Friday, October 6, 2017

India’s National Interest Lies in Collaboration with China, not Conflict

I wrote this article for Diplomatist, a publication based in India. It should have been published by now. Below is an electronic version.

The border scrum at Doklam, located between former kingdom Sikkim now under India’s control, Bhutan and China may have attracted front-page coverage in India and China, but not much attention elsewhere.

There were conflicting reports as to how the high altitude, shoving match started. Indian military force entered the Chinese side to stop road building undertaken by the PLA, alleging that the activity was a threat to India’s security.

The territorial dispute was supposed to be between China and Bhutan and India represented that they were intervening at the invitation of Bhutan.

Some observers noted that the Indian incursion begin shortly after Prime Minister Modi returned from his visit to the White House and hinted that perhaps President Trump encouraged Modi into acting as an anti-China proxy.

While there is no public evidence that Trump made such a suggestion, it would be well for Modi to keep in mind that while Trump believes in “America First,” it does not mean he supports “India Second.” Furthermore, he is well known for standing on one position today and an opposite position next.

More importantly, India should consider whether it is in their national interest to antagonize China and render them into an adversary.

Some hawks in India are spoiling for a fight reminding anyone that would listen that the India today is not the same as the India of 1962. In 1962, Prime Minister Nehru was under the impression that the legacy as a former British colony was enough to intimidate the PLA.

He was wrong and his poorly equipped and poorly prepared soldiers suffered a humiliating defeat. While India today is no longer the undernourished force of 1962, neither has China’s PLA been standing still.

Hosting the Commonwealth Games was nearly a disaster

A review of recent events should suffice to put matters in perspective. Beijing surprised the world with a spectacular staging of 2008 Olympics. Two years later, India was to host the Commonwealth Games, not exactly as grand as the Olympics but noteworthy enough as a sporting spectacle nonetheless.

India almost did not pull it off. As host, India didn’t have the resources to stage various venues in a style commensurate with the prestige of the international sporting event. The host had to explore whether Beijing would loan of some of the equipment such as scorekeeping displays to the Games.

Even though India has been a nation on the rise since 2010, there remains a significant gap between India and China. It’s rather comical that India would wish to turn China into a rival when India has so much more to gain with China as a friend.

The foundation of western civilization rests on competition and confrontation leading to conquests and colonization. The British Empire emerged following this fundamental tenet and the U.S. followed the English lead and became the hegemon in a unipolar world.

But the world is changing and shifting away from unipolar to multipolar, and the influence of the hegemon is eroding in face of cooperation and collaboration emanating from various corners of earth.

India does not need to westernize to greatness

As a once great eastern civilization, India hardly needs to follow the path of western imperialism to become great again. In fact, it’s in India’s national interest to seek collaboration and regain its pole of influence by leveraging friendly relations with its neighbors.

China has been offering its assistance building infrastructure projects around the world. Railroads, highways, ports and harbors are projects that qualify as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Rather than participating in the recent Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing, India opted to snub the event. Since 160 countries were represented including the U.S., India’s absence was not conspicuous but India’s pout was nevertheless silly.

There is growing excitement in Pakistan over the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a multibillion-dollar bilateral development project that officials in Islamabad avowed would usher in an era of unprecedented progress and prosperity—from recent Asia Times.

What’s good for Pakistan should be good for India as well. All political leaders in India need to concede is that domestic priorities trump over national pride and a drive to supremacy over rivals.

The people of India are sure to appreciate a network of high-speed trains for regularly commute, and modern highways that are completed and continuous from north to south and east to west. The economic boom that would follow would surely exceed Pakistan by orders of magnitude.

China has demonstrated that such infrastructure projects belong in their sweet spot of competence. Under the auspices of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), China has been building roads and railways not just in Pakistan but other parts of Asia and Africa.

China’s BRI is more a loose prescription for international cooperation and not a strict set of specifications to qualify projects for financial assistance and Chinese participation. The most important requirement is that the project upon completion would benefit the local economy and the financial return would justify the investment.

The stated purpose of BRI is to facilitate global commerce and trade. By definition such investments benefit all participants of world trade. There would be no losers, only winners. India occupies a strategic location on China’s maritime silk road and could only prosper by being part of it.

India’s paths to collaboration are many

India already has a number of venues to promote collaboration with China. Shanghai Cooperation Organization is one of these. India and Pakistan are recent members of SCO and Iran is expected to join next. Coupled with China, Russian and the Central Asia nations, SCO is a powerful organization not for military alliance but for economic and cultural exchanges.

Before SCO, India was part of the BRICS consortium, consisted of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the five largest of the fastest growing economies. BRICS meet regularly to discuss and arrange for closer business cooperation.

Finally as a founding member of Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, India already knows the benefits of obtaining financing from AIIB. Just last week, the Finance Ministry signed a USD 329 million loan agreement with AIIB for the Gujarat Rural Roads Project.

There is ample opportunity for India to collaborate with China. India should be pleased to find Great Britain leading the charge of developed nations into joining AIIB. If the former colonial master can see the wisdom of working with China, why not India?

No comments: