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What India must learn from China

November 5, 2009

By Claude Arpi
Sify News
November 2, 2009

"Is India a superpower?"

That is a question often raised by the Indian media.

Less-optimistic observers phrase it differently:
"will India one day become a superpower?" they ask.

Before trying to answer this question, it should
be noted that of late, India is always rated in
comparison with China. It is an association
difficult to avoid. This is why it is worth
looking at two serious papers recently published by US think tanks.

The first one, about India, is titled Developing
India's Foreign Policy `Software`. Written by
Daniel Markey, a former Senior Fellow for India,
Pakistan, and South Asia from 2003 to 2007 at the
Council on Foreign Relations, it appeared in July 2009 in Asia Policy.

The second,  on China`s quasi-superpower
diplomacy: prospects and pitfalls was researched
by China expert Willy Lam for the Jamestown
Foundation and released in September 2009.

Let us take the first study. A former Indian
diplomat, TP Sreenivasan, reacted to it in The
Times of India: "Just as Keralites discovered
Kathakali after it was staged at the Lincoln
Centre, the state of the Indian Foreign Service
began to be examined after an American analyst,
Daniel Markey, came out with a critique."  The
fact that fresh thinking has to be triggered from
the outside, is a statement in itself. The ex-IFS
officer however believes that "Markey had nothing novel to say."

Markey admits that his objective is to outline
"significant shortcomings in India's foreign
policy institutions that undermine the country`s
capacity for ambitious and effective
international action, and proposes steps that
both New Delhi and Washington should take,
assuming they aim to promote India’s rise as a great power."

He believes that India will not be able to
achieve superpower status soon unless four shortcomings are rectified:

(1) The Indian Foreign Service is small, hobbled
by its selection process and inadequate midcareer
training, and tends not to make use of outside expertise;

(2) India`s think-tanks lack sufficient access to
the information or resources required to conduct
high-quality, policy-relevant scholarship;

(3) India`s public universities are poorly
funded, highly regulated, and fail to provide
world-class education in the social sciences and
other fields related to foreign policy; and

(4) India`s media and private firms -- leaders in
debating the country's foreign policy agenda --
are not built to undertake sustained foreign policy research or training.

Markey (who often compares India's 'soft power'
to the United States' super one) is probably
right; the fact is that these four qualifications
are a requisite to become a power to reckon with.
It enables a State to take the necessary
decisions to occupy this envied position.

The case of the United States (and its wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan) is however a blatant
instance that this is not sufficient to become a
respected superpower. India, no doubt, would like
both, but this raises an interesting point: can a
nation become a superpower and be respectable
(and respected) at the same time?

In his paper on China's quasi-superpower, Willy
Lam affirms: "Seeing itself as a
quasi-superpower, Beijing is no longer shying
away from frontal contests with the United
States, China’s strategic competitor."

It is not only the improvement of the Foreign
Service, universities or think tanks that the
superpower-to-be needs (India in the present
case), but a new mindset coupled with strong
muscles. The candidate super-power should also be
ready to show (if not flex these muscles), as
Beijing did on October 1 on Tiananmen Square or over Arunachal.

Lam writes: "The year 2009 will go down in
history as a watershed for the epochal expansion
of China’s global influence." Not only does
China`s economy keep growing despite the world
financial crisis, but the People`s Liberation
Army has begun to build new nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.

Interestingly, Beijing tries to impose its own
currency the Yuan in a first stage in Asia; in
Lam`s words: "the Communist Party is gunning for
a novel international financial architecture, or
one that is not dominated by the United States.
"Beijing is waging quasi-superpower diplomacy to
bolster the country`s pre-eminence in the new world order."

Recently, China has greatly enhanced both its
hard and soft power (this shows in the current
aggressiveness vis-a-vis India).

Though he does not take into account the 'hard'
power, Markey suggests different 'improvements'
for the IFS to be able to stand as a bigger power:

* Expand, reform, pay, and train the Indian
Foreign Service to attract and retain high-caliber officers
* Encourage the growth of world-class social
science research and teaching schools in India
through partnerships with private Indian and U.S.
investors, universities, and foundations
* Invest in Indian think-tanks and U.S.-India
exchange programs that build capacity for foreign policy research
* Bring non-career officers into the Indian
Ministry of External Affairs and other parts of
the foreign policy establishment as term-limited
fellows to improve outside understanding of the policy process
* Support the efforts of Indian researchers to
maximize public access to material related to the
history of India`s foreign policy by way of the 2005 Right to Information Act

"South Block has its cupboards full of reform
proposals by many ignited minds. But as long as
the service does not get a soul, a sense of
belonging, arising out of a sense of fairness,
equality and justice, no reform, no expansion
will transform the software of Indian diplomacy,"
Srinivasan admits in The Times of India.

But it is not a 'soul' or new plans for the
future which are needed today. It is acting as a superpower which is required.

China has begun to act. It has earmarked some
$6.62 billion for its 'overseas propaganda' (or
publicity, as it has been renamed). The State
media like CCTV or Xinhua News Agency will
increase their coverage in several different
languages, mainly in the West, in Asia, Middle East and Africa.

An English news channel modeled upon Al Jazeera
which will feature issues such as politics,
finance and culture will be beamed all over the
world. This will help Beijing to project its
point of view on world events and sell the 'Chinese model.'

There is more. The Party will set up about 350
Confucius Institutes around the world to spread
'Chinese culture.' This at a time when most
Western nations are cutting down on their
cultural offices across the world citing costs.

Beijing`s Great Leap Outward has allowed its
powerful diplomacy to make dents in Africa, Latin
America, the Middle East and even in Eastern
Europe where the heir-apparent Vice President Xi Jinping recently toured.

A superpower diplomacy has to be backed by
'cultural' propaganda (or publicity) and economic diplomacy.

Has a reduced Indian Foreign Service the capacity to match Beijing`s? No.

Is Delhi ready to open 350 Tagore Institutes? No.

One finds the same picture for academic
institutions. I was recently told that China
already has 120 think tanks on South Asia and
India with a large number of scholars involved in
studying the policies of the region. India has
only 3 or 4 such institutions devoted to Chinese
studies, most of them with meager means or under
government supervision (meaning incapable of independent thought).

A prospective superpower should be ready to pay a
price, as the recognition inevitably creates jealousy, envy and fresh rivalry.

In the case of China, Lam notes: "Friction
between China on the one hand, and Southeast
Asian nations including Vietnam, Malaysia and the
Philippines on the other, has intensified owing
to sovereignty disputes over a dozen-odd islets
in the South China Sea. There are also
indications that countries including Australia,
India, Japan and South Korea may consider it
advantageous to join hands with the United States
to check China’s ascendancy.``

And he concludes: "This is why despite the Middle
Kingdom`s formidable economic and military heft,
the CCP leadership has become more nervous than
ever about the exacerbation of a Washington-led
"anti-China containment policy."

The rise of China (peaceful or not) has
undoubtedly increased the 'China threat' theory.

In India, the point remains that the mindset of
many diplomats, bureaucrats or media persons is
still geared to a post-colonial way of thinking,
either full of an inferiority complex (or arrogance as a counterpart).

We have seen this recently with the proposed
visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh with
many so-called 'thinkers' and 'experts'
suggesting that the Dalai Lama should be told to
back out of the visit in order to not irritate Beijing further.

But a superpower is not scared to irritate or
anger others; a superpower stands on its own
feet, defending its own interests.

India has to learn this from China.
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