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Sino-Indian relations in flux?

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India became independent on August 15, 194 while China on April 1, 1950.  Sino-Indian relations have since witnessed ups and downs from bonhomie, hindi-chinee bhai bhai (Indian-Chinese brotherhood) to being at daggers drawn. The last coffin in the relations is India’s cartographic aggression of amending maps to show Chinese territories  as Indian.

Genesis of boundary dispute

McMahon Line: Upon independence, British legacy was  a boundary dispute with China in the east in the form of McMahon Line “by treaty, custom or both’, exacerbated by India’s claim of disputed Kashmir state’s accession on October 26, 1947 (historian Alastair Lamb doubts authenticity of the `instrument of accession’).

India’s prime minister pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru was adamant that  `India’s boundaries with China were clear and not a matter off further argument’(Notes, Memoranda and Agreement Signed between the Government of India and China, White Paper II, 1957 (new Delhi, Ministry of external Affairs, government of India, 1959), p. 49, 52-57). China shrugged off India’s point of view.

Border incursions

Both countries accused each other of border violations. India alleged People’s Liberation Army often trespassed Hoti, Damzen, Shipki Pass, Lapthal and Sangcha Malla by 1954. To create a nation-wide furor, Nehru told Indian parliament on August 25, 1959 that a Chinese detachment encroached into Indian Territory of Longiu in the Subansiri frontier Division at a place south of Migyitunand opened fire. Inlate1950s,

The 1962 War

Nehru and Zhou En Lai met in New Delhi from April 19 to 25 1960 to defuse the situation. But, it was in vain. The boundary dispute led to October 1962 War. In the short war, China occupied Aksai Chin, an uninhabited area of Ladakh in disputed Kashmir state, close to Azad Kashi area. After occupying Aksai Chin, China built its Highway219 to connect to its eastern province of Xinjiang.

Why Sino-Indian bonhomie ended

The 1962 War was upshot of Indi’s Forward Policy, propounded by Indian’s General BM Kaul, and reluctantly followed by Nehru. According to this policy, India provocatively deployed troops and established b order outposts along India-China boundary. To justify deployment, India alleged China had built seven roads inside the Indian territory of Ladakh, several roads being close to India’s border in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, six in Sikkim and Bhutan borders, and eight in the North East Frontier Agency. It was further alleged that China had established seven new posts in Ladakh, 14 in the Central Sector of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, 12  across Sikkim and Chumb Valley, and three across NEFA.

Contours of Disputed border

Sino-Indian boundary is divided into three sectors, eastern western and the middle. The border dispute relates only to the western and eastern sectors. Western sector covers 4000 kilometers. Half of this boundary separates disputed Kashmir from China’s north-western province, province Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region. In the undefined northern part of the frontier, India claims an area equivalent in size to Switzerland under China is actually part of Indian Territory of Ladakh. Besides, Indian claims a Chinese controlled territory that was debatably ceded to China by Pakistan in the northern sector. Furthermore, Shakasgam Valley was claimed by India but later happened to be shown as Chinese territory in China Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1963.

China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh

China claims an Indian controlled area three times bigger, including most of Arunachal Pradesh. China never ratified McMahon Line.

Since inclusion of Tibet in China, Arunachal Pradesh is a buffer between Tibet an India’s north-eastern region. Arunachal Pradesh used to be defined by India as North Eastern Frontier Agency during 1980 to 1954. It was converted into a state in 1955.

The McMahon Line was drawn in 1914 under Simla Accord initiated by plenipotentiaries of the British India, Tibet, and pre-Communist China. The People’s Republic of China never ratified the agreement as it regarded Tibet as inalienable part of Chinese territory.

Twang Region

China disputes Indian claim that Tawang region is a part of Indian Territory, showed as such in McMahon Line. China says Taiwan had historically been a part of Tibet. By corollary it is a part of China.

The Sino-Indian dispute began from Taiwan region. In view of India’s hardline position, China began to claim whole state of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory.

The myth of McMahon Line

Indian leader’s pugnacious statements about dual-front war have once again brought the McMahon Line into limelight. In its boundary dispute with China, India stresses sacrosanctity of the so-called McMahon Line. Let us look at this mythical Line. As in the Western Sector, the boundary between India and Tibet in the Eastern Sector from Bhutan to Burma also was not delimited. However, in 1873, the British drew an administrative line short of the Tibetan foothills, called the inner line. This line was not an international boundary. The British then drew another line, the’ Outer Line’. This line encompassed the external territorial frontier along the foothills, where they rose abruptly from plains for the steep climb to Tibetan plateau.

The British did not extend their authority to Assam Himalaya (North Eastern Frontier Agency), though they considered it strategically important. The McMahon Line followed the crest of Himalayas. But, it did not create a real water-shed boundary line. Circumscribing several rivers, including Brahmaputra (Tsangpo), the line moved along the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, getting broken along ridges, before entering the Brahmaputra Valley. Following signing of the Lhasa Convention as a result of Young Husband Mission in 1904, China realised precariousness of her suzerainty in Tibet. The British also felt that, after occupation of Lhasa by Manchu government in 1910, Chinese incursions into the tribal areas would pose threat to Assam (India). Lord Minto, the then Viceroy of India, therefore, proposed that the so-called Outer Line be extended to include all tribal areas except Tawang Tract. His, successor Lord Hardinge too favoured a strategic boundary between China plus Tibet and the tribal territory. While the British were brooding over various strategies, the Chinese took the initiative to establish themselves at Tsangpo Valley and headwaters of several rivers flowing into Assam.

The clever Englishman then noticed that confrontation with China would not serve her strategic interests. It would, be better to accept Tibet as a buffer state between China and colonial India. To achieve this objective, the Englishman organised a tripartite conference ‘of delegates from Tibet, China and British at Simla in 1913 under the Chairmanship of Henry McMahon, the Foreign Secretary to the Government of India. The aim of the conference was to draw ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’ Zones in Tibet and deter the Chinese from administering the outer Tibet. Since, the Chinese delegate did not agree to this’ proposal, the conference broke down. In April 1914, McMahon somehow managed to get the draft treaty initialled by the Chinese delegate Ivan Chen. Later, McMahon and the Tibetan representative signed a joint declaration to the effect that the redrafted convention would be binding on both their governments. Maxwell in his book India’s China War further brings out that the map accompanying the draft convention showed the proposed division of Tibet into ‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’ Zones. The frontier of Tibet was marked in red colour and the proposed boundary between the two Tibetan Zones in blue colour. But the red line, which for greater part of its length showed the boundary between Tibet and China, curved round its southern extension to show what would have been boundary between India and Tibet.

In that sector it followed the alignment on which McMahon had agreed with the Tibetans. The proceedings of the agreement were made public in 1935 and the Survey of India began to mark the lines on their maps. After the Second World War, the McMahon Line got revived. Posts happened to be established in the two regions through routes, Walong and Dirang Dzong, which connected India with Tibet. Though India does not have a cogent case on the boundary issue, let us elucidate India’s point of view vis-à-vis China’s. India believes: (a) in the Eastern Sector, the McMahon Line is respected by China in the actual observance even though name of this line is anathema to the Chinese as a “hangover from the era of colonialism”. The two countries have divergent perceptions about two vital places.

These are Thag La (Chodong) and Migyuton (Long ju). ThagLa lies towards east of Bhutan and adjoins it. Long ju lies on another border route to the east of it. (b) In the Central Sector, that is, the alignment west of Nepal and reaching the Ladakh area of the IRK, the disputes concern the alignment of postures at Bara Roti (Wu Je). Here both sides have agreed before 1962 to respect the status quo and not to maintain any military presence. (c) It is in Ladakh, that the two sides have a major difference over the alignment. The main points of the Chinese view are: (a) there were only four points of dispute on the line of actual control. Regarding area in Ladakh under dispute, China had declared in 1963 that she would vacate the area in which India had set up 43 military posts prior-to the War of 1962. However, the border adjoining Baltistan and the Dardic States being under Pakistan’s control, India should first settle the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. (b) The Aksai Chin road is vital to China, because it links Western Tibet to Sinkiang. This road was built by the Chinese from Shigatse in Tibet to Yechen in Sinkiang covers a distance of 2,000 miles at a height varying from 11,000 ft to 16,000 ft through Aksai Chin. In Aksai Chin the road passes through Shabidulla (once the outpost of the State of Jammu and Kashmir) and ends at Kokyar where Sinkiang begins (Even though the journey is difficult and arduous, the Chinese use it in preference to the Keriya route which passes East of Aksai Chin and also links Rhutog in western Tibet to Khotan in Sinkiang.

The Aksai Chin road, together with the highway from Kashgar to the Khunjerab Pass and onwards into Pakistan, forms part of the lines of communication in the two remote non-Han autonomous republics, namely Tibet and Sinkiang). (c) Part of India’s border with the Sinkiang autonomous region is under Pakistan’s control since 1947. So, again, India should first settle the dispute with Pakistan first (As per Pakistan’s and Azad Kashmir’s governments’ agreement, the Northern Areas are under administrative control of Pakistan. (Facsimile of the agreement is given in Yousaf Saraf‘s Kashmiris Fight for Freedom). The Northern Areas include Gilgit, Hunza, and Baltistan, except the frontier from Siachen Glacier in the West to the Karakoram Pass and Aksai Chin. (The areas are of importance to upper Ladakh as the two rivers, the Shyok and Mibra have their origin here in Rumo and Siachin Glaciers respectively. The two rivers join and then fall into the Indus River and serve the water needs of the whole area of Ladakh North of Indus.) (d) The provisional agreement between China and Pakistan in respect of the area west of Siachin Glacier in March 1963 gives the area of Shaksgam, which abuts on the Siachin to China. Some areas of Tapndumbash, Pamir and Raksam have been given by China to Pakistan.) (e) The 1963 agreement between Pak and China covers the border right up to the Karakoram Pass. These areas will need tripartite negotiations when political conditions become favourable. Conspicuously, China’s position regarding McMahon is tenable under international law. As for India, it maintains a variable position.

India’s equivocal China policy

The hallmark of India’s foreign policy towards her neighbours is equivocation. India’s China policy is ostensibly based on Panchsheel principles that are mutual respect, non-aggression, non-interference and peaceful existence. But, it is actually based on Chanakya’s mandala principle which states ‘all neighbouring countries are actual or potential enemies’.

The duality of India’s foreign policy is reflected in her relations with China. Atal Behari Vajpayee, then Indian prime minister, is extolled as `architect of India’s China policy’. During his visit (June 2003) to China, he admitted China’s suzerainty over Tibet. Even in a written statement before the Lok Sabha, he said, ‘On Tibet, I would like to assure this House that there is no change in our decades old policy. We have never doubted that the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China”. But, in a subsequent press conference, he clarified that there was no cataclysmic change in the status quo and India’s views on disputes with China.

After the visit, the Indian delegation told newsmen that ‘the Chinese draft wanted India to use the word “inalienable” for both Tibet and Taiwan being part of its territory, but India did not go the whole hog with this phraseology. Frontline dated July 18, 2003 reported, ‘Indian officials were at pains to point out that they had used the term “People’s Republic of China”, and not China- the PRC being an entity that came into existence in 1949’.

“What was the status quo? Kiran Kumar Thaplyal and Shiva Nandan Misra in – Select Battles in Indian History: From Earliest Times to 2000 A.D, (Volume II, page 632), point out ‘India gave major concession to China by giving up military, communications, and postal rights. It also withdrew military detachments from Yatung and Gyantse. By this treaty (1954) India indirectly recognized Chinese sovereignty (as against suzerainty) over Tibet referring to the latter as Tibet region of China’.

India’s intrusions into the Chinese territory are a stark contradiction of her status quo concerning the Chinese territory adjoining her so-called state of ‘Arunachal Pradesh’. The after math of the India-China War, also, was acceptance of Chinese point of view by India.

The vicissitudes of India – China Relations (1950 – 1962) reflect that India unquestioningly accepted China’s control of Tibet. India’s policy on Tibet during the British rule was to secure Tibet as a buffer state between India and China (fear of red China and the then USSR).

Yet, to China’s chagrin, India spurred Tibetans to expe1 the Chinese mission from Lhasa in the middle of 1949. This event forced the Republic of China in January 1950 to claim Tibet as part of China. Induction of Chinese army into that region in October 1950 vapourised the Englishman-conceived buffer between India and China.

India made muffled protests and then, according to military historians, ‘meekly acquiesced’ to China’s forward policy. In November 1950, when EI Salvador requested that Tibetans plea be heard by the United Nation, the Indian delegate did not support it. United States and Britain could not exploit the issue as India, China’s immediate neighbour, did not vote for Salvadorian proposal.

India acquiesced to construction of strategic roads, linking China with Tibet, during Nehru’s ‘Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai’ era. The Chinese had constructed two roads for taking heavy load across Tibet to areas close to the so-called McMahon line. Simultaneously they surveyed the entire Aksai Chin.

In 1956, China constructed a road through Aksai Chin area from hills near Yarkand to Gartok. Johnson line had earlier shown this area as part of Kashmir, but India made no protest. In 1950, the Chinese rushed supplies through this very route to Western Tibet.

In 1958, China claimed Aksai Chin” as part of China. Now, India woke up from Rip Von Winkle’s slumber and made a counter-claim to possession of Aksai Chin.

The Indian claim was untenable under principles of international law which favoured the party in prior occupation. India had no case as it had never surveyed the area or sent her patrols into that area. As such, India did not invoke jurisdiction of International Court of Justice.

However, as an afterthought to create corroborative evidence, India sent two Indian patrols to investigate the road in July 1958. One of the patrols sent in the Southern sector came back safe while the other patrol sent in the northern sector was captured by the Chinese.

When India protested to China, the Chinese retorted that they had captured the patrol as it had, in violation of the ‘Panchsheel’ principles, trespassed their territory. When India agitated the boundary issue, the Chinese replied that the boundary between the two countries had never been delimited. About the McMahon line, the Chinese maintained that the Simla convention was signed only by the British and the Tibetan representatives and the Chinese government had not ratified the treaty.

China never accepted the Indian point of view that ‘the McMahon line was legalised by Simla convention. As such, ‘the boundary claimed by India both in the Western and the Eastern Sectors was based on geography, tradition as well as specific international agreement between India and China’. India however stuck to her schizophrenic contention on the boundary line in the eastell1 sector and her claim ‘to territory between McMahon line and the foot-hills’. As for Aksai Chin, the Chinese maps published in 1958 showed this area as part of their territory.

In March 1959, Dalai Lama fled to India, and was given asylum along with his followers. The New China News Agency accused India of ‘expansionist aims in Tibet’. Indian border post of Assam Rifles at Longju was evicted by the Chinese by force. In the Western Sector, the Indian government decided to set up posts north east of Leh.

India sent patrols to Lanak Pass. One of these patrols of about seventy men encountered the Chinese at Kongka Pass. On 20 October the Chinese and Indian patrols clashed. The flight of the Dalai Lama into India in 1960 and clashes between rival patrols led to a border war between India and China in 1962.

Duplicity in India’s foreign policy is the greatest obstruction to peaceful resolution of her disputes with her neighbours. She never tangibly objected to Chinese control of Tibet or construction of communication links in the area. Never invoked intervention by UNO on this matter. Yet, she sheltered Dalai Lama, and sent patrols into Chinese territory, leading 0 India-China War. India considers Kashmir issue to be a bilateral dispute. Yet she does not like to sit eye-ball-to-eyeball with Pakistan on dialogue table. She boasts of friendly relations with Bangladesh. But, simultaneously accuses the latter of providing sanctuaries to Indian ‘terrorists’ and ‘insurgents’ in BD territory. About Bhutan, the Indian strategic analysts say, if India does not annex it, China will.

Inference: It is high time India said no to her whimsical behaviour. How long will India cling to the Barbie doll of animosity towards her neighbours? It is not Chanakya’s mandala principle, but reason, which India should follow.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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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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