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CHINA AND THE MAJOR ASIAN STATES: An Analysis

 

Paper 945                                 09.03.2004

by Dr. Subhash Kapila 

Introductory Background: China in the 21st Century has to resolve a myriad of strategic challenges before it can even hope to devise ways  and means to offset its main strategic challenge, namely United States unilateralism. China’s dilemma of countering United States unilateralism emerged soon after the end of the Cold War in 1991, but it has yet to come to grips with the problem. 

China’s inability to do so arises mainly from its lack of clear perspectives and foreign policy initiatives as to how to recast its relationship with the major Asian States. The major Asian states that China has to reckon with are only two, namely, India and Japan. 

The aim of this  paper is to analyse China’s attitudinal approaches and relationships with India and Japan. Both India and Japan have the potential to arrest or impede China’s rise towards global power status in the 21st Century. 

But, first, a brief overview of the challenges that China faces in the post-Cold War era. 

China in the Post-Cold War Era- The Challenges: The end of the Cold War posed dramatic strategic predicaments for China’s foreign policies. One noted author (Tony Saitch, 2001) has made the following appropriate observations:

* Disappearance of United States- Soviet superpower rivalry meant that China had to reconfigure its international position without the room for manoeuvre that had been offered by the Cold War. It also brought the latent antagonisms in the relationship with the USA to the fore.

* China had settled into a foreign policy premised on the notion that international politics would be dominated by the existence of bipolar rivalry between the two superpowers. This enabled China to play off one power against the other and enabled it to create more space for itself in international affairs.

* With the balance of power upset, China began to feel vulnerable and marginalised in world affairs.

Analytically, therefore, it can be said that the end of the Cold War has robbed China of its exclusivity to “strategic space” in regional and global terms. Further that China in its bid for global multi-polarity, will now have to be flexible in “sharing” this “strategic space” with the other emerging powers. 

With China strategically hemmed-in by United States forward military presence in East Asia, Pakistan and Central Asia, besides US dominant naval presence in the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean, China has no choices but to shed its foreign policy concept of a “hierarchical international order”. China must remember that while it sermonizes at international fora on the “ equality and equitability” of all nations, China will also have to concede the same to the major nations of Asia. 

The major deductions from the foregoing, once again is that China has to share the “strategic space” in the Asian regional order with the two other major regional powers in Asia i.e. India and Japan. 

The regional power profiles of India and Japan can now be briefly analysed as to why they count in Asia and why China has to accommodate them in its foreign policy formulations. 

India As a Regional Power: In terms of geo-strategic analysis, the following salient facts emerge:

* The Indian sub-continent rests heavily on China’s Southern under-belly bordering Tibet, an independent buffer state ensured by the British till its forcible occupation by China in 1949-50.

* India in terms of ‘comprehensive  power’ analysis is the predominant power in the Indian sub-continent.

* India’s peninsular projection abuts deeply into the Indian Ocean and with a realistic naval build-up. India could effectively control the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. In future China’s dependency for oil imports would add upto 60-70% and which will have to traverse these waters.

Politically, India is the world’s largest democracy and with a record of political stability extending into the sixth decade, unlike its other neighbours. India today is an emerging major power with a strong “civil society” in its most liberalist interpretations. 

Economically, India is on an ascendant curve with rates of economic growth likely to touch 8% and foreign exchange reserves over $100 billion. 

India today is a nuclear weapons power, a space power and with the second largest armed forces in Asia after China. 

China in the past, following the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 had adopted policies of “strategic de-stabilisation” of India manifested by the following:

* China with massive military aid tried  to build up Pakistan as a strategic counter-weight to India.

* China provided Pakistan and built up its nuclear weapons arsenal and Pakistan’s missile arsenal.

* In recent years, China facilitated through North Korea the supply of North Korean IRBMs to Pakistan. In return Pakistan supplied nuclear weapons technology to North Korea. 

In brief, China’s policies towards India can realistically be termed as “inimical” to India’s national security interests. The change in China’s attitudes towards India came after 1998 nuclear weapons tests by India. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons tests in 1998, notwithstanding, this country had already developed the characteristics of a “failed state”. Its proliferation of China-acquired nuclear weapons technologies classify it as a ‘rogue state’. 

In global strategic configurations today, despite what some critics (including some Indians) may say, India’s potential major power status is being recognised. In some global strategic calculations, India figures as a likely “strategic counterweight” to China. 

Specific to China, the major deductions that arise from the discussion above are as follows:

* China’s “strategic destabilisation” policies of India have been unsuccessful in the last 40 years

* China has been unable to arrest or impede India’s emergence as  a regional power and a key global player. 

Recognising the above strategic realities, China has to recast its foreign policies towards this region to incorporate the following elements:

* Recognise and respect India as the pre-dominant power in the Indian sub-continent

* Concede South Asia as an Indian sphere of influence and desist from an “intrusive presence” in the region through Pakistan or Bangladesh. 

India’s public opinion on China counts heavily in the Indian Governments policy calculations and the Indian public opinion desires that China demonstrates public manifestation of its attitudinal changes towards India, on the lines suggested above.

Japan As a Regional Power: Despite the recent slow-down in economy, Japan is widely perceived in strategic analysis circles as that:

* Japan is an economic super power

* Japan’s military capabilities and high technology indigenous defence production infrastructure classify it as a regional power in East Asia or the Western Pacific.

Reinforcing the above two, the geo- strategic analysis indicates:

* The Japanese archipelago extending in the South  virtually, touching Taiwan encloses not only the Japan Sea but also the Yellow Sea and East China Sea.

* It is the above which has made it valuable to the United States for positioning of  American forward military presence in Japanand Okinawa and having a bearing on China’s national security..

* While not a land-mass neighbour of China, the Japanese archipelago enables Japan with its naval capabilities to contest China’s naval pressure in the Western Pacific.

* The Japanese Navy is the best in Asia with long historic traditions of challenging the naval might of the major powers upto World War II. 

China’s relations with Japan so far have been condescending, highly critical and intolerant of its established status.  China has frequently used the United States with trade leverages to down play Japan’s importance in United States strategies for the Pacific. 

The strategic realities that  will prevail well into the future, and which China must recognise are:

* Japan’s value in US strategies in East Asia is not at stake, only the nuances change sometimes when USA leverages its links with China to force Japan into trade concessions.

* Japan, if forsaken by United States strategically, would well nigh be forced into military expansion including nuclear weapons. In fact Japan has many imperatives for  going in for a nuclear arsenal. See this author’s paper: Japan's Imperative for Nuclear Weapons Arsenal: An Analysis ( SAAG Paper No. 487 dated 05.07.2002)

* Despite, China’s incessant psychological warfare against Japan on its World War II so called war crimes, the fact is that amongst Asian nations if the choice comes to choosing between China and Japan, they would prefer the latter. 

The major deduction from the above is that Japan is a notable regional power. Despite its lack of traditional attributes of power in terms of size and population, it has a preponderance in East Asia in terms of other attributes of power which offset the former.  

Japan, therefore, cannot be ignored by China.  The Cold War balance of power no longer exists in East Asia. In fact a Japan allied to the United States holds the balance of power in East Asia in its favour and at the expense of China.

China, like in South Asia is guilty of building up the nuclear and missile arsenals of a rogue state like North Korea in Japan’s vicinity.  Japan has gone on record that it would take pre-emptive action in case North Korea becomes threatening.  That is the ominous signal for China.

In view of the foregoing analysis, China in its national interest should:

* Share “strategic space” in East Asia with Japan as the other regional power.

* Desist from irrelevant psychological warfare against Japan.

*Force North Korea to roll back its nuclear and missile arsenal built up with Chinese assistance, before Japan and USA take preemptive actions. 

Asia Major Powers -The Inter-Se Relationships and Perspectives:  The Cold War period in terms of Asia’s major powers was distinguished by:

* China exploited the Cold War by playing one super power against the other by its alternating “ swing policies”

* Japan stood by and continued as a solid a strategic partner of the United States. This despites America willfully ignoring Japan at times to appease the Chinese.

* India was viewed with suspicion by USA and misperceived as a Soviet ally. USA and China with a convergence of strategic interests kept India tied in South Asian confines through Pakistan’s proxy war against India.  

With the above pattern, China with United States patronage or call it permissiveness could  deny “ strategic space” to India and Japan in Asian security configurations. 

In terms of inter-se relationship between the three major Asian powers, it can be said that:

* China presently does not enjoy a full measure of trust in its relationships with India and Japan.

* India and Japan have a good relationship.

* Both India and Japan await better manifestations from China in building up trustful relationships. 

In terms of Asian security, greater scope exists between India and Japan to build a strategic partnership. For a detailed analysis on this subject, please see this authors paper: “Japan-India Strategic Cooperation: A Perspective Analysis”.( SAAG Paper No. 126 dated 13.06.2000). 

Concluding Observations:  In the post Cold War era, China no longer enjoys the luxury of basing and operating its foreign policies on the predictable template of super-power rivalries. Further with the emergence of United States unilateralism China can no longer exclusively claim the prerogatives of “strategic space” in Asian security configurations. The simple reason being that China alone is no longer the “balancer” of Cold War days. More importantly United States-China latent antagonisms have re-surfaced prominently with China’s attempts to bring about a multi-polar architecture in global affairs. 

In the changed post-Cold War strategic realities, China’s foreign policy planners are presented with a serious predicament. The question for China is whether it can continue its traditional foreign policies in South Asia and East Asia i.e. by building “failed states” or even “rogue states” as proxies ( Pakistan and North Korea ) to strategically destabilize India and Japan,. Or, should it flexibly now re-adapt to changed strategic compulsions by conceding “strategic space” to other major Asian powers. 

While India and Japan may not be forthcoming to embrace China in strategic partnerships, China can serve its national interests by seriously attempting strategic cooperation with India and Japan. China also has to discard its “hierarchical concept” in international relationships which in the Cold War era it could afford to do so. 

Both India and Japan will witness the build up of increased military profiles to meet their respective national interests. China has to learn to take these in its stride. India’s Defence Minister George Fernandes’s statement at a recent lecture drives home this point tellingly: “ We must ensure that whatever be the nature of the profile that China and India acquire in the near future, this must be managed in such a way that there is no mistrust or needless anxiety. Such capabilities must be seen as contributing to regional and global stability.” 

China would face competing interests with India and Japan in the future. Asian security imperatives and those of the three major Asian powers dictate that China willingly concedes and shares the Asian “strategic space” with India and Japan.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email drsubhashkapila @yahoo.com)

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