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Writer says PM Singh's visit to China occasion for India to "think big"

January 16, 2008

12 January 2008
Source: The Hindu website, Chennai, in English 11 Jan 08

Text of commentary by M.K. Bhadrakumar headlined "An occasion for India
to think big" published by Indian newspaper The Hindu website on 11 January

For any major international power, developing bilateral relations with
China inevitably involves coming to terms with its phenomenal rise. For
major regional powers such as Russia, Japan, Vietnam and India, this is
particularly acute because the Asian security scenario also happens to
be very dynamic.

The discourses in the Indian media, including by some of the prominent
figures in the strategic community, over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's
upcoming visit to China unfortunately overlook this aspect. The
curtain-raisers have more to say about the Dalai Lama or China's
infrastructure development activities in the Tibet Autonomous Region
than about Dr Singh's visit providing a rare opportunity for assessing
how India must come to terms with its northern neighbour, which is more
than half a superpower already.

That is a pity. It is never a good idea to be bogged down in
peripherals. Despite the assertion by some of our strategic thinkers, it
is hard to agree that Tibet or the Dalai Lama is the sum total of what
Sino-Indian relations ought to be. Secondly, we cannot get bogged down
in contentious issues when almost the entire Asian region, and indeed
much of the global community - be it the United States and Britain,
Chile and Brazil, Nigeria and Sudan, or Saudi Arabia and Iran - is busy
devising plans for advancing its ties with China, giving them more
content and vitality. In diplomacy, stragglers find themselves having to
crawl their way back on a pitiless greasy pole.

It is on the score of the emergent Asian security paradigm that Indian
thinking must learn a great deal. Our thinkers in the past year focussed
a great deal on the "potentials" of a quadripartite alliance involving
the United States, Japan, Australia and India. They made assumptions in
near-epic proportions of the Sino-Japanese antipathies or the U.S'
so-called "containment" policy toward China or the imperative need for a
concert of democracies in Asia. How relevant are these themes today?
Already these ideas and assumptions look somewhat vacuous.
Unsurprisingly, given the great fluidity of Asian security, it was
audacious to be cocksure.

As "non-alignment" has become a dirty word in the idiom of our thinkers
- especially since Washington began disparaging the concept - one must
be apologetic about saying so, but the inescapable reality seems to be
that a need arises for India to creatively transmute the ideology of
non-alignment. Its haphazard transition in the tumultuous early 1990s -
domestically and internationally - precluded profound thinking, but
better late than never. If the quintessence of non-alignment was in
distilling our national interests in a difficult world, the need is more
than ever before. The signposts of the post-Cold War era already point
to the need for endeavouring for this task where, ironically, China has
stolen a march on us.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, flag carrier of the US government in
the Cold War era, featured a year-ender on post-Soviet Russia last
month. It said, "This was the year Vladimir Putin implicitly compared
the US to the Third Reich... And it was the year that - despite the
occasional diplomatic language to the contrary - the last remnants of
the vaunted strategic partnership between Russia and the West appeared
headed for the dustbin of history... 2007 marked a new low in Russia's
post-Soviet relations with the West. And many experts expect things to
get even worse."

The commentary made an extraordinary assessment: "Cold War or not,
Russia has certainly been attempting to lay the foundations for an
alternative security architecture to compete with the West. In the past
year, Moscow has tried to breathe life into security architecture
bringing together ex-Soviet states like the Collective Security Treaty
Organisation, and sought a closer military alliance with China via the
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation."

This is not cavalier opinion-making, but a media organ funded by the US
administration has made things clear to a global audience what the
limited circle of specialists, politicians and diplomats already knew
for some time about how the land lay in Russia-US relations.

Plainly speaking, Russia's resurgence is beginning to hurt the US global
strategies. Its latest move on Iran is virtually playing on the US
nerves - a possible readiness to supply medium range S-300
surface-to-air missiles, which together with the short-range Tor-M1
systems supplied earlier, would effectively nullify any residual attempt
by Washington to bully Tehran. To quote Russian daily Izvestiya, "Iran
will be Moscow's trump card in its drive against the third stage of US
missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic." Russia's
"asymmetrical response" drills a hole right through the US Middle East
policy. Tor-M1 is equally effective against aircraft, cruise missiles
and unmanned aerial vehicles, but is a close-battle weapon, the last
defence line that engages or eliminates targets that may get through
S-300s. That is to say, Tor-M1 plus S-300 would provide for Iran a
credible modern multiechelon air defence system covering any key
strategic facility.

The inevitability of strategic challenge from a resurgent Russia was
foreseen by the Bill Clinton administration. The key interlocutor in Mr
Clinton's presidential diplomacy with Boris Yeltsin, Strobe Talbott, in
his authoritative work, The Russia Hand, makes it abundantly clear that
Washington knew Russia would rise like a Phoenix from the ashes. Some
day historians would assess whether it was more than a coincidence that
the Clinton administration's U-turn towards India closely followed the
first definite signals reaching Washington of Russia's disenchantment
with the West (following Yevgeniy Primakov's return to the Kremlin in
1995).

Suffice it to say, New Delhi's equations with Moscow will always remain
a crucial factor in Washington's India policy. What Indian thinkers
completely missed out was that for the foreseeable future, Russia, and
not China, would remain Washington's number 1 adversary in the global
arena. Our thinkers must think a bit harder why their American
interlocutors obfuscated this geopolitical reality.

Post-Soviet Russia still remains the only power that possesses strategic
deterrence against the US and frustrates the seven decades-old American
dream of attaining nuclear superiority. That is why Washington
assiduously works on Beijing for calibrating the highly sensitive
triangular equations involving the U.S., China and Russia.

China has utilised the available space to its advantage. Indeed, China
has not hidden it is creatively expanding the frontiers of
non-alignment. What else is its concept of a "harmonious world" about?
The People's Daily explained recently: "Confucius expounded the
philosophical concept of 'harmony without uniformity', meaning the world
is full of differences and contradictions, but the righteous man should
balance them and achieve harmony." In an important speech at the Party
School of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee in June,
President Hu Jintao underlined that China should "tightly grasp" and
optimally use the important "strategic opportunity period" that is
currently available.

Without doubt, Beijing can look back at the past year with satisfaction.
On the one hand, Premier Wen Jiabao told the Russian media on the eve of
his visit to Moscow in November that Sino-Russian relations were now
"both at their best in history and at a most important historical stage"
and China looked ahead at the coming decade as "an important historical
period" for both the "evolution of the international situation" and the
development of China-Russia "strategic cooperative partnership." On the
other hand, a year-ender by the People's Daily said in 2007 that the
China-US relations saw enhanced mutual understanding "on the basis of
reaching continuous consensus and the boosting of cooperation of both
parties on vital global subjects." The commentary drew satisfaction that
Beijing won "positive appraisal" from Washington for bilateral
cooperation on such global issues as the North Korea problem, Sudan, the
war on terror, energy security and global warming.

Equally, Indian thinkers, who are so visibly paranoid about the Indian
elephant getting "dragooned," overlook the dramatic shift of templates
in China-Japan relations. From Chinese accounts, Japanese Prime
Minister's four-day visit to China on New Year's Eve was a "rip-roaring
success." Despite the huge backlog of history and a plethora of
contemporary issues that seriously complicate their relations, the two
countries have sized up the volatile regional and international
situation and decided that they must keep up with the times by searching
for a "win-win magnanimity" and tenaciously expand the converging point
of mutual interests.

There is food for thought for our strategic thinkers in this unfolding
Asian drama. Already, within four months of the much-vaunted "Malabar
Exercises" in the Bay of Bengal, the entire tantalising architecture of
Asian security drawn up by some of our thinkers with such imaginations
is threatening to be a mere sand castle that could be easily washed away
by the tides of contemporary Asian history. The prime minister's visit
to China is an occasion for New Delhi to think big.
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