Write of Cen­tre

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics - R SRIRAM

Great em­pires and coun­tries of­ten fall vic­tim to hubris. The re­al­i­sa­tion that you are on top of things can­some­times­makey­ouactreck­lessly in con­flict. The mighty Amer­i­can­sex­pe­ri­encedthis­inViet­na­mand a few decades be­fore that Nazi Ger­many, tried to grab ev­ery­thing in Europe only to suf­fer the most hu­mil­i­at­ing of de­feats. The Turks in the 17th cen­tury, when they tried to stretch their hands to grab the most im­por­tant of all prizes, Vi­enna, and the Bri­tish Em­pire’s short-lived ex­cur­sion into Afghanistan are ex­am­ples of re­verses suf­fered by great pow­ers when their am­bi­tions tried to defy rea­son and logic.

Mod­ern-dayChi­naisi­nasim­i­lar­si­t­u­a­tion. Two years ago, the Mid­dle King­dom’s prob­lems were only eco­nomic. There was a dis­pute with Ja­pan and an­other dis­pute over is­lands with South-east Asian na­tions but that was it. China’s big­gest prob­lem then was to stop its econ­omy from slid­ing into mid­dle to low sin­gle dig­its and ac­com­plish the great triple tran­si­tion, the shift from in­vest­ment­to­con­sump­tion,man­u­fac­tur­ingto ser­vices and ex­ports to do­mes­tic mar­ket.

The fate of that tran­si­tion to­day still hangs in balance but China has un­wisely man­aged to get it­self em­broiled in some ugly geopo­lit­i­cal dis­putes. What is more, these dis­putes are with pow­er­ful coun­tries who have the abil­ity to hurt its in­ter­ests. Whether China has done its due to over­con­fi­dence, hubris or just plain reck­less­ness is un­clear but what is clear is that China’s am­bi­tious at­tempt to project power only tells a part of the story. It hides a prob­lem, a prob­lem that is likely to get big­ger the more in­tran­si­gent its lead­ers get.

Let’s ex­am­ine more on this is­sue. North Korea is a fes­ter­ing sore with the US con­tin­u­ously ha­rangu­ing China for its in­ac­tion in tack­ling the nu­clear me­nace. The spat over South China sea is­lands con­tin­ues and may getuglier.TheTrumpad­min­is­tra­tion­maybe more as­sertive in deal­ing with Chi­nese in­frac­tions than the Obama na­tional se­cu­ri­tys­tate depart­ment team and that is not good news for Xi Jin­ping. The big­gest prob­lem of them all is the stand-off with In­dia in Dok­lam. China’s in­tru­sion into the Bhutan- Ti­bet-In­dia tri­junc­tion, its de­sire to build a road and get ac­cess to the com­mand­ing heights over­look­ing the Silig­uri cor­ri­dor is an ex­am­ple of the as­sertive pol­i­tics that Chi­nese lead­ers and gen­er­als are will­ing to play. In 1962, China took ad­van­tage of In­dian weak­ness and the fool­ish For­ward Pol­icy brinkman­ship of the Jawa­har­lal NehruKr­ishna Menon duo to quickly teach In­dia a les­son. In Dok­lam, as things stand to­day, we don’t know what will hap­pen. Mil­i­tary ex­perts and writ­ers have talked about In­dia’s strate­gic ground ad­van­tage and its tough stance and how China could be forced into look­ing for a face-saver given that In­dia is not back­ing down. There could a war. Even if there is, is In­dia bet­ter pre­pared than it was in 1962? We will never know for sure till it hap­pens, but there is some ev­i­dence to be­lieve that we are.

But let’s not talk of mil­i­tary ac­tion. Let’s look at trade where China is vul­ner­a­ble and we are not. If China con­tin­ues to be in­tran­si­gent, can In­dia hit back at in­vest­ments and trade? Can In­dia show that it can hurt China by stop­ping, re­vers­ing in­vest­ments and clamp­ing down on im­ports? This, to some ex­tent, is al­ready hap­pen­ing and it should know that trade is its soft un­der­belly and that In­dia can hit where it hurts.

Trump,forChina,isa­far­big­gerthreat.The US pres­i­dent has been warn­ing China of trade reper­cus­sions if it does not be­have. So far China has played ball only re­luc­tantly and Trump has not been afraid of us­ing the stick when he wants it. A re­cent China-US trade meet was not a happy one and Chi­nese banksandin­di­vid­u­al­shave­been­tar­get­ed­for sanc­tions. Chi­nese in­vest­ments in US may be next on radar.

In­dia, US and Ja­pan, ei­ther to­gether or sep­a­rately have the abil­ity to dam­age and thwart China’s am­bi­tions. It can be done through trade, through joint mil­i­tary or diplo­matic pos­ture and even joint ap­proach to strength­en­ing re­la­tions and build­ing in­vest­ments in the emerg­ing world. In 1962, In­dia had no trade lever­age over China. That’s not the case to­day. Will China be able to stom­ach a bil­lions of lost op­por­tu­nity in in­vest­ment and trade if In­dia de­cides to ap­ply pres­sure? With the US, the lost op­por­tu­nity in trade is big­ger. A re­cov­er­ing Chi­nese econ­omy can ill-af­ford this hit. Some ex­perts be­lieve that Trump, de­spite his bravado, will not act against China. But that may be a hasty con­clu­sion. Trump has shown that he is not afraid to act when it comes to pro­tect­ing US in­ter­ests and won’t hes­i­tate to poke the dragon in the eye if he feels that it will serve him well po­lit­i­cally.

Yes, China can prob­a­bly not be de­feated on the bat­tle­field by a sin­gle na­tion without us­ing mas­sive power. But a club of na­tions, act­ing to­gether or alone, can def­i­nitely peg back China’sam­bi­tions.Chi­nashoul­drealisethat the world has changed dras­ti­cally since 1962.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.