Keeping enemies closer has rarely been this important in international relations

news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute Editorial | September 21, 2014| 6.00 pm IST Comment Many things happened during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s just-concluded visit to India. As happens with visits of this nature, many views were expressed, ideas floated and theories repeated with experts comments and media analysis.  The visit has smoked out some jarring gaps in our understanding of where India and China stand in the region and beyond. A common misstep has been to equate China and Pakistan to the same level further illustrating that till recently, India’s foreign policy was heavily Pakistan-driven. Some commentators said the India-Pak-Chinese peace talks are related and India would have to take the first step in that direction. That’s like saying France and Germany must consult Switzerland to solve their economic issues. But that’s not the point of this comment. China was not in India to make friends and one of India’s most respected journalists T.N. Ninan has made that point succinctly writing that nobody in China thinks of India as a friend. “In 1991, when India launched its economic reforms, China’s economy was about 50 percent bigger that India’s. By 2000, the Chinese economy had grown to two-and-a-half-times India’s size. Now it is five times as big. That is about the size of relationship that India has today with the United Arab Emirates, or Colombia, when it comes to relative gross domestic product. No one in India thinks those countries are India’s equals and no one in China thinks India is its equal,” Ninan writes in the Business Standard (BS). It cannot be better said and needs to be repeated often because China is on another planet when it sees its own interests whether they are in Asia, Europe or the Americas. “After the talk of Chindia (Jairam Ramesh), of India and China rising together (Confederation of Indian Industry), of there being room for both countries in Asia (Manmohan Singh), and other blather, it is time to get real,” the author writes in a reality check analysis of the situation. China became the world’s biggest trader in goods for the first time last year, overtaking the US for all of 2013 and finishing the year with record trade figures in December. Coming fast on the heels of China taking over as the world’s largest oil importer, the shift is another milestone as the country takes its place among the world’s most powerful nations. Trade with the rest of Asia and increasing flows with the Middle East represent a shift in power away from the US, still the world’s largest economy. In another post we will trace how this blather is spread worldwide through meetings, media, academia and studies. Suffice now to say that it is an academic analysis to ask if China is at the top end of a middle income country or at the bottom end of a high income country – fact is that every country wants to do business with China not only because of its economic potential, but because of its nuclear and military capacity and threat. Keeping enemies closer has rarely been so important in international relations.  In 2013, China overtook the United States of America to become the words biggest trader in goods coming fast on the heels of its status as the world’s largest importer of oil. Europe’s most powerful economic engine Germanyhas gone to the extent of straining its relationship with the European Union (EU) to build an economic partnership with Beijing. From being the world’s worst polluter and human rights offender, China led the Rio +20 environment conference in Brazil in 2012, will never support India’s demand to join the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a permanent member and will continue to invest resources in India’s neighborhood for its own sake as well as theirs.  China’s presence in Brussels (Belgium), the euro-capital is multi-pronged, from lobbying groups to Huawei (a telecommunications equipment provider) setting up shop. It is very present in the global commodities trading in Geneva (Switzerland) and has offered itself a few banks in London (United Kingdom) under old Hong-Kong arrangements. Diplomatically, it has engaged with the various multilateral groupings only when necessary, registering a protest here and there while deepening its market access whether it be in Africa (where China bought into raw materials for its own use) or Europe where some years ago Beijing bought a port to ensure its own maritime transport links from the south. To Chinese whispers, it is time to see Chinese webs. “Many Indians are disappointed that China is offering only $20 billion in investment over five years, not $100 billion! Do we really want to be like some African countries, welcoming Chinese investment to build railways, set up special zones and the like?” the BS piece asks.  Indian companies too have been investing in Africa (telecoms, agriculture, packaging, manufacturing, etc.) as conditions and returns are better. If the Chinese visit provokes a real discussion in India about some of these issues, it would have served a greater purpose than the billions of dollars in aid.  Aid, especially economic aid is an obstacle in most cases. Read T.N. Ninan’s piece here.

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