Tuesday, September 2, 2014
India, Japan, China and the National Interest Triangle
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In the past, Delhi would have prevaricated and made sure that both Beijing and Tokyo were kept happy. Modi makes clear advances.
The Chinese edition of The People’s Daily recently published an Op-Ed by Shen Dingli, Deputy Director of the International Affairs Institute of Fudan University, who recommended that Beijing should define its enemies, allies, and friends on the basis of China’s national interests. This seems a logical proposition.
After Independence, many foreign observers thought that when it came to strategic thinking, there was something wrong with India’s DNA. Nehru’s India lived in nebulous ideals, incapable to define and implement the country’s national interests, while preaching about the ‘largest interest of world peace’.
There is nothing wrong with world peace, but the Indian approach has often created more mess (take the stoppage of the military operation in Kashmir in 1947-1948 or the non-intervention in Tibet in 1950-1951) and ultimately, more chaos, war and suffering followed.
Hopefully, under the Narendra Modi Government, a genetic mutation is taking place and India will slowly be able to ‘egoistically’ think about her own interests; a position which will eventually command much greater respect from the country’s friends and foes …and bring peace.
China had never had existentialist problems like India.
As Shen Dingli explains in the above–mentioned Op-Ed, the most practical way to define one’s own interests, is to distinguish between enemies and friends in international relations. Using the US as an example, Shen asks: Should America be classified among friends, allies, or foes? Then, he defines China’s most important core interests such as “national sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity, and national unity”.
Each country must define its own ‘core interests’; obviously, India’s interests are different from China’s.
The fact that the US dares to sell weapons to Taiwan and threatens to use force to interfere in China’s internal affairs [i.e. China’s claims in the South China and East China Seas], makes the US go straight into the ‘enemy’ category.
However, according to Shen, because ‘sustainable social economic development’ is also one of Beijing’s core interests and due to the close economic cooperation with the US during the past 30 years, Washington could also come under the ‘friend’ category. As a result, the US will be treated by China as a friend in certain domains and as an ‘enemy’ in others.
Shen believes that Japan’s relationship with China fits in the same categories as the US. He does not however mention India.
Now, take Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan. In one way, it is simpler: Japan is a ‘friend’. The ‘genetic’ novelty of India’s position is that Modi is not shy to say it, it is even heard (and not appreciated) by Japan’s powerful neighbour.
On the eve of his departure for Tokyo, the PM wrote:
“I am keenly looking forward to my three-day visit to Japan at the invitation of my good friend, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for the Annual Summit between India and Japan.”
‘My good friend’ is clearly a message to Beijing. In the past, Delhi would have prevaricated and made sure that both Beijing and Tokyo were kept happy.
Now Modi clearly says:
“Japan is one of our closest partners in political, economic, security and cultural realms. It is a key regional and global partner for us. Between our countries, there is only goodwill and mutual admiration. Buddhism from India has inspired Japan for over a millennium. We in India similarly draw inspiration from Japan’s vanguard role as the fountainhead of Asia’s modernization, resurgence and rejuvenation.”
The relation with Tokyo is important to Delhi, and today it is clearly enunciated:
“We will explore how Japan can associate itself productively with my vision of inclusive development in India, including the transformation of India’s manufacturing, infrastructure sectors, energy and social sectors. We will discuss how to boost our defence and security cooperation, including in defence technology, equipment and industry.”
In the past, Delhi would have been shy to preeminently display the importance of this relation, so as not to ‘upset’ China. That is not the case anymore.
China does the same. On August 29, the website China Military Online reported that General Fan Changlong, the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and China’s senior most Army General participated in a symposium on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. He stressed the importance:
“to deeply summarize and rethink the historical lessons of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 and undertake the historical responsibility of building a powerful Chinese military.”
He added that the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 left a profound trauma in China. It brought pain and sorrow to the Chinese nation and shame on the Chinese military:
“It is necessary to analyze the historical lessons of this war in an objective and dialectical way.”
China has always chosen its friends (and foes) according to its own economic or strategic interests. India too should ‘deeply summarise and rethink the historical lessons of the 1962 Sino-Indian War’.
China continues to select its ‘friends’ according to its interests. Between August 24 to 29, China hosted a ‘Peace Mission 2014’ with other States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Held at Zhurihe training base in Inner Mongolia, it is the largest joint military drill ever organised by China, according to Yang Yujun, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson.
China is clearly looking for new friends in the region. It believes that it will help revive the ‘spirit’ of the New Silk Road, initiated by President Xi Jinping for “promoting economic cooperation, culture exchanges and friendly relationships” …and securing energy for China.
According to Xinhua, the proposal of ‘one belt and one road’ has brought new vibrancy to the cooperation among pan-Asia, Asia and Europe. But behind the rhetoric, the economic relations with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan are crucial to the Middle Kingdom’s energy policy.
Though Wang Ning, deputy chief of the PLA general staff and responsible for the drill, clarified that exercises are the sign of a new military alliance, it remains that Beijing needs the Central Asian States’ friendship to run its economic machine.
Officially, the drill only aims at countering ‘terrorist forces’, particularly the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, based in Xinjiang (and trained in Pakistan).
Yang stated that the exercise played an important role in deterring the ‘three evil forces’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism, safeguarding regional peace and stability and improving the military’s ability to coordinate the fight against terrorism.
The visit of Narendra Modi to Japan must be seen in this perspective: India, instead of the usual goody-goody attitude has for the first time decided to assert its national interests. It is crucial before President Xi’s visit to Delhi later this month.
In the meantime, President Xi Jinping has asked China’s military to think of technical and strategic ‘innovations’; he told his Politburo’s colleagues that the PLA must:
“strive to establish a new military doctrine, institutions, equipment systems, strategies and tactics and management modes for information warfare that had become central to modern combat.”
China will always be ready, similarly India should be.
By the way, is Islamabad a ‘friend’ or a ‘foe’ for Beijing? Difficult question, Mr Xi may be scratching his head!