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Monday, 23 September 2019

Get with the Programme (Rotary Club of Bombay)

Professor of Geopolitics, Madhav Nalapat spoke to Rotarians yesterday about the need to accept the shifting world order.

MADHAV Nalapat, India’s first professor of geopolitics, is modest about the number of achievements that follow his name. “He is the right person for this talk – Geopolitics and US, China and India power shifts. He understands the world very well!” said Rtn. Manjeet in his introduction.

Madhav said: “We are talking about the US and China, where does India come in to the picture? This country is on track to being the third biggest economy of the world in terms of purchasing power. China is, of course, the biggest economy and the USA is the second-biggest economy. These three are going to be big for a very long time. In that sense, it’s apt to talk about the three of them.”

“In 1991-92, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was talk of a unipolar world. When we talk of a unipolar world, we mean a unipolar idea, too. Idea is the idea of government mechanism, its function, management, military, security, etc. The collapse of the Soviet system removed the only rival to the US system. That rival system was effective, many countries opted to go Communist; some countries like India adopted the Soviet model which, in my view, was regrettable. We demolished the private sector in India in the ’50s when it was more robust than the private sector in Japan or South Korea. So, the Soviet Union had an impact but it collapsed.”

“In media, the leader of the market gets practically 50-60 per cent of total advertising. The guy second gets about 20-35 per cent. The remaining 10 per cent is shared by everyone else. So it is very important to come first. You see all these kids going to KFC, McDonald’s, making a bee line for Hollywood movies, listening to American music, wearing denim etc. But, I believe, America is a quadri-continental country: it has elements of South American, African and Asian culture but some elites believe it is entirely European and other cultures do not belong to America, which is not true. It is very important to be number one in the world because that gives you tremendous soft power and financial power.”

The US dollar, for example, is the currency used for world transaction. It is much stronger because the US is a top country. Now, another country recognised, early on, that if you are the top country, you get enormous leverage on other countries. So after the short period, during which Americans felt that their system had won, today, a new system has come up in the 21st century that is challenging the America-led system in the manner the Soviet Union challenged them, ’50s onwards. That is the Chinese system.”

“Today, democracies across the world are choosing strong leaders because they see the effect of an authoritarian structure on China, which can by no means be called a democracy. My theory is that China is growing because of its authoritarian nature. The Chinese communist party has such tight control and that is why it has had double digit growth. In other words, it is authoritarianism that has promoted Chinese growth. Voters are turning to strong leaders across the world, whether in Turkey, Russia, the US or India. It is the China effect. Chinese companies are taken seriously because the country is moving up the rankings. It is set to become number one in any metric. When that happens, the demonstration effect in economics, politics and geopolitics will become very profound.”

“This would be a complete transformation of geopolitics and, not unnaturally, people in the US are very concerned about this, especially President Trump. I would have been very happy if PM Modi would have chosen one or two people from this group at the PM’s office for key positions. I would like to see people who did something without government support and without the exchequer funding them.”

“Donald Trump has got it: the day China becomes number one in GDP terms – that is the day China is going to find it much easier to break American allies, control or logistics chains, and also American’s financial chains. The Yen is indeed going to start catching up to the dollar. Thus, the trade war with the United States is part of the existential struggle between two systems. We saw one with the US and Soviet Union in which the US won. That’s it! No challenger in the ring. The reality is, this has now become a formidable existential challenge for the US; a large part of US’s economy is based on perception. It is like a bank, consultancy and so many other service industries. Perception drives reality and itself forms a reality. Once the US surrenders that position and the Chinese take over, it will lead to change in perception that will very severely impact the United States.”

“From the American point of view, when the people told me about the trade war in 2018, my prediction was that it would last for generations. Then, I went to China in 2018 and there were reports that Trump wants the Chinese to buy more soyabean, condos, hotel rooms etc. On the American side, I was very clear that it is going to be a fight to the finish. On Chinese side, when I asked about the trade war, they gave me a book to read: On Protracted War by Mao Zedong. In it, Chairman Mao wrote, ‘I want two sets of people to be completely eliminated from the leadership of our party; one: the ones who do not believe that we are going to win. Anybody who thinks we are going to lose should be eliminated. Two: anybody who believes it is going to be easy to defeat the Japanese is as dangerous to the party. It is going to be a very long, hard struggle but, make no mistake, our side is going to win.’ That book was given to me by a very top official in China as an illustration of what they regarded as having been launched, which is a fight to the finish where it’s either China or the US.”

“This battle will end once the US ensures that China falls too far behind to catch up in a generation. I think that is the intention of Trump, Peter Navarro (Assistant to the US President, and Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy). Today, we have two military blocs like we did in the past. One is led by China and the other is led by the US. Russia, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela, Iran and some other countries are very much part of the China military bloc.”

“I would like to believe, that in our case we do not have a choice, we have to go to the US military bloc and have no place in a China-led military system. The Chinese have now started to dominate the Eurasian landmass. The Belt and Road system is a brilliant idea of President Xi Jinping. In my view, Mao unified China and the country became bigger than every other emperor of China had managed before him. Then there was Deng Xiaoping. Frankly, if you go to China and ask them about Karl Marx, they’d think he is some Hollywood star – that has happened to me.”

“In this kind of battle we have to take sides. And, let us be honest, today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union of the past. Long time ago, there was a man called Durga Prasad Dhar – he worked out a military-style agreement with the Soviet Union. My grandfather got in to a bit of argument with him then and asked why he had signed that pact with Russia. He said, ‘We will have to militarily intervene in East Pakistan and takeover that place to help the Bengalis. If we do that, the Americans will make sure that China jumps on our back and try and break it. The only way to keep China out is by having an alliance with the Soviet Union and I am doing it because of that’.”

“Today, the PM and Amit Shah have said that we have to take over the PoK which, I think, is very important and for that you need a friendship with Afghanistan and you need the US to keep China off your back. Taking hold of PoK is strategically important for us. Today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union of the past. It was anti-US, anti-Russia, anti-Pakistan. Today’s Russia is the closest military ally of China and therefore a close military friend of America. Today’s America certainly doesn’t like Pakistan. That is why we need an alliance with the US because it is today ready to transfer its entire defence platforms to us and make us the most significant partners they have. For the simple reason that ensuring China remains peaceful, ensuring control over the oceans, ensuring control over space, cyberspace. That is why, I say, geopolitics has shifted, let’s not be romantic about the past, let’s be very hard-headed, let’s trade with China and have a security alliance with the US.”

ROTARIANS ASK Apart from allying, where are we going? How would you advise us to improve ourselves?
 
I had expectations of Modi 1.0 to bring a change in the colonial system of government. I strongly believe in minimum government and we can respond best to that; the stronger the government, the weaker the Indians. So, I am hopeful for Modi 2.0.

What is your view of the US-China trade war?
 
I think it is a great opportunity for India. Taiwanese companies want to relocate; very few are coming in India because it is difficult to do business here. There are a lot of red lines invisible to the naked eye. Crossing them has become jail-able. It is scary to do anything. We need more public opinion.

What is your take on Hong Kong protests?
 
I think China is acting smartly in terms of Hong Kong. In my view, the President is giving a very long rope to Hong Kong and the people there are never going to be free from China. To prove we believe in one country, two systems, and two to create revolution among Chinese that Chinese would say, if this is a democracy, I don’t want democracy.

PoK is very important for India, but I don’t see a remote chance to venture there because of the nuclear threats.
 
There is no chance of any nuclear war with Pakistan because there are 46 sites in Pakistan which are at the direct range of Indian Nuclear retaliation. We may suffer for 15 years but they will suffer for eternity. They are not going to risk their homes to nuclear attack at the cost of their country.


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