Saturday, October 24, 2009

Looming tension between India and China

Recent developments on the borders between China and India hint at rising tension between the two giants. Most reports and commentaries portray China as the aggressor and India as the aggrieved state defending its national interest. These developments will bear close monitoring in the months to come.

Most frequently, the cause of the border disputes is traced back to the border conflict fought between China and India in 1962, invariably portraying China as the aggressor. Foster Stockwell has kindly reminded us that a contrary assessment was provided by John Fairbank in 1971. Fairbank was an OSS operative during WWII and a highly respected professor of East Asian studies at Harvard University after the war. Excerpt of Professor Fairbank's commentary as provided by Stockwell is quoted below for the record.

How Aggressive is China?/ by John K. Fairbank, /The New York Review/, April 22, 1971 (pg. 6)

The border war was triggered when the Indians sent 2,500 troops, in summer uniforms and with only the equipment they could carry, across high passes north of the McMahon Line, with orders to assault Chinese bunkers that were heavily reinforced on the mountain ridges farther north. This truly suicidal project was denounced by some of the professional officers, who resigned on the spot, but was ordered by the political generals now in command. Supplying a post at 15,500 feet, for example, required a five-day climb by porters from the air strip, and on a ten-day round trip the porters could carry almost no payloads beyond what they needed for their own survival. Among 2,500 troops beyond the McMahon Line only two or three hundred had winter clothing and tents, and none had axes or digging tools, to say nothing of heavy guns and adequate ammunition. As ordered, they mounted a small attack, and the Chinese reacted and drove it back on October 10.

The Chinese reaction against the announced Indian buildup for an attack north of the McMahon Line initially produced in New Delhi not only the excitement of warfare but even euphoria. Chou En-lai’s proposal that everybody stop where they were and negotiate was again denounced as aggressive. Nehru said that China’s proposal “would mean mere existence at the mercy of an aggressive, arrogant and expansionist neighbor.” He began to accept American and British military aid as well as Russian. As Maxwell remarks, “It was almost forgotten that the Indian army had been about to take offensive action; ignored, that the government had refused to meet the Chinese for talks.” Meanwhile, after their initial reaction, the Chinese paused and built roads to supply their advanced positions, while the Indian forces were kept widely distributed in defenseless, small contingents, still in the belief that the Chinese would never dare to attack.

All this was resolved on November 17 when the Chinese did attack again and in three days overran or routed all the ill-supplied Indian forces in the field, east and west. Many brave Indian troops died at their posts and were found frozen there months later. India’s political generals behaved like headless chickens. The Indian defeat was complete. On November 21, l962, China announced a unilateral cease-fire and a withdrawal in the west by stages to positions twenty kilometers behind their lines of control and in the east to the north of the McMahon Line, so that they would hold essentially what they had been proposing for three years past.

But the Indian government, while accepting the cease-fire in fact, objected to the proposal publicly. Its forward policy was finished and two or three thousand Indian troops had been lost; but “no negotiations” was still the Indian policy “The border war, almost universally reported as an unprovoked Chinese invasion of India, had only confirmed the general impression that Peking pursued a reckless, chauvinistic and belligerent foreign policy.” China had won the match but India the verdict.

Inevitably Tibet will figure prominently in any conflict between China and India. Go to here for a comprehensive review of the issues on Tibet.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Now Obama has the Peace Prize Expectations to Live Up to

No doubt President Barrack Obama woke up with the biggest surprise of his life when he found out that he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Of course, he understood that the award was not for what he has done but for the vision of world peace he has been promoting.

The award could not be based on actual accomplishments since he was nominated in February, within days of his coming into office. He only had time to express his intentions that his administration will embark on a collaborative diplomacy in international relations; he could not have done much yet.

Apparently it was enough for the Peace Prize committee. They simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to repudiate the Bush doctrine of unilateralism and peace by shock and awe. By giving the prize to Obama, the message to the American people is clear: the neoconservative idea of hegemony over the world as the last superpower standing is no way to world peace.

Now comes the hard part. By the end of his term, Obama will have to show that he can deliver results commensurate with winning the Peace Prize. To be the world leader for peace, Obama will have to resolve a host of challenges facing him. It may not be obvious but China could be a big help to Obama in carrying out a world peace initiative.

North Korea is the first that comes to mind. After branding North Korea as part of axis of evil and antagonizing the hermit kingdom to no end, Obama's predecessor defaulted and left the relationship for China to bail out.

China's premier Wen Jiabao just made a high profile visit to Pyongyang. He returned to Beijing with the news that North Korea will agree to return to the six party talks provided a bilateral meeting with the United States takes place first. Bush never showed the inclination to give any slack to the North Koreans. It will be up to Obama to take a more flexible approach and break the deadlock.

China and the U.S. share a common interest in preventing a nuclear Iran but China will not agree to economic sanctions or even more extreme action, such as embargo, because China depends on Iran for oil. Since sanctions rarely work especially when many of the European allies will also not support such sanctions, Obama will be better served by quietly conferring with China for a viable non-confrontational approach to Iran that both can buy-in.

Al Qaeda has just declared jihad on China. This puts China and the U.S. in the same boat in desiring to suppress terrorism. Pakistan is strategically positioned to either help defeat the Taliban or allow the Taliban to thrive and once again overrun Afghanistan. Here too China enjoys a long relationship with Pakistan, and not nearly as ambivalent as Pakistan's love-hate relationship with the U.S. For the U.S. and China to work together would surely be more productive than the impasse currently facing the U.S.

The recent global financial crisis amply demonstrated that the economic interests of China and the U.S. are tightly bound. One cannot win at the expense of the other. Instead, officials from both sides are meeting frequently and have acknowledged their common interest and desire to solve challenges of global warming and willingness to cooperate on energy and environmental concerns.

Enlisting China to work on world peace is a logical extension of the current bi-lateral relationship. China is unlikely to be of much help on the Israeli-Palestinian question and extricating the Americans out of Iraq, but by taking on China as a full and equal partner, Obama will have a valuable ally to shoulder some of the other burden. He would increase his chance of reporting to the Peace Prize committee that the award is deserved.
An edited version is published by New America Media.
A partial translation of the New America Media version was published in the Chinese World Journal, (世界日报)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Is China the next superpower?

    China has just concluded a national celebration widely seen live on TV and for days afterwards on CCTV website. The scope and grandeur of the parade down the Avenue of Eternal Peace (Chang An Jie) left on-site spectators breathless, most foreign observers impressed and the people of China excited and proud.

    The message seems to be that China has arrived as a nation to be reckoned with. Indeed since the successful rendering of the Olympics in August 2008, there has been a stream of increasingly positive commentaries in the West suggesting that China has arrived.

    Some pundits in the West have gone so far as to suggest that China will soon eclipse the U.S. and become the sole hegemonic nation standing. Have these sentiments perhaps exceeded reality?

    Certainly plaudits are coming from many directions.

    China seems to have survived the global economic downturn in far better shape than anyone else. While all the major economies followed the American lead and suffered a drop in GDP, China merely grew less rapidly than before.

    When American consumers were abruptly confronted with their looming debt and stopped buying, China's economy with its export driven dependency was expected to suffer terrible withdrawal. But China's economy turned out to be more resilient than the West anticipated.

    China not only managed to stay out of the economic recession but very skillfully used the economic stimulus package to ward off economic decline. It seemed every dollar for the stimulus actually did just that and not for the purpose of bailing out sick banks and resuscitating auto industry on life support.

    As China grew its economy at breakneck speed, China has surpassed the U.S. as the largest emitter of green house gases. Now it appears that China has also seized the leadership from the U.S. in efforts to rectify the environmental damage and set the country on to the path of going green.

    International relations observers have reported on China's increase in use of soft power and broadening its influence in the international arena, especially in Africa and Latin America. Not only China seems to be acting as a "responsible stakeholder," but exercising effective leadership with much of the third world nations.

    After eight years of demanding American unilateralism, the world welcomes China's diplomacy as a much needed breath of fresh air.

    A longtime China watcher recently observed that unless the U.S. gets it act together, it will become increasingly obvious that democratic capitalism cannot compete with today's China.

    So does this mean that China is ready to take over the world leadership from the U.S.? Many in China's blogosphere seem quite ready to accept this idea. I think it is quite premature. China's GDP is merely one-third of the U.S. and per capita GDP less than one-tenth. Furthermore, China's military might is technologically at least one generation or more behind the U.S.

    China also has yet to develop that aura of a superpower that the U.S. once carried with aplomb. It is something that I would call the dafang-ness of a great power. After WWII, the U.S. had this dafang attribute. America was generous to its friends and former foes, confidently led by example rather than by hectoring and built a political and economic system that others admire and aspired to.

    Since September 11, America basically rejected its former set of values and degenerated into unilateralism internationally and pettiness domestically. While the new administration led by Obama is trying to regain the prestige U.S. used to enjoy, whether he will be able to bring about the change remains to be seen.

    China on the other hand has yet to assume the swagger and confidence of a superpower that win reflexive trust from the international community. Some of the resistance can be attributed to China's detractors living outside of China. Their noisy and visible protests, such as the globe circling Dalai Lama, can exert influence that China has to overcome.

    More importantly China's leadership has not reached the level of self-confidence that they can institute a policy of transparency and openness. Beijing has been moving in that direction but they are not there yet. The world needs to see how policies are made and decisions formulated. The world needs to understand actions or inactions that China undertakes.

    The day China can absorb criticisms, fairly rendered or not, with equanimity and welcomes the critic to visit China for further discourse is when China becomes the next superpower.
An edited version was published by New America Media.