Managing the India-China-US triangle

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by ejazr, Dec 31, 2010.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    The trouble that comes in threes
    Kishore Mahbubani
    Henry Kissinger once made a famous remark about the tragedy of the Iran-Iraq war. He said, “The only thing wrong with this confrontation is that only one side can lose.” There is no doubt that Kissinger is one of the geopolitical geniuses of our times. In this one brief remark, he captured a strategy that the West has used for the past two centuries to maintain its global domination: divide and rule.The one region that should understand divide-and-rule better than any other is South Asia. The British used this strategy brilliantly and succeeded. One reason why I published my first book, Can Asians Think? was to find an answer to an obvious question: how did my 300 million Indian ancestors allow themselves to be ruled so effortlessly by 100,000 Englishmen? The answer to this question is complex but one element is obvious: divide and rule.The era of Western domination of global history is coming to an end rapidly, but great powers do not give up their power easily.

    Anyone who thinks the UK and France will give up their permanent seats in the UN Security Council voluntarily must be smoking opium. And in this urge to retain power, it would be very natural for the West to continue using a strategy that has worked well for centuries: divide and rule.The main challenge to Western domination of world history is not coming from Africa or Latin America. It is coming from Asia. This is natural. Up to 1820, the two largest economies of the world were consistently China and India. It was only in the last 200 years that Europe took off, followed by North America. But the last 200-year period of Western domination was a major historical aberration. All historical aberrations come to a natural end. Hence, it is inevitable that by 2050 (and probably earlier) the two largest economies will once again be China and India.The return of China and India can no longer be questioned. The real big question is: will China and India grow together or grow apart? The natural answer to this question should come from the historical pattern of the years 1 to 1820. Then, when China and India provided the world’s largest economies, they never went to war with each other. Hence, if this pattern of two millennia returns, logically China and India should not go to war.However, from 1 AD to 1820, despite the glories of the Greeks and Romans, China and India never had to deal with a third rival civilisation. In the 21st century, even though Western domination of world history will end, the West will not disappear. Indeed, it will remain the single strongest civilisation for another 100 years or more. And it will have a great advantage, with the United States remaining the world’s greatest military power for a longer time.One does not have to be a geopolitical genius to predict that the most important relationship will be the US-China-India geopolitical triangle. And one also does not have to be a genius to know that the best position to occupy in this geopolitical triangle is to be in the middle position.

    Hence, for example, if India’s relations with both the US and China are better than the US-China bilateral relationship, this will give India a significant geopolitical advantage.So far, the United States enjoys the position of being in the middle. Despite the obvious geopolitical rivalries and tension, the bilateral relationship between the US and China could not be stronger. The total amount of US-China trade last year was $366 billion. China enjoyed a massive trade surplus of $196 billion in the same year. In return, the US enjoys a massive amount of cheap loans from China in the form of over $1 trillion of US treasury bill purchases.Equally importantly, the common permanent membership of the UN Security Council means that on a daily basis the US and China make geopolitical deals. I witnessed this at first hand when I served on the Council in 2001-02. And when a crisis breaks out in North Korea or Iran, the first impulse of Washington, DC is to call Beijing. India’s exclusion from such permanent membership gives it a geopolitical disadvantage.To secure the comfortable middle position in the US-China-India geopolitical triangle, India will have to work hard to simultaneously strengthen its relations with both the US and China. Its relations with the US are on a good wicket now. The American courtship of India has become a major industry in Washington, DC. Some of it is due to ideological affinity as fellow democracies. But as India learned in the Cold War, a democratic US can support a military-dominated Pakistan over democratic India. Geopolitical interests always trump ideological affinities.

    And since it serves American interests to occupy the middle position in the US-China-India geopolitical triangle, this may be an even more powerful reason for the US courtship of India.The major questions for India therefore are obvious ones: will it be used as a convenient geopolitical card by the US to balance China? Or will it emerge as an independent actor that can use both America and China to advance its own interests? Will it allow emotions and ideology to influence its decisions, or will it use the wisdom of a Henry Kissinger to make cool and calculated long-term choices? Will India use divide and rule, or will India be used again in divide and rule?

    The writer is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and the author of ‘The New Asian Hemisphere’ [email protected]
     
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  3. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

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    Thanks Ejaz for this article as i was thinking of starting a thread on a similar line for a thought i had.
    I think in the near term, it is India that will be in the middle as the US and China slug it out to be number one. It is basically going to be US military might vs Chinas economic might, not that the US is an economic pushover considering the time frame from now till 2025-30.

    India is not a match both in terms of economy and military right now vis a vis China. It is India which will have to play the game well. As far as I see, it is in Indias short term interest to align with the US and use it to its advantage to grow both economically and militarily. It is already doing that as we see from the visits of the western leaders this year who also find it in their interest to economically and militarily engage India. The west should find India an able partner and is use the word partner not ally in its endeavor to keep its hold in world affairs and counter the Chinese.
    The Chinese have shown the last few years that it would like to make money from the world and also fight with it. Its the case with India as well where they target a 100 billion sale and then also try to undermine India. I dont know how sane a policy that is. But one thing is for sure China does not want to share any space with any big power and that is not a good policy. India though out its history pre and post independence has not had a expansionist policy. A big example of that is the non assimilation of East Pakistan after the 71 war.
     
  4. lurker

    lurker Regular Member

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    The Global norm has changed due to the colonization of North America, there is no returning to the past before 1820 because the present is fundamentally different.
     
  5. Tshering22

    Tshering22 Sikkimese Saber Senior Member

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    I disagree with the article. the Divide and Rule was a simple policy that people didn't see through simply because of their own shallow egos over national and regional interests. The enemy exists to manipulate us and hence use us for his advantage. It is hence upto us not to be taken for granted and used and abused. The blame goes much beyond the British era and into the first foreign invasions of India from Uzbek and central Asian invaders. Hence blaming the British alone will not do.

    As for USA courting us, even the most illiterate and most vulnerable politician of our country would know how USA deals with "friends" and "enemies" and hence it is not easy to entrap Indians in the guise of friendship especially after the example shows we got to see with our neighbour. China's rivalry with India transcends any Western attempts to divide the 2 civilizations since the enmity was born out of Communists taking power in China compared to the Qing Dynasty rules who had been friendly to Indians. Currently, India is not in a position to challenge either of them independently and hence the only choice for her is to smartly pit one against the other and use both just as Chinese used Russians and Americans against each other from time to time.

    US has strong technology and as a dying superpower it poses the same situation for us what a dying USSR posed for China; a technological gold mine that if we play our cards well can access to their research and tech on OUR terms using an absolute-capitalist nation's weakness. All while cooperation with China on critical development like infrastructure is a cost effective way to develop and come out unlike the expensive European or Japanese. India's success in the future to be an independent global power with a powerful stable economy and a clout that dominates our ancestral empire region from Afghanistan to Indonesia, depends solely on how strong our strategists are over our weak and short sighted selfish politicians and how global cards are played against these 2 countries.

    In short, India must show to the world as not a "Replacing Power" that China is attempting to be, but " The Alternative" that world communities have to rely upon. And to become The Alternative is all about carefully balancing a soft stance correctly with when it is required to take a tough stand at global stage.
     
  6. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Geopolitical faultlines

    The need for India to ‘de-hyphenate’ its relationship with the US administration and with the leadership of China is at once obvious.

    The triangular equations involving the United States, Russia and China is of perennial significance to India’s strategic calculus.While US-China ties are moving on to a rising curve, Washington’s successful reset with Russia is entering a period of uncertainty.

    From the Indian viewpoint, close attention will be paid to how Washington negotiates the China challenge. As the prominent Australian scholar Hugh White wrote, “If 2009 was the year it became inescapably clear that China’s economic rise was powering an equally significant rise in its strategic and political weight, then 2010 was the year it became inescapably clear that China is using its weight to test the US-led order in Asia.”

    By the second half of 2010, Washington began marshalling old allies and friends, which was apparent in the extensive tours undertaken by President Barack Obama and secretary of state Hillary Clinton through the length and breadth of Asia. However, as 2011 dawns, US seems more inclined to tap into China’s economic growth and to invite Beijing to exercise more power and influence abroad. The four-decade old Sino-American positive-sum game is on.

    The Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi will pay a four-day visit to Washington in the first week. In the next week, secretary of defence Robert Gates will undertake a five-day visit to China. President Hu Jintao is arriving in Washington on a state visit on January 19. The ‘Washington Post’ estimated that “there is a sudden switch in tone from the commerce department to the National Security Council… (US) officials are praising China, referring to it again as a responsible partner.” The US about-face is remarkable and US officials are giving a positive note to China’s cooperation on the range of issues — trade, military ties, global security, climate change, etc.

    The Pentagon gave visiting deputy chief of the general staff of the PLA Gen Ma Xiaotian and his entourage in December the same briefings on the US nuclear, ballistic missile and space postures “that we gave our closest allies”, according to the US undersecretary of defence Michele Flournoy. Clearly, US is making a big choice right at the outset of 2011, implicitly acknowledging that China is now too strong to be contained within a regional order of uncontested American supremacy in the Asia-Pacific. It is a natural choice too — in terms of the US’ vital national interests, especially its ailing economy, which is threatening the Barack Obama presidency.

    In comparison, US-Russia ties, which were on the upswing through most of 2010, ended on a sour note. The exchange of hot words last week between Moscow and Washington over the case against the erstwhile ‘oligarch’ and head of the Russian oil giant Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkhovsky, goes beyond how jurisprudence works in Russia. The acrimony touches core issues of the US’ triumphalist narrative on post-Soviet Russia.

    Start treaty


    Why this abrupt dip? Hardly a fortnight back, Obama administration successfully got the ratification for the Start treaty from the outgoing Senate. But herein lies the rub. What next? The Start is the crowning glory of the reset, but it essentially means the Cold-War era verification mechanisms have been renewed.

    Beyond that, its impact on global disarmament is limited and indeed, the relevance of the traditional arms control regime itself is increasingly questionable as aspiring nuclear states have appeared and China forms no part of the US-Russia negotiations — and is reluctant to be a part. As Washington and Moscow move toward the next step, namely, tactical nuclear weapons (where Russia enjoys vast superiority) or on missile defence and Russia’s accession to the WTO difficulties crop up. Obama will find it tough to push through an unfriendly House and a less-friendly Senate. His domestic political priority lies in bipartisan reconciliation.

    In sum, the trajectory of Sino-American ties and US-Russia reset will impact regional security on several templates. Plainly put, Russia and China are increasingly coordinating their regional policies and that unnerves the US. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is slouching toward Afghanistan and 2011 may well witness India and Pakistan becoming full-fledged SCO members.

    Appearance of any form of ‘Asian identity’ on the geopolitical chessboard undermines the US’ regional strategy, especially the projection of Nato as a global security organisation. Washington hopes to accentuate Sino-Russian contradictions.

    Indeed, Indian strategic analysts miscalculated that 2011 promised to be the year US drew red lines on the sand for China. The need for India to ‘de-hyphenate’ its relationship with the US and with China is at once obvious. Also, as EU proposal to lift arms embargo on China shows, western thrust is to engage China rather than isolate or precipitate friction. It’s the economy, Stupid! We should factor in that the US and China share common interests over Pakistan’s stability and it is conceivable that Obama may reach out to China as a moderating influence on Pakistan.

    A rethink in Russian policies toward Iran and Afghanistan is also likely, as the US drawdown commences. A competitive regional environment may ensue. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Moscow in January acquires significance. Russia disfavours Taliban’s accommodation and it seeks a ‘neutral’ Afghanistan free of foreign military presence. Moscow will likely offer to Karzai that he should work with Russia and like-minded countries, which have stakes in durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. Needless to say, Russia is most likely to regenerate its strategic understanding with Iran.
     

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