Sino Indian competition: breaking the status quo

By Jamal Hasan

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The demise of the Soviet Union did not necessarily change the long term interests and objectives of the Russians. Though downsized, Russia remains a force to reckon with. USA has ultimately reconciled itself to rocognizing all territory once under Soviet administration to be Russian turf.

Pakistan is one of the founding members of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the new economic bloc straddling Central Asia. This bloc consists of ten countries that include six of Muslim majority republics that were in the Soviet Union. Although the member states have a sizable Muslim population, this organization is unlikely to become a platform of religious extremism. The historical setting and the Russian position vis-a-vis its former constituents will play a prominent role in the evolution of ECO. China is a country that is in close proximity of this region. Pakistan found in China an ally that has always stod by it in times of need. The historical Silk Route has been upgraded, providing a convenient link between Islamabad and Beijing.

China and India, on the other hand, in a deliberately adopted stance, are maintaining a realationship that is not quite warm. Four years ago, India under leadership of P. V. Narashima Rao, had the opportunity to respond to the Russian initiative to forge triangular defense ties among India, China and Russia. In a changed geopolitical arena this would have been a far cry from Breazhnev doctine’s favored grouping, namely, the so-called Collective Security of South Asia. During the same time the Chinese ambassador to India, Cheng Ruisheng, proposed a bilateral trading block of India and China. But nothing concrete materialized from all these initiatives.

Soviet Union disintegrated with the tacit approval of the major player, Russia. No blood was shed in the process. For reasons beyond the scope of this short article, the fifteen republics have managed to continue with no major clashes along the frontiers in the ethnic and cultural landscape that once constituted the Soviet Union.

Right now India and China do not have a common enemy to bring them together. Rather they have competitive as well as conflicting interests in the region engulfing the eastern part of South Asia.

The demise of USSR created a big power vacuum in South Asia. Russia has acted realistically in curbing its ambition. It wants to remain a significant player in regions that had once blonged to the Soviet empire. She has decided to forego any such ambition in the southeastern part of South Asia. China, the upcoming economic giant (with an extraordinary GNP growth), is slowly filling the gap. Military ruled Myanmar has been pulled into the sphere of China’s domain of influence. China’s shadow now looms large over the south eastern edge of India.

Let us go through some petinent figures from China and India. China has a population of 1,192,300,000 compared to India’s 966,783,171. China’s land area in square kilometer i s9,572,900 whereas India’s land area is 2,973,190 square kilometer.

China will soon become an economoic giant. Since 1979 China’s economy has sustained an average annual growth rate approximately 9.5%, which is higher than than any other major economy in the world that includes India. Over the sam period, China’s GNP has increased nearly five times.

China’s fast growing economy with its increasing military might will definitely alter the status quo in the geostrategic relationships in South Asia. In an article in a recent issue of “Jane’s Intelligence Review”, Dr. Ehsan Ahrari worte, “As China modernizes its armed forces, becomes active in South China Sea and makes its presence felt in and around the Strait of Malacca, Bay of Bengal and even the Indian Ocean. India faces an uphill battle to enhance its strategic significance and sphere of influence in South and East Asia”. Dr Ahrari also wrote, “India has not been able to find players in Southeast Asia who would be willing to establish a close geo-strategic relationship with New Delhi to keep China on the edge”.

While China’s military buildup seems detrimental to India, the political scenario might evolve differently. The Chinese ambassador in New Delhi had been assuring his hosts that the days of Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai can still materialize and that China’s friendship with Pakistan does not necessarily preclude warm relationship with India, and that it believes in the Indian stance that the Kashmir issue had to be settled bilaterally, under the Simla Accord. The nuances in the Chinese pronouncements might portend a significant trend in its thinking. Pakistan had left no stone unturned to bring the Kashmir issue to a multilateral forum. Any change in the Chinese stance would be a setback for it.

China enjoys significant advantage over India in the management of domestic politics. Since independence, India has been grappling with the unresolved issue of Kashmir. And the conflicts in Punjab and regional unrests in Jharkhand, Gurkhaland, Mizoram and Nagaland have tied up the country in knots. All these turmoils have been a constant drain on national resources. China’s tradition of authoritarian rule has helped the Communist rulers to impose their totalitarian dictum on the population without any significant resistance. Regional unrest is crushed immediately and the voices of dissent ruthlessly. Political stability is maintained at all costs. China is, thus, far better positioned than India to pursue economic growth. In fact, China has maintained an average annual GNP growth rate of 9.5%, which is higher than any other major economy of the world.

Beijing couldn’t affor to be over-righteous in the aftermath of India’s nuclear explosions. After all, China, in contravention of its public stance, had been clandestinely aiding Pakistan to develop its nuclear weapons and missile technology. Furthermore, Chinese leaders are well aware that India is decades behind China in developing tactical nuclear warheads, missile guidance and submarine launching systems. No wonder China had found it so easy and risk-free to exert pressure on India by arming Pakistan with nuclear weapons and missiles.

India and China will have to go through a painful phase of uneven competition. The great conqueror Napolean Bonaparte once said, “When China wakes, it will shake the world”. The red dragon has started to wag its tail south of the border. The coming years will tell if there would be any unusual change in the status quo of Sino Indian relation.

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This article was published in News from Bangladesh in September, 1998.

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