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China’s Response to India’s Emergence as a ‘Swing Power’ in Asia

Paper No. 6102                                  Dated 20-Apr-2016

By Dr Subhash Kapila

China long used to exploit its ‘Swing Power’ status in Asia between United States and Russia seems concerned on being dethroned by India’s evolving emergence as the new ‘Swing Power’ in Asia’s transformed strategic calculus.

The above stands manifested in a recent Opinion Editorial of China’s official media organ, The Global Times of April 17 2016. Curiously, and not in mere coincidence, China seems to have deliberately calibrated  the airing of its strategic irritation  with India synchronising with the visit of the Indian Defence Minister to China, the meetings of Indian Foreign Minister with her Chinese counterpart at the Trilateral Meeting and the forthcoming visit of India’s National Security Adviser to China.

The very banner headline of the Chinese Opinion Editorial is negative when it says “India Seeks Interest from Geopolitical Tension” by playing-up and contextualising that the geopolitical tensions between United States and China and Russia have “provided India with admirable strategic opportunities.” Surely, India under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Modi in the last two years has been able to secure for itself on its own, an admirable niche and standing in global affairs. India did not have to wait for the worsening of relations of the China-Russia nexus with the United States to attain the mantle of Asia’s current ‘Swing Power’. India’s emergence as a ‘Swing Power’ arises from India’s current and potential national attributes of power awakeningly recognised by the United States and the Indo Pacific nations viewing India as the ‘nett provider of security’ in Asia.

For once China seems to have grudgingly and negatively conceded that India is a ‘Swing Power’ as China has arrogantly denied any sort of strategic equivalence equations to India.

China seems to be highly critical of Prime Minister Modi’s ongoing foreign policy initiatives which it disdainfully terms as having entered an “Era of Non-Alignment 3.0” which in China’s views stands characterised by the following prominent characteristics:

  •  “India instead of maintaining a neutral position, takes sides with countries like the United States and Japan on islands and maritime disputes concerning Asia Pacific security at the risk of escalating confrontation and conflicts in the region.”
  •  “India shirks its responsibilities and distances itself from China and Russia, in dealing with some global problems such as Middle East conflicts in order to avoid confrontation with Western countries.”
  •  “It (India) takes advantage of geopolitical conflict between United States, Japan and China, Russia to gain maximum interest for itself.”

Finally, concluding on the above, China gives a cautionary warning that “We hope India won’t go too far as a Swing Power.”

Notably, the sting is in the Chinese tail. Is the above a warning, or is it a Chinese caution or is it China’s peevishness on being subjected to the process of dethronement as Asia’s ‘Swing Power’? I think it is a combination of all three elements.

What is troubling China currently is the growing geopolitical and strategic congruence of India with those of the United States, Japan and other South East Asian countries and the consequent synchronisation of their geopolitical formulations?  For China such a game-changing reset in Asian security dynamics is virtually a heart-attack to their long fostered myth that China’s strategic sensitivities must be globally respected.

Regular readers of mine would recall that in July 2013 my SAAG Paper 5525 pointed out that ‘China Strategically Cornered: India’s Window of Opportunity” and that India should exploit this geopolitical opening. This Paper was also reproduced by the Indian Defence Review magazine. I am glad that what India had shied from for decades is evidently now taking shape under the decisive leadership of Prime Minister Modi.

The situation for China three years down the line in 2016 has unfolded even more severely for China in view of its decline in economic growth, flight of capital and more significantly, the growing strategic fissures and distrust widening in China’s relations with the United States. China today stands devalued as the ‘Swing Power’ which for decades played the ‘China Card’ with both the United States and Russia.

Obviously, the above Chinese stance arises from a number of strategic irritations perceived by China as India’s ‘game changers’ in power dynamics affecting China. These stand reflected in this editorial as India’s strengthened relations with USA termed by China as ‘undeclared military alliance’ and India’s strategic and security cooperation with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Strategically galling for China is the emerging reality that India has finally commenced ‘China Pay-Back Policies’ by reverse geopolitical encirclement of China’s decades-long military continental and maritime encirclement of  India. That is what emerges from the Chinese anger at India’s growing strategic and security cooperation with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. All that India now needs to add Indonesia to this list.

China also seems to be ruefully ruminating over India not joining China-Russia-India Trilateral in crafting new security architecture in Asia emphasising that Eurasian security and stability rests on an effective China-Russia-India Trilateral and that the United States was an external power to Asia. But then, as pointed out in my last two SAAG Papers on the subject a decade back that Russia –China-India Strategic Triangle stood defeated as a feasible and workable proposition chiefly because of China’s implacable hostility towards India. Also, that in Indian public perceptions, China continues to figure lastingly ever since 1962 as ‘India’s Military Threat Number One.’

China seems to have recognised the following strategic reality reflected in my recently published book: “China-Indian Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives” which emphasised that “The China-India military confrontation in the High Himalayas as a consequence of China’s military occupation of Tibet in 1950 and the unprovoked Chinese invasion of India in end-1962 has in 2015 graduated from a boundary dispute to an intense geopolitical tussle in Asia’s geopolitical rivalries.”

Hence, the revealing title of this Opinion Editorial “India Seeks Interests from Geopolitical Tensions”. China forgets that it is not India that has created geopolitical tensions for China. China itself has generated geopolitical tensions all over Asia by entering into a power tussle with the United States with its military brinkmanship policies.

Notably, China’s strategic displeasure reflected in the Opinion Editorial of April 17, 2016 arises not from India’s attempts to strengthen her military defensive postures on its Northern Borders but more importantly because India has in the last two years in its policy approaches on China “graduated” from viewing the ‘China Threat’ confined exclusively to the border and boundary dispute to the more realistic plane of a long-lasting “geopolitical tussle with China”  in which finally India is shedding off its Non-Alignment shibboleths and becoming adept at the power games in operation in Asia. That is the Indian game-changer which is now rattling China.

India would have been better served by its security managers of the period 2004-2014 had their policy approaches on China incorporated heavily the ‘geopolitical component’ rather than meekly running around to sign Boundary Cooperation Agreements dictated by China, impelled only by their ‘Risk Aversion’ policies rather than securing India’s National Interests. Non-Alignment 2.0 or strategic non-alignment or all such meaningless formulations were only fig-leaves which shielded nothing but exposed India’s strategic timidity to an overbearing China. Presumably, if all of them in the ten years of the previous regime had not allowed India’s war-preparedness to sink miserably low, the picture today, alas, would have been markedly advantageous for India in additional exploitation of the geopolitical situation.

In conclusion, contextually, the main deduction that arises from the Chinese Opinion Editorial under analysis is that since India for many years to come, cannot militarily take-on an aggressive China,  the Indian political leadership if it robustly and consistently exploits the evolving Asian security environment, can successfully checkmate China geopolitically. That is the shoe which pinches China. Indian political leaders must therefore refrain from underplaying or de-emphasising the ‘China Threat to India’ as that Indian policy approach creates ambiguity in the minds of Asian nations that are now lining behind United States and India to counter the overall China Threat to Asian security. India’s war-preparedness against the China Threat is of prime national importance and priority and needs added impetus, politically.