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    Greater China
 
     Aug 11, 2007
 
BOOK REVIEW
Asian drama
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 unilateralism.

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 against Taiwan.

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 suspicions.

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 great-power status.

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 China.

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 coming decades.

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.

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