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Himalayan Crossings: Explaining the Rise of China and India

Selected Insights on US Foreign Policy and on Political Economy, Security, Finance, and Information Technologies in and between South Asia and Greater China

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Archive for January, 2009

About Time: Has the Moment Come for India's Long-Overdue Internal Conversation about China?

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Today’s Times of India carries an editorial about China’s role in supporting Pakistan. Chinese Vice Premier is visiting Delhi after his stop in Islamabad.

The key passage is this:

While New Delhi must, of course, pursue good relations with Beijing, the question that needs to be raised is why Beijing is happy to keep India in a box. It has resolved boundary disputes with most of its neighbors; India is the prominent exception in this regard. While Beijing’s approach to New Delhi is cautious and calibrated, the Indian response to China is effusive and emotional, with an undertow of anxiety. New Delhi needs to move towards a strategically informed view of its relationship with Beijing, so that there are rewards for a better understanding of Indian interests and a cost for disregarding them.

About Time

It is about time. I’m not hopeful that the puzzling lack of debate among “argumentative Indians” over the role of China in South Asia and the nature of Sino-Indian engagement will transform overnight, but with Indian elections coming in months and the global economic downturn ramifying through Asia and China in particular, we may finally see some China debate in India.

I will consider it a significant transformation if we actually hear extended questioning and debate on China matters during this or the Budget Session of the Parliament. But don’t hold your breath.

The Times article outlines the biggest issue for many Indian’s concerned about China; what role the PRC played in helping with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.

But there are other important issues too. Besides Pakistan there are few other major countries that are an ally of BOTH the US and China. The risk that American and Indian planners always face is that pushing the Pakistani military too hard may drive them into the arms of the Chinese.

Fortunately, as we have seen recently, the Chinese are wary of the instability this could cause. This is why the declined to offer liquidity assistance to the Pakistani’s in October, 2008 and why Hu brought a stern message to Islamabad on his way to Delhi.

Meanwhile, Beijing has already been in communication with Army Chief Kayani and the Pakistani PM Gilani.

Puzzling Acquiescence Among “Argumentative Indians”

I’ve long been puzzled by the graciousness of the Indian domestic debate and the current comfort-level in the Sino-Indian relationship. Given the raucousness of Indian domestic politics, I’m surprised that there is not more. Indian does not need any more of the hot-headed indiscretions of the former Sino-phobic Defense Minister George Fernandez, but other than Brahma Chellaney and a few others, few voices are are ever audibly raised in media and public fora questioning the nature of Sino-Indian relations.

There are interesting theoretical issues in Sino-Indian relations that the IR theorists have yet to adequately engage. There are some good realist and neoliberal international relations explanations for Indian quiescence regarding China. Will it be a douce commerce-constrained relationship of the type that has evolved between the US and China since the late 1980s driven by commercial considerations? Is that constraint time-bound while both powers are still waxing from weaker low-wealth phases of their hegemonic lifecylces? What about the “ideas” and the “institutions” of the two countries that are so different?

Many experts focus on the Sino-Indian border dispute. This, I believe is a distraction. That is the one border the Chinese are not likely to resove any time soon.

Rather, the important areas to consider are the Irrawaddy and the Karakhoram-Gwadar corridors in the East and West respectively. Add to this the new train the Chinese have built to Lhasa and that they hope to extend to Kashghar. Gwadar Port at the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz; built by the Chinese. This puts the Chinese right next to one of the world’s most significant oil transit routes. Not discussed enough in India, a country that depends on imports for over 70% of its fuels. Together these make a horseshoe around India’s Nothern flank. It is on these matters that I am puzzled by the lack of serious discussion in India.

Global Climate Change and Regional Security in Asia: Chindia Considerations

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

A long-term security concern that policy planners and strategists alike are beginning to consider is how global climate change (GCC) will effect security in South and East Asia. China and India will naturally be consequential to these outcomes.

Some areas that have been ignored in the standard forecasts for China and India are discussed below.

First, many do not consider the South Asian and South East Asian emigration problem or the Himalayan waters disputes.

Analysts must consider how Chinese relations with the low-lying countries in South East Asia will be influenced by possible outflows of people and investment from Mekong states, Burma, and Bangladesh (even if these analysts show how or why these countries and issues can be ignored in their studies).

The coming Sino-India water tensions over the Brahmaputra watershed will be real if there is no border settlement before GCC changes become acute. And even if there is settlement between China and India, this could still be a major problem. With its potential effects from India’s West Bengal through Bangladesh to Burma, the GCC impact on the Brahmaputra watershed (amplified by coastal inundation along the littoral of the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea) could provoke a volatile mix of international border-cum-resource tensions with nationalism, human flows, public health and natural disaster acting as acute triggers. This possibility for GCC-driven tension in the Bay of Bengal-Andaman zone has received too little attention given that it could lead the regional hegemons (China and India) into direct or (more likely) indirect conflict with regional country-partisan proxies lining up in ways that will exacerbate the problem.

Finally, in my view many are also underestimating the small-probability-but-high-consequence outcome of climate-driven internal inequality in China. His emphasis on governance-in-the-face of crisis is well justified (and emerges from his own research and angle on the Chinese state). Responses to the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake would bolster his case. The poor performance of the People’s Liberation Army in that episode has been the focus of China watchers in recent months. We don’t know yet if there will be PLA retooling to adjust, or if (as after Tiananmen with the PAP) Beijing will develop a new disaster-relief-trained corps, and if so under what ministry.

But, my sense is that China scholars’ frequent emphasis on the “poor-governance-in-response-to-disaster” argument may ignore what I think is the more significant incremental erosion of state authority due to a multitude of climate-change-driven inequality-revealing or inequality-polarizing micro disputes.

Looking at Chinese agricultural production trends in the face of GCC it will also be important to check the direction (up or down) for agricultural production based on medium term GCC. Often the effect can be not as expected. In the US Midwest, for example, some estimates predict production will go up with global warming. I would wonder if the same might not be true for the Northern agricultural belt in China.

 Looking at the same issue in India, there are estimates based on simulation models by an MIT researcher named Raymond Guiteras. He has a paper on Indian agriculture and GCC on his web site. According to Guiteras estimates the effect of GCC in India is predicted to be big and negative.

China Probably not Keen to See Greater South Asian Insecurity

Monday, January 5th, 2009

For those who think the rising tension in South Asia is routine, the visit of Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei is worth noting.

I had an inquiry from one interlocutor wondering about China’s “record in regards to external balancing with India and
Pakistan.”  After reading a BBC report on the situation in South Asia my inquisitor wondered whether the He Yafei’s visit was important and if it had a greater, lesser or just different impact than compared to the visit of a US envoy?”

China has, since 1962, balanced externally with great skill in South Asia.  

Today, however, the relations between Pakistan’s civilian government and China is the key issue.  The military has always had a solid back channel to Beijing.  missspelled

In my view, the US should have tried to get the Chinese to invest some of their great wealth in developing Pakistan.  The Karakorum to Gwadar corridor would have done great things to develop the country.  And, the Chinese and their proxies, not the American’s would have become the target of militant ire.  The advantages of such development would be a significant balance against the cost of increasing PRC influence in the region, but a strategically reasonable gamble.  With China’s growth slowing, this development options is no longer likely in the near term. 

There is some risk that Chinese hawks may be keen to take advantage of the current unrest in South Asia, but their own fear of greater instability and growing militancy in Central Asia would act as a natural cautionary concern.  Such  greater instability and growing militancy in Central Asia must be a concern if the “Af-Pak” (Afghanistan and Pakistan zone of conflict) situation worsens.

The way the Chinese handled Pakistan’s request for balance-of-payments liquidity loans confirms that Zhongnanhai still prefers behind-the-scenes Sino-Pak relations in deference to both US and Indian roles in the region.    Greater involvement would mean greater responsibility if and when things go awry in South Asia.

Ram Guha – What about the "de Toqueville effect"?

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Today Sharad Joshi sent me Ram Guha’s “Past and Present” article.

“Foreign certificates


Why do Indians, across the political spectrum, seem to crave Western approval for their actions, policies and prejudices?

The more Indian and the more Hindu they claim to be, the more they seek and need certificates from White men.”

I’m glad someone said it. Its true and can be opportunistically hypocritical — particularly the use of the Belgian priest’s book to validate the Ram Temple claim at Ayodhya. I too found that one quite rich at the time.

However, I do (sort of) have a dog in a fight that – while not the same as Guha’s fight – is related.

Its not that foreign observers have nothing to contribute, its just that what they contribute should enjoy no special priority over the voices of those within the country (or subject position) in question.

The harder challenger for Guha is the moral reasoning about the validity of analyses voiced from outside or by those who enjoy some superior position in hierarchies of power. What, for example, is the standing of such outside or privileged voices relative to the voices of those located in less advantageous positions with respect to power hierarchies such as gender, caste, class or global economic position?

Is there is something to the “de Toqueville” effect”? In one of the great classics of political theory and comparative politics, “Democracy in America”, Alexis de Toqueville wrote of the US he saw early 19th century in a way that few “inside” the polity or society could.

De Toqueville was a white man writing about other white people. So, the analogy is flawed, but it still helps raise an important point for anyone who is not Indian or Chinese writing about India and China (or who is not a woman writing about women, or a Brahmin writing about other castes).