. And vice versa. There’s no reason to feel apologetic about this. Aggression and intimidation, like diplomacy and negotiations are parts of a composite toolkit. An offhand rejection of one or more of them is not prudent. [No apologies expected]

India must refrain from going overboard in its support for the Tibetan protests lest this issue upset broader relations with China. But Mr Bhadrakumar defies imagination by holding the Indian government guilty of doing too much already. [John 8:7 does not apply to international relations]


Alphabet soups and unwarranted trips down under

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s prime minister, has created a kerfuffle among Asian foreign affairs types this month by calling for something he calls the Asia-Pacific Community. Now that represents ‘inclusive growth’—that is, of the alphabet soup of Asian multilateral organisations—for every country east of India and West of the United States is included (no, not Taiwan, dear, because Mr Rudd would be the last person to argue that it needs a seat of its own). To fly this new kite he got Richard Woolcott, an octogenarian diplomat who worked on creating the Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) when he used to be a sexagenarian diplomat.

It is unfathomable why people should think that just because some European countries got together to form the European Union, it is somehow desirable, possible and important for Asian countries to behave similarly. For all the talk about the EU project, it has yet to pass the Turkey test. Undeterred by the lacklustre performance of most of these Asian outfits—APEC was dead by the time Mr Woolcott became a septuagenarian diplomat—Mr Rudd floated his new idea. As Lowy Institute’s Rory Medcalf argues there is “substantial merit in trying to fix one of the existing regional houses rather than building a new one.”

In this context, the Times of India reports that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee ‘backed’ Mr Rudd’s idea to save him from embarrassment. Actually, Mr Mukherjee did not so much back the idea as to note that India “would watch with interest” whatever Mr Rudd has set about to do. Translated into plain English, it means “okay, whatever”.

But Mr Mukherjee shouldn’t have been visiting Australia in the first place. Mr Rudd’s actions suggest that he favours a ’tilt’ towards China. His party’s position is clear about the important question of the sale of uranium to India—it won’t sell unless India signs the NPT. Mr Mukherjee should have waited until Mr Rudd’s government was ready to engage India seriously.

Update: In an op-ed in The Asian Age (via email from Adityanjee) Professor Purnendu Jain writes that the ‘onus of engagement should not be left to Australia’. That even if Mr Rudd has shown little interest in engaging India, New Delhi should take the initiative. Mr Mukherjee’s visit, he argues, is a step in the right direction.

That’s questionable. It is for Australia to assess whether or not it would like to benefit from India’s economic growth. It is for Australia to assess whether or not it can leverage India’s geopolitical power to further its own interests. India can envision a future where Australia is a marginal economic and strategic partner. What about Australia?

By Invitation: On Rivals in Asia

A review of Bill Emmott’s Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade

By V Anantha Nageswaran

Mr Bill Emmott, former Editor-in-Chief of “Economist” has written another book. It is on China, Japan and India and is appropriately titled, Rivals. The temptation to go for “Pillars of the new Asian century” would have been too high to resist for some others. But, Mr Emmott is not one of those woolly eyed observers of Asia to take the common consent that this would be Asia’s century for granted. He sees plenty of risks and rightly so.  

For the most part, the book is an engaging and easy read. As it winds down, the pace appears to slacken and the reader gets impatient. But that could quite legitimately be put down to the reader’s unjustified lack of interest in the subject of North and South Korea that comes up in the end. The book has at least two fascinating chapters on the environmental risks of the rise of China and India, not just to the rest of the world but also to themselves. Whereas India’s pollution comes from its poverty, China’s comes from its breakneck capacity addition. In other words, the story of India’s pollution and environmental decay is in its early chapters. 
Continue reading “By Invitation: On Rivals in Asia”

One China Policy

There isn’t one.

This post was first published in November 2006. As it is pertinent to the current situation it is reproduced here, almost in its entirety

In the debate over China, many of those with any experience actually dealing with China on political issues had advised caution. Many of those whose primary experience of China has been through trade and investment advocated closer ties. The oversimplified question on everyone’s lips was a cliche: Is China a friend or foe? That, though, is a wrong question to ask. The inherent anthropomorphism in the framing of this question confuses the issue, for relations between states are not like relations between people.

The essential fact is that on a fundamental level two powers as large and as proximate as China and India cannot rise without competition. And in most spheres of this competition, it is India that is catching up.

Three games
There is competition for regional and global influence: China is taking leadership in regional groupings where it has been a member, and entering groupings where it has not. It is now the most important member in East and Central Asian groupings. It has secured a good foothold in South Asia. And it is knocking on the doors of Africa. India, on the other hand, has secured a greater role for itself in South East Asia, where it has been welcomed because it can help balance China’s influence. Japan too has recognised that India will be a necessary element of the balance of power in East Asia. [See Harsh Pant’s piece in the April 2008 issue of Pragati]

Then there is competition in the quest for energy sources and, soon, natural resources. Here too, China is ahead, but India has begun to up its game in energy diplomacy. The two are already competing in securing fossil fuels. With the India-US deal bringing India into the nuclear mainstream, the competition will extend to securing nuclear fuel too. This decade will also see the two countries on a worldwide hunt for natural resources as their economy develops.

And of course, there is competition for investment and trade, which will only intensify as China becomes proficient in the English language and India gets its manufacturing act together.

…three strategies
So yes, there’s a contest going on all right. This does not, however, call for visceral hostility. Each competition has its rules. They cannot be wished away. This is a moment of profound change in the global balance of power and India would do well to play the game according to what the rules are (and not, as in the past, according to what the rules ought to be). China’s objective—couched as it may be in the language of ‘peaceful rise’ and ‘harmonious world’—is to become the pre-eminent power in Asia. It is a game that requires China to improve its relative power. There are two strategies for winning: one, for China to develop its own power; and two, for China to contain its competitors. The principal challenge for India will be to counter this. Nuclear weapons have made it unlikely that the contest will escalate to war. It is necessary to invest in maintaining the conventional and nuclear deterrence to keep it that way. They may be important in their own right, but Tibet, Tawang (i.e. the border issue) and Taiwan are both instruments and shock absorbers in this geopolitical game.

On the surface, the energy and resources game is zero-sum, and for that reason, the prudent strategy for both parties is to compete with each other. There may be scope for co-operation; but such co-operation will not be in India’s favour until it is able to negotiate with China on a peer-to-peer basis. At this time, India should focus on closing the gap, though not necessarily taking the same route as China.

It is a matter of basic economics that greater trade and investment will leave both countries better off. The rules of the game here are entirely different from the rules of the geopolitical or the energy game. There is no good reason—not even ‘national security’—for restricting trade with and investment from China. Those concerned with national security must adapt to the contemporary era of information abundance. Although this is changing, the Indian government is playing the geo-economic game according to geopolitical rules (and perhaps, vice versa).

The upshot is that India will have to counter China’s geopolitical moves, keep pace in the quest for natural resources and engage China in trade. There is, in the end, no simple one China policy.

The Quad is dead

Australia has decided that it pays to be nice to China

There’s an interesting discussion going on down under about the death of the “Quad”, a grouping involving India, Japan, Australia and the United States. It was not only seen as an Asia-Pacific “concert of democracies”, but more importantly, as a quiet attempt to balance China’s rising power in the region.

Over at the Lowy Interpreter, Raoul Hienrichs argues that more than the election of pro-China governments in Japan and Australia, the Quad died because China killed it (peacefully, of course).

But there is also something quite revealing about this dynamic. That the Rudd Government did not have to explicitly defer to China’s concerns, because Tokyo and New Dehli had already backed away from the quadrilateral arrangement, is itself a clear indication of China’s rising influence and perhaps Washington’s gradual relative decline in Asia. Moreover, China’s willingness to use its considerable diplomatic weight to prevent the emergence of a regional grouping perceived to be inimical to its interests suggests a new level of confidence in China’s foreign and strategic policy, and an increased awareness among its policy makers of their capacity to independently shape China’s strategic environment. [Lowy Interpreter]

Clearly, at a time when the Australian economy is witnessing a sustained boom thanks to resource exports to China, and that the economic news coming out of the United States is getting worse, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government might have calculated that now is not the time to attempt to balance China. Snubbing Japan, though, was wholly unnecessary. For if ever Australia changes its mind on its own position vis-a-vis China’s strategic rise, Japan, India and the United States are the only ones it can count on. For them, the interests that led to the move towards the quadrilateral initiative are fundamental—even if current governments are lukewarm about a showy new regional grouping.