The “bad guys” in Washington are generally considered to be Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and their hawkish colleagues at the Pentagon. Colin Powell is widely held to be the champion of the “good guys” club, however miniscule that may be, in the Bush-II establishment. Actually, from the Indian point of view, the bad guys are actually the good guys, very India-positive, whereas the general in the state department is a great champion of the general in Islamabad.
Military-to-military cooperation between India and the United States of America has emerged as the one truly outstanding success story of bilateral ties in the past two or three years. Why is the Pentagon so India-friendly' Is it because of our commitment to democracy and diversity' We would like to think so, but that is not the reason. Is it because of our economic performance and potential' Could be, but only to a very limited extent.
The underlying rationale for India looming large on the Pentagon radar screen is China. American conservatives see India as a crucial ally in the US policy of China-containment, a sentiment that echoes favourably among large sections of the Indian ruling elite as well. In some senses, there is nothing new in this approach. After all, in the early Fifties, massive American aid to India found many advocates in Washington so as to push democratic India ahead of communist China. Now, the motivation is not economic — barring a few areas like software exports, China is far ahead of India. China has also integrated itself far closer than India into the US economy. The volume of bilateral Sino-US trade is, for instance, over six times that of Indo-US trade, both merchandise and services. Instead, geopolitics is the new driving force.
A few days back, the US secretary of defence received a classified 130-page document prepared by his analysts called Indo-US Military Relationship: Expectations and Perceptions. This report has been made available to the influential Jane’s Foreign Report which carried excerpts very recently. The analysis is based largely on interviews with 82 senior Indian and American officials, 50 of whom are military officers, both retired and on active duty. The conclusion is blunt: China represents the most significant threat to both countries’ security in the future as an economic and military competitor.
One US officer is quoted as saying, “We want a friend in 2020 that will be capable of assisting the US militarily to deal with a Chinese threat.” Indian sources are quoted as having pointed to the reality of China supplying nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan, weapons to Bangladesh, making deep inroads into Myanmar, building the deep-water Gwadar port in Baluchistan and resuming the supply of arms to various insurgent groups in the Northeast.
The Pentagon report comes close on the heels of John Garver’s The China-India-US Triangle: Strategic Relations in the Post-Cold War Era that was published some six months back by the Seattle-based National Bureau of Asian Research. Garver who teaches at Atlanta’s Georgia Institute of Technology is America’s foremost academic on India-China in a comparative strategic perspective. Two years ago, he wrote Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the 20th Century — a work of meticulous analysis and formidable scholarship.
Garver’s belief is that India and China share a fundamentally antagonistic and competitive relationship in which conflict is inherent. According to him, “Rather than allowing the new Sino-Indian-American triangle to evolve toward an ever-shifting, flexible, three-cornered minute, continuation of Beijing’s abrasive policies of the Nineties may well move the new triangle in the direction of a fairly stable combination of India and the United States of America against China.” Forging a new India-US relationship will, he says, “have triangular consequences regardless of US intentions”.
There are many in this country who will undoubtedly welcome a Washington-New Delhi informal axis to “spook and unsettle” Beijing, if not create “shock and awe”. But thanks largely to the pragmatism of Chinese leaders who suggested that the boundary dispute be set aside to foster an economic relationship, there has been a dramatic upsurge in commercial links between India and China. During January-December, 2002, two-way trade amounted to $ 4.9 billion. If Taiwan and Hong Kong are also included, this figure is close to $ 9 billion — not all that critical for “Greater” China, no doubt, but almost a tenth of India’s international trade volume.
China’s entry into the World Trade Organization is opening numerous market opportunities for India. Now that the bogey of Chinese goods swamping India has been buried, Indian companies are shedding their diffidence and fear. Companies like Ranbaxy, Tisco, Steel Authority of India Limited, Bharat Forge, JK Tyres, National Institute of Information Technology, Essel Packaging and Tata Consultancy Services already have a growing presence in Chinese markets, and TCS is on the final shortlist of three for the prestigious computerization of the Shanghai stock exchange.
Other firms like Sundram Fasteners, Apollo Tyres, Samtel, Asian Paints and Infosys will soon make their presence felt. Our foreign office is, no doubt, wary of China, and in January 2003, Jaswant Singh set diplomacy aside and pooh-poohed Chinese statistics. The Chinese feel that India is being unnecessarily obstructive in the matter of granting business visas and in approving Chinese foreign direct investment and contracts won in public tenders. The Chinese networking major, Huawei Technologies, has a sizeable presence in Bangalore and wants to expand, much to the discomfiture of Indian security agencies.
There is simply no substitute for dialogue between the two Himalayan neighbours tied together by their common legacies spawned by Buddhism. This interaction has to be sustained at a variety of levels — political, military, academic, media, sports, culture and so on. Sub-regional cooperation involving, for example, India’s northeast, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China’s Yunnan Province has great potential. But while others are keen, official Delhi is suspicious. To be sure, we have differences on a whole host of regional issues.
A permanent boundary agreement, that must necessarily involve both India and China giving up territory, is a distant prospect. China’s ties with Pakistan have a logic, disturbing as it may be, of their own that we are unable to appreciate. India cannot dilute its relationship with the dalai lama, just as it encourages a direct Sino-Tibetan dialogue. It hopes that he would return eventually to Tibet, to a life of dignity, safety and freedom.
Even so, we cannot allow ourselves to be mesmerized by the Americans and their encomia to us, in the hope that we will be an ally in their China policy that has a definite adversarial basis. We must continue to engage the US intensively and extensively, and in this, we have to learn much from China. But this should not be at the cost of a deeper relationship with China. Without being romantic, we can still be realistic. As a nation, we have to invest more in creating the intellectual capital to understand and deal with China more effectively. India’s acquiring “big power” status on the world stage depends critically on this, apart from making peace with Pakistan. And the two are not unrelated.