China and India in an Evolving International Order
September 5, 2017
China’s peaceful rise has been put under the microscope by leading observers, think tanks, intellectuals, experts, analysts, political and military leaders, and social and academic elites of the Western world. It has been criticized from many angles, and the perspectives held by many observers seem to suggest that the economic expansion of the rising power is actually aimed at taking over the reins from the Western advanced /imperial powers in Asia.
On the other hand, India’s buildup of arms and bolstering of its domestic defense industrial base has largely gone unnoticed. Western observers may be adhering to the age-old belief of an impoverished India with congested streets full of beggars and thousands clamoring for more food and shelter. Leaving the masses in their desolate conditions, mostly unfed and in tattered clothes, the new leadership in Delhi is dressing up in shining armors.
As an ally of the Western powers, India escaped the wrath from the West that China has had to endure – the latter often perceived to be the number one economic power gearing up politically and militarily to be the number one global power.
India appears innocuous in the eyes of Western intellectual and political elites while they view China with scorn and suspicion. China’s peaceful rise is often questioned with much consternation by Western observers.
Yet India has racked up armaments, weapons, submarines, warships, tanks, and missile defense systems since the turn of the century. From 2000-2016, India has been one of the largest importers of arms, totaling $42.9 billion and surpassing even Saudi Arabia, China, South Korea, and the UAE. India’s accumulation of armaments and weapons is seemingly interpreted as a defense against China, Pakistan, and the maintenance of its dominance in the South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.
Obvious to some but not to others, the real conflict underlying the tension between the leaders of the free world is the impending threat of a takeover of the international system. Ideas and values espoused by the great Chinese ideological, philosophical, political, economic, and military leadership are gradually replacing previous international regimes. Thereby, in this kind of a scenario, the Western nations find solace in the support and strategic partnerships with countries opposed to the rise of China, leaning toward free market democratic systems. India, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea – the traditional allies of the United States and Western European bloc fall within the Western Alliance. Entrenched elites of the emerging economies and the peripheral third and fourth worlds often expedite the cause of the West at the expense of their own people.
The formation of an eastern alliance under the aegis of the Chinese leadership may evolve over time depending on the intensification of conflict and tension between opposing powers. Russia, North Korea, Pakistan, Venezuela, Myanmar and some of the smaller powers of East Asia and Africa portend to be potential partners of an evolving but not so visible alliance of the East. President Xi may have hinted at the direction the world is going in a recent heads of state gathering in the city of Xiamen. The Brics Plus proposal incorporates the emerging economies of Thailand, Mexico, Egypt, Guinea, and Tajikistan. The Chinese president strongly advocated ‘an open world economy, promotion of trade liberalization and the facilitation, creation of a new global value chain jointly, and realization of a global economic rebalancing.’
In the case of India, China, and the U.S. – this may very well describe the triangular relationship that is likely to have significant impact upon regional stability in Asia and shape the new international order. A vexing question looms here: How crucial is the relationship of the United States with the powers of the Asia-Pacific? Global security-strategic architecture of the sixties and the seventies was built on the NSC-68, a blueprint for the maintenance of the US global supremacy. This landmark document has been revised with other novel and more effective means of maintenance of global supremacy of the United States of America. Methods have been modified to suit the situation on hand and adapt to a dynamic international environment. Aberrant to the practices and policies of the great powers as witnessed during the past century is the rapidity of change that has far outpaced the ability to adapt to the dynamic international environment. It is increasingly obvious that the perception of reality is different from one day to the next. Policymakers and leaders at the helms are confounded with the enormous complexity of the world. Comprehension of reality is no longer based on fixed long-term relationships as evident during the two wars and even in the post-war periods and into the new millennium. These relationships are either no longer or at least less dependent on the inter-blocs power equation, and they are not driven solely by the desire of the superpower(s) / bloc leaders or peer-patron dynamics. There seems to be a bidirectional flow of wishes and commands that are the elements of the evolving relationship driven by the objectives of smaller powers or client nations. Small powers have a relatively larger say in bilateral relations with great powers than in the past. Functional relationships determine the course of a nation’s external relations. Smaller powers refrain from a total commitment to either one of the rival powers engaged in a power struggle – namely China and the United States.
The alliance system of the sixties and the seventies has dominated politics in the international arena for a long time. Institutions indispensable for the maintenance of international security, economic, and political relations among nations are increasingly being targeted by various vested interests seeking to dismantle and deconstruct the twentieth century world order. The international system as we have known it in the past century is in shambles. An international system challenged from all sides is showing signs of fatigue as it is becoming more obvious that the evolution of the international order may be global in perspective and not so divided between East and West. It may be approximating a one world order and the diffusion of technology – such as the Internet and the rapid expansion of intercontinental road and rail transportation, as well as communications networks.
Recent developments in East Asia offer an excellent example of the nature of these relationships between powerful patrons and their clients in the twenty-first century. This is but one element of the new international order: smaller powers are assuming a more and more significant role in world affairs. Unlike the multipolar international system of the twentieth century that served the purpose of the peers and patrons, or more powerful states solely, the multipolarity of the twenty-first century assumes a similar implication for the smaller powers as well.
This brings us to yet another aspect of the ongoing deliberations and discussion on the twenty-first century world order. That is, in a world without superpowers – which may be evident from the first six months of the Trump presidency – does the burden of responsibility not fall on the shoulders of the majority of the members of the international system? Does the Trump presidency not confirm the inevitability of Chinese ascendancy and acceptance? Is India really opposed to China just because of the few border disputes, or are the Asian giants also looking at the upside potential of Pan-Asianism as a means of achieving cooperation for prosperity and well-being of humanity (i.e. to repeal and replace Pax-Americana)? Worse yet than the rise of China would be a collusion of India and China on an anti-West platform.
Is India not following China’s success, and does it not see that at some point in time it can beat its rival to its game? How long will China keep expanding economically in the event of a regional conflict or repetitive wars? Does China have the capacity and patience to deal with crises and conflicts as the United States and its allies? Does not Confucian and communist philosophy play a part on Chinese external policy at the present time, and might it become further prominent as time goes by and the world is at Beijing’s feet?
The Doklam Plateau standoff and the subsequent withdrawal of troops by India to defuse the tension peaking in the Himalayas proved to the observer that cooperation is a preferable option for both parties. The peaceful coexistence professed by the Chinese may usher in a new age of cooperation. India may be able to gain from Chinese trade and investments in infrastructure and participate in regional prosperity. How does the Belt and Road Initiative chalk out the gridlines of international transport, trade, and communications, and the establishment of a China-led twenty-first century world order?
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