Gross asymmetry in the public space

China can shape Indian politics. India can’t return favour

The Communist Party of India (Maoist) (the Naxalites in common parlance) and its above ground sympathisers; Prakash Karat and the “Left” front; The Hindu (at least its editorial board); various NGOs—there a so many in India that bat for China.

Who speaks for India on the Northern side of the Himalayas?

(That this doesn’t startle anyone is the really startling bit.)

China to take the Iran pipeline if India doesn’t

By all means

It looks like a negotiation tactic. Pakistani sources have let it be known that China is interested in the Iran gas pipeline if India drops out. India continues to remain cool towards the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline even after Pakistan offered to lower transit fees. And Turkey’s new proposal to route Central Asian gas to India can further change supply equations if it works out. So introducing the China bogey is an entirely predictable on Pakistan’s part.

What if it’s not a bluff and China really interested in the project? Well, good luck to the Chinese, then. The risks associated with the project—from Iran’s overselling of available reserves to the political and security risks along its passage through Balochistan—don’t change. Baloch tribals are unlikely to be less enthusiastic in taking potshots at the pipeline because it terminates in China. They haven’t been too friendly towards Chinese nationals working in Gwadar. Indeed, the security risks would be higher—because it would have to traverse Gilgit, where the Shia majority population is up-in-arms against the Pakistani government. (Gilgit is technically Indian territory, by way of Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India in 1947. Add that to the political risk).

External powers could relatively easily threaten China’s energy supplies with plenty of plausible deniability. Why would China want that?

What about the implications for India? India needs to worry about the pipeline going to China if the IPI were the only way to transport Iranian gas to India. But it isn’t. There’s LNG, for instance. As The Acorn has long argued, investing in domestic LNG infrastructure is the best way to ensure India’s energy security. It allows India to buy gas from Iran, and from elsewhere.

Wages of the hyphenation

Chindia, that loathsome term

From Mint:

Earlier this week, in a speech he gave in Senegal’s capital city Dakar, Soros had a few blunt things to say about Africa. He said China and India are the new colonists of the continent, as they hunt for minerals and oil. “They are in the process of repeating the mistakes that the colonial powers have made,” Soros told news agency Reuters. [Mint]

This is what you get when people reflexively mention “China and India” in one breath. As Harry Broadman’s book, “Africa’s Silk Road: China and India’s New Economic Frontier”, published by the World Bank (and reviewed here in Pragati) reveals, the two countries have very different approaches towards Africa.

The book contains useful discussion of the differences in the behaviour of firms from China and India. The Chinese engagement in Africa (as elsewhere) reflects the top-down, state-enterprise led approach (88 percent of Chinese firms engaged in FDI abroad are government owned); while the Indian engagement reflects private-enterprise led bottom-up approach of its economy. Thus, it is a private-sector rather than a state-owned company from India which has recently acquired eleven coal mines in Mozambique. The Chinese engagement is much more strategic, focusing on key sectors, including finance. As an example, China has just acquired a stake in South Africa’s Standard Bank which operates in 18 different African companies. China is also using aid (such as its intention to provide US$5 billion to Congo to fund infrastructure) to develop strategic alliances with key resource-rich countries.

The author suggests that Chinese businesses exhibit “…enclave types of corporate profiles, with more limited spillover effects” (Chinese firms bring workers from China even for construction and other tasks when African countries have severe unemployment problem). Chinese firms are also known to be reluctant to provide sub-contracting opportunities for African companies, and to transfer technological knowledge.

The Indian firms on the other hand have pursued “..strategies that result in greater integration into domestic markets”, and they overwhelmingly rely on labour sourced domestically, even for managerial positions. Indian firms are also more likely to sub-contract to African firms. [Mukul Asher/Pragati]

While some of the bracketing is unavoidable especially in the international media, this hyphenation should certainly not be encouraged. [It is rather unfortunate that a member of Dr Manmohan Singh’s council of ministers should write a book titledMaking sense of Chindia“.]

Parag Khanna welcomes you to the tripolar world

The beginning of history?

Parag Khanna’s attempt to envision the big geopolitical picture for this century is noteworthy. Ahead of his book, he argues his case in a long essay in the New York Times Magazine (linkthanks Pragmatic):

At best, America’s unipolar moment lasted through the 1990s, but that was also a decade adrift. The post-cold-war “peace dividend” was never converted into a global liberal order under American leadership. So now, rather than bestriding the globe, we are competing — and losing — in a geopolitical marketplace alongside the world’s other superpowers: the European Union and China. This is geopolitics in the 21st century: the new Big Three. Not Russia, an increasingly depopulated expanse run by Gazprom.gov; not an incoherent Islam embroiled in internal wars; and not India, lagging decades behind China in both development and strategic appetite. The Big Three make the rules — their own rules — without any one of them dominating. And the others are left to choose their suitors in this post-American world. [NYT]

The main question befuddling students of geopolitics is how are post-Cold War multi-polar cards going to fall? Mr Khanna’s answer is that the United States, the European Union and China will be the three superpowers, and the rest of the big powers will constitute the “second world”.

What we can say about Mr Khanna’s thesis is that he underestimates the United States, overestimates the stability and diplomatic style of China and gives too much credit to Europe. And, in the essay at least, is selective in his analysis of demographic trends. But he makes one important point—that 20th century multi-lateral institutions will be increasingly unable to address the world’s challenges as they become increasingly less reflective of the global balance of power.

Regardless of current events—in Iraq, Afghanistan or in global financial markets—it is too early to write off, or even discount the United States as the pre-eminent global power. In fact, among the Big Three, only the United States is founded on “sound business model”: from democracy and capitalism, to immigration and creativity, it is hard to see how the EU or China could change sufficiently to acquire the necessary genes. Until China demonstrates that it can ride out a domestic economic downturn it is premature to place it in the same league as the United States. And let’s not forget that it too has increasingly acute demographic problems of its own. As for the EU, well, it remains to be seen how much geopolitical power it will have—as an entity—if it is no longer under the security offered by NATO.

Perhaps the book will provide stronger arguments, but there is too little in the article to conclude that the geopolitical configuration of this century will be a Big Three and the second world. US primacy in the coming decades is by no means guaranteed, but it is still harder to prove that any other country can match or overtake the US. Moreover the US will be the only power that is unchallenged in its own geographical sphere. Neither Brazil and certainly not Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela fit the bill of a serious geopolitical challenger. Not so, for the EU and China. The EU faces Russia, and possibly the Arab world, in its own geography. China faces Japan, India and Russia in Asia. In this reading, it is the US that could play a “swing” role in influencing the outcomes of these regional competitions.

Mr Khanna’s goal is to compel the United States to transform its foreign policy institutions and behaviour, which may explain why he has deliberately cast his thesis in this manner. It would be nice if it rankles strategists and policymakers in India as well.

Related Posts: By Daniel Nexon at the Duck of Minerva, by Hari at Thirty letters in my name, and by Ethan Zuckerman in My heart’s in Accra. [30 Jan] And Dan Drezner weighs in too.

On territorial compromises with China

It’s not at all trivial

It’s a seductive argument. That the longstanding border dispute between India and China is trivial. Aksai Chin, which China controls and India claims is not even habitable. Portions of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims are both populated and economically useful. Surely, then, it makes sense for India to agree to a border settlement that swaps Aksai Chin for Arunachal Pradesh. It is the political difficulty of selling the compromise to the emotional Indian people, Arvind Kala writes, that is preventing India from settling the dispute. [Related Post: McMahon’s line and Aksai Chin]

One problem: it is China that is unwilling move ahead towards settling the border dispute. The reasons why it chose to do so underlies why Mr Kala’s arguments are flawed: first, the border dispute is not ‘trivial’, but as even Jawaharlal Nehru recognised, the manifestation of a geopolitical power struggle between India and China. Second, Aksai Chin is not ‘useless’ to India, not least because it is vital to China. And finally, China is not a ‘friend’, no country is. Indeed, Mr Kala fundamentally misreads the nature of international relations when he declares ‘nations are like human beings’, ‘shaped by emotion’. It is possible that it is this anthropomorphism that leads Mr Kala to misleading conclusions. But if at all an analogy can be made, it is more appropriate to say that nations are like wild animals, existing under the law of the jungle. The zoomorphism apart, nations do what is in their interests. And at this time, resolving the dispute is not in China’s interests.

Just like in the case the dispute over Kashmir, it is not uncommon to hear well-meaning people suggest that a territorial compromise is the ticket to peace. But it is naïve and dangerous to believe that giving away territory will automatically cause the other side to go away and leave India in peace. That’s because, by its very nature, a compromise that leaves both sides satisfied will not change the underlying balance of power.

A corollary to this is that a mutually satisfactory solution to the border dispute is only possible when the balance of power is stable and both countries are well reconciled to it. That is hardly the case at this point in time—when India and China are both jockeying for power in Asia and beyond. At this time, it is to be expected that both will be sensitive to relative gains and losses, and for that reason, unwilling to settle the dispute.

Afterword: From one of Nehru’s letters to chief ministers:

“It is a little naïve to think that the trouble with China was essentially due to a dispute over some territory. It had deeper reasons. Two of the largest countries in Asia confronted each other over a vast border. They differed in many ways. And the test was as to whether anyone of them would have a more dominating position than the other on the border and in Asia itself. We do not desire to dominate any country and we are content to live peacefully with other countries provided they do not interfere with us or commit aggression. China, on the other hand, clearly did not like the idea of such a peaceful existence and wants to have a dominating position in Asia.” [As quoted by Kuldip Nayar in Dawn]

How China went back on its commitment

…and India doesn’t even realise that it has been had

Did anyone notice how China’s support for the India-US nuclear deal has been matched by its backward movement on settling the border dispute? While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came away with a “Chinese nod for him to underwrite India’s independent foreign policy”—as the Indian Express put it with dreadful (and unintended) irony—the Chinese breach of promise over settling the border dispute went unnoticed. The clever men in Beijing have every reason to be happy with Dr Singh’s visit: they gave away nothing while appearing to give a great deal, and in the bargain, ensured that they clawed back what little they had conceded in the border dispute. The best part for them was that despite all this, it was the Indian media that was celebrating!

Here’s the net outcome of Dr Singh’s visit: China has gone back on its position that the eventual border between the two countries will not disturb existing population centres. It did not show any enthusiasm to exchange official maps—a step that would have set the parameters of a final settlement. It is now not only quibbling over the meaning of the term population centres, but also sending its troops to demolish Indian bunkers. It is bleeding obvious that China wants to keep the dispute alive.

The gains that India achieved under the Vajpayee government have been lost under the UPA. Dr Singh’s visit only confirmed that. China could do this because it realised that Pakistan could no longer be used as a strategic lever against India after 9/11. It also realised that it could use the divisiveness of India’s domestic politics instead. The Left parties were anyway batting for Beijing, the BJP played into its hands and the Congress Party lacked the political sagacity to forge a non-partisan consensus on the nuclear deal. The Communists have reason to be pleased with the visit. But for others, there is no reason to celebrate.

The passage of the nuclear deal was only a matter of time. It was essentially a fait accompli for Beijing. Yet the UPA government and sections of the media projected Beijing’s blessings as a way to secure the approval of the Indian Communists. This came at a terribly expensive price: India didn’t lift as much as finger while China turned back on what it had agreed on the border dispute.

Related Posts: K Subrahmanyam, Brahma Chellaney & Manoj Joshi

How to beat China in the borderlands

Be more like India

How should India respond to China’s building of road, rail and communications infrastructure in areas adjoining the unresolved Himalayan border? Excerpt from an article in the July 2007 issue of Pragati:

Clearly then, there is an urgent need for India to review the way in which it engages China.

Meanwhile, the Indian government is caught in a reactive mode—building infrastructure in remote border regions in response to China. If done with due care to the environment this is a positive outcome of the rivalry between the two countries. Yet roads and railways do not always buy affection and China in any case can build them much faster than India can.

A far more effective way for India to bring its most distant citizens into the national mainstream would be to empower them through tangible political equality. Reconstituting the Rajya Sabha along the lines of the American Senate—and giving states like Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland the same number of seats as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the rest—will not only be far more effective than big, leaky development programmes but is also more democratic. It is also be a move that China cannot match. [Pragati]

Related Post: The Catapult excoriates the Indian government for playing down reports of recent Chinese incursions into Indian territory

We don’t need no indecisive slobs (2)

Cite Pakistan’s failure and draw your favourite conclusion

What’s with editors of leading Indian newspapers? After Mr Gupta, the articulate Vir Sanghvi falls into the same trap: of declaring that democracy is better than dictatorship (linkthanks Pragmatic) and then tripping up while attempting to draw other conclusions. This time about the fates of states vis-a-vis their policy towards the United States.

There were only two major Asian countries that rejected the US prescription for development and foreign policy: India and China. And look where they are today. And look at America’s client states.

Of course, Nehru made mistakes. But can anybody really deny that the principal reason why India and Pakistan, once part of the same country, have followed such divergent paths is because of the choices both countries made in the years following independence?

At first, India’s priorities may have seemed (from a middle-class perspective) wrong-headed and muddled. Pakistan’s may have seemed glamorous and instantly gratifying. But, in the long run, we ended up as the superpower. And Pakistan as the failed state. [HT]

Leave aside that India is far from being a superpower. But citing Pakistan to prove that America’s ‘client’ states in Asia have done badly for themselves is shoddy analysis. Japan and South Korea too were American ‘client’ states in the second half of the twentieth century. Look where they are today. And look at us. South Korea, mind you, was a military dictatorship—much like Pakistan—for much of that time. That, it turns out, did not prevent it from jumping from a poor country to a rich one within the span of one generation. And then look at Taiwan and the other Asian Tigers—it turns out that pro-American states have done rather well for themselves.

Just as it is wrong to blame the United States for Pakistan’s failure, it is wrong to credit Nehru with India’s relative success. Assessing Nehru’s role in India’s development requires the space of several books. But one would think it reasonable to credit several hundred million ordinary people of India for doing little things right that contributed to their country being where it is. It is also reasonable to blame a small number of people for doing big things wrong that left India much behind what it could have been.

Pakistan’s situation could arguably be used to highlight the importance of democracy. But this is not an issue in India. But Mr Sanghvi appears to use it to justify a lot of things in omnibus. Therein lies the danger of comparing India to Pakistan. Almost anything will compare favourably. The irony is that Mr Sanghvi does this in an article that starts off by saying how the whole world, include Indians themselves, don’t make this comparison anymore.

Missile vs Missile

Missile defences strengthen India’s strategic deterrence

Failure to understand how deterrence works is a common error. Wholesale application of the Cold War era nuclear arms race in today’s South-Asian geopolitical context is another. And analysts assuming every Indian strategic platform is exclusively targeted at Pakistan is yet another. Jawed Naqvi’s recent article in Dawn makes all three, when he criticises India’s progress towards development of a missile defence system.

Maverick explains—like only he can—why Naqvi’s arguments are wrong. Strategic deterrence is first and foremost a mind game: its objective to ensure that nuclear weapons are not used. Any system that increases the chances of non-use increases stability. In the case of the missile defence system, pointing out that 4 minutes is way too little for Indian anti-missile missiles to do their work misses the target. The system needs to be good enough make a potential adversary think “What if the first strike fails?”. In combination with India’s possession of a second-strike capability, a missile defence shield enhances nuclear stability.

More importantly, it’s ironic that Pakistanis, whose rulers (and their nuclear/missile benefactors) have done so much to put nuclear weapons within reach of any state that wants them, should think that India only thinks of them.

From the archives: Defence against the dark arts; and Kind Word Defence

Liberalise the defence industry

And thank Russia for shaking India out of its lazy old ways

What stands in the way of the Indian armed forces using indigenously developed main battle tanks, fighter aircraft and aircraft carriers?

Answer: Cheap Russian imports.

Years of dependence on Russian military hardware—which could be obtained at rather attractive prices—simply meant that the armed forces preferred readymade products they could use, rather than take more risky route of using the gear that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was developing. Giving the armed forces roughly what they wanted was a less risky option for the politicians heading the defence ministry. The relative ease with which Russian arms could be imported meant that there was no real incentive for India’s policymakers to think how domestic defence production could be improved. This is an oversimplification, of course, but it is the nub of the issue.

India needs a crisis, it is said, to jolt it out of its ways. Russia’s behaviour over the refitting and delivery of the aircraft carrier should provide one. Not merely because it upsets the navy’s plans to have two carrier groups by the end of this decade, but because the possibility of a Russia-China equation is real. India should develop a reputation for standing up to Russian armtwisting. Reliance on imports from Russia—cheap or otherwise—, however, poses long-term strategic risks.

Now, building main battle tanks, fighter aircraft and aircraft carriers is not trivial. But there is no reason to believe that India can’t develop and build them indigenously. It’s time to liberalise the defence industry. Transforming defence procurement policies to ensure that there are strong domestic manufacturers is not rocket science. It can be done.