South China Sea
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
No country has more land or maritime borders than China has. It has 14 neighbours around its’ 22,000 km land borders. In South China Sea, there are six (Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia). And if you thought it had good relations with at least one, even Russia and North Korea could disappoint you. (You could click here and know all why China is so prickly).
It doesn’t add up.
President Xi Jinping once said there’s “no gene for invasion in the Chinese people’s blood.” But then you have its media organs emitting more fire in a day than a Dragon would in its’ lifetime.
It doesn’t add up.
China claims its military preparedness—the monsters it showcases in its military parades—is defensive in nature. Its embedded media in foreign journals, its implanted professors in your OpEds all harangue how the peaceful rise of a nation—which shares its wealth with all comers, be it Africa, Latin America or Europe—is being resented by a fading superpower in the United States. That China is beefing up just in case the United States tries out its hand before the balance shifts irrevocably. But what threat China has from Myanmar, Bhutan, Singapore or Brunei? I mean Nepal?
It doesn’t add up.
As I fiddle with my scrapbook, I find President Xi uttering: “A far-off relative is not as good as a close neighbour.” Really? Then why lay trap for them as housewives do for nibbling rats on the kitchen floors. You want your Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to reach Ushuaia, the end of the world, and yet you want trouble on its very first mile. The only harmony you have is with your “far-off relatives” in Africa and Latin America.
It doesn’t add up.
The funny thing is China hasn’t added an inch to its territory for all this muscle-flexing. I mean ignore Rahul Gandhi for a moment who believes China is already inside our drawing rooms. Or Aksai Chin whose every stone and pebble is worth in gold for the Beijing. But at least for a decade, the only capture China has managed is headlines. It would appear China doesn’t want peace but it doesn’t want war either. Who exactly is sitting inside the Foreign office building of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)?
CCP is different; Chinese people are different
My theory is, to begin with, we must not confuse China with Chinese people. Before Communists took over, China had a civilisation. It had its own tradition, culture and rituals. Now to the outside world, all they have is factory labours whose backs have inclined forward an extra millimetre even as I write this. It’s not a happy society where voices are shackled and your family numbers, your working hours and daily wages are dictated by the Big Brother.
How do you make sure that it remains that way without a challenge to your authority? Well, one of course is the way of Tiananmen Square. The other is to constantly remind them that the decades of Colonial slavery is returning. That West again has a barrel pointing its nozzle towards the peaceful China. That we must make sacrifices—Ah, that essential Communist ideology of eternal struggle—for the glory of the motherland.
Secondly, Beijing has seen the benefits of flexing muscle with its neighbours. Most cower. Like Myanmar who has admitted that they are afraid of China. That if the big neighbour was to shutdown projects, it would strengthen the embedded Communist insurgents who owe their existence to Beijing. Nepal wonders why China is on its tail when it did its bidding against India? That what does Beijing really mean when it constructs 11 buildings inside their territory and then leave them unoccupied? To what end?
Well, the end is to have a still more strangulating effect on the world which already owes hundreds of trillion dollars to Beijing. To make the poor neighbours at its borders to keep prostrating. Very few react the way Modi’s India did. That move has backfired. If the intention was to weaken Modi internally, and its stooges to take over New Delhi, the recent poll wins convey a different outcome. But this exception doesn’t bend the rule of holding neighbours by throat.
When everyone is talking about how to defend the Diaoyu Islands, how to crack whip on the Philippines, how to fix the upstart Vietnam, how to pull India’s ears which is nurturing the Quad and stood up to in Doklam, the society falls in line. What appears a belligerent Beijing to the outside world is projected as besieged Beijing to its people. A handful of people who control the destiny of a billion and a half citizens are probably doing it for selves and not for the future of the motherland. What if China burns and the humanity is doomed.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred)
It’s not as much a matter of choice for India as it is for Russia. India media might be scripting a Russia factor in fractured Indo-China relations but you ought to know better.
India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh is in Moscow. The foreign ministers of two nations joined their Chinese counterpart for a virtual dialogue on Tuesday. Both are pre-arranged engagements, not an offshoot of Galwan Valley. Yet hopes are injected that Russia would play a peacemaker. I suggest you examine the evidence than suffer a hangover which is a druggie’s profile the morning after.
Sure, Russia is India’s biggest defence exporter. The two leaders Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi share a rare warmth. They have reset economic ties to the extent that the target of $30 billion is revised to $50 billion by 2025. The two have a strategic partnership. Both need each other for trade corridors. Both have stood by each other on global forums. The two have not stopped liking each other in last seven decades.
But Russia is no big brother to India. India’s economy is more than twice the size of Russia. India’s arm buys are falling vis-à-vis Russia and leapfrogging with Israel, France, the United States etc. Tourism isn’t quite booming between the two nations.
On the contrary, Russia can’t do without China. Its’ trade with China is worth over a hundred billion dollars. It has a $400 billion energy deal with China. Both share a global vision in Indo-Pacific even though Russia, on its own, has little to lose on that sea expanse. Both see in the United States an implacable rival. Both are looking after each other’s backs. You help us mate if submarines snarl in South China Sea. We look after you if NATO rolls down tanks in Eastern Europe. No formal pact, just a wink in the eye is good enough.
So, Russia could use its good offices to bring the two Asian adversaries on the table. But it can’t prevent a martial discord turning into a divorce. It doesn’t have that bargaining chip. If it was valued this big by China, the latter would’ve taken Russians into confidence before the Galwan Valley misadventure. And if they did take Moscow into confidence, and still went ahead, it’s worse.
It’s for Russia to plot its future in the 21st century. Its present woes began when it took control of Crimea after a referendum in 2014. The US-led sanctions in its wake are crippling.
It could choose to remember that India defended the referendum in Crimea while China didn’t.
It could turn a blind eye, if it wants to, China going big in elbowing it out in Central Asia which is so, so vital to Moscow.
It could choose to be a junior partner to China or retain the instincts which are genetic in a superpower.
It could ignore–if it could afford –the role India could play in linking the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with Asian mass through Chabahar Port in Iran, now in India’s control.
It could miss, if it wants to, the critical role of India in the International North-South Trade Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200-km network of ship, rail and road which frees up Russian transportation across Europe, Central Asia, Armenia, Iran, Afghanistan up to India.
Nations today are guided by their own interests. Two countries could converge on one issue and diverge significantly on the other. Russia discounts China’s role in the devastating Covid-19 spread on global forums but it has also shut its borders against China. Russia is indeed India’s friend for all seasons but it doesn’t stop them from selling arms to Pakistan and joining our arch rivals in military exercises since Afghanistan is vital. India too won’t let Russia come in the way of its growing convergence with the United States. But its adamant to buy S400 anti-missile system from Russia next year even though the United States is threatening crippling sanctions. There are camps, sure, but relationships are more fluid, unlike Cold War era. Look at Turkey, a member of NATO, but blackmailing Europe now and then on refugees.
So rejoice Russia is neutral but don’t expect them in your corner against China. Besides India itself is a power of considerable hulk. India’s issue with China won’t have a mediator. New Delhi would have to pack a punch of its own against China. Russia is no parent and India no child even though China decidedly is a bully. Call the bully out on your own. India could do it.
Indian media seeking Russia’s intervention is comical, if not tragic. On one hand you detest the United States offering mediation; on the other you seek one from Russia. It’s tragic for it betrays a sense of inferiority, a colonial hangover, which refuses to acknowledge India could hold its own. It distorts the immediacy India needs in its military preparedness. It injects a false sense of security. It lets India down in its own eyes.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
It would be a grave misjudgement to believe that China has walked over India in a physical showdown in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh on Monday.
If nothing, ask the Chinese who made moves in lockstep over the last few weeks to test India’s nerves and found a nation mature in diplomacy and dare in equal measure.
India has used velvet gloves against a petulant Nepal which thumbed its nose on borders but didn’t elicit a raging anger from New Delhi that would’ve played into the hands of its puppeteer, China. India knows, as does Nepal, that the latter can’t survive without India’s open borders. Simply, the land-locked nation would run out of essential supplies. A manufactured border dispute has no future but for headlines and talk shows.
China meanwhile had crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at four different points in Ladakh, agreed for de-escalation but then stayed put when the two armies were to pull themselves back by a few kilometres. India would have none of an enemy’s forward-post left standing inside the Galwan Valley which belongs to India. It didn’t backdown from a physical combat either since arms and ammunitions are avoided by the two neighbours in sensitive stretches of border running into thousands of kilometres.
Now has come the news that Indian Army has been empowered to act as per the ground situation without looking for directions from New Delhi. In other words, the Indian Army has been freed from political constraints. It’s an unambiguous message to Beijing that they are now in the wilds. That your superior nuclear stockpiles, defence spending or armaments wouldn’t be of much aid if it’s bare knuckle fight. So, if it’s to fists, stones and clubs now, may the best man win. There is no referee.
Indian Express has quoted an army source thus: “Army has been given emergency powers for deployment there as per needs and new situations without looking towards Delhi…We have to demonstrate our strength on the ground…there is no need to show aggression, only our strength.”
This would put China in a spot. Either they shove the conventions and turn it into an armed combat. Or they pull themselves back as they did in Doklam in 2017. Or they escalate which wouldn’t go unnoticed to a concerned world. It’s a massive show of intent from Modi’s India which is largely consistent in its zero-tolerance approach on nation’s sovereignty and integrity.
It’s not like South China Sea where the Middle Kingdom has usurped islands, sea tolls, reefs and banks overriding neighbours protests. China could not only carry through the bluff but were assured of its efficacy by the mumbled response of the affected. India seems determined to call out the bully. It’s not the semi-autonomous Hong Kong, a cowering Taiwan or a Vietnamese fishing boat you could sink to the floor of the South China Sea.
China clearly is upset at India’s assertions in recent months. India has signed a pact with Australia in the middle of the pandemic which would give teeth to QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) between four democracies of Indo-Pacific: the United States, Japan, Australia and India itself. It has openly given a call to multinationals to shift their operations to India, a blow to China where it hurts the most. It has decided to screen the foreign investments beyond the FDI regulations. It now heads World Health Organization (WHO) which is to take call if China was complicit in hiding the truth on Corona Virus pandemic. It hasn’t helped the matter that Taiwan, which Beijing is paranoid about, could have “observer” status at WHO on pandemic deliberations. Then we have an expanded G-7 group of nations where India is to be included but no invitation has gone out to China
India has an uncontested control of Galwan Valley, between Ladakh and Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin, since 1962. It suffers from poor infrastructure in a hilly terrain unlike China which makes use of the flat Tibetan plateau to carry its road and highway network unhindered. India in contrast has to cross several mountains to access the LAC. It’s only natural that India wants to secure its borders. China would either have to give up the encroachments or face consequences, no less economic. There is a groundswell of consensus to boycott Chinese goods. The little matter of Huawei 5G also hangs in the balance.
There is little doubt China faces uncommon heat across continents. Pushback against its over-arching reach has already begun in Africa and Southeast Asia. Unemployment is unprecedented. Economic woes are spiralling. The world is a hostile theatre after China’s machinations on pandemic which has set the world back by a generation in economic terms. Its present misadventure in Ladakh is an undisguised diversionary tactics.
There is little doubt Indo-China relations would freeze in near future. It would bring Pakistan in closer ambit of China. India, on its part, would have the United States in its drawing room. Distrust between the two main powers of Asia would now run deep. Russia is a common friend which could find its loyalty divided.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) with 120-member countries is second only to the United Nations (UN) in size yet its’ two-day 18th Summit in Baku, Azerbaijan on Friday would be lucky to find front-page mention in your newspaper.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi would give it a miss again, like he did in Venezuela in 2016, and so would heads of a whole lot of other nations even though Hassan Rouhani (Iran), Sheikh Hasina (Bangladesh) and KP Sharma Oli (Nepal) as notable exceptions are making rounds in press releases.
It’s unlikely, anyway, that Baku would see more heads of states than eight viewed in Venezuela, down incidentally from 35 witnessed in a still previous edition in Iran in 2012. The NAM doesn’t have a formal constitution or a permanent secretariat, only a coordinating office adjacent to the UN in New York, and a formal media communiqué is all they have to declare to an indifferent world.
It wasn’t so when the world was freeing itself from colonialism in the aftermath of World War II in 1945, and few charismatic world leaders– Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Sukarno (Indonesia), Gemel Abdel Nasser (Egypt) and Josep Broz Tito (Yugoslavia)—rallied the new nations under the banner of the NAM to keep an equidistance from the two superpowers, United States and the Soviet Union. It was a Third World-grouping which didn’t lean either way in the dangerous nuclear-race of Cold War era.
The grouping ensured the vestiges of colonialism didn’t linger on long in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean through their activism in UN General Assembly which declared de-colonization as its main objective in 1960. They brought their weight to bear on the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty and later helped the superpowers to formulate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But the Cold War ended in 1989, the Soviet Union was no more soon, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved and apartheid in South Africa was dismantled. The NAM still defined its role through the prism of Third World nationalism. Western hegemony was still the elephant in the room.
All of it has changed with the rise of China: What was an ideological war has today become one for economics and geography. Many of the NAM members are economic basket cases of the West. As many as 40 of Africa’s 55 states, along with the African Union, have signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with Beijing in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build their ports and airports, highways and railways. Over 50 NAM countries figure prominently in the index of failed states.
You thus have a situation where support for Iran’s nuclear programme is voiced in the NAM’s summit but the same nations back economic-sanctions resolutions in the UN Security Council against Tehran. A host of Arab countries bristle with anger against Israel in the NAM conferences but lap up profitable military and economic ties with the Jewish country once outside the boardroom. From conservative Colombia to Leftist Venezuela; from pro-West Malaysia to socialist Cuba, all have hosted NAM conferences.
India which skillfully used Soviet Union to secure their veto in the UN Security Council on Goa and Jammu & Kashmir in the 50s and 60s and used the Western economic assistance to bail themselves out of a food crisis don’t see much value in NAM these days. S. Jaishankar, present foreign minister, had no qualm in declaring in Venezuela Summit that blocs and alliances are less relevant in international order, and the world is moving towards a “loosely arranged order.”
Still, India has embedded itself in nimble regional networks such as SAARC and BIMSTEC, multilaterial ties with ASEAN; is a respected dialogue partner of the European Union and a special invitee to the G-8 summits. It has a trilateral grouping with Russia and China; holds a quadrilateral security dialogue (QUAD) with the United States, Japan and Australia. There is then BRICS and SCO. It is thus easy to see why India is losing steam on the NAM.
In an ideal world, NAM could be an immense balancing bloc to lower the heat in the South China Sea. Lesser states in Asia-Pacific would pay a heavy price if US and China up the ante of their animosity. The NAM could restrain US and Russia; help China and India lower their suspicion of each other. There are still dime-a-dozen limited wars being fought around the world and the NAM, if it wants, could still be heard in the UN.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the NAM in its pomp, India, Egypt, Indonesia and Yugoslavia, bear little resemblance to the era of 50s. For good or worse, they have moved on. Without a credible helmsman, the NAM is nothing but a talking shop.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Iran has shown its hurt on India which has unilaterally stopped the import of its oil, unwilling to stand in the corner of the adversaries of the United States.
Ali Chegeni, Iranian Ambassador to India, didn’t mince his words in a press briefing in New Delhi on Tuesday, chiding India for succumbing to the “sanctions” of the United States.
The Donald Trump administration is going berserk in his attempt to destroy Iran, first pulling out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) despite Iran being faithful to the deal and piling on with economic sanctions without approval from its allies or world community in the form of United Nations.
India hasn’t imported oil from Iran for months now and couched its action as “reduced” and not “stopped” to suit its independent image. But now that Iran has gone public, India has been shown as having been arm-twisted by the United States.
Fans of India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and his muscular foreign policy could feel cheated as a multi-polar world—against the unipolar bullying of United States—is nearer to being a reality.
Russia and China, hit by sanctions and trade wars, are now joined at hips and Iran is a vital clog in their drive to keep Middle East, even Eurasia, out of bounds for the United States. European Union (EU) has created INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) to keep trading with Iran without resorting to direct transfers of money between the two entities. India is seen as one final piece of jigsaw of the emerging multi-polar world which would signal the further unravelling of US’ hegemony.
To be sure, the United States is one hell of an economic power and throws its weight to bring nations under its heel. It’s the nerve centre of global economy. Be it goods or money; data or transportation, the world doesn’t move much without the express will of the United States.
The United States is the kingpin of globalization. It anchors International Monetary Fund (IMF). It controls over 50 per cent of the venture capital, all but 10 per cent of currency trade use its dollars. Tech and finance doesn’t move without its dollars; it could cripple phone-operating systems of the world; it controls the fund-management assets. As The Economist puts it: “Across the panel, it’s normal to use a Visa card, invoice exports in dollars, sleep beside a device with a Qualcomm chip, watch Netflix and work for a firm that BlackRock invests in.”
If a firm is blacklisted, no bank would touch you with a barge pole and you are put outside the dollar payment system. There is a law in place which controls the foreign investment into Silicon Valley—if you fall foul, you could virtually say goodbye to transactions in semiconductors and software, a virtual ruination in today’s world.
Economy isn’t the imperative though which has guided India’s change of course vis-à-vis Iran. India needs to hedge its bets. That’s the demand of the geopolitics reality. It neither can annoy the chief actors of the drama nor it can afford to align itself with either of the two groups: United States vs the Russia-China combine. If it snuggles up to the United States, it loses the strategic and military advantage of Russia. It provokes China to join hands with Pakistan and cause mayhem on its borders. If it slips into the arms of Russia-China, it must brace itself to the devastation which the United States could unleash, like the one they have in Hong Kong.
India thus follows the sensible policy of keeping its suitors interested. Both the United States and China need India. The United States in its existential mission to squeeze China and badly needs India. China wants to keep India dormant for the same reason. It can’t afford a naval configuration of United States-Japan-Australia-India to spike its waters.
India too needs to do a balancing act of its own. So it relents on South China Sea to ensure China doesn’t help Pakistan to the extent its borders are put under siege. It relents to United States’ demand on Iran to ensure its military purchases from Russia are unimpaired. It knows the mischief the United States is capable of. India internally is in an ideological churn. And the United States is expert in fishing in troubled waters. Kashmir could so easily go horribly wrong.
I suspect Modi’s India, in its heart, is for a multi-polar world. United States doesn’t follow rules, it isn’t friends with anyone. All it wants is servility. Those who are independent—like Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, China, North Korea or Iran—face its wrath. India is still some leagues away before it could trust China completely and dump the United States for good. India is pivotal to Project Eurasia but can’t afford to annoy either of the two blocs. It’s a watchful tread by them.
It’s just not the United States: India has also made a choice in warming up to Saudi Arabia-Israel in the Middle East. They are Iran’s sworn enemies. By drawing close to the Gulf Muslim nations, India has left Pakistan sterile. Pakistan’s fervent appeal on religious lines to Muslim nations has drawn a very tepid response on Kashmir. Instead we have the situation where Modi is being accorded the highest civilian honour in UAE and Bahrain. This comes in the backdrop of Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Maldives conferring similar honours to him. It has isolated Pakistan on Kashmir.
Iran has shown it can’t wait for India interminably. It doesn’t want to be a minor player in India’s international diplomatic games. It’s a perfectly legitimate response given how Iran and its’ proud people are waging a war for survival. Modi government though is in the thick of its own war with internal and external enemies. One hopes, through the backdoor diplomatic channels, India and Iran remain warm to each other. Till the time is ripe.
It’s good for the world.
The Indo-US agreement on sharing military logistics to counter China’s assertiveness in Indian Ocean could have wider ramifications. The two can use each other’s land, air and naval bases for supplies and repair. A piece on the essentials of this conflict:
India and China have been engaged in a Cold War since the beginning of 2015.
New Delhi feels a certain hegemony over Indian Ocean. China, which views it as vital to its survival as a trade route, won’t let it happen. The trade deficit between the two doesn’t help the cause. Both are wary of each other. It’s a real bad news for the future of BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—much to the delight of western powers.
India has made a few moves in recent past which shows its anxiety. Modi visited Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka in March last year but ignored China-friendly Maldives as an apparent snub. Also a conference of “Indian Ocean: Renewing the Maritime Trade and Civilisational Linkages” was held in Bhubaneswar. India wants its own Cotton Route to challenge China’s New Silk Road. The Grand Prize of East Africa doesn’t lessen their friction.
China has its own “String of Pearls” strategy. The Gwadar port in Pakistan; naval bases in Myanmar, intelligence facility in Bay of Bengal, a canal-in-construct across the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, a military tie-up with Cambodia and building military bases in the South China Sea. The “String of Pearls” is meant to secure the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea for its energy and security concerns.
With the Strait of Malacca enabling almost 80 percent of passage to China’s energy needs, it has looked to build its naval power at choke points along the sea routes from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea.
A look at the two Asian powers’ position vis-à-vis critical nations/islands strewn across the Indian Ocean:
This Southeast Asian state was close to China for two decades. But in 2012, it began a “pro-democratization” process—most likely under US pressure—and is now seen close to India. The two together plan to extend Myanmar-Thailand Highway into a trilateral deal.
India’s “Cotton Road” strategy is meant to counter China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan. India wishes to integrate with its ASEAN counterparts and block china from dominating these states.
In a surprise result last year, the pro-China leadership in Sri Lanka, under Rajapksa was ousted and pro-India Sirisena came to power. The first thing Sirisena did was to suspend China’s $1.4 billion investment in port infrastructure.
With Sri Lanka back under India’s influence, for the moment, the link between Maldives and Myanmar for China has been “cut,” so to speak.
Pakistan has decisively moved into China’s arms and there’s no going back on it. The $46 billion Pakistan-China Economic Corridor is well and truly underway. From an Indian perspective, it’s a bad news.
In order to counter China-Pakistan alliance, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi went to Bangladesh and paved way for resolving the 40-year old border disagreement. It can also have a vital impact on India’s control of its northeast region. India can also now directly use Bangladesh’s ports, instead of relying on vulnerable Siliguri Corridor. Till Modi visited Bangladesh, the latter had been cuddling up to China.
Nepal has been a clear loss to India. New Delhi reacted badly to Nepal’s new federative constitution, as did the pro-India Madhesi ethnic group that occupies the Terai border. Subsequent riots and Indian trucks refusing to cross the border into Nepal worsened the situation. Kathmandu sees the hand of New Delhi in this unrest.
China moved in swiftly, providing 1.3 million litres of petrol and signing a deal to fill in Nepal’s demand in the face of India’s monopoly. In one swift action, Nepal has pivoted itself on China’s axis. China surely eyes the control of strategic Karnali and Koshi rivers that sustains 200 million Indians who live at the southern border.
The ouster of former head Nauseed and his Maldivian Democratic Party is a big blow to India’s plans for this little island nation. The current president Yameen is well-disposed towards China which gives it a proxy control on this island chain. There have been multiple attempts on Yameen’s life and India has found itself drawn into the scandal.
India and China have suffered a massive chasm to their ties in a matter of 72 hours which threatens the stability of Asia.
These 72 hours pertained to the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India last week when the hosts were offered a bouquet of infrastructural, nuclear and military deals too mouth-watering to resist.
All these would’ve still been par for course but for that joint public announcement by the two Prime Ministers welcoming Japan’s participation in the India-US Malabar exercises on a permanent basis to meet the “maritime challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.”
It straightaway got China’s goat who warned both India and Japan to “not provoke confrontation and create tension in the region.”
China has long viewed Japan as a vassal of United States and its action being one of a puppet managed by its master. It sees a quadrilateral force of US-Japan-Australia-India now trying to ring and encircle it in the critical Pacific Ocean where it is engaged in disputes with Japan in East China Sea and with Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia among others in the South China Sea.
There is little doubt that US’ “pivot to Asia” is aimed to curtail the growing might of China, the world’s second largest economy and what better way to do than to unleash Japan, world’s third largest economy and India, world’s ninth largest economy, at the throat of the Middle Kingdom? And one must not forget the recent Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which serves the same purpose.
The readers at this stage would rightfully question why I offer the supposition that (a) Japan is a vassal state of United States; (b) India has finally hitched its wagon with the US-led cart ; and (c) India and China have grown irrevocably apart despite their cooperation in Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), BRICS, and SCO (albeit from next year).
There is also this critical subtext of Japan and China being irrevocable enemies which deserves an explanation but let me first throw light on the Malabar exercise issue.
Japan is not new in the US-India Malabar naval drill exercise routine which began in 1992. It took part in 2007, 2009 and 2014 but only as an invitee. Singapore and Australia too have taken part in this exercise, held in the Bay of Bengal, in the past. But now Japan would have a permanent presence, making it a trilateral US-Japan-India naval exercise.
Clearly, it’s Japan’s presence in the exercise which has touched a raw nerve in China. Thus I move to the first synthesis to the question which you might have in your mind:
Why China and Japan are so irrevocably hostile to each other
During the Second World War, while US threw its lot in Europe to counter the Axis threat of Germany and Italy, it was China’s heroism which kept Japan pinned down in Asia before US mopped it up with the finality of the atomic strikes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
US and China would thus have been a natural ally and Japan a reviled enemy but for that twist to the tale—communism. As Mao wrested control from Chiang Kai-shek in China, the spectre of communism was in full bloom along with its presence in Soviet Union. The strategic location of Japan between the two Communist powers, made it absolutely priceless for United States.
For the next five decades, United States did everything it could to boost Japan as an economic power par excellence on the world stage. It tolerated Japan’s structural economic protectionist preferences and allowed it a free way market in the United States even at the cost of hurting its own domestic industry.
Cunningly, United States allowed Japan to get on with its own domestic, political and economic missions. It allowed the Japanese elites to maintain an economic system that’s radically opposite to America’s view of the world economic order. As long as Japan kept its foreign policy under United States’ thumb, the latter was willing to overlook a few nuisances.
Japan those become almost invisible to the world on the diplomatic stage. It’s political relations with rest of Asia are under-developed. It lacks multilateral associations such as EU, NATO, NAFTA, ASEAN that other regions enjoy.
A few of its unique characteristics are worth a mention to readers. For one, Japan was never colonized. Two, it remains a “one-country” language. Three, Japanese religion was never exported as Christianity and Islam were. It has far fewer Western education outlets than even China or South Korea. Foreign enterprises have restricted presence. There is very little Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country.
The US predominance in Japan’s affairs was sharply brought to focus in 2010. This was the year when US nudged an “unfavourable” Japanese government out of the office. This was the cabinet of Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) which had come to power a year before in September 2009. Till then, Japan had been a “one-party democracy” of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in power for 50 years.
The DPJ had a strong reformist agenda. It wanted a control over a rampant bureaucracy which encouraged a pivot towards US. Importantly, it wanted a new China policy. There were massive “people to people” contacts planned; prime minister Yukio Hatoyama wanted to join ASEAN+3 community, consisting of Korea, China and Japan.
This got Washington furious. It refused at least three requests the Japanese prime minister made of meeting the new president Barack Obama. The new man in White House shunned Japanese head in international gatherings. The Japanese press, who followed the American editors blindly, began screaming that prime minister Hatoyama was damaging US-Japan ties. Media and bureaucracy succeeded in their vicious campaign and Hatoyama to step down. What clinched the matter was the false impression given to Hatoyama that US would reconsider having a new marine base in Okinawa.
Hatoyama’s successor Kan Naota was wiser by the event. He distanced himself from the foreign policy reformists’ agenda. His successor Yoshihiko Noda called for an unnecessary elections which brought the LDP back to power.
So where a friendly relations with China had begun to bloom, suddenly it was now put in reverse gears. Shintaro Ishihara, towards the end of his 13-year governorship of Tokyo, proposed that the uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea be bought over. This was a long disputed territory but largely dormant due to improving Japan-China relations. Now it became a smoking hot issue. Growing relationships took a nosedive. Beijing saw a hand of US behind these machinations.
It’s important at this stage to remember the great divide between Japan and China in the 20th century. An imperialistic Japan had seized Manchuria in 1931 and invaded rest of China from 1937.
The present Japense Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took a historic step last year by ending a ban that had kept the military from fighting abroad after World War II. It contradicted Article 9 of the country’s constitution which had renounced war forever and declared that Japan would never maintain land, air and sea forces.
Since he took office in 2012, Abe has hiked up the military budget, visited the notorious Yasukuni shrine, a symbol of Japanese militarism and denied the role of the Japanese military in forcing hundreds and thousands of women—called “comfort women”—into sexual slavery for its troops.
Abe greatly admires his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi who was Japan’s minister of munitions during World War II. Kishi raised Abe in lieu of his real father, sowing in his grandson the seeds of making Japan a military power again.
US, worried at China’s rise, was happy to stoke Abe’s militaristic disposition. It’s pleasing to Washington that Japan still supports the illegal Iraq War or that it awarded Japan’s highest medal to then US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently.
So now we have a background to US’ control of Japan and the latter’s historic hostility to China. In the second and concluding part of this article, we would look at why India has hedged its bet with US-Japan lot and put itself on path of military confrontation with China.