It happens only rarely but when the old order shifts and
while its alternative is taking shape, the world is characterised by high
instability. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, for instance, (described by the
scholar Francis Fukuyama as the end of history) led to the era of the sole
superpower, which required a massive readjustment of alliances and attitudes in
the rest of the world. Today we seem poised on the edge of another whirlwind, a
phase of fundamental strategic realignment based on geo-economics aided by
Perhaps no country has applied the strategic tool of geo-economics to better effect than China. The term geo-economics is contemplated as another tool in the realm of traditional geopolitics. While explaining geo-economics in the 1990s, Harvard University scholars Daniel Bell and Samuel Huntington agreed that “economics is the continuation of war by other means”. The application of geo-economics provides equally effective results compared to military power with the benefit of a lower risk of major counter-reactions. China is one of the most enthusiastic protagonists of geo-economics as strategy. Its rise is an indication of the fact that economic underpinnings are essential to strategic outreach, amply demonstrated by the Chinese, whose immense economic success is key to their rising influence. It is something Japan never attempted although Americans were seriously alarmed at its seemingly unstoppable rise in the 1980s.
As a country that seeks state hegemony, political and economic, China has exploited the open regional and international system in a globalised world to the maximum. Sitting on foreign currency reserves of US$ 3.10 trillion as of July 2019, the People’s Republic of China, led by the Communist Party of China (CPC), has brought an entire spectrum of non-European, non-North American countries into its expansionist alliances. Its economic leverage is great enough to draw even hardcore Islamist and Salafist countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia into its orbit, turning a blind eye to state-sponsored atrocities in Muslim-majority Xinjiang province.
Muslim countries across the world, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, go berserk at the very mention of Kashmir, out of fervently expressed concerns for the plight and rights of its Muslims. The PRC’s systematic mistreatment of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim and minorities in Xinjiang, on the other hand, has never merited even a formal statement against China. The mass detentions and “disappearances” into re-education camps of up to three million Muslims in Xinjiang has drawn the attention and ire of 18 European nations including the United Kingdom, France and Germany, as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. None of the so-called Islamic states has shown any interest.
Nearly “a million people are being held in so-called counter-extremism centres and another two million have been forced into so-called re-education camps, for political and cultural indoctrination”.
These 22 countries filed a petition before Michelle
Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on July 10,
2019 during the commission’s 41st session (June 26-July 12), stating China must
adhere to its own laws and respect international obligations in Xinjiang, where
arbitrary incarceration of Uighurs and other Muslims and minority communities
is rampant. They said China must allow freedom of religion.
Before this, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, comprising “18 independent experts who are persons of high moral standing and acknowledged impartiality” according to the UN, in its August 2018 review of China’s compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) provided graphic details of the plight of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjian.
Gay McDougall, an American and vice-chair of the committee, stated that ‘We are deeply concerned at the many numerous and credible reports that we have received that, in the name of combating religious extremism and maintaining social stability, [China] has turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy–a sort of ‘no-rights zone’.
By McDougall’s estimate nearly “a million people are being held in so-called counter-extremism centres and another two million have been forced into so-called re-education camps, for political and cultural indoctrination”. The estimate is based on official Chinese documents, the testimony of families whose relatives have been imprisoned and electronic evidence like satellite imagery.
There are 10 to 11 million Uighurs living in Xinjiang. They speak a Turkic language and their traditional homeland was briefly independent as East Turkistan during 1933-34 and again in 1944-49 before falling under communist Chinese rule in 1949. Xinjiang has witnessed a large scale influx of millions of Han Chinese trans-located by the Chinese government to colonise the region and change the long-term demographics, thus reducing the domination of ethnic Uighurs. Today they make up 46 per cent of the population, compared to 40 per cent Han Chinese.
The 2019 petition was a watershed moment in international alliance building. A clear line was drawn between two competing blocks. Three years earlier, on March 10, 2016, the United States had led criticism of China’s human rights record by issuing a joint statement on behalf of a group including Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the USA.
There is a special irony in the fact that one-third of the 37 signatories are from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation which portrays itself as the custodian of Islam.
In 2017, the 28-member European Union prepared a joint statement criticising China for its treatment of Uighurs, to be presented before the UN Human Rights Council. But Greece, a beneficiary of Chinese assistance, vetoed the statement. In 2015, China’s COSCO Shipping took a 51 per cent stake in Greece’s largest port, forcing it to take a contrary stand within the EU family. In March 2017 Hungary, another recipient of Chinese money, played spoilsport when the US tried to bring in another EU resolution against China’s rights record under President Xi Jinping.
he United States was ineligible to sign the July 2019 joint petition of 22-nations as it quit the UN Human Rights Council a year ago. But on June 3, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the American stand and said, “In Xinjiang, the Communist Party leadership is methodically attempting to strangle Uighur culture and stamp out the Islamic faith”. The consistent pattern of multilateral human rights related resolutions against China indicates the formation of a larger alliance against Chinese-sponsored geo-economics and military muscle.
As the UN Human Rights Council debated rights abuses in Xinjiang in the last session China, grandmaster of the new age Great Game lined up a phalanx of 37 countries to sign a counter-petition to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights defending its treatment of Uighur and other minorities in Xinjiang. Although only 11 of the signatories are members of the Human Rights Council, China did not try to delete or defend the illusory line drawn by the west but deftly drew a new one to taunt its adversaries. It had staved off the west’s multilateral pressures—naming and shaming China—to pay the west in the same currency.
There is a special irony in the fact that one-third of the 37 signatories are from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation which portrays itself as the custodian of Islam. These countries, from Central Asia to the Middle East to Africa, supported China and include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Syria, Tajikistan, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, and Togo. Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and the Philippines are other signatory nations who oppose the US-led world order and are trying to challenge it with a new block led by China.
he line between the two blocks is getting clearer. One is led by the western countries supported by Japan, New Zealand and Australia. They are united by common ideals of democracy, rule of law, open market system and traditional alliances. The other is led by China and its client states, who are eyeing Chinese cash investment and therefore obliged to follow its dictates. The profile of the dragon looms large over this group. So great is the influence of Chinese geo-economics that even Saudi Arabia and other rich Muslim countries are ready to support it on the Uighur issue in Xinjiang even though China is virtually exterminating an entire Muslim society in plain sight of the rest of the world. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, all of them are so much in debt, one way or another, to the Chinese that none of them says a word.
The Islamic world is joining this party out of want, for one reason, and partly because of US refusal to help them. The Chinese have shown a willingness to stand with them and suspend judgment. In any case, their weight in a pact centred on China would be marginal. The real indication that this could be the beginnings of a grand strategic alliance, however, is the growing proximity of Russia to China.
The China-Russia duo makes for an extremely powerful core. These erstwhile rivals fought ferociously for control of the worldwide communist movement after the Sino-Soviet split in 1961. They were also involved in a short-lived undeclared shooting war along the Amur River (Heilong Jiang in Chinese) in distant Siberia in 1969. Tensions started to decline after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. But the first official visit of a Russian president happened only after the dissolution of Soviet Russia in 1991. In December 1992, President Boris Yeltsin visited Beijing. The two countries formalised their friendly relations only in 2001 with the signing of the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation.
Cooperation between the Communist Party of China and the ruling United Russia Party has been enriched continuously since the two forged ties in 1999.
The Russian ministry of foreign affairs aspired to emulate
the Chinese model of rapid economic development accompanied by social stability.
China’s path was the road not taken by Russia. By 2007, the two countries’
leaders shared a generally positive dynamic and Russia opened its fourth
consulate in Guangzhou, after Shanghai, Shenyang and Hong Kong. Every year
presidents of the two countries meet at least half a dozen times at various
forums. According to China’s General Administration of Customs, total
trade between Russia and China in 2018 was $107.06 billion.
One of the vital components of the bond in Russia-China relations is a mutual insistence on non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. China’s formula with Russia also includes a tacit agreement not to criticise Russia, whose continuing rapid engagement with China could be considered a tool for personal survival. The two giants’ common anti-U.S. sentiment, an important part of the bond, has been aided by poor US policy rather than an intrinsic affinity. But the relation is strengthened by mutual economic interest, similar views on the Middle East, a shared opposition to unipolarity, domestic reform and Russia’s need to get an alternative outlet for energy and arms.
Cooperation between the Communist Party of China and the ruling United Russia Party has been enriched continuously since the two forged ties in 1999. Recently, both ruling parties–United Russia party and the Communist Party of China—set up a mechanism for all-round and multi-layer exchanges, thus forming the beginnings of a relationship of strategic cooperation. Both countries have also successfully resolved the longstanding border dispute which has been vital in helping to improve relations and perhaps take them to a new level. In the new environment, Russia does not consider China a military threat.
Irritants remain, however, between the two countries, in matters like defence purchases. Russia is reluctant to sell long-range aviation assets to China but is ready to sell whatever else is on China’s shopping list. The Chinese on the other hand have often expressed their displeasure about receiving stripped-down versions of advanced Russian weaponry. Moscow is concerned about China’s increasingly sophisticated technical capacities and in 2007 its leadership was privately alarmed when China tested an anti-satellite missile. Although it refrained from criticising Beijing in public, the Russian government was clearly unhappy about this defection from their previously shared position supporting an international treaty to ban weapons in space.
hina’s success in nevertheless engaging Russia as has not allayed the latter’s increasing worries that at some point, the dragon might use its economic might to sweep the Russian empire aside easily and effortlessly. It is nervous about Chinese economic penetration in Central Asia as its increasing presence and influence fuels long-standing fears of strategic encirclement. Russian thinkers are also wary of evaluating the spill-over effects of environmental damage caused by unrestricted and at times unethical Chinese development projects. They understand that China will never slow down its growth engine over mere environmental concerns.
Putin’s overture is motivated by prudence to accommodate a rising China. There is also the fact that China has needs Russia can supply and payment is in cash.
Russian border areas are severely affected by Chinese-inflicted spills in the heavily polluted Sungari River, a tributary of the Amur. Some 20 million Chinese live on the south bank of the Sungari, while the entire Khabarovsk territory on the Russian side has just 1.5 million people. The Chita Region’s steppe and taiga have been ruined by the Chinese economic miracle and overexploitation. People in the Russian Far East live in fear that the ‘Yellow Peril’ will overpower them as China is in the process of taking over the region.
Low birth rates, early deaths and high migration rates coupled with Chinese firms buying vast tracts of land to exploit the natural resources and to establish settlements are leading to a steep decline in the native Russian population in Siberia and the Russian Far East. This combination of factors has stoked the fear that the Chinese will sooner or later swamp the region. One of the by-products is an unhealthy growth in xenophobia and ultra-nationalism that is fanning anti-Chinese sentiment across Russia. It is serious enough to prompt the Chinese Embassy to issue an advisory to its students not to travel alone on Moscow public transport.
Despite these mutual suspicions, geopolitical developments elsewhere have encouraged Russia in its current pro-China zeal. President Putin’s overture is motivated by prudence to accommodate a rising China. There is also the fact that China has needs Russia can supply and payment is in cash. The China-Russia US $25 billion oil-for-loans agreement on the expansion of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) Pipeline to northeast China signed in 2009 is an example of growing dependence on Chinese cash. The agreement commits it to supply 15 million tonnes of crude annually for 20 years.
If China and Russia do team up they have, among other things, a formidable cyber army in place, with experience of conducting a cloud war. The west is well aware of their capabilities.
This is part of China’s strategic ‘Go Out’ (zouchuqu)
programme, under which the Chinese Development Bank promotes capable Chinese
companies to invest abroad with the explicit intention of improving the
country’s geo-economics. Guaranteed oil deliveries from reliable suppliers is
one way for China to avoid dependence on western allies in the Middle East.
Following this logic, it has also signed deals worth $10 billion in loans to
Brazil’s Petrobras for a guaranteed 160,000 barrels per day and of $4 billion
in loans to Venezuela’s PDVSA for 80,000-200,000 barrels per day.
For Russia, it is both a strategic step to keep on the right side of a rising superpower and to earn much needed cash, an economic benefit that will pay for its own industrial advancement. For the time being at any rate the Russian leadership sees a profit in this relationship so it pushes things along, camouflaging its insecurity about what it fears is an existential danger in the neighbourhood. The relationship will remain tenuous as long as China’s strategic rise and Russia’s inability to compete go hand in hand.
It is estimated that Russia might count on an accommodating China for two decades, starting from the day of signing of the friendship treaty in 2001. If the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had continued with its expansion into former Warsaw Pact and other Soviet allies Russia and China might have seen wisdom in getting even closer to each other. As that prospect is remote under the Trump presidency, it is hard to see too far into how this uneasy dance will develop.
But if China and Russia do team up they have, among other things, a formidable cyber army in place, with experience of conducting a cloud war. The west is well aware of their capabilities, given the volume of complaints about Russian interference in their elections from various western governments. The Chinese have flatly denied any involvement in cyber attacks but the west remains unconvinced. Even the US lags here, not to speak of NATO. This is not for lack of ability or capacity, as the Stuxnet case demonstrates, but these countries have not weaponised cyberspace the way these two have. That, at least, is the perception.
Among its major advantages, Russia has very high Human Development Index numbers. If the Chinese are generous with capital and Moscow makes a real push to develop manufacturing and build infrastructure, the potential for a third superpower exists, given Russia’s vast natural resources. If they act in tandem, the two would outstrip any combination of western powers. We should also note that global warming has opened up a new economic frontier, the far north, which is controlled by Russia. Where the west is alarmed at ice-free Arctic summers, Russia sees an opportunity for a massive expansion of shipping and trade through the Northwest Passage, as well as other resources, for which China may provide the wherewithal.
If that happens, it would be like a sugar shock for the Russian economy, putting it on par perhaps with the European Union, even if short-lived. Moreover, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the two largest oil producers in the world and thus enjoy massive leverage on the world stage. The joint influence of these three in an alliance would be virtually impossible to resist for all but the richest states. Such a partnership is, of course, still little more than a concept but given the rising sentiment for strongmen and protectionism and disdain for pluralism, it is not that far-fetched.
China-Russia alliance coupled with like-minded partners from Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and probably Latin America would stand for the opposite of all that the western alliances profess. A China-led pact would be a model of autocracy, forcible control of populations by electronic or cyber means. These countries generally use democracy as camouflage and at times proclaim their economic model as libertarian economics. Among the beneficiaries of the ‘Truman Doctrine’ of 1947 and the ‘Marshall Plan’ of 1948, are Hungary, Greece, and Turkey. They are now making a beeline for China to make the most of the financial largesse it is extending.
Turkey’s change of course is a guide for countries like Brazil and Argentina, formerly allies of the west but forced by unforeseen exigencies into China’s orbit. Since the US is in flight from its international defence commitments alliances like NATO are in tatters.
Turkey’s tilt towards Beijing is a curious case, a classic
example of strange bed-fellows. Its famed ‘Middle Corridor Initiative’
connecting Anatolia to Central Asia and China forms the basis for joining
China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. The two signed a memorandum of
understanding in November 2016 harmonising their Belt and Road and Middle
Corridor Initiatives to cooperate on key projects. But old wounds open up at
times without prior notice. On February 12, 2019, Turkey castigated China for
its treatment of Uighur Muslims and other minorities, calling it “a great
embarrassment for humanity”. China responded by describing Turkish criticism as
vile and unwarranted. After the escalation, it issued an advisory to citizens
and tourists to be on the alert during their stay in Turkey.
Turkey’s change of course is a guide for countries like Brazil and Argentina, formerly allies of the west but forced by unforeseen exigencies into China’s orbit. Since the US is in flight mode from its international defence commitments and President Donald Trump is engaged on a track of consistent and gratuitous insult to allies and partners, US-led alliances like NATO are in tatters. Its forfeiture of leadership position in such a momentous era has not only disheartened but also divided and confused the western countries. For the past two years and more, they have been in emergency mode, scrambling to present a united front and provide a calibrated challenge to the rise of a new block led by China.
It is evident that this alliance or group or coalition is opportunistic, a cabal of convenience without a common goal or shared ideology. But every one of its adherents is contemptuous of democracy and intolerant of dissent. The Hong Kong protests and China’s treatment of Uighurs are born of a refusal to understand the value of difference. It has been ruthless in imposing its will on the Uighurs but held its hand on Hong Kong so far. If the western alliances fail to temper Chinese passions on these twin crises their standing will plummet. It is likely to be seen as a demonstration of fundamental inferiority.
n the post-World War II division of power blocs, the criteria for membership in the two groups were based on communism and democratic ideals. But the lines in this world order that is still being crafted are blurred. The China-led group is a motley collection of troubled economies with varying political systems. Their support for China is not based on any basic enthusiasm for its system but is about their own need for capital and markets. In many cases, the partnership may be unsustainable.
Beijing’s world-girdling outreach is portrayed and marketed by its propagandists as a tool for open trade flows and joint sharing of benefits. Contrary to these professions, these initiatives are an economic instrument of power that subverts the autonomy of participant countries. They may get easy money in the short term but the bill comes due eventually as the borrower is warned about unsustainable debt levels. If unable to repay, the offender may be forced to provide access to strategic assets such as ports or railways or natural resources.
In addition, there is a basic contradiction between China’s way of doing business and the economic behaviour of some of its partners. Many of them are protectionist in intent and nativist by nature. In the case of Russia and Turkmenistan, local populations are agitated at the very sight of Chinese on the ground not to mention investment. At embassy after the embassy, China has been issuing alerts to citizens to be careful in the respective countries. This is perhaps the biggest, perhaps even the decisive, obstacle to a China-led world order. Its partners are faced with the dilemma of their principal being an expansionist whose driving motive is to resurrect the Middle Kingdom. For their part they are mostly narrow nationalists suspicious of foreigners, especially alien ethnicities, and favour the tariff barrier to protect their own industry and manufacture.
A careful study of Chinese investment indicates the same pattern–devastation of the governing structure and disturbance of existing economic ecosystems.
At times, especially during the hour of need, Chinese
investment acts as a debt trap. Since these investors mostly bring their
own labour force to project sites, the recipient country ends up sitting on a
pile of debt. Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka are examples of Chinese
investment that went awry and harmed the local economy.
A country that aspires
to be a superpower has to be attractive, seductive even. Though power is the
foundation it has to stand for more, as the US for democracy and free markets,
and the Soviet Union for a workers’ republic. The facade has to humanistic, and
must appeal to the widest possible audience. Cash is a mere lubricant. In that context, China’s treatment of its own
Muslims goes against everything the Islamic countries want. Its human rights
record is dismal. There is an equally disturbing level of intolerance for other
minorities including Christians and Falun Gong, a cultural organisation that is
charged with being a cult. On April 25, 1999, in a letter, party general
secretary Jiang Zemin indicated his desire to see Falun Gong defeated. Reports
of persecution of its members are widespread, with some foreign observers
saying that hundreds of thousands of members have been imprisoned or sent to
Given this track record, Christian countries such as Russia are suspicious of its intentions, to say the least. Brazil and Turkey, which profess white supremacist (under Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro) and Islamic models, respectively, would find it difficult to settle with the notion of a non-white, non-Christian and non-Muslim superpower as their leader. As an emotional argument against Chinese leadership it is hard to beat.
Nevertheless, China knows exactly what it wants. It is worth remembering that it is the natural leader in this time as it not only has clarity of thought about the world it is going to forge but also massive strengths in conventional economics and in the coming new economy based on artificial intelligence, self-learning machines and the exotic kinds of services that will be required. Add to that its financial power and rising military might coupled with the building of strategic bases across the planet and its ambitions are evident.
A careful study of Chinese investment in countries like Cambodia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Ecuador, Zambia, Mongolia, Hungary, The Gambia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and the Maldives indicates the same pattern–devastation of the governing structure as bribery and anti-administration mechanisms are rampant and disturbance of existing economic ecosystems. As a step towards encroachment into the targeted country’s economy, Beijing manipulates the information space and neuters institution. By contrast, independent media and strong civil society institutions in robust democracies expose China’s opaque agreements and corrupt practices.
Since the Communist Party of China has never allowed pluralism and freedom of expression, which allows the party and its policies to thrive, China tries to replicate this model in other countries with the explicit intention of achieving maximum economic leverage. Recipients of Chinese investment are vulnerable to begin with, so they accept opaque deals that lead to systematic erosion of democratic values and leave them increasingly beholden to their creditors. China’s willingness to partner with authoritarian regimes or military rulers possesses the potential to drag fragile democracies into its orbit.
The result often is virtual surrender of strategic assets and natural resources. The takeover of Gwadar port in Pakistan in exchange for a massive Belt and Road project worth US$60 billion and the virtual capture of the Pakistani economy is an example of Chinese style. Numerous studies assessing Chinese investment, including the “Chinese Malign Influence And The Corrosion of Democracy: An Assessment of Chinese Interference in Thirteen Key Countries” report, commissioned by the International Republican Institute show none of the recipients doing better with Chinese investment.
The Chinese aim seems to be an empire larger than any the world has seen. In that scenario, China would control a major portion of the global economy and a substantial slice of its natural resources.
Although their infrastructure may look better the country is
usually shackled by debt to the Chinese. None of these economies grew faster
after Chinese investment, the report said. In the case of Pakistan, it had to
seek financial help from friendly countries and the International Monetary Fund
despite vast Chinese investment. The same happened with Maldives, which sent an
SOS to India seeking a bailout of $4 billion. India obliged. No country so far
has successfully fought poverty or increased its manufacturing profile with the
help of Chinese money.
Despite the malevolent effects of Chinese investment, the
world is heading towards a China-led alliance ranged against the west. First of
all, numbers could be made up by early recipients of Chinese investment s who
could become the early members of such an alliance. Others in the process of
clinching deals would add to these numbers. This might include some of the
37-signatory countries who defended China’s human rights record.
The major rationale for such a group is most likely to be Chinese cash or investment which, if it raises debt to unsustainable levels might reduce them to client status. More powerful countries like Brazil, Turkey, Russia or Egypt would need more to join, strategic advantage coupled with economic imperatives. Each faces a fund crunch for different reasons. As the west seems uninterested in providing assistance, they look to China. Secondly, most of them have autocratic rulers at the helm who feel far more comfortable dealing with China than with their Western counterparts who have too many preconditions for business.
In such a scenario, the world would be an extension of myopic personal interests where the China-led alliance scrambles for space. The Chinese aim seems to be an empire larger than any the world has seen—greater than the British Empire. In that scenario, China would control a major portion of the global economy and a substantial slice of its natural resources. If China manages to spread investment worldwide, there is a strong possibility that it could achieve this control. At the same time it is also increasing its military capability at dizzying speed, and extending the competition to space and cyberspace. This is by no means a done deal but China’s ambition and direction are so far clear.
hat is surprising is that as China maligns multilateral bodies, proceeds to exterminate an entire ethnic group, and shamelessly uses the UN Security Council to advance its partner’s irredentist ideas, there is hardly any counter-narrative available. There is no organized attempt to stop China’s ruthless forward movement. Of the western alliances, NATO and the EU are leaderless and rudderless for now. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue comprising the US, India, Australia and Japan (Quad) to oppose Chinese militarisation of the Indo-Pacific region has so far not able to arrest anything thus far. The road seems clear.
India, the sleeping elephant, is seized by inexplicable inertia. Its attitude towards China is ambivalent despite its open, consistent and avowed hostility at global bodies including at the Security Council. Whether it is the case of Masood Azhar or the abrogation of Article 370, when China forced the council into a closed-door consultation on the subject, India remained a quiet onlooker. Though it is an important member of the Quad India’s posture is defensive, ambivalent and non-confrontationist. This is at odds with its forthright stand on the Belt and Road initiative. India was the lone voice against this ambitious infrastructure programme, laying out the potential problems in detail. No one from west or east joined in, leaving it quite alone in the presence of the dragon.
As China’s neighbour along a 4,056 km border in the far north and east, quietly opposed to its every initiative, India is the first target of Chinese ire. As former defence minister and ace trade union leader George Fernandes said after the Pokhran nuclear tests that “China is India’s number 1 enemy”, there is no ambiguity in the Chinese mind about India’s position. Indian leadership, however, is still trying to pluck up the courage to confront China. India’s quest for a durable partner against the might of China is proving to be a long journey.
The lone superpower of our time, the United States, recently declared the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement null and void. Alarmed by the increase in missile construction by adversaries such as Russia and probably China and North Korea, the US has adopted a proactive self-defence measure. It may try to install missiles in Asia. India could be a possible destination other than Japan and South Korea, the other two natural adversaries. To match the rapid changes in the global strategic environment, India indicated a shift from its ‘No-First-Use’ nuclear doctrine. It is motivated by the fact that as China has overwhelming conventional military superiority New Delhi cannot wait for a first strike before considering the use of its own nuclear weapons. The new scenario has changed the equation somewhat.
So far, however, it would be correct to say that all the efforts by individual nation or existing alliances against China has not produced a tangible result. One of the reasons is the absence of US leadership. As a result, most initiatives have been incoherent, ill-organised and leaderless, giving China an edge as it has few doubts about its course. All said and done, the Chinese advance will come at the expense of democracy. It would be no exaggeration to say that democracy will be under siege, if it is not already ringed and fenced, in the event of Chinese dominance.