Sunday 29 April 2018

Xi and Modi usher in the Asian Century (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat 

The Wuhan meeting will have generated an unprecedented volume of ‘oxygen’ that will flow downwards to other levels of the policymaking process.

After Wunderkind Macron, it is now the turn of Mutti Merkel to hop across the Atlantic Ocean to persuade President Donald Trump not to move away from the Atlanticist underpinning of US policy since the 1940s. A substantial part of Trump’s political allure stems from his unapologetic showcasing of “White” America as the heartland of the immigrant nation, while his third wife and now First Lady Melania comes from a part of Europe that clings to its European ethnicity in the absence of tangible achievements. Macron and Merkel must be calculating that such sentiment and emotions will ensure that the 45th US President go the way of his predecessors from Franklin Roosevelt onwards and act as though only North America and Europe mattered. Almost all members of the US Senate and House of Representatives, barring a few exceptions such as Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris and Pramila Jayapal, subliminally or overtly, buy into this view of geopolitics, although increasingly other lawmakers are beginning to notice that Asia has become more central to US interests than Europe. Or that it is no longer Russia, but China that now poses the most serious risks to US dominance. However, displacing Moscow from its assigned role as the most serious threat to the Atlantic Alliance (and therefore by implication the US as well) would result in the removal of the primary reason for the alliance, which is security. Hence, the clockwork precision with which report after report of Russian “threats” and “excesses” surfaces in an “international” i.e. Atlanticist media that has remained a reliable propagandist for a grouping whose time is long over. Modi and Xi together lead governments that (are presumed to) serve 40% of the population of the globe, yet it was not their unprecedented informal and unstructured time together at Wuhan that gobbled up television talktime in the US and its NATO partners, but the inanities uttered during the Trump-Macron-Merkel meet-up.
The meeting between the Supreme Leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un and the President of the RoK, Moon Jae-in is designed to convince Congressional opinion to block a pre-emptive US strike on North Korea. The DPRK leader’s PR blitzkrieg is designed to ensure that domestic opinion in the US strongly disfavours military intervention in North Korea and thereby ensure that Trump does not use the military option. The images of Kim and his attractive wife and sister are designed to create a perception within mainstream opinion in the US that the North Koreans can be trusted to “act responsibly” with their nuclear capability, i.e. never use it. Pyongyang has seen for itself how lack of support within their respective legislatures made both David Cameron and Barack Obama back away from their announced intention to wage war against Bashar Assad the way they did against Muammar Gaddafi. The two times that President Trump has used the military option in Syria have had derisory results. The second (and hyper-trumpeted) tri-country rain of 105 missiles on three Syrian targets may have killed a few goats tethered in the vicinity, but apart from embedded journalists, no individual believes that any except the most superficial harm was caused to Assad’s capabilities as a consequence of the attack, which was helpfully revealed to be a “one time” shot by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who seems refreshingly impervious to the frequent use of hyperbole by so many policymakers in London, Paris and Washington. According to Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May, the attack on Syria was apparently ranked along with Operation Desert Storm in results and intensity, when it was little more than a make-believe use of force against targets that had either been emptied of men and materiel in advance of the strikes or had none of either in the first place. Hopefully, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia will buy more defence equipment from France and the UK post-strike. They would, if the sheikhs ruling the three regard CNN and BBC as purveyors of accurate information on subjects of concern to them, rather than expressions of nostalgia for a world order that has passed.
That the Asian Century has become a reality is visible in the 27/28 April unscripted meeting at Wuhan between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both leaders have defied powerful constituencies in their respective countries to hold an unprecedented summit characterised by a free-flowing dialogue, not just about their two countries or even Asia, but the world, as befits the leaders of countries that within a short time and for a long time thereafter will be the top economic power in the world the other country within the top three in the global table. The next country, Japan, may be feeling a bit neglected these days, but it has only itself to blame. For more than five decades, Tokyo has behaved as though it were a part of Europe situated in Asia, but has lately discovered that such a stance has not led to its acceptance as a quasi-European power by the Europeans themselves, even while post-1945, Japan’s obsession with acting as an ersatz member of the western alliance has distanced it from other countries in Asia. Japan has become something of an outsider in both Europe as well as Asia. Although China under Jiang Zemin sought to follow the Japanese example of being more European than the Europeans, President Xi has done away with such illusions and has worked to make the present century the age when Asia reclaims its space as the keystone of the world order. In India, unlike former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi, like Xi, is a believer in an Asian renaissance, and understands that such an outcome would be substantially assisted by a close relationship between Beijing and Delhi. In the past, “carbon dioxide” from the lower levels of officialdom in China and India would move upwards and poison policies affecting the other country, including at the top. The Wuhan meeting will have generated an unprecedented volume of “oxygen” that will flow downwards to other levels of the policymaking process. Within about five to six months, this rejuvenation of a necessary friendship will manifest itself in shifts of approach and changes in policy that will draw on the synergies between Beijing and Delhi, rather than obsess on the differences. History will judge this meeting to have been the most consequential between the leaders of India and China thus far.

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