Sunday, November 28, 2010

China and India take to the Sea....


Iskander Rehman, Transatlantic Academy Fellow, Friday 12th November 2010, Washington DC.

I) Two Land Powers Look out to Sea

As Asia gradually becomes the world’s main throughfare for maritime trade, its two rising powers, India and China, are taking to the seas, bolstering their already significant blue-water capabilities
India, which already boasts Asia’s sole aircraft carrier battle group, plans to field a fleet of 140-145 vessels, centered on two new carrier battle groups, over the next decade. In July 2009, the Indian navy launched its first indigenous nuclear submarine, which is expected to be commissioned in 2012.
The Chinese Navy, which is already said to comprise at
least 260 ships, including more than 75 principal combatants and 60 submarines, is engaged
in a process of unremitting expansion.
At its current rate of induction, the PLAN may soon be able to deploy a larger submarine flotilla than the US Navy. Beijing has also perfected the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missiles and since 2007, when a PLA lieutenant general stated to the press that China’s aircraft carrier project was proceeding smoothly, there have been a number of statements from Chinese military or political officials confirming China’s long suspected intention to acquire aircraft carriers.

This shared focus on maritime power is interesting, as both countries’ histories are largely continental in nature, barring certain notable exceptions .As such, their parallel quest for simultaneous preeminence on both land and sea is something of a novelty. Even the United States, it could be argued, was above all a maritime power before it developed a full-spectrum capability.

(Colin Gray, in "Another Bloody Century, Future Warfare", Phoenix, 2005, writes the following; “For reasons best summarized as geopolitical, polities traditionally were stronger either on land or at sea; very few were pre-eminent in both domains. History reveals the recurring strategic problem of how superior land power and superior sea power struggled to find ways to translate their geographically specialized advantage into a war-winning advantage. From Athens and Spartan through Rome and Carthage, Macedonia and Persia, Byzantium and the Arabs, all the way to Britain and Napoleonic France, there was a pattern of struggle between land-bound tigers and sea-confined sharks.” p.46)

- India’s Himalayan Corset

Historically, India’s maritime vision has been somewhat stifled by the mental barrier or corset of the Himalayas whose frozen passes, throughout Indian history, would be anxiously scrutinized by the people of the Gangetic plains for Central Asian invaders. India’s martial history is largely a land-driven one,that is until the arrival of the Europeans in the modern era. This explains why when it comes to India,the strategic conceptualisation of a blue-water navy has been present since independence, and this was undoubtedly in part a direct heritage from the traditional British emphasis on sea power. After a series of brutal frontier conflicts , however, in which navies played a sideline role, India’s main priorities were to strengthen its land borders, and build up its army and airforce, which were the primary actors in the event of a conflict with China or Pakistan along the Himalayas. Once more the Himalayas loomed large, and The Indian Navy, no longer considered as strategically relevant, was relegated to the backseat, and its share in the defence budget plummeted to about 3%.
Under the tenures of Indira and Raijv Gandhi, the navy regained some of its impetus, but it has only been over the past fifteen years that India’s political leadership has actively endorsed an ambitious blue-water role.

- China’s Continental Shackles

When it comes to China, however, its current naval build-up is far more of a revolution in terms of strategic thought. China’s history has been defined by the struggle in-between the sedentary peoples of the fertile river basins and the nomadic peoples of the steppe.
And, unlike India, modern China’s first naval force structure was that of a coastal defence force, before adapting to revolve around a strategy of “offshore active defence” after the mid-1980s. It is only over the past decade that Chinese policy makers have decided to tack to the blue waters.

So why are both nations looking out to sea? Both have highly pragmatic reasons to do so. In both cases, global economic trends and geopolitical evolutions undergird long-term strategic evolutions.

In India’s case one could posit the following overarching reasons:

• Globalization and the growth of maritime trade which has provided India with a more outward and seaward looking orientation.
• The impact of maritime terrorism along India’s vulnerable 7,500km coastline.
• Concerns due to China’s rise and forays into the Indian Ocean
• Availabilty of funding due to steady GDP growth.

For China one could say the following:

• The absence of a traditional overland security threat (the nomadic hordes to the north during much of Imperial Chinese history, the Soviet Army during the second half of the Cold War), which means that Beijing can now redirect its attentions towards the sea.
• A tremendous leap in economic growth and foreign trade, which has compelled China to look seaward, and has provided it with the necessary funds to engage in a massive overhaul of its fleets.
• Last but not least, the security of China’s seaborne energy supplies has become a major priority for Chinese decision-makers. On January 19th of this year, Directors of China's 4 major energy research centers all declared that the ratio of China's dependence on foreign oil has exceeded the warning line of 50 percent in 2009, which means that oil imports hav replaced domestic oil output to meet the majority of China's oil consumption.

II) Drawing on the Old to Buttress the New: the Forging of Two Maritime Narratives

Both nations, however, as they turn seawards, and however pragmatic the reasons for doing so, need to construct a new form of maritime narrative, which draws on the richer moments in their maritime history in order to justify and strengthen their wading into the deep waters. Whereas India’s efforts have not been as conscious or as savvy as those of Beijing, it, like its transhimalayan neighbor, has begun to draw on its past to find meaning for the present. And like China, Delhi seeks to project the image of a benevolent seapower, which views the maritime expanses as a medium for trade and diplomacy rather than pure power projection and conflict. I will not be focusing on both nation’s naval strategies, but on the maritime narratives which underpin those same strategies. And while the historical events and periods at the core of these narratives are in large part genuine in nature, we shall also see that any narrative, by nature, is what it chooses to omit or gloss over.

A) India’s soft power narrative

India has arguably a far richer maritime history than that of China. But it is only recently that Indian strategists and thinkers have been making a concerted effort to delve back into the past to buttress the present. Whereas the Chinese efforts, as we shall see, are blatant and even government sponsored, India’s are more incremental and gradual. It would seem however, that a form of Indian ‘soft power narrative’ is beginning to take form and crystallize.

-Ashokan Pacifism and the Buddhist Legacy

The Emperor Ashoka, of the Mauryan Dynasty, is widely acknowledged in India as one of the most enlightened rulers the subcontinent has ever known, along with Akbar the Great far later during the Mughal Era. The Emperor Ashoka ruled over the entirety of the subcontinent over two thousand years ago. Having inherited vast tracts of land from the bloody campaigns of his grandfather Chandragupta, he chose to extend Mauryan rule through the Buddhist concept of ‘dharma’ or exemplary conduct. This was accomplished in large part through the dispatch of high-profile Buddhist missionaries such as his daughter Sangamitra, to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Some in India’s strategic community have advanced that the Ashokan notion of dharma as a form of pre-modern Indian soft power, and point to India’s long-standing history as both a birthplace of ideas, and of peaceful cultural diffusion. Whereas China invaded and occupied Vietnam for more than a thousand years, India spread Buddhism and the Hindu concept of sacred kingship to Southeast Asia not by sword and flame, but via trade and itinerant missionaries. The fact that ancient India never engaged in long-term occupation or widespread forcible conversion in Southeast Asia is not without significance. The peaceful propagation of Buddhism is a multi-millennia old bond that India shares with the rest of the Asian continent that acts as a testament to the power of its civilizational pull.

- The Age of Hindu Maritime Supremacy

Indeed, one tends to forget how interconnected the ancient world was, and that India, by virtue of its centrality in the Indian Ocean, was the hub of maritime trade in-between the western and eastern hemispheres. The monsoon trade winds were already used by the early people of the subcontinent more than three thousand years ago, enabling merchants to travel from India’s west coast during the northeastern monsoon period (November to March), to return from Africa and the Middle East with the onset of the southwestern monsoon (April to September). Roman and Greek traders sailed along the Indian coast in search of precious spices, along what Pliny the elder called ‘the cinnamon route’. Many of Africa’s staple foods such as rice, sugar and coconuts arrived in the dhows of Indian sailors, who also supposedly initiated the Egyptians to the secrets of cotton cultivation and fabrication. Until they were displaced by the Arab merchants during the middle ages, Hindu seafarers from the Indian subcontinent’s western and southern seaboards formed one of the greatest maritime trading communities in the world. Certain preeminent figures in India’s strategic community such as the Former Head of the Navy Arun Prakash have urged India to use this period to show that “In consonance with India’s ancient maritime tradition” (…) the Indian Navy will be a force for peace, friendship and goodwill, which will reach out to extend a helping hand wherever needed in our maritime neighbourhood.”
(Prakash, Arun. "Maritime Challenges", Indian Defense Review 21 n.1 January 2006:pp.49-52)

B) Zheng He and the benign Sino-Centric Order:

China, like India, seeks to be viewed as a benevolent maritime power, and to use history as a tool to emit reassuring predictions of its future behavior. Unlike India, however, the process has not been incremental and organic but proactively pursued by the central government.
Zheng He, the Ming Dynasty eunuch admiral who plied the waters of Asia and beyond with a gargantuan fleet composed of hundreds of ships with more than 28 000 crewmen, officials, marines and soldiers, has become a central figure in the regime’s public diplomacy.
Much attention is drawn by Chinese officials to the fact that this vast armada was never used as a tool of imperial conquest, and that it solely engaged in voyages of discovery and trade. It is therefore presented as not only a sign of Chinese technological superiority over the Europeans of the time in terms of shipbuilding etc, but also as a sign of moral superiority. Zheng He’s travels are shown to be indicative of the fundamentally benign nature of the Sino-centric system at the heart of Asian diplomacy and trade throughout much of known history. The underlying message is that China’s current naval build up is but an avatar of this peaceful and glorious period in Asian naval history.

The mariner’s odyssey has also been used to validate a growing Chinese presence throughout Asia and beyond. Indeed, every year it would seem as though the hardy eunuch had in fact discovered another land, whether it be, in some of the more fanciful claims, America, or Australia. In an example of how the admiral is regularly conjured up in Chinese officials discourse, Hu Jintao has cited his name in speeches in countries ranging from South Africa to Australia.

After hearing of an old Kenyan folk tale which claimed that some Chinese survivors from a shipwrecked vessel of the Treasure Fleet had swum ashore and married local African women, the Chinese government promptly dispatched a team of archaeologists to recover the shipwreck, and a team of scientists which took DNA swabs of the Swahili families living along the coast. Surprisingly enough, it would seem as though many of the locals did present evidence of some Chinese ancestry, and some Chinese coins were recently found. This was subsequently broadcast all over Chinese news networks. Chinese officials claimed that this was a sign of China’s centuries-old relationship with Africa, based on harmony and mutual trade. A 19 year old Kenyan woman was flown over to China to study traditional Chinese medicine at the expense of the government.
These announcements came at a time when criticism is rising in Africa and the West regarding China’s growing presence in the continent.

III) A Selective Reading of History?

The poet and author T.S Eliot once said that “ History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors and issues.”
It can be tempting for a nation to construct a bold, linear narrative that arches through the maze of history, providing a clear, solid bridge for its aspirations. Unfortunately, narratives can always only be selective in nature, and thus somewhat imperfect.

a) The Chola Era Maritime Trade Wars

Ashokan pacifism and the era of Hindu maritime trade supremacy provide attractive frameworks in the construction of an Indian maritime narrative revolving around soft power. There are however other periods in the subcontinent’s history, little explored until now, which do seem to indicate that maritime power could also be used for aggressive
purposes, and not just for the peaceful ones so often mentioned. A prime example would be that of the maritime trade wars in-between the Chola Empire, which held sway over much of Southern India, Sri Lanka and the Lakdashweep islands in the Arabian Sea and the Sri Vijaya Kingdom, which lay nestled on the Malacca Straits, in the XIth century.
Recent studies by Indian historians show that in the early XIth century, the Sri Vijaya kings were accused by their Chola neighbours of strangulating trade towards China, demanding massive levies of over 20 000 dinars before allowing merchant ships to pass on through the straits towards China. Enraged by what he considered tantamount to economic imperialism, the Chola King Rajendra Cholaveda the first assembled a small armada composed of a hodge-podge of merchant vessels, catamarans, and dhows, filled them up with thousands of soldiers and took over control of the sea lanes of communication by soundly defeating the Sri Vijaya armies.
This little known episode of Indian history would indicate that maritime power was not only trade-oriented, but could also be exerted in a more predatory manner. It also reveals the enduring power of geography. Then, just as now, control of the Malacca Straits ensured control over the sea lanes of communication and over trade in and out of Asia.

b) The Darker Side to the Zheng He Narrative

The treasure fleets was not composed of a jolly group of merchants and sailors. The massive ships, which carried thousands of Chinese soldiers and marines were awe-inspiring floating symbols of Ming sovereignty. The tributary system embodied by the trade they brought to the coastal communities they encountered throughout Asia was at the heart of a highly hierarchical Sino-centric system. Even in the days of the late Qing dynasty, several hundred years later, the Chinese Imperial Court had no foreign ministry but a Tribute Reception Department.
Conveniently left out of the historically sanctioned narrative is the fact that Zheng He’s expeditions, were not only economic and pacifist in nature, as it is claimed, but were also a political extension of the Imperial tributary system. When a ruler, such as the Sri Lankan king Alakeswara, refused to pay tribute and thus recognize himself as the Chinese Emperor’s vassal, he was promptly deposed and ferried back to the Ming Court in chains. I recently came across this Ming-era poem which relates the Chinese marines’ intervention in Sri Lanka in very unpolitically correct terms:

"Straight away their dens and hideouts we ravaged, And made captive their entire country, bringing back to our august capital their women, children, families and retainers, leaving not one, Cleaning out in a single sweep those noxious pests, as if winnowing chaff from grain..These insignificant worms,deserving to die ten thousand times over, trembling in fear…Did not even merit the punishment of heaven. Thus the august emperor spared their lives. And they humbly kowtowed, making crude sounds, and praising the sage-like virtue of the Imperial Ming ruler.”
(Ming-era poem, quoted and translated in Leviathes, Louise "When China Ruled the Seas, The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne", 1405-1433. Oxford University Press, New York 1994, p.115)

c) The Yuan Dynasty’s Maritime Imperialism

The great glory days of the treasure fleets were in fact remarkably short-lived, as they only lasted from 1405 to 1433 before the Imperial court ordered the fleet’s destruction in order to focus once more on perceived continental threats. There is another rich period in China’s maritime history, however, that is perhaps just as significant as that of Zheng He, and more long lasting, but which has not been incorporated into the nation’s maritime narrative.
In the thirteenth century, a China divided in-between northern and southern dynasties was overrun by the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. After the destruction of the north, Genghis Khan’s successors, his nephews Mongke and Kubilai, launched a massive campaign against the Song Chinese in the South. Whereas before the horse-borne, lightning fast cavalry archers of the Mongols had had little difficulty in defeating their enemies, they soon found that the muddy, river threaded terrain of Southern China made them lose their comparative advantage. In the face of continued Song resistance, the Mongols, ever a pragmatic people when it came to bloody destruction, adapted by coopting Chinese and Korean engineers to build ships to engage in riverine and maritime warfare against their enemies. Once the Song had been subjugated at last, Khubilai Khan the ruler of the newly formed Yuan Dynasty , decided to use his newly acquired naval expertise to launch a massive amphibious invasion of Japan. In 1274 and 1275 two huge naval armadas were set afloat to attack Japan, and both, due to Japanese tenacity, epidemics and terrible weather conditions were repulsed. To give you an idea of the size of these armadas, the one launched in 1275 comprised 3 500 ships, with more than 6 700 Korean sailors, and close to 100 000 Chinese and Mongol troops. Barring operation Overlord, this is the biggest amphibious operation in history.

And yet, it bears little mention in China’s sanctioned maritime narrative. This is undoubtedly due to its starkly imperialistic nature. Chinese historians will argue that the relatively short-lived Yuan Dynasty (it lasted only a century) was not Chinese, but Mongolian, and does not fit in neatly with today’s Han-dominated Chinese government’s discourse. But then the Qing dynasty, whose early days are being celebrated once more, was of Manchu descent, and the great Zheng He himself, ironically, was a Hui Muslim of Mongolian descent..All this points once more to a selective reading of the nation’s maritime history.

IV) Intersecting Maritime Narratives: Overlapping Spheres of Influence?

While both nations’ maritime narratives are highly selective in nature, they do provide an insight into both nations’ mental maps, and thus into their perceived justifiable areas of interest and spheres of influence.

By focusing on both nations’ historical narratives, one can clearly see that their perceived spheres of maritime influence overlap. Whereas in past centuries both civilizations, while aware of each other, were separated by buffer zones, whether it be on land via Tibet, or by sea through Southeast Asia, their long shared and unresolved land border and their growing and more wide ranging navies mean that for the first time in history both civilizations are shoulder to shoulder, breathing down each others necks. As the Asian hemisphere shrinks in size as both nations expand, and as their maritime mental maps overlap more and more, will this lead to greater rivalry? This is something which is for the future, and maybe for my more distinguished fellow panelists to decide.....

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China is the barometer of US-China relations.... When anything negative happens, it has greater impact on the military-military relations between the two countries than on the economic relations. While the PLA rules out the danger of any global military conflict involving China and the US, it does not rule out the danger of regional conflicts. According to the PLA, the US views China as a major strategic opponent. While there could be tactical improvements in the military-military relations, any enduring and strategic improvement would depend upon the US permanently stopping arms sales to Taiwan, removing discriminatory legislations affecting sensitive US exports to China and stopping the alleged intrusion of US naval ships and planes into the areas that China looks upon as its exclusive economic zones. China is still only a regional power but with global influence. While its relations with the US are important, its relations with its neighbours are equally important. It must improve its relations with them if it wants to keep them away from embracing the US. These are some of the points figuring in year-end discussions in China on the significance of the forthcoming visit to China by Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, which will be followed by a State visit to Washington DC by President Hu Jintao.

2.The new year will see Gates visiting China from January 9 to 12 and President Hu visiting Washington on January 19. Will these two important visits reduce the tensions that had cropped up in the relations between the US and China during 2010 ? The tensions were initially due to the decision of the administration of President Barack Obama to sell a new package of arms to Taiwan and subsequently due to the open interest taken by the US in the South China Sea dispute between China and some ASEAN countries and the joint naval exercises by the US and South Korea after the sinking of a South Korean naval ship by North Korea in March last year.

3. Beijing retaliated against the US decision to sell arms to Taiwan by suspending the on-going military-military dialogue between the two countries. A series of military exchange programs planned by both sides were canceled , including a visit to China by Gates, exchange of visits between Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and Admiral Mike G. Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and exchange of visits by warships of the two countries.

4. However, Beijing did not allow its anger over the sale of arms to Taiwan come in the way of the visit of President Hu Jintao to Washington in April last year to attend the nuclear security summit. It also did not carry out its initial threats to impose sanctions against US companies selling military equipment to Taiwan in disregard of the Chinese protests.

5. The reaction from the Chinese military leadership to these developments was, however, stronger than the reaction from the political leadership. Apart from stepping up military exercises in the Yellow Sea and the adjoining coastal areas as a counter to the joint US-South Korean naval exercises, the PLA remained strongly opposed to an early resumption of the military-military exchanges. It is believed that it was largely the opposition from the PLA leadership to a visit by Gates which stood in the way of a visit by him to China after attending a conference in Singapore (the Shangri-La Dialogue) in June last.

6. In October, there were indications that the PLA leadership was relenting in its opposition to resuming the military exchanges with the US. Liang Guanglie,State Councilor and the Chinese Defence Minister, met Gates in Hanoi for the first time last year in the margins of an ASEAN-sponsored Defence Ministers’ conference. During the meeting, Liang Guanglie reportedly invited Gates to visit China in early 2011 and Gates accepted it. In December, Ma Xiaotian, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the PLA, and Michele Flournoy, the US Under Secretary of Defense, jointly chaired the 11th China-US defense consultation in Washington, D.C.

7. It was announced subsequently that at the invitation of Liang Guanglie, Gates will be visiting China from January 9 to 12, 2011. The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the Research Center on Sino-US Relations of the Tsinghua University jointly held a workshop to discuss the relationship between the armed forces of the US and China. The dates on which this workshop was held are not known, but the “PLA Daily” had carried a report in three installments on this Workshop on December 29,30 and 31.

8.A perusal of the salient points of the speeches made in the Workshop as reported by the “PLA Daily” would indicate that even though the PLA leadership had lifted its opposition to the resumption of military exchanges with its US counterpart, it still has mental reservations on the scope for such exchanges. Some of these salient points are given below:

  • Rear Admiral Yang Yi (former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the National Defense University of the PLA): The military contacts are the “wind vane” of the China-US relations. China and the US hold different points of departure in military exchanges. The US, through these exchanges, wants to learn about the goings-on in the PLA and the intention of the Chinese military, whereas China adheres to the stance that the military ties must serve the overall situation and should not dance to the baton of the US. China should never slack down its efforts to realize its strategic goals despite the alleged concerns of the US. However, it could hold strategic communication with the US.
  • Prof. Wang Baofu ( of the National Defense University of the PLA): Why the China-US military relations are so fragile? The reason is that the military affairs are sensitive. When something wrong occurs in the China-US relations, the military contacts are prone to be suspended. Comparatively speaking, the impact of negative developments on the military-military relations is more than that on the economic relations. China-US military relations are still developing as reflected in progress made in the contact and negotiation on the nuclear weapons and the outer space issues.

  • Prof. Ouyang Wei ( of the National Defense University of the PLA): The root cause for the lack of military co-operation between China and the US is the absence of strategic mutual trust. China-US relations are complex involving both competition and cooperation. Such relations concern both local and overall relationships which are asymmetrical. In many cases the local relations are confrontational while the overall ones are not necessarily so. China should behave as a regional power having global influence. It should be concerned not only with its own security , but also with the security of other countries. We need to consider the issues concerning multiple countries from the perspective of global strategy, instead of considering them from the bilateral perspective. I propose a concept of “East Asia Economic and Security Community” to make East Asian countries dependent in economy and trustful in security. From this standpoint, the China-Japan relations can also realize the situation of “seeking common ground while reserving differences”. Thus, the influence of the Japan-US alliance can be mitigated. “

  • Maj. Gen. Peng Guangqian (Deputy Secretary-General of the National Security Policy Committee of the China Association of Policy Science Study): The paradox confronting the current China-US military relations is that globalization deepens interest inter-dependence on the one hand and exacerbates the interest friction on the other. The interest inter-dependence may lower the risk of a world war to some extent, but it does little to prevent small-scale conflicts, let alone root out the cause for war. The balance of nuclear power deterrence may cut down the risk of an all-round nuclear war, but can’t prevent the outbreak of conventional war. The US has already put China in the position of a major potential strategic opponent challenging its interests in future. In addition, the eastward movement of the US military strategic deployment focus from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region and the adjustment with Guam as the new military strategic hub are basically completed. The US has been verifying its combat ability and theory through a series of test-oriented actual-combat exercises, including the US-South Korea (ROK) military exercises and the US-Japan military exercises.

9.In a commentary on Gates’ visit carried on December 29, the “PLA Daily” said: “Some experts pointed out that a visit might not be enough to completely eliminate the three major obstacles impeding the development of military relationship between the two sides. “US arms sale to Taiwan, relevant bills passed by the US Congress to restrict exchanges between the two militaries and frequent reconnaissance to the exclusive economic areas of China by US warships and warplanes have been the hurdles that hinder the effort to establish mutual trust and develop cooperation between the two militaries,” said retired Chinese Rear Admiral Yang Yi. Military relationship has always been seen as a “wind vane” or “barometer” that reflects state-to-state relationship. Experts think that Gates’ visit can not only push forward the military cooperation between the two sides but also promote and supplement the China-US relationship.”

10. In a year-end interview disseminated by the State-owned Xinhua news agency on December 29, the Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie said:"Without the military of more than two million troops...China will be a weak country. A major aspect of its strong national power, I think, is a strong defense. Despite growing national power and global influence, the international situation remains complex, while more and more unstable factors are shadowing China's security. A war which involves the whole country is impossible at the moment, but there is a possibility that a mishap or accident might ignite regional conflicts. To enhance our comprehensive national power, (we have to ensure) our core interests are not hampered. We have to put the nation's sovereignty and security in the top position, that is the common understanding of the whole Party (Communist Party of China) and all the people."

11. As China prepares to receive Gates, the PLA is making sure that its views and perceptions are taken note of in matters concerning US-China relations. The conventional wisdom has been that in military matters, the Party decides and the PLA implements. In matters concerning the relations with the US, the party decides but with the concurrence of the PLA. The PLA is not just a subordinate without a mind of its own. It has a mind of its own and is prepared to express it in public and not necessarily only within the confines of the party or the Central Military Commission. That is the message that has been coming out. ...!

India and China will face the same Balkanization of the EU, Circa 1996...and MENA Circa 2011 of 2015. That's the true intentions of the ZIOCONS on the Potomac in DC...

India is day-dreaming...

Criticism of India’s perceived reluctance to endorse the democratic urgings surfacing in many Arab countries is misplaced. The Indian media has, of course, covered the upsurge in Egypt very extensively, to the point that outside observers may conclude that our public had deep interest in Egyptian affairs and great affinity with its people. Both conclusions would be erroneous, as post Nasser Egypt has found negligible space in Indian political, press and public concerns.

Our relationship with Egypt since President Sadat’s advent, when the country moved into the US camp and became a linchpin of its West Asian policy of preventing any large scale Arab-Israeli war, has lacked political substance. Though of late our trade and investment relationship with Egypt had begun to expand, economic ties too have been deficient when compared to flourishing trade contacts between India and the Gulf countries and our enormous expatriate presence there.

Some quarters here think that as a democratic country India should be more vocal in supporting the surge of democratic aspirations in the Arab street. It is argued that we should not be squeamish about “interference” in the internal affairs of other countries, and that boldness in adopting a position in favor of spread of democracy world-wide behooves a country like India that seeks a global role. If are to be taken seriously by the world, we have to take our own international responsibility as a democratic country more seriously, we are told.

The expansive coverage of developments in Egypt in India can be explained in part as a spill over effect of the voluminous writing and commentary in the western media on the unfolding events in a region that is geo-politically of cardinal importance for its energy resources, Israel’s security and spread of dangerous undercurrents of Islamic radicalism there.

Those who believe that democratic states behave moderately have looked to a democratic transition in Arab countries to stabilize West Asia, resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and usher in economic growth and prosperity. In that context the resistance to autocrat rule sweeping the Arab world is generating exciting and panoramic coverage. The Indian media has been swept by this tide, without any previous display of such interest in democratic change in other countries, as, for example, when colored revolutions scoured the erstwhile Soviet space.

In reality, democratic change in Egypt affects us little. It was not the autocratic Egyptian regime under Mubarak that accounted for indifferent ties with India. President Nasser, no less an autocrat, drew the country close to us. Egypt’s ties with the US was the determining factor in both cases. Change in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya or Bahrain, likewise, will impact us little. The ties of these countries with India will depend not on the democratic factor but what the two sides can concretely put into the relationship. The Islamic factor, Pakistan’s negative role, the Kashmir issue etc will not disappear as obstacles.

Take Turkey’s case. As a staunchly secular state with a democracy subject to military oversight Turkey’s pro-Pakistan leanings have been problematic for our bilateral relationship. With the blossoming of democracy there within a more Islamic dispensation, our ties have not only not improved, the Pakistani factor has become more troublesome.

It is too early to conclude that the uprising in these Islamic countries will usher in veritable democratic change notably marked by pluralism, secularism and human freedoms. The current unrest purportedly led by face-book activists belonging to the middle class is being construed as a west-leaning phenomenon and as an acceptance of western liberal values.

This obscures the reality of historical tensions in the region arising from Israeli policies, the unremitting support Israel gets from the US, the energy interests of the West, its perceived anti-Islamic posture as demonstrated by the combat against international terrorism ascribed mainly to Islamic groups, not to mention the general dis-satisfaction with the western dominated international system.

All this will not materially change whatever the rhetoric, and this is where the disconnect is between US support for democratic change in the region and the compulsions of its interests and commitments there. An elegant, reaching-out speech or two by President Obama is not going to change some fundamental realities. The pro-western autocrat Arab regimes batted for western interests even as they promoted their own at the cost of the people. The new, more people oriented regimes may prove more difficult to manipulate.

Those in India who deprecate our timidity in politically backing democratic change in West Asia are echoing muted disapproval in western circles of the low profile we have maintained on the subject. After the India-US nuclear deal, the US freely emphasizes the common values that unite us to the West, with the expectation that we would actively join it in speeding these values globally. But was the India-US nuclear deal that has transformed the bilateral relationship a strategic rapprochement or one of values? Our values have remained democratic, pluralist and secular for over six decades; the nuclear deal came about in 2005. The issue in fact is not common values but their application to particular situations in conducting foreign policy. The US is selective in application, making compromises where its larger interests dictate this. India need not therefore unthinkingly join in sloganeering for democratic change in areas sensitive for its diplomacy.

In his address to the Indian parliament in November last year President Obama’s bluntly noted India’s shyness in speaking out on human rights issues, and mentioned specifically Myanmar for suppression of democracy. He sought to discredit the argument that speaking up for people’s rights in other countries constituted interference in their internal affairs. Some had viewed his remarks as a veiled signal to India that its candidature for permanent membership of the Security Council would be evaluated in the light of the public solidarity it showed with the West on such issues. The problem with the US is that instead of allowing a natural collaboration arise from an affinity of thinking, it must lecture or hector others to subscribe to its activist approach.

With the rise of authoritarian China in mind and growing concerns about its future policies US opinion makers may be stressing increasingly of late the element of shared democratic values with us. In their eyes, the reversal of authoritarian trends in Russia would be a great gain for global democracy. India is seen as a country that can decisively retain the balance in favor of a liberal world order based on democracy and pluralism in the years ahead in conjunction with the West. Not surprisingly, both China and Russia have expressed wariness about the street revolt in the Arab world. China has reportedly blanked out news abut the Egyptian developments in its media. Russia has voiced misgivings about them.

The active promotion of democracy is not simply preaching the good, it is primarily power play. We have to play this game with restraint and in the light of our own judgments. We don’t have to prove ourselves or win accolades from others. The Prime Minister is right in welcoming the dawn of democracy everywhere if concerned countries want to move toward democratization, but without India seeking to advise them. .....