By A Adityanjee
Indian Review of Global Affairs
The Chinese have fired yet another salvo in its cloak and dagger strategic games directed at India. It has gone totally unnoticed in the Indian media but for the last few days, both the Peoples’ Daily of China and the China Daily along with their Indian Sinophile minions have been crowing about the latest Chinese “smart” success in invading India’s international strategic space. By itself, the current Chinese salvo seems pretty innocuous but it has far reaching consequences. The stapled visa issue also started as an innocuous action by low level visa officers in the Chinese embassy. One has to read in between the tea leaves to ascertain Chinese motives. By these aggressive containment efforts, China has proved once again that it is not a friend or an ally of India but at worst a determined and hostile strategic adversary and at best a peer competitor.
There is a very clear cut pattern to Chinese geo-political endeavours. China is behaving as a classical hegemon that is determined to prevent emergence of a rival power by any means. Despite India’s serious reservations, a few years ago, China manipulated the SAARC process to enter as an observer, on an Invitation from Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh When India wanted to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the full membership was frozen and India was again hyphenated with Pakistan and Iran as an observer. China is the only country among the P5 nations that has yet to endorse India’s candidature for the permanent membership of the UNSC. This, even though China has been making noises about harmony, democracy and consensus building in the UNSC reform process. This will help the Coffee Group (so-called United for Consensus group) orchestrated by Pakistan.
China had initially put up a number of conditions at the time of approval of the India-US civil nuclear energy deal by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Ultimately, the U.S. forced China to support the deal in the NSG. Now, China wants a similar deal in the NSG for its all-weather friend and client state Pakistan. Turning to the ASEAN, China has, for last several years prevented India’s entry by stringently opposing the ASEAN plus six formula that includes India (ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and US) while supporting the ASEAN plus three formula (ASEAN, China, U.S. and Japan). We also see continued exclusion of India from the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Conference). Primarily as a result of Chinese machinations, the APEC is not ready to enlarge itself. If we carefully analyse the Chinese behaviour towards India, not only has China tried to confine India to the sub-continent as a mere regional player, but also China has made no secret of its efforts to contain India’s rising profile in other international fora to suit its narrow mercantile and hegemonic purposes.
At the same time, China has been seconding the Manmohan Singh mantra about the world having enough space for both China and India to rise peacefully at the same time. Similar to Nehru’s endorsement of “Panchsheel”, the current Indian PM has fallen in the same trap laid by China for India in the international organizations. Nehru was privately characterised as a “useful idiot” by the Chinese leadership. One wonders what Hu Jintao is saying about Dr. Singh privately. A few years ago, India’s then petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was naively talking about developing hydrocarbon resources jointly with China, while China successfully outbid India for every hydrocarbon asset internationally whether in Africa or closer to home in Myanmar. Indian politicians have failed to learn from the previous treacherous behaviour on part of China, and regularly succumb to Chinese bullying. The lack of proactive strategic planning has always been missing from India’s leadership’s mindset and time and again we are left to react to geo-political situations by fire-fighting each avoidable crisis.
Although India and China have tangoed at the G20, RIC, BRIC, BASIC and SCO groupings for a few years now, China has been keen to neutralise India’s influence in the IBSA, a grouping that excludes China specifically. India has been lukewarm to the idea of China joining the IBSA because China is not a democracy while all the three countries of IBSA are thriving democracies in three separate continents. China has been working very hard with Brazil and South Africa for the last couple of years to achieve its stated purpose. The next BRIC meeting is scheduled in April 2011 in Beijing. And, lo and behold, China has had the chutzpah to foist South Africa on to the BRIC. Enlarging the economic grouping to BRICS tremendously helps China’s foreign policy objectives of containing Indian economic, strategic, political and diplomatic influence. China has effectively managed to collapse BRIC and IBSA into one single grouping (BRICS). Currently China is South Africa’s largest trading partner and South Africa is the largest destination in Africa for China’s direct investment. South Africa’s small population, the size of its economy and the relatively slow growth rate did not meet the original BRIC standards. By inviting South Africa to BRIC(S), China has deftly dented India’s economic outreach in Africa. China has also quickly out-manoeuvred the proposed India-US collaboration and cooperation in Africa as suggested by President Barack Obama during his November 2010 India trip recently.
By this master-stroke, China has shown the audacity to adopt the colonial and imperialistic policy of “Divide and Rule” vis-a-vis the G4 countries (Brazil, India, Germany and Japan) who are aspiring to be members of the UNSC as permanent members. Brazil has been torn asunder from the G4 in toto and firmly aligned with China in the now enlarged BRICS. By claiming the leadership of BRICS and harping on its political role in the developing world, China has tried to marginalise India’s rise as an emerging pole in the emerging oligo-polar geo-political balance of power hierarchy. For all practical purposes, we can say goodbye to IBSA as an economic vehicle for India to access increasingly lucrative African and Latin American markets. Chinese efforts are ostensibly geared towards strengthening South Africa’s and Brazil’s claims for the UNSC permanent membership while simultaneously over-looking and demeaning India’s global role. People’s Daily Online ominously notes that “In 2011, all the members of the BRICS countries will serve as members of the UN security council, permanent or non-permanent. Their active roles deserve people’s attention in the year to come”. China Daily, while neglecting India focuses on the role of China, Russia and Brazil have played in the international arena.
India has now very hard strategic choices. It should insist that BRICS in its latest avatar must remain primarily an economic block without any scope for creeping politicisation of the economic group into a geo-political formation. India cannot be seen to be opposing South Africa’s entry into the BRICS for historical, diplomatic and geo-political reasons, though it remains lukewarm to the proposal. India should take a serious note of China’s audacious move in the international chess game and counteract it by joining the ASEAN formally, resurrecting the BIMSTEC and vigorously strengthening the IBSA as a trade block. India should use her current membership of the UNSC to catapult into the NSG as a full-fledged member. India should make determined efforts to join the proposed East Asian Economic Community and prevent her further exclusion from any economic or trade group in order to balance China’s growing influence in international economic diplomacy.
(Dr Adityanjee is President, Council for Strategic Affairs, New Delhi)
(The article originally appeared at www.irgamag.com. USINPAC and IRGA are content partners.)