Monday, September 29, 2008

China And India - 2 Books, Two Views, Take a 2ndlook

The India China Relationship

To most in India, China is possibly the biggest defence threat and is a 'feared' competitor.

However, the 2ndlook blog has discounted the 'threat of the Chinese dragon' based on an active engagement with China - and not benign neglect.

No less than Arun Shourie has weighed in on the 'Chinese threat' side of perception. This puts the 2ndlook blog in a minority. In the 2ndlook blog dated May 31st 2008, there was a significant analysis of the China-India face off. More on that later.

Two Books - Opposite Themes

In the meantime, Arun Shourie's book has evoked scant interest - excerpted below.

... important parallels, as Shourie points out, between the situation pre-1962 and the situation now. Border talks are regressing, Chinese claims on Indian territories are becoming publicly assertive, Chinese cross-border incursions are rising, and India’s China policy is becoming feckless ... India has always been on the defensive against a country that first moved its frontiers hundreds of miles south by annexing Tibet, then furtively nibbled at Indian territories before waging open war, and now lays claims to additional Indian territories. By contrast, on neuralgic subjects like Tibet, Beijing’s public language still matches the crudeness and callousness with which it sought in 1962, in Premier Zhou Enlai’s words, to “teach India a lesson”. (Stagecraft and Statecraft: Lessons for today's India from the 1962 Chinese invasion). The lack of coverage in Indian media for an important book like this is a matter of concern.

At the same time, another book on a similar subject, from an American perspective is vastly different - and closer to the views of the 2ndlook blog.

This one, ... (by) Ms Shirk (former deputy assistant secretary of state who dealt with China) ... should become a must read for every Indian who cowers and cringes at the very mention of China. For, as Shirk shows, there is no reason to do so. The core of her message is that only one thing has changed over the last two decades: instead of being a paper tiger, China has become a cardboard tiger.

... recall how China responded to the Tibetan uprising just before the Olympics to get a sense of its vulnerabilities and the resultant paranoia. The Chinese embassy in New Delhi was surrounded by three rings of defence against attacks by Tibetan women. You don’t become a super power merely because you have some money and some guns.

the Chinese leadership no longer has to fear the foreign devil who speaks English; it has to fear the average Chinaman who does so. She also shows how there is no shortage in the variety of unrests in China: you name a type of discontent, and it is there. But unlike India, China has not had the sense to develop political outlets for the head of steam that is building up. The only way it knows of dealing with mass discontent is repression.

Shirk also deals with the aspect that the Chinese leadership is most anxious to hide: a split not in the ranks of the party, but in the highest echelons of the leadership. And the second- and third-level Chinese leadership knows this. The drive against corruption, for example, when mayors are hanged, is seen as just a tea leaf, a straw in the wind that the big boys are pulling in opposite directions.

contrary to popular belief, especially in India, China can’t get along with anyone. Japan, Taiwan, Korea, India all have difficulties with a neighbour whose word can’t be trusted and who tends to rely more on strong-arm tactics than diplomacy. This, too, seems to be a part of the Communist party repertoire, merely their way.

As we see in this book, when push comes to shove, China always backs down. Its leaders simply don’t have the stomach for a confrontation because they don’t know how it will turn out for them personally. That’s the key thing: the personal interests of the Chinese communist leaders. It now always comes before the country’s interests, or is at least seen as being coterminous with it. (Book Review of FRAGILE SUPERPOWER by Susan L Shirk).

The Chinese Paper Dragon

The Chinese success is similar story. Much like USSR’s break-up, the Chinese monolith is more fragile than apparent. Apart from the usual suspects of democracy, economic disparities, social upheavals, etc, there are 3 factors, which most Chinese analysts miss.

One, the Tibetan’s are held together by force - and no one imagines that this holding them together by force, can be in perpetuity. The Muslim provinces of Xinjiang (another one-third of China) is usually ignored. These issues are usually minimized by the current strength with which China holds these provinces together.

But possibly, the biggest issue is the share of revenues of the Chinese central governments.

Secondly, the Chinese Central Government commands less than 25% of the total tax revenues - and the 75% goes to provinces. This, possibly is why the Chinese Government cannot reduce cigarette usage in China. Most expenditures on health, education, pension, unemployment, housing etc. are borne by the local government - and hence there is patchwork of systems which run across China. Most of executions and imprisonments of bureaucrats (including the Mao’s Cultural Revolution) is to demonstrate central authority. The PLA is the only factor that keeps China together. A Chinese Lech Walesa or a Nelson Mandela could unwind China very quickly.

Significantly, and thirdly, the Chinese diaspora and Western MNCs are biggest investors in China - and also the main beneficiaries. This currently keeps resentments of the local Chinese under control - as the neighbour is not getting much richer. But at one stage the domestic Chinese will want to greater say and control over the Chinese economy. He may not be happy with just a well paying job and abundant, low quality goods.

India vs China

On these three counts India scores significantly better than China. India’s problems with Kashmir are a British legacy, an external creation - as is the North East problem, to a degree. India’s significant issue (probably temporary) is the Naxalite problem. India’s central Government has greater control and share over total revenues - than the Chinese. India’s recent economic and political successes are entireley home bred - with the exception of remittances from the expat workers in the Middle East.

2ndlook blog proposes a different way out of this India-China stalemate.

The Detritus

As various colonial powers were forced out of various colonies, left behind was the garbage of colonialism. This post-colonial debris has become the ballast, that is dragging down many newly de-colonized countries.

Vietnam suffered from a prolonged war (1956-1976) - and finally peace had a chance after 20 years of war. Korea remains divided. The Cyprus problem between Turkey, Greece and the Cypriots has been simmering for nearly 100 years. The role of the Anglo Saxon Bloc, in Indonesia, the overthrow of Sukarno, installation of Suharto and finally the secession of East Timor is another excellent example. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict (1935 onwards) will soon enter its 75th year. The entire Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a creation of the Anglo-French-American axis. The many other issues in the West Asia and Africa are living testimony of the Western gift to the modern world.

Closer home is the Kashmir problem. After 60 years of negotiations, India-Pakistan relations have remained hostage to the Kashmir issue. Similarly, between China and India, the border issues remain 60 years after the eviction of Britain from India.

We Hereby Resolve

Let us (India and China) decide that for the next 60 years, these legacy border issues will remain in cold storage! There are far more pressing issues that need our attention. Let us focus on those issues. We have a lot of catching up to do.

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