Friday, October 1, 2010


Rising powers have a habit of flexing muscles. They are also genetically programmed to keep pushing the envelope; to keep cajoling, threatening, posturing and browbeating neighbours and other global powers. Germany did that in the beginning of the late 19th century. Japan did that in the first half of the 20th century. Russia did that even before the end of the Second World War. The result was two World Wars and a Cold War. Now, it is the turn of China to enter the equation.

Will the rise of China eventually lead to conflict, violence, bloodshed, hatred, triumphal emotions and even a war? If you go by history, violence, bloodshed and war are very much on the cards. Notice how China behaved almost immediately after it surpassed Japan as the second largest economy of the world. It has ploughed into a war of words with Japan. Ostensibly, the dispute is related to conflicting sovereign rights of the two nations over East Asian waters. In reality, it is China flexing its now hefty muscles and generally telling the world that it is really a Big Boy now; not to be trifled with. It doesn’t help that Japan had once militarily occupied China; Chinese rulers don’t seem to mind stoking jingoistic fires, as the average Chinese citizen is reminded again and again of Japan’s role as a former Imperial power.

China is treating India even more disdainfully. It refuses to allow a serving army general to visit China only because he is posted in Jammu and Kashmir which, China now seems to think, is a disputed territory. It is refusing to give visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh, since it claims the state actually belongs to China. It deliberately provokes and humiliates India by stapling visas to the passports of visiting Kashmiris instead of stamping them. It tried every trick in the book to sabotage India’s entry into the formal club of nuclear powers. Having failed, it is publicly and loudly doing everything it can to help Pakistan with nuclear technology and reactors; in a deal that mirrors India’s nuclear deal with the United States.

This China has to be stopped before it goes too far; so far down the road that conflict and war become inevitable in Asia. And India is in a unique position to play the kind of balancing role that will prevent that kind of catastrophe. As of now, Japan and India are the only powers in Asia who can say no to China. Others like South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia and even Australia too would love to do that; but they simply don’t have the heft to do so.

As the visit of US President Barack Obama draws near, India strategists must ponder over this new role India must play in Asia. The idea is not to oppose everything that China does. But it is to send an unmistakable message to the rulers in Beijing that that there is a limit to which they can proceed and not beyond that. How about persuading America, Japan and ASEAN nations to announce that Tibet is disputed territory? How about providing special incentives to investors from Taiwan?

The sooner China realizes that there will always be limits to its power, the more its rulers will think before crossing the line while playing Big Boy. Frankly, that would be good even for China.


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