The New Asian Power Dynamic edited by
M K Rasgotra
Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia
The interactions among China, Japan, India, Russia and the
United States have crucial importance for Asian and global
stability. The New Asian Power Dynamic is an edited
volume by eminent Indian scholars and diplomats on the
complex interplay of the five states whose actions matter
the most for 21st-century international politics.
Alka Acharya's opening article argues that Chinese foreign
policy has transited into a "post-conflictual" mode. To
prime domestic economic growth, China has normalized
relations with all its rivals of previous decades. Acharya
believes that "if the forces of globalization are assisting
China's rise, they are also simultaneously constraining it"
(p 22). Caught in the throes of economic modernization, a
confrontation with the US is eminently avoidable for China.
Chinese thinkers are particularly sanguine about cooperation
with the US on counter-terrorism since the September 11,
2001, terrorist strikes.
Beijing is tackling US hegemony in indirect and defensive
ways by forging a buffer of harmonious relations with Asian
states. There is virtually no US presence in emerging
regional formations such as the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization (SCO), the Chiang Mai Initiative and ASEAN Plus
Three (the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations plus China, Japan and South Korea) on
currency-protection measures. China
is stressing multi-dimensional approaches to security in
contrast to the US way of military alliances. Acharya notes
that China is popularizing alternative norms of inter-state
relations such as the Five Principles of Peaceful
Co-existence that resonate better in Asia than US
Gurmeet Kanwal's chapter posits that the capabilities of the
Chinese People's Liberation Army's could pose a credible
threat to other modern militaries operating in Asia. The new
PLA doctrine of "active defense" envisages engagement in
conflict beyond China's immediate periphery by taking the
battle into enemy terrain.
China's upgraded air and naval power, involving plasma,
laser and microwave weapons, stems from "a desire to project
power well away from its shores" (p 56). To counter
Washington's overwhelming conventional military superiority,
Beijing is pursuing "acupuncture warfare" with a yen for
information attacks and computer-virus onslaughts. In light
of the growing military gap between China and India, Kanwal
urges the latter to graduate from a position of "dissuasion"
to "credible deterrence".
D S Rajan's piece on Sino-US ties maintains that Beijing's
moderate course vis-a-vis Washington is merely a near- and
medium-term tactic. Since mid-2005, China has released a
soft line on US global supremacy. A bevy of Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) bigwigs (even hardliners such as Qian
Qichen) are assuring the US of good intentions and playing
down the traditional line of having the option of force
However, the CCP's long-term vision rates the US as "an
untrustworthy, duplicitous superpower" (p 85). Chinese
scholars hold that the US is following a "hedging strategy"
to prevent their country from rising too rapidly.
Washington's use of Japan as a frontline state and its
efforts to "draw India against China" whet Beijing's
On the US side of the fence, uncertainty and lack of
consensus prevail over China's future behavior. Voices
supporting engagement with China remain strong, but hawkish
views are not scanty either. Besides Taiwan, Rajan sees
potential of Sino-US conflict on energy security, due to
Washington's antagonism for Iran and Venezuela.
Jayshree Sengupta's essay compares US-China and US-India
economic relations. To retaliate against the mounting
Chinese trade surplus, the United States is resorting to
sanctions, anti-dumping acts and restrictions on technology
transfer. Chinese acquisitions of US companies are being
resisted on national strategic grounds. One big US concern
is that China negotiates free-trade agreements in East and
Southeast Asia with the intent of shutting out US exports.
On the vexed yuan-revaluation debate, Sengupta foresees
reruns of US pressure as long as compliance by Beijing is
not emulated by other Asian economies.
India's economic linkages with the United States are
thickening, but the former matches China in inadequate
patent protection. About 44% of Indian exports to the US
face hardcore non-tariff barriers, and controversies remain
over outsourcing of information technology by US companies
to India. Sengupta suggests that US companies "could
seriously consider making India an alternative manufacturing
base in order to diversify from China" (p 118).
Harinder Sekhon's appraisal of US-India relations revolves
around the declared US aim of "assisting India's rise as a
major world power" (p 121). Since September 11, the
relationship stands on strategic heights, buttressed by
matching foreign-policy objectives. To Washington, a
powerful India would block the domination of Asia by any one
power and ensure a stable equilibrium on the continent. A
major problem lies with the US goal of assisting Pakistan to
become a "successful state" while propelling India to
D S Rajan's second write-up on the testy India-China
relationship ascribes recent improvements to "the overall
need felt by Beijing to respond to the US regional strategy
to contain China" (p 157). China's friendly overtures to
India fit the former's advertised objective of a "peaceful
rise". Economic cooperation with India would also benefit
backward western regions of China such as Xinjiang and
Tibet. Rajan presages competition and rivalry between the
two Asian giants for overseas oil and gas reserves.
Potential for friction also rests in China's bid for a
blue-water navy patrolling the Arabian Sea and elsewhere in
the Indian Ocean.
China has risen to the level of a lead partner in the
context of economic interests driving India's foreign
policy. Both countries are ready to shelve intractable
disputes and reap immediate harvests of bilateral trade. The
Indian business community is setting up shop in large
numbers in China, and Chinese companies are winning heavy
infrastructure contracts in India.
Arjun Asrani presents the Japanese perspective on Asian
security, with Tokyo's "normalization" in the defense field
as a backdrop. Japan frowns at China's naval buildup that
could jeopardize its vital sea-lane security around Taiwan.
Japan's 2004 National Defense Program Guideline singles out
China as a potential threat. Yet the economies of Japan and
China are so enmeshed that prospects of war appear
incredible. Japan's revised alliance with the US holds the
key to restraining Chinese hegemony in East Asia.
Parallel to the growing might of China, Asrani observes a
distinct improvement in Russo-Japanese relations. Tokyo's
ties with New Delhi are also moving out of the confines of
foreign aid into strategic channels. Apprehending China's
predominance, Japan invited India to the 2005 East Asia
Summit as a "balancing factor" (p 225).
The survey by M K Bhadrakumar (a regular contributor to Asia
Times Online) of worsening Russia-US relations impugns
Washington for trying to eliminate Moscow's influence in the
post-Soviet space. He echoes Russian opinions that the
United States is promoting encirclement of Russia through
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. To preserve
preferential geopolitical rights in its "near abroad",
Russia is re-centering its energies on Asia and the Pacific.
By the end of 2005, its influence in Central Asia had
"touched an all-time high" (p 241). A profound strategic
dimension has evolved in Sino-Russian ties, manifesting in
joint war games and dynamic institutions such as the SCO.
Compared with China, Japan and India occupy a lower pedestal
in Russia's partnership kitty. Moscow prefers Tokyo to
follow an "independent foreign policy" instead of being a
"Britain in Asia". Russia is nervous about the US succeeding
in replacing it in the Indian arms market. Bhadrakumar takes
a dig at the US-obsessed Indian elites who grossly
underestimate Russia's potential as a partner. He places the
onus on Delhi's political leadership to revive Indo-Russian
cooperation up to an optimal plane.
K Raghunath's postlude sums up the Asian drama in which
relationships are simultaneously cooperative and
competitive. "Conflict remains part of the Asian scene, but
it is now conditioned by a less confrontational milieu" (p
275). With shifts in the Asian power configuration, the US
is translating its belated "discovery of India" into
practical measures even as it faces a "cold peace" with
Beijing's acceptance of New Delhi as a weighty partner stems
from a reckoning of India's rapid economic growth and
nuclear-weapons program. Raghunath recommends dialogue with
China to be accompanied by a systematic development of
Indian capabilities (economic, military and soft power).
Delhi will have to realize the full promise of cooperation
with Japan "in a non-confrontational Asia-Pacific framework"
(p 290). Likewise, the much-broached India-China-Russia
strategic triangle will need to be received as a
non-adversarial enterprise in Washington.
A cutting-edge publication with acute analyses of the
rhythms swaying Asia, this book fashions a logical story out
of the dense thicket of contradictory trends. Its contents
offer glimpses of Asia's diffuse power constellation in the
The New Asian Power Dynamic edited by M K Rasgotra,
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-7619-3572-8.
Price: US$14; 307 pages.
(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.
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