Over 30 years ago, the Far Eastern Economic Review from Hong Kong published a 5 part series on ‘the race between a hare and a tortoise’, focussing on the India-China competitive situation at that stage.
The race has really begun now- especially in the last 3 years and 10 months- since the advent of the Modi government.
West has got China wrong
Now China is militarily challenging America and its allies, not only in the South China seas but in the Far East as well as in the Indian Ocean. The earlier desire, wish or a plan of the American capitalism that with the improvement of the economy and the living standards of the Chinese people, the natural urge for democratic norms, and peaceful coexistence with the neighbours will evolve over time.
Even Henry Kissinger got it wrong that the Chinese communist dictatorship is different and certainly now knows it is unpredictable. Historically China has always followed both internally and externally the policy of “might is right”. Was it not the Mao Tse Tung who spoke about the power of the barrel of the gun?
China has surely and surprisingly sooner, become the gigantic economic power. It is without any shred of doubt a centrist planned, communist economic policy with all the facade of pseudo capitalism, ie creation of wealth, primarily for the state and the state owned enterprises.
Now with the bountiful resources, China has embarked on encircling India, which is perceived to be the real challenge to the policy makers of China, whose main tool of the trade is mighty and ever becoming mightier 'Red Army' of the power base.
China has allocated billions to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Djubuti and other countries around India. Pakistan is a special case. The gigantic “one belt one road” corridor linking Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea with the western provinces of China primarily Xinjiang is estimated to cost more than 60 bn dollars. At one stage people in Pakistan were excited and even celebrating such a bumper legacy from their “all weather friend”.
Several countries in Africa and Asia especially Sri Lanka have realised now that Chinese funds are not a free gift or grant but they are charged with huge interest. Sri Lanka’s port project at the Humberton is lumbard with billions of dollars of debt and the present government was forced to convert the loan into equity, thereby leasing a vast track of land to China for 99 years (may be Hong Kong in the making as the imperial power Britain leased Kowloon in 1897).
Pakistani voices are now arising that Chinese money comes with different conditions than US or aid from other western democracies. 'One belt, one road' is being built along with power stations and other infrastructure projects in Pakistan. Balochistan is becoming a difficult terrain for both Pakistan, and especially for China, where the campaign for self-determination has taken lives of several Chinese workers already.
What is India doing?
India is watching carefully and forging new, surprisingly unheard of alliances with democratic countries especially with US, Japan, Australia and some others. In a way France has agreed to be a partner in this strategy. Chinese borders over 10 countries from Russia, Mongolia, North Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Pakistan and others. With alsmost every neighbour China has taken up arms at some stage in the last 70 years except Pakistan. North Korea is proving to be a hot potato for China at the moment. The summit, between US president and the North Korean dictator could be worth watching.
Alexander Lukin is a well known Russian scholar of China. Recently he published a book ‘China and Russia: The New Reapprochement’. The question is the relationship between China and Russia. Could it be an alliance of permanence or marriage of convenience? Historically as well as recently there is diverse interest and distrust especially in Moscow, Russia of the Chinese intention. The teaming millions of China would eye with glee the vast and fertile land of the Russian federation. China may wish, but can Russia forget the bloody war along river Amur a few decades ago?
Democratic India is an asset
The tortoise has been running at the traditional Hindu rate of growth up until now, when Indian is achieving faster than China. This is likely to continue and improve. The Indian economy and social progress have been slow due to the checks and balances of a working democracy. China has on the back burner several regional and other trouble spots brewing over the 70 years of the communist dictatorship.
History says such an oppressive state cannot last forever. What will be the corrective? What will be the catastrophe? China India relationship is on, in a way, even kill (see the statement from Foreign Minister of China, on page 12, Scrutator’s column). Doklam has proved to be the turning point, so to say.
The road ahead for India is not easy and is full of challenges. But the odds are as in the story, the tortoise will be the ultimate winner.