BULLS IN THE CHINA SHOP

Diplo­mat Anja Manuel looks at the re­la­tion­ships be­tween the US, China and In­dia and calls for them to work to­gether in the ar­eas of de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, heath care and the en­vi­ron­ment

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - DO! - Pramit Pal Chaud­huri let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com n

Writ­ings on the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships among the United States, China and In­dia are com­mon; ones tri­an­gu­lat­ing the three are rare. It’s a dif­fi­cult com­bi­na­tion, not least be­cause In­dia is still a geopo­lit­i­cal mys­tery to most. Anja Manuel makes a wel­come at­tempt to en­ter where most an­a­lysts fear to tread.

Her case for look­ing at this trio is sim­ple. “Due to their size and eco­nomic might, In­dia and China will have veto power over most in­ter­na­tional de­ci­sions, from cli­mate change, to the open­ness of global trade, to nu­clear pol­icy, to hu­man rights and busi­ness norms.”

And she doesn’t go into tor­tured dis­cus­sions as to whether and why In­dia, eco­nom­i­cally much smaller and poorer than the other two, will ever be­come a suc­cess. “Some ques­tion whether In­dia’s econ­omy will grow enough for it to be­come a great power… This misses the point. In­dia is so large that it will im­pact us whether or not it lifts mil­lions more out of poverty.”

Manuel, a text­book lib­eral in­ter­na­tion­al­ist, sees the eco­nomic growth of all three as be­ing a, well, win-win-win for every­one. Greater engagement, es­pe­cially po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic, is the an­swer to the grow­ing geopo­lit­i­cal fric­tions be­tween China and the other two na­tions. “We all must find pos­i­tive ar­eas of col­lab­o­ra­tion. Most of these will not hap­pen in the mil­i­tary sphere, which tends to be fraught with mis­un­der­stand­ing.” Among the ar­eas, she feels, they could work to­gether: de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, heath care or the en­vi­ron­ment.

As is de rigueur in such books, there are out­lines of the na­ture of to­day’s China and In­dia us­ing both ex­pert commentary and anec­dotes. Much of this will sound fa­mil­iar. China’s eco­nomic model is one of “top­down con­trol to build in­fra­struc­ture” and ca­pa­ble of “quick pol­icy changes.” In­dia’s econ­omy is lower down the growth tra­jec­tory and its “par­lia­men­tary and de­cen­tral­ized pol­i­tics” means it “will not change as rapidly as its north­ern neigh­bour.” But if In­dia suc­ceeds in com­bin­ing an open so­ci­ety with high growth it will “in the long term, cre­ate a more sta­ble, re­silient and happy so­ci­ety.” Manuel talks mi­grant work­ers in China and slum chil­dren in In­dia, draws from her years as a diplo­mat and a cor­po­rate con­sul­tant to de­scribe the quirks of of­fi­cial­dom in both coun­tries, and sketches the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic twists that led to the po­lit­i­cal as­cent of Xi Jin­ping and Naren­dra Modi.

A mild pref­er­ence for In­dia is ev­i­dent. De­scrib­ing one of Anna Hazare’s ral­lies in the cap­i­tal, she writes, “I of­ten visit pub­lic protests when in In­dia. No mat­ter how se­ri­ous the is­sue, they al­ways have an air of a street fes­ti­val, and re­new my faith in the power of ci­ti­zens to im­prove their own gov­ern­ment.” She qui­etly cheers young Chi­nese telling how they use coded lan­guage and keep shift­ing to newer in­stant mes­sen­ger apps to keep ahead of Bei­jing’s cen­sors. Modi’s re­formist vi­sion is guard­edly wel­comed, even though she be­lieves Make in In­dia “is al­most cer­tainly doomed to end with a whim­per” given the greater in­vest­ment at­trac­tions of a Viet­nam or Bangladesh.

Wash­ing­ton’s geopo­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests “will more likely align with In­dia’s” than with China’s. If any­thing, Manuel ar­gues, the US’s prob­lem will be mus­ter­ing the pa­tience to wait as In­dia slowly as­serts it­self in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem. “We need In­dia’s help to solve global prob­lems and to shape China’s rise, so we want it to suc­ceed.” But In­dia’s poverty, which she char­i­ta­bly says “keeps In­dian politi­cians up at night,” will be the “most fun­da­men­tal prob­lem In­dia faces on its way to be­com­ing a world power.”

Asia has be­come a geopo­lit­i­cally dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment in which the US and In­dia in­creas­ingly jos­tle with China. The jostling is less im­por­tant, she writes, than the fact “China has no agree­ment in place, es­pe­cially with the other Asian pow­ers, to han­dle un­fore­seen cir­cum­stances.” In her view Bei­jing is pow­er­ful but ul­ti­mately in­se­cure, a coun­try lack­ing “nat­u­ral al­lies” in the world and ruled by a party fac­ing in­creas­ing dif­fi­culty in keep­ing its mil­len­ni­als in line and han­dling the protests of its have-nots. In­te­grat­ing China – and In­dia – into the in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ing sys­tem is an­other ma­jor chal­lenge for the US. Nei­ther coun­try nec­es­sar­ily shares the West’s world­view and “it will re­quire real com­pro­mise and much ef­fort by the rest of the world to nudge both China and In­dia in the right di­rec­tion.”

Manuel does not be­lieve the In­dia-US re­la­tion­ship is nec­es­sar­ily des­tined to be pos­i­tive. “Right now our re­la­tion­ship with In­dia is pos­i­tive, but mostly be­cause In­dia is equally wor­ried about China. As In­dia ex­pands its global role, we may have more dis­agree­ments.”

Bei­jing is the real bull in the global china shop. “[The West] can and must do bet­ter than sim­ply bal­ance the power of China by sup­port­ing In­dia and oth­ers, try­ing to pre­vent both from be­com­ing eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful, or hop­ing that our gen­eros­ity and the gi­ants’ growth will mag­i­cally lead them to up­hold our val­ues.” Easy to say, but if so many of the driv­ers of China’s ag­gres­sion are de­rived from its po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, it is hard to see how co­op­er­a­tion in clean en­ergy or vac­cine drives will bring geopo­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity to Asia.

SOLTAN FRED­ERIC/GETTY IM­AGES

Salt of the earth: A worker in Kutch. Anja Manuel be­lieves In­dia is so large that it will im­pact the US whether or not more of its peo­ple are lifted out of poverty

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