http://www.firstpost.com/world/putt...towards-an-indo-pacific-century-165428.html/2 There have been a number of events, including a few unexpectedly dexterous moves by India, in the recent past that suggest a new set of strategic imperatives may well be emerging in Asia. In sum, there has been, for the first time, a mild pushback against the rampaging Chinese. But the Chinese may yet have the last laugh, though. The Indian role in all this is a little surprising, but welcome nonetheless. Whether India suddenly grew a bit of a spine â€“ after 50 years of supine â€œbhai-bhaiâ€ drivel â€“ or whether Uncle Sam gave it some Dutch courage through pep-talk is not clear. Nevertheless, it is a welcome move, because of the usual Chinese modus operandi: make outrageous claims; if challenged, retreat; if not, push the claim further. There are two aspects to all this: one, is there anything tangible and real about the moves, or is it all smoke and mirrors? And two, the importance of marketing and branding that Indians seem blissfully ignorant about, and implications for soft power. The background of all this is Chinese belligerence. Despite their propaganda about an alleged â€œpeaceful riseâ€, it has been rather clear that China feels Asia is its backyard, the South China Sea is its private lake, and that nobody else has any business in Asia other than at Chinaâ€™s pleasure. This, of course, is exactly what the Monroe Doctrine said about Latin America, so the Americans know how imperial the Chinese feel. The Chinese have been emboldened because of the sudden slew of problems that the â€œone and only hyperpowerâ€ has been facing in the recent past: the quagmires of two generally unwinnable wars, the disastrous economic consequences of the financial meltdown, and a general fin-de-siecle type angst and loss of confidence, this last being uncharacteristic of the usually gung-ho Americans. Not to mention the fact that Chinaâ€™s proxy Pakistan has Americaâ€™s knickers in a twist. Naturally, China has been attempting to take advantage of Americaâ€™s distractions, partly by saber-rattling in the South China Sea and by building up its blue-water navy. Hence the recent American announcement of a naval base in Darwin, Australia. Both unexpected and significant, this means that there will now be some kind of pushback to Chinese adventurism in that region. Predictably, the Chinese swore bloody murder through their propaganda organs like Xinhua, but that was about it. In this context, we might consider the recent spat about Indiaâ€™s moves to cozy up to Vietnam to drill for oil in their territorial waters. The Chinese screamed until they were blue in the face that it was Chinese waters, not Vietnamâ€™s (of course, since China claims the entire sea, that would be tautologically true in their opinion, if not either de jure or de facto. They threatened India with unspecified â€˜consequencesâ€™. But Indiaâ€™s response, for once, was not to roll over and play dead, possum-like. Amazingly â€“ for the first time, if I am not mistaken, since Arundhati Ghose stood up to American pressure at the United Nations â€“ India made some counter-noises, such as increasing troop strengths and the positioning of aircraft squadrons on the Indo-Tibetan border. This, to put it mildly, was a surprise, because the normal instinct for Indian mandarins is to kowtow to the Chinese. Of course, the Chinese had the last laugh: they announced a naval base in the Indian Ocean, in the Seychelles. But that is going to take some time to materialise, and there are some pretty good counter-moves available to India â€“ more on that later. It is interesting to also note that there have been some setbacks to Chinaâ€™s â€˜string of pearlsâ€™ strategy to strangulate India. On the one hand, the dÃ©tente the Americans have begun towards the Burmese (Myanmarese, if thatâ€™s what they are called today) seems to be paying dividends. The Burmese have cancelled some deals with the Chinese, and seem eager to end their long-term isolation. Similarly, despite Pakistanâ€™s entreaties, the Chinese have chosen not to take up the option of making Gwadar a naval base â€“ which basically suggests that China is not confident of the Pakistani stateâ€™s viability and certainly not of its ability to control the restive Baluch. And China cancelled large mining projects there, too. More recently, there has been a trilateral India-Japan-US conclave in Tokyo. This is being compared to the trilateral Australia-Japan-US discussions â€“ that has been a long-term security arrangement, of course. In some sense, what we see is India being drawn inexorably into some sort of Asian Nato â€“ which has its positives and negatives (for instance, it is an open question whether Pakistan has in the long run benefited from its Cento and Seato partnerships with the US). But a reverse â€˜string of pearlsâ€™ that could strangle China is the possible outcome. Chinaâ€™s neighbours are not exactly enamored of it â€“ with the singular exception of North Korea, everyone else, say, Vietnam, Russia, Japan, India, Thailand, the Philippines, etc. are all suspicious of Chinese malafides and aware that their strategic intent is imperial and intended to capture resources, such as in the oil-rich offshore areas of the South China Sea. Imagine: that long-articulated objective of China-watchers â€“ a cordon sanitaire at least on the security front, if not on the economic front, may well be getting built under the leadership of the US. This could contain the Chinese. India should probably explore some interesting possibilities of its own. I have long advocated the idea that India should enter into a strong alliance with the Vietnamese, the Taiwanese, the Japanese, and others threatened by the Chinese. Just as China has quite happily proliferated weapons (including nuclear weapons) to its dubious allies such as the Pakistanis, India should also consider increasing its security footprint. For instance, since India and Vietnam are on good terms, why not seek the use of the old American naval base at Cam Ranh Bay? That would be a fitting riposte to Chinaâ€™s Seychelles gambit, and Cam Ranh Bay, unless I am mistaken, still has a good bit of the infrastructure put in by the Americans. There are other old American bases that may be available, such as Subic Bay and Clark Air Force base in the Philippines. India should get its act together about its blue-water navy, which is able to project some force in far-away waters. But Chinaâ€™s ambitious naval plans as well as Indiaâ€™s own delays in building up aircraft-carrier groups â€“ remember the problems with Admiral Gorshkov â€“ are eating into that competitive advantage. India, as an Indo-Pacific power, has the right and the obligation to project itself as a powerful naval force, with the ability to do some serious gunboat diplomacy. That brings up the other point, that of nomenclature. The Chinese have striven mightily to downgrade Indiaâ€™s brand and confine it to a ghetto called â€˜South Asiaâ€™. Indiaâ€™s idiotic mandarins and media have lapped up this stupidity â€“ stupid because it lowers India to Pakistanâ€™s level. I have also noticed that whenever any Indian does anything good, heâ€™s a â€˜South Asianâ€™ and if heâ€™s a criminal, heâ€™s â€˜Indianâ€™. But whenever a Pakistani does anything good, heâ€™s a â€˜Pakistaniâ€™. Only Pakistani criminals are â€˜South Asianâ€™. Why, one should ask, is China not similarly confined to an â€˜East Asiaâ€™ ghetto? On the contrary, there is now the term â€˜Greater Chinaâ€™ being pushed with great gusto. Let us remember that the term â€˜Greater Indiaâ€™ was in wide use until roughly the 1940s, to indicate all of what is now called â€˜South-east Asiaâ€™. Indeed, that was an appropriate rubric because of the tremendous historic influence India had on that region. But that term, and other useful terms like â€˜Indo-Chinaâ€™, have disappeared. There are other attempts to take away Indiaâ€™s brand. I believe the Pakistanis have managed to destroy the term â€˜Indian sub-continentâ€™ altogether, and I am pretty sure they use the term â€˜South Asian Oceanâ€™ â€“ their general approach is to do a global edit, substituting â€˜South Asiaâ€™ for â€˜Indiaâ€™. Once when I went to Indonesia, I saw that in their maps, it was called the â€˜Indonesian Ocean!â€™ Thus it is a very interesting development that the Americans have started using the term â€˜Indo-Pacificâ€™ instead of â€˜Asia-Pacificâ€™. This is related to the idea of â€˜heartlandâ€™ and â€˜rimlandâ€™ as articulated by geographers. But the word â€˜Indoâ€™ is being resurrected, and in this formulation, India is seen as being quite important for the new century. Since many Americans are not even aware that India is in Asia â€“ they think it is in Africa or the Middle East â€“ this, I am sure will lead to some serious puzzlement among the good folks at The New York Times and so on. I am only concerned that they will conclude that the â€˜Indoâ€™ refers to Indonesia, which is indisputably in Asia. Indeed, I have seen the beginnings of this already: maven Fareed Zakaria has suggested that the â€˜Iâ€™ in BRICS properly belongs to Indonesia, not India. He does have a point, given the ineptitude of Indiaâ€™s unelected rulers, the geniuses in the NAC. Nevertheless, if India continues to exist â€“ and that is not a given with the NAC in charge â€“ it does have a chance of becoming a player in the â€˜Indo-Pacific Centuryâ€™, clearly a branding win for India as compared to the â€˜Asian Centuryâ€™.