Friday 26 July 2013

Don’t talk with guns in China Seas (PO)

M D Nalapat
Friday, July 26, 2013 - When ASEAN was formed in 1967, India was informally approached by the prime mover behind the alliance, Singapore, to join. At that time, the economy of India was much bigger than that of ASEAN, and indeed more than twice that of China. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was informally advised by Moscow that the new pact was an “anti-communist” alliance and that she should keep her country out of it, which Indira did.

Indeed, Indian foreign policy has been a saga of missed opportunities, including the turning down of the suggestion that Delhi join with Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila in forming ASEAN, which was later expanded to include Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Brunei. Only in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, did policy planners in India acknowledge that a new world had dawned with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and begin the “Look East” policy. In reality, the “Look East” policy was an offshoot of the “Look West” policy of the (1992-96) Narasimha Rao government, which sought to replace Moscow with Washington as the strategic partner of India. Because Delhi wanted to establish a close relationship with Washington, it finally began to give priority to US allies situated to its east.

What needs to be noted is that the effort to get the US to replace the USSR as India’s main strategic partner failed because President Bill Clinton insisted on a solution to Kashmir on Pakistan’s terms and the rollback of the Indian nuclear program as pre-conditions for closer ties with India. Apart from India, Clinton was also responsible for the loss of Russia as a strategic partner, because of the scorched earth policy vis-a-vis the Russian economy and science that he sought to get followed through his friends in Moscow and St Petersburg

Although there was a brief flurry of acceptance of India as a strategic psrtner on the same level as France and the UK during the second term of George W Bush, with the nuclear deal being the centrepiece of the new engagement, President Barack Obama has returned to the traditional (europeanist) policy of seeing India as way below the key EU states as a prospective ally. The consequence has been a continuing – albeit largely backstage - effort to get Delhi to make concessions on Kashmir and the nuclear issue that are politically unfeasible.

Just as Clinton missed the opportunity of cementing a fulls cope partnership with India when a US-friendly PM (Rao) was in charge and the Soviet Union had collapsed, so Barack Obama failed to utilise the positive monentum generated by his predecessaor and the US-friendly duo of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh,who have been in office in India for nine years, but face elections early next year. This double failure by two Democratic Presidents of the US has given an opening for an India-China partnership that would include Russia, thereby bringing into being the long-talked about India-China-Russia triangle, an alliance which would be at least as powerful as NATO, and very soon outpace that grouping of failed military adventurers

Economics is at the heart of policy in Asia, or ought to be. In the case of India, it follows the trajectory of China in needing huge quantities of natural resources for its economic expansion. Unfortunately, till now India and China have been competitive rather than collaborative in the securing of natural resources. Chinese and Indian companies routinely bid against each other in oilfields across the world, as in other sectors. This causes prices to rise for both,whereas if they had an understanding with each other, they could force down prices and get enough resources for the needs of both their economies. Indeed, when this columnist proposed an “India Taiwan Oil Alliance” leveraging the diplomatic strengths of India with the financial power of Taiwan to jointly secure resources, then Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar countered in 2005 with the suggestion of an India-China Oil Alliance, which would combine the strengths of both countries to gain access to oil resources.

Nothing came of the minister’s suggestion, and vested interests made sure that he was removed from the Petroleum portfolio by 2006,being shifted to the insignificant charge of Youth Affairs. China too, refused to accept Mani’s outstretched hand of partnership in the petroleum sector. The challenge before the new leadership headed by CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping is to work out a matrix that would ensure fast growth to the whole of ASEAN rather than rely on the military. The answer to tensions between countries in the China Seas is not guns.

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