One of the successful manoeuvres China undertook (from the late 1970s and 1980s) for a seat at the global high table was the “polar” international structure. In the 1980s China projected a tri-polar power balance with the USA and the Soviet Union as the strong poles and China as the third pole weak but growing. This was the theory necessitated the two powers to strengthen China to maintain global stability.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing projected a bipolar world theory comprising the USA and China. Interestingly, China’s weakness to the USA was couched. They also projected periodically economic poles like the European Union, Japan and India. The main drive, however, was the G-2 (US, China) power formulation.
Intrinsic in it was the proposal that the globe be divided between the US and China, allowing the US to take the larger share. This arrangement was rejected by the US, though Washington has wide ranging relations with Beijing which follows a sine wave structure – ups and downs.
As an Asian power, however, China never proposed a multi polar Asia. Chinese diplomats avoid discussing this concept. From all indications it is clear China is pursuing the structure of a unipolar Asia, China being that pole.
This is the Son of Heaven concept in all seriousness, and is not a fairy tale.
China has been apprehensive for some years now, especially following the India-US nuclear deal that a US-India alliance was developing to counter China. Although there is no truth to this allegation and the Chinese know that, Beijing kept up the propaganda to keep India under pressure.
China’s real concern about an Indian-US partnership is India’s access to American cutting edge technology, both civilian and military, and a cooperation that could dominate the Indian Ocean.
The UPA government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demonstrated a kind of weakness where China was concerned. The new NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while giving greater emphasis on “development” in India-China relations, has drawn some clear lines of Indian interests including peaceful resolution of South China Sea issues and freedom of navigation of the South China.
At the same time, Mr. Modi disappointed China by putting India-US diplomatic problems aside, accepting President Barack Obama’s invitation to visit Washington in September, and restarting defence acquisition along with technology transfer talks. The message to China is just as Beijing can conduct relation with the US independent of other relations, India can and will prosecute relations with US independent of China’s views.
China’s response to India is not yet clear. President Xi is scheduled to visit India in autumn and will receive a red carpet welcome.
China, however, has several plans that could enmesh India. The various ‘silk routes’ of trade and culture being talked by them involves India as major station. The BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) land route is another important thrust by China to enter the Indian Ocean through a short route. It is expected China will invite India to join the various regional groupings China is initiating, and persuade India to support a new monetary mechanism in Asia with China to counter the Brenton woods institutions.
From the Asia pacific region, through Africa to Latin America, US and China will hedge each other. But the most incendiary areas are the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Much will depend on the character of President Xi Jinping. His handling of internal situations suggest that he is going back to the Maoist era of one-man party centre and not the collegium leadership system introduced by Deng Xiaoping. Application of a one man hardline policy on contentious territorial claims may lead to that one spark that can set a prairie on fire.
This article was also carried by the South Asia Analysis Group on August 13, 2014.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.