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Sino-Indian tensions

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China and India- the world’s two most populous nations comprise more than one-third of global humanity. Memories of border battles — the most recent in 1962 — fester, and the 4,000-km frontier, which cuts through disputed territory, remains tense.

They share a border, have fought a bitter war and continue to compete for geopolitical supremacy in the region. Political ambitions and distrust on either side have sometimes been at the cost of better economic sense.

Both have a long and chequered history dating back thousands of years. The two neighbours fought a short border war in 1962 and since then, although much water has flowed down the Yangtze, a sense of mistrust has consistently dogged their bilateral ties. Both are shy of each other.

On the positive side, India has been cooperating with China in many areas. It was one of the first countries to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Besides, India and China are part of the BRICS, along with Brazil, Russia and South Africa. They have also teamed up at global forums on climate change to resist demands from developed nations to agree to binding emission cuts. China and India, however, fear that agreeing to binding emission cuts would force them to jettison their ambitious growth targets.

New Delhi is loath to take on Beijing directly. This is seen in the recent case of India cancelling the visa issued earlier to a Uighur activist, Dolkun Isa, the Executive Committee Chairman of the World Uyghur Congress to attend a conference in India. The granting of the visa to the Uighur activist was seen as New Delhi’s riposte to being snubbed by Beijing on the Masood Azhar issue. t has shown that New Delhi is wary of upsetting Beijing, especially given its enormous clout at international forums as a permanent Security Council member and NSG entry- both China has blocked.

India and China jointly occupy parts of Jammu Kashmir along with Pakistan. India now asks Pakistan to vacate and hand over Azad Kashmir to India but it has not asked China also do the same. The reason is obvious. In fact, it was Pakistan which always demanded Kashmir region from Indian occupied Jammu Kashmir while India refused to budge and in order to retain Kashmir India even fought war with Pakistan, leading to the creation of LOC. India first acquired nukes followed later by Pakistan, further complicating the tensed situation in the region and bilateral relations between India and Pakistan.

A UN veto member China is possibly the largest global economy while as largest South Asian regional economy India tries to somehow catch the distance. Between Beijing and New Delhi, nonstop flights only run three times a week. There is not a single direct flight between two of Asia’s financial capitals, Shanghai and Mumbai. In 2013, 175,000 Chinese went on holiday in India. Thailand, meanwhile, attracted 4.6 million Chinese visitors in 2014.

Tensions

The Indian government recently has expelled three journalists of the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua. This is the first time for New Delhi to expel Chinese journalists that could kick off a diplomatic row between China and India.

India’s military buildup near Chinese border also shows that the situation has become a tinderbox. It has been revealed that the Indian Army has moved over 100 Russian tanks T-72 to Ladakh, a disputed border between Indian occupied state of Kashmir and Tibet under Chinese rule. Both countries are preparing for the worst situation they could face in the midst of deteriorating relations. In addition, Indian Navy has sent three warships to the disputed South China Sea to plan training with Malaysian Navy, showing that there’s nothing strange with seeing any military conflicts between the two countries.

India thinks it should be on the UNSC with veto handle to control the world and is annoyed that China has not supported India’s pitch for permanent membership of the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) and is the only one of the P5 members trying to stymie India’s bid. Sparks flew when in the days leading up to India’s second round of nuclear tests in May 1998, the then Indian defence minister George Fernandes, termed Beijing as India’s “potential enemy No 1” worse than Pakistan or USA.

The stumbling blocks between India and China are hard to budge. China’s historic friendship with Pakistan hasn’t helped, nor has India’s decades-long hosting of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader living in India newly sworn in PM Modi invited to his inauguration in 2014. Then there are other issues too working against any credible ties to which NSG issue has been added last year to sustain the bilateral tensions. India seeks membership of NSG without signing the NPT. USA just pretends as a “terror victim” and strategic partner against terror wars, it promotes Indian interests in nuclear domains.

In recent years there have been attempts to mend and strengthen the relationship through bilateral visits from both heads of state. And while Indian manufacturers, like their counterparts elsewhere, complain about inexpensive Chinese products flooding the market, Indian consumers are lapping up everything from cheap Chinese phones and toys to clothes made in China.

India’s military buildup near Chinese border also shows that the situation has become a tinderbox. It has been revealed that the Indian Army has moved over 100 Russian tanks T-72 to Ladakh, a disputed border between Indian occupied state of Kashmir and Tibet under Chinese rule. Both countries are preparing for the worst situation they could face in the midst of deteriorating relations. In addition, Indian Navy has sent three warships to the disputed South China Sea to plan training with Malaysian Navy, showing that there’s nothing strange with seeing any military conflicts between the two countries.

The Indian government recently has expelled three journalists of the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua. This is the first time for New Delhi to expel Chinese journalists that could kick off a diplomatic row between China and India.

Fruitless effort

Narendra Modi made his first visit to China as Prime Minister of India in May 2014. One of his first stops will be the Wild Goose Pagoda in the central Chinese city of Xi’an, which, legend has it, was originally built to store first Chinese pilgrim to India in 7th Century Xuanzang’s Buddhist treasures from India.

Much before he became India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi was already a self-professed admirer of China. “China and its people have a special place in my heart,” Modi said in 2011 while he was on his fourth visit to the country as the Gujarat chief minister. “I admire their hard working, disciplined and resilient nature and above all, their sense of history.”

So, after he took control of the government in New Delhi last May, Modi wasted little time to try and strengthen ties with Beijing. Within days of taking office, he promptly invited Chinese president Xi Jinping to India. But by the time Xi arrived in September, the tricky nature of the India-China relationship was in full display: The Chinese president conducted a state visit in India while troops from both countries squared off in Ladakh.

Though relations between these two Asian behemoths warmed up in the aftermath of the visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to India in September 2014 and the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China in May 2015, the relations have once again hurtled downhill as they pursue their respective foreign policy agendas. Mutual trips by Indo-China leaders therefore have not been able to improve the tensed relations.

Through the “Maritime Silk Road” initiative, China has been trying to reach out to countries such as Sri Lanka and Maldives, right in India’s immediate neighborhood. Besides, of late, relations between China and Nepal have warmed up, particularly in the aftermath of the visit to Beijing by the Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli. Although China has asked India to be part of the Maritime Silk Road, New Delhi is in two minds over whether to join owing to the suspicion of India and other nations. Moreover, China put a “technical hold” over India’s attempts to designate the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, as a terrorist since New Delhi views him to be the mastermind behind a host of terror attacks in India, with the most recent being the Pathankot terror attacks in early January this year.

China accused Modi of “playing little tricks” over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China and went on to criticize the Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their corrupt democracy, as well as “the inferiority of India’s ordinary people.”

Political economy

China is India’s largest trading partner and like with many other countries, this relationship too is imbalanced. Trade between the two countries has been expanding annually at 15 percent since 2007. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $70.4bn last year with India reeling under a huge trade deficit of $52.67bn. Unfortunately for India, so has its trade deficit with China. In the financial year 2016 that ended March 31, India exported a little over $9 billion worth of goods to China, while it imported goods worth $61.7 billion, taking the trade deficit to a whopping $52.7 billion. Therefore trade experts said India’s dependence on China for export oriented growth is limited.

India mainly exports raw materials to China such as cotton and copper and as the Chinese economy rebalances to become more consumer led, there will be a further fall in exports. This is evident from the 2015-2016 figures that show Indian exports to China fell by over 24 percent.. China is a huge market for Ayurvedic and agro products and IT services India is eager to expand there in a big way.

The bilateral trade hovers around $70 billion, less than half the dollar figure of commercial ties between China and Australia. When President Xi visited India last September, the trip was hailed as groundbreaking — the first time a Chinese President had stepped on Indian soil in eight years. Yet Xi’s visit resulted in an underwhelming $20 billion in promised Chinese investment over a five-year period. By contrast, Xi vowed $46 billion in infrastructure spending for ally Pakistan during a trip there last month. As Xi was in India, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army reportedly dispatched hundreds of soldiers past the Line of Actual Control to a remote section of the India-China frontier.

Over the past 13 years, 142 Chinese companies have invested a total of $27 billion in India in sectors such as automotive parts and consumer electronics, according to CII. Top Chinese companies investing in India include Huawei Telecommunications, ZTE, Alibaba and Xiaomi. During the same period, 139 Indian companies have invested $12 billion in China, largely in the software and Information technology (IT) services sector. Many small manufacturers are sourcing products as diverse as firecrackers and religious idols from China. During Indian PM Narendra Modi’s visit to China, 24 agreements worth $22 billion were signed between Indian and Chinese companies to finance and invest in projects across sectors.

Meanwhile, China’s relations with its “all-weather friend” Pakistan are at an all-time high, with Beijing announcing that it will invest $46bn in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will connect Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province with the port of Gwadar in Pakistan.

Large Indian firms have traditionally been more interested in looking for mergers and acquisition in the West rather than investing in China. Dependence on China to fund the budget deficit is far more limited compared to some global peers. India’s total external borrowing as of the end of 2015 stood at $480 billion and the share of sovereign debt was just 19 percent with the rest made up of commercial borrowings and nonresident Indian deposits, according to government data.

Tourism is an area of cooperation and many Buddhists from China come to India while visiting the birthplace in neighboring Nepal of Shakyamuni Buddha, the founder of the religion.

American link

The relations between China and India are worsening rapidly as India supports US pivot in Asia against China. Unless the situation changes dramatically, the two countries could even go through armed conflict against each other. It would be no strange thing if this really happens, because they really went through armed conflict due to Sino-Indian border dispute in the early 1960s.

Part of the reason for the growing bonhomie between India and the USA is China’s growing belligerence. India and the USA say they have a common interest in ensuring the safety and security of the sea lanes of communication in the Indo-Pacific region which was reflected in the joint statement released by the two sides during the visit of the US President Barack Obama to India in January last year.

And under Modi, India has slowly, but surely, moved away from its traditional stance of non-alignment to multi-alignment. He has given a vigorous push to India’s “Act-East Policy” which aims at improving India’s ties with its neighbours in Southeast and East Asia. His first visit outside the Indian subcontinent after taking charge was to Japan, which has seen frayed ties with Beijing, of late.

The US-India Joint Statement notes that they “affirm the importance of safe-guarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.”

Chinese leadership advocates free trade, while US President-elect Donald Trump and his team appear committed to carrying out an economic policy based on protectionism. Trump has repeatedly blamed free trade agreements for damaging the US economy. The US president-elect has announced that he will withdraw from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Trump and any other country intent on pursuing protectionism against such policies in a speech at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland. He compared such efforts to attempts to “divert a river into lakes and creeks” and said that it was not possible.

China will be hit the hardest if countries hide behind trade barriers and if globalization is seen as the root cause of all evil. While the shadow of a credit bubble looms large over its economy, China, driven by a low-wage, enormous workforce, has become the global factory for low-cost products which it badly needs to market. It must have noted Donald Trump’s protectionist rhetoric with horror.

Observation

The reason behind such confrontation between the two countries is not complicated. First, their disputed borders are the major cause of tensions between them. They even had a war against each other 50 years ago, but failed to make any progress on the border dispute. Besides, the gap between the positions of China and India over Tibet is wide. While China sees Tibet as one of its local governments, India sees it as a government in exile.

Other reasons such as China’s expanding footprint in Nepal and its ambition to keep Southeast Asia under its control are also driving the bilateral relationship to the gate of armed conflict. Perhaps, the relations between the two countries should pass the crisis in order to find a string of efforts for normalization.

The bilateral relationship cannot be very good unless the border dispute is solved. Yes, not just that. In order to facilitate the bilateral ties on a large scale, India has to solve the Kashmir issue as Kashmir nation lies between India and China.

China’s has opposed India’s entry into the 48-member grouping, which is one of the irritants in Sino-India ties. China on January 16 warned India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) cannot be a “farewell gift” to the outgoing US President Barack Obama. Beijing’s reaction came after US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal of Indian origin described China as an “outlier” in the process of letting India joining the nuclear trade bloc. “Regarding India’s application to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, regarding non-NPT countries admission to the NSG, we have made our position clear before so I will not repeat it,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said here. “I just want to point out that NSG membership shall not be some kind of farewell gift for countries to give to each other,” Hua said, obliquely referring to Obama who will be succeeded by Donald J. Trump. The US government, under Obama, has strongly backed India’s membership in the NSG, which regulates the global nuclear trade. Beijing objects to New Delhi’s inclusion in the bloc, citing rules that India’s non-signatory status to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

While it is unlikely that India will be a part of any Western-led attempts to bandwagon against Beijing any time soon, it also wants to ensure that Beijing does not seize the initiative in India’s backyard.

Of course, China is also preparing for the worst. According to military sources in Beijing, China has deployed more troop along the India border, showing off its will to respond immediately if the worst really happens.

India cannot take the foreign cricketers and badminton or other sports/entertainments coming to play joint sport exercises as a victory for foreign policy, after all, they come to play for money and they are trained to do exactly what the sponsors expect and the mafias want. Don’t the English cricketers now do exactly what Indian sponsors and government agencies want? Governments promote their sportsmen also to be top billionaires by all possible means.

India requires prudence and pragmatism in dealing with countries with different economic and political systems, like China and Pakistan, while core media in the country should shed extra elements of arrogance and over confidence.

East Asia

North Korea’s Nuclear Threat and East Asia’s Regional Security Stability

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Authors: Raihan Ronodipuro& Hafizha Dwi Ulfa*

The East Asian region’s anarchy system is colored by mutual distrust, which makes the countries in this region constantly competitive. There are both internal and external forces driving countries in this area to continue to improve their national security.

North Korea, like other East Asian nations, believes that it must continue to strengthen its armed forces in order to defend itself from external threats. Internally, North Korea is considered to have a juche philosophy, which emphasizes independence from other countries and emphasizes military force as a defensive policy.

Meanwhile, North Korea raises its military strength in self-defense efforts to balance the United States’ defense alliance with South Korea and Japan, where the alliance is perceived as a challenge to North Korea in the region.

Likewise, South Korea sees nuclear North Korea as a major threat to its security as a neighboring nation that threatens international peace and wishes North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Since the 1950s, North Korea has been working on developing nuclear missiles. North Korea’s production and testing of nuclear missiles has heightened tensions and fears in the East Asian region. North Korea has performed a series of nuclear missile drills, which are believed to be destabilizing the region’s atmosphere.

In 2006, this nuclear test was performed for the first time. This move attracted a strong reaction from the international community, with several nations, including Russia and China, who have diplomatic contacts with the communist state, condemning North Korea’s test action and urging all parties concerned to show caution in order to prevent regional tensions.China’s active involvement is also expected to have a positive impact, but in reality China always has a double role. Beijing finds itself caught in a dilemma in preventing North Korea nuclear strategist. In this context, China’s relations position with United States as an influential country in the region will have an important role for the nuclear settlement process on the Korean Peninsula.

Furthermore, China and the United States debated the prospect of a UN Security Council resolution in reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test. The international community is still concerned about North Korea’s ongoing nuclear production and research. The production of nuclear missiles by North Korea will strengthen the United States, South Korea, and Japan by improving military technology to fight the North Korean nuclear threat.

The presence of growing mistrust between countries could also spark a traditional arms race in East Asia. North Korea’s defiant posture is shown by the trials it continues to conduct, rendering the situation in the country more complicated and unpredictable. North Korea, South Korea, and Japan all agree that their countries must continue to strengthen their defense in order to protect themselves from external attacks.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons have three kinds of consequences: international stability, proliferation, and the nuclear nonproliferation policy. North Korea’s nuclear weapons production will increase security vigilance in the East Asian zone, potentially making events volatile.

This nuclear proliferation has a major effect on the stability of regional security in the East Asian region, and it has the potential to ignite a nuclear arms race among regional countries, as well as the expansion of capabilities among other countries with nuclear weapons, such as the United States, China, and Russia, as well as the rise of interest in nuclear weapons by a nation that does not have one.

To maintain equilibrium in an anarchist international system, such as the viewpoint of realism, a balance of power is needed. This power balance is complex in nature, and it can move in response to changing developments at both the national and international levels.Apart from the United States interests as an influential country in the East Asia geopolitics and geostrategy, it is hoped that United States can implement policies that maintain the stability and security of the East Asian region.

In the end, an equilibrium will arise, either through peace or through war. This is consistent with East Asia’s complex balance of power, in which one country’s defense policy affects other countries in the region, causing mistrust between countries to surface and color their relationship. Because of their mutual mistrust, these countries are able to use military force or wage war in the East Asian region.

In a realist perspective, the state is a rational actor, and the interactions carried out by the state are nothing other than the interests of the state itself, which is not unusual if the greedy existence of this state then creates a confrontation if there are gaps of interests between nations. In this situation, the public interest may be viewed as a weapon used by the state to accomplish its goals.

A state’s national interest also serves to defend its citizens and its territories. North Korea’s interest in nuclear production is motivated by a desire to strengthen its country’s defense in the face of external challenges, especially from the United States and South Korea. In this situation, it is clear that North Korea is attempting to amass as much strength as possible within its boundaries.

Then it is related to the theory of National Security, which is characterized as the allocation of resources for the development, execution, and implementation of what is known as a coherent facility, which is used by the state to achieve its country’s interests. North Korea’s nuclear program is designed to strengthen its national security defense and negotiating power. The presence of this nuclear weapon force, however, allows for the rise of an arms race and has an impact on security stability, especially in the East Asian region.

*Hafizha Dwi Ulfa is a Research Assistant of the Indonesian International Relations Study Center with focus analysis in ASEAN, East Asia, and Indo-Pacific studies.

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The Galwan Conflict: Beginning of a new Relationship Dynamics

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The 15th June, 2020 may very well mark a new chapter in the Indo-Chinese relationship and pave the way for totally new politico-strategic equations, shaping the way for a more complex and unstable world order in the near future. On this night, a bloody, violent and unusual armed clash took place between two of the world’s fiercest armies, Indian and Chinese, at the heights of Galwan Valley in Ladakh. Officially, India has admitted losing 20 of its soldiers, including a senior officer while China, continues to be discreet about PLA casualties and after a good 8-months hiatus, came up with a what everyone knows a blatant lie– a 4-death figure.

This border conflict however, has made the situation volatile between the two Asian powers. The borders between the two, almost 3,400 Kms continue to remain unclear and non-demarcated in the form of Line of Actual Control (LAC) and that is something the Chinese side, is quite keen to continue with. It is the Chinese strategy that it has employed since 1950s to continue occupying territories without firing a single bullet. From Tibet to Aksai Chin to South China Seas, China has gained territories by portraying itself as a great military power but not really able to showcase its military might anywhere.

However, the efficacy of its military remains questionable on certain credible grounds. It is well known that the Chinese PLA comprises of officers and troops who are recruited on account of their loyalty and service to the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) and not entirely on professional grounds and hence, is a politicized force. Internal reports leaked out from China have also indicated of massive restructuring and training exercises for the PLA to keep it as a proper fighting force, being initiated on direct orders of the Chines President, Xi Jinping.

The PLA again does not have a distinguished military track record. In 1954, it occupied Tibet, a free, sovereign country till then who had at best, a medieval age, security force to defend itself. In 1962 border conflict with India, it won due to the impuissance of Nehru and his lack of politico-strategic vision and leadership. However, the border conflict at Nathu La with India in 1967, proved to be its undoing with PLA losing more than 300 soldiers against Indian losses of 80 troops.

Even in the Vietnam war, it failed to emerge as a clear winner against the tiny Vietnam. Since then, it has had no real time fighting exposure. In one of the highly embarrassing episodes, a unit of the PLA as part of the UN peacekeeping duties, ran away leaving their weaponry and armaments, in Sudan in 2016. In the very recent Galwan fight-off with the Indian border troops, again the PLA failed to show it in a gallant light as in spite of a virtual 4:1 ratio against Indians, it failed to ensure a victory and in fact had to concede the area to Indians it had occupied surreptitiously a few weeks ago.

It is true that since the commencement of economic reforms in China in early 1980s, the single party political dictatorship has helped China to grow economically and emerge as the manufacturing hub of the world. The impressive economic turnaround has helped China to enhance its political stature in the comity of nations while also providing with enough money to use them for furthering its politico-strategic objectives. From making huge investments in national economies of Europe, US, Canada to Africa, South and South-East Asia to becoming a major player in global capital and bond markets, China has strategically made its presence felt.

With Xi Jinping’s accession as the Chairman of CCP, ambitions of China got a new fillip. The highly ambitious politico-strategic initiative, in the form of debt diplomacy, the much-touted Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) emerged as the innovative neo-colonialist Chinese weapon to secure the political and military control of the world. Already many countries beneficial of Chinese strategic benevolence like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Congo, Senegal, Kazakhstan are feeling the pinch. Their politico-strategic sovereignty is under a severe threat from China. No wonder, other countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives and many others are trying to balance their politico-strategic relationship with the middle kingdom.

Subsequent to the Galwan fiasco, after the Doklam setback in 2017 China seems to be in a catch-22 situation. It is not in a position to go for even a limited war with India while compelled to a negotiated settlement with India, has affected its perceived military capability adversely. While losing the political and military trust of India in a hurry, it has made India more emboldened and cautious.

India has suddenly gone into a military build-up overdrive with scores of new missiles and armaments that have been tested in recent months. On the politico-strategic front, much to China’s dismay, QUAD is getting into a shape while the US Navy and Air Force is constantly increasing its presence in South China Seas. Taiwan too, is getting bold and willing to face China, with the US as its protector.

Japan that till recently maintained its dependence on the US alone for its security, too has opened up and started bolstering its defences with China in mind. Countries in the region like Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam are getting into strategic dialogues with India to counter China’s strategic dominance. They are also opening up to arms imports from India. And most importantly India has started seeing itself as a strategic rival to China, more explicitly. Voices in New Delhi regarding getting closer to Taiwan, are undoubtedly a pointer in that direction. And so is the Chinese reactions when its embassy is seen publishing full page advertorials in Indian media, cautioning against abandoning the so-called One-China policy.

While military and diplomatic negotiations on disengagement and de-escalation continue between India and China, it will remain debateable if China actually gained out of its latest incursions in Ladakh. While its PLA had an element of aura till Galwan, since then questions repeatedly are being raised on the capability and leadership of the entire PLA. How far those assessments are correct or otherwise need to be seen but it seems absolutely certain that China has lost much in the process. It will have to prepare for a new, emerging politico-strategic dynamics that could well be not to its liking.

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Sino-US rivalry and the myth of Thucydides Trap

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The writer of the view that are an outcome of complex phenomena. One can’t understand them through the lens of Thucydides trap which he considers nothing short of a China-bashing myth. He points out that nuclear capability itself is a great deterrence to war adventurism.  He stresses that wars are outlandish in terms of postulates of Modern theory of Conflict Management; that states conflict is not spread by a black sheep but it is natural to human relations. It can’t be eliminated by eliminating the blacksheep. The key to success lies in keeping the conflict to its minimal point while remaining peacefully engaged with one’s adversary.

Wars end in ceasefires, “grand concerts’, and realisation that they were avoidable. That they were cumulative upshot of reciprocal stupidities of belligerents.  Post-World War II period has not witnessed any war between major powers as they realise that how destructive a nuclear war would be. The potential belligerents nowadays enjoy armchair warfare blaming one another of hostile intentions.

Fallacy of thinking templates

The best way to analyse why a war broke out in the first place is to interview the key warriors or belligerents. But, most of them stand perished in wars unable to tell their part of the story. As such, major powers rely on thinking templates like Thucydides Trap to create imaginary rivals to fit in the crucible of their templates.

Thucydides’s Trap comes about “when a rising power threatens to displace an established power. Graham Allison, in his Destined for War (page vii) says, ‘As a rapidly ascending China challenges America’s accustomed predominance, these two nations risk falling into a deadly trap  first identified by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides…He explained: It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled  in Sparta that made war inevitable’. Though key players may abhor wars “unexpected events by third parties or accidents that would otherwise be inconsequential or manageable, but even ordinary flashpoints in foreign affairs, can act as sparks that trigger large-scale conflict”.  Thucydides trap could perhaps be rephrased as stupidities trap.

Arnold Toynbee once said” history is something unpleasant that happens to other people”. Through their myopic decisions rulers sleep walk into the vortex of war. They are sure that their enemies would perish both they would survive. Yet the outcomes are quite pungent. Look at the outcomes of the World War I (1914-18) and II (1939-45). When the World War I ended  in 1918, the Austro Hungarian Empire had vanished, German Kaiser ousted, Russian Tsar shown the door, France, Britain and so many other countries were left to mourn loss of depletion of their treasuries and extinction of youth  capital (scientists/engineers/doctors/teachers/intellectuals-to be). At the end of the World War II, Germany could not replace the United Kingdom. Two unexpected hegemons the erstwhile Soviet Union and the USA were born out of the womb of the war. The UK lost the fifty colonies that Hitler much talked about in his fiery speeches.

Before committing suicide, Hitler must have reminisced ‘ I was mistaken not to have thought about eliminating England as they were sons of a German tribe l’anglais who migrated to britain due to vagaries of nature’. ‘I was a fool to have ventured into the freezing Russia’. John Fitzgerald Kennedy rejected the dictum “better dead than Red”. Yet many of his decisions pushed closer and c loser to a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. During post-WWII, McCarthyism had blurred American vision so much that they saw red in everywhere.

Classical versus Modern theory of conflict management

Relations and conflicts between states  

Thucydides trap takes a simplistic view of relations and conflicts between states.Thousands of years back Chanakya posited his mandal (interrelationships) doctrine.

One of his most misunderstood postulate is ‘all neighbouring countries are actual or potential enemies’. So they have to be subdued. Little attention is paid to another of his counter-balancing postulate, mandal (interrelationships) doctrine. In mandal, Chanakya thinks in terms of intersecting and just touching circles. He focuses on intersecting section of two intersecting circles like in mathematical solution set theory.

Even Kissinger, Kafka, et al, believed in establishing effective ‘spheres of influence’. Rich, powerful and progressing countries could but would not shun their poor pals in the comity of nations.

History shows that weakness invites aggression. Often militarily strong countries have attacked weaker nations with ‘litany of problems’ on one pretext or another. Economic motive could be unearthed in both modern and ancient wars. For instance, the Trojan War (1250 BC) was caused by an economic rivalry between Mycenae and Troy. Grants by Persia of good western Anatolian land to politically amenable Greeks, or to Iranians, created a casus belli for wars with rivals.

Yet all wars are justified by the now discarded  Classical Theory of Conflict management, and rejected by the Modern Theory of Conflict management.

According to modern theory of conflict management, terrorism or any conflict for that matter is not really caused by a few black sheep, as assumed under the Classical Theory of Conflict Management.

The Classical Theory says that “conflict is created by a blacksheep. If he is eliminated the conflict is eliminated there and then”. The modern theory, on the contrary postulates “No matter what you do conflict cannot be eliminated. It is natural to relations. However, through effort, it could be kept at its minimal point. And the minimal point is the optimal point”.

Fallacy of rising Dragon

It appears that Joe Biden is not a prisoner to Thucydies trap. He views rivalry with China as intense competition not as confrontation. He calls the shots but then quickly defuses the situation. For instance, to pacify furious China about `freedom of navigation’ in the South China Sea, he dispatched USS Pal Jones into the Lakshadweep waters. The aim was to send the message, that China need not fume and fret much about the Quad. The USA still thinks in terms of some principles.

Neither Sparta nor Athens was a nuclear power. If so, they would have perhaps preferred to remain engaged in a long period of cold war. In the ancient Greek world, it was Athens that threatened Sparta. In the late 19th Century, Germany challenged Britain. Today a rising China is believed to be challenging the United States. But, neither China nor the USA is structurally similar to Sparta or Athens. For ease of thinking we liken the two states to either China or the USA.

Today’s China is more inspired by Song dynasty which pushed economic progress through peace rather than wars like some other dynasties. China remarkably grew in terms of Gross Domestic product, imports, exports and reserves. But it still lags behind the USA.

China’s GDP of 7%  as a percentage of the United States’  in 1980 rose to 61 % in 2015, imports from 8%to 73%, exports from 8% to 151%, and reserves from 16% to 3140%.  Chinese economy doubled every seventh year. Still, it is no match for the USA. Chinese workers have become more productive. Yet they are quarter as productive as the American.  China still lags behind the USA in major economic indicators. Look at Chinese economic size in terms of GDP:  year 2000 ($ trillion 1.211), 2010 (($ trillion 6.101), 2016 (($ trillion 11.199). Corresponding figures for the USA are: U.S. 2010 ($ trillion 10.285), 2011 ($ trillion 14.964), 2016 ($ trillion 18.624). GDP per capita ($) for the aforementioned years from 2010 to 2016: China 940.  4,340, 8,250. U.S. 36,070, 48,950, 56,810. Researchers in R&D (per million people) China: 547.3, 903, and 1176.6. Corresponding figures for the US:  3475.7, 3868.6, and 4232. R&D expenditure (% of GDP) China:  0.896, 1.71, and 2.066. U.S.: 2.617, 2.734, and 2.794.

True, China has been the fastest-growing economy since 1979. Yet, it is nowhere near surpassing the USA even on one account that is gross Domestic Product. Heretofore are China and US figures of economic growth for the years 1977, 1987, 1997, 2003, 2008, and 2019. China: China 843,097, 1,883,027, 3,706,647,   6,187,983, 8,908,894, US$ trillion) 14.4.  USA: USA: 3,868,829, 5,290,129, 7,109,175, 8,431,121, 9,485,136, and 21.44.

Engagement not containment

Wars precede isolation. A benign corollary of Sino-US rivalry is that they are not isolating from one another but engaging in multi-dimensional economic relations.

Mr. Trump was viscerally predisposed to viewing China as a looming military threat to peripheral countries, in general, and the USA, in particular. True, Mr. Biden is also viewed as an America Firster.

Biden realises that China is much behind the USA in economic and military prowess. China trails behind the USA in terms of expenditure on its defence forces and possession of actual military equipment. Despite ongoing modernization, China spends approximately $ 5 billion in arms export far below US exports of about $ 46.5 billion. China’s sales are about three per cent of global sales while the USA’s are about 79 per cent.

The US has over 8,000 operational and inactive warheads as against China’s 240 mostly non-deployed.  The US has 2,000 nuclear weapons with strategic/intercontinental-range compared with China’s twenty. The US have sixteen ballistic missile submarines compared with China’s one, and more than 1000 US nuclear cruise missiles, compared with none for China.

The US has ten aircraft carriers plus one under construction attached to the Fifth and Seventh Fleet. China currently has two aircraft carriers, with a third in early construction, and a fourth planned for sometime in the mid-2020 or 2030s. Their first carrier, the Liaoning was commissioned by the PLAN in 2012, though it was first laid down in the early 1990s.

Shades of China’s critics

China critics in the USA are not monolithic. They have many shades including `Engagers’, `Realists’, `Duopolists’, ` China Lead’, `Declinists’ and so on.

The `Critics’ have an un-reconcilable antipathy toward China because of its repression of a wide spectrum of human rights (religious, labour, media and ethnic minority).

The `engagers’ lookup for common ground with China as a matter of national interest. The `engagers’ are optimistic that globalization, economic interdependence and rules of multilateral trade will lead to democratisation in China.

`Realist engagers’ are convinced that China has learnt lessons from the collapse of the former Soviet Union about the dangers of imperial overstretch. As such, China understands the realities of the current international system and limited capacity to change it.

`China Duopolists’ believe the USA and China could cooperate to bring into being a Chimerica (G-2), being the two most important countries.

The `China lead’ school believes China is already on the verge of replacing the USA as the world’s number-one power.

The `Declinists’ believe that the demise of the US global leadership already occurred as `Washington consensus’ has been replaced by `. It is now Beijing, not Washington that is dictating new rules to govern the international economy.

Joseph Biden belongs to the `America Firster’ School that China can’t replace the USA as number-one, even if it tries to. After visiting China, Biden wrote `the United States has nothing to fear from China since it is far ahead of China in size of the economy, per capita income, scientific innovation, and educational excellence among other indicators’ (Biden, China’s Rise Isn’t Our Demise, New York Times, September 7, 2011, online ed.).

Global Leadership

At present, China lacks the soft and hard power to supplant the USA.  To do so, China needs to:

(a) Command loyalty of the majority of the countries. (b) Initiate, innovate and articulate policies, programmes and activities, including dispensing rewards and punishments. (c) Being a `model’, worth emulating, of values, culture, language, laws, and social and political practices. (d) Excel in soft-power resources such as educational and public-health systems

Concluding remarks

Thucydides traps is a china-bashing myth. Biden is a whiff of fresh air, though he has no magic wand to change the climate and trade atmosphere.  He has promised to rebuild America’s decrepit infrastructure, spend more on health and education, and ease immigration.  He has pledged to raise tax on firms and the wealthy.

He is no revolutionary though his policies are tilted to the left of what Trump did. His job is to re-unite fractious American democracy. He is inclined to shun the personalized style of his predecessor’s rule, scorning decency and truth.

Joe understands China better than his predecessor. But, it remains to be seen how the USA would set right the topsy-turvy alliances that Trump had interwoven. Confrontation with China will make it difficult for Biden to deliver his promises to the American electorate.

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