Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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A Chinese Monroe Doctrine?

NEW DELHI – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s upcoming visit to India will include his first meetings with India’s new government, including Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and, more important, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But the trip is about more than getting acquainted. The leaders of both countries will be taking one another’s measure, and their conclusions will determine how the relationship between the world’s two most populous countries evolves.

In some ways, the bilateral relationship is already moving in a positive direction, especially on the economic front. But, as trade imbalances favoring China become apparent, India is growing increasingly frustrated. Wang, an establishment figure well versed in Indian affairs, will make every effort to downplay these imbalances and promote deeper ties.

A far more formidable challenge will be resolving the dispute over the countries’ Himalayan frontier – the world’s longest unsettled land border. Indeed, “special representatives” from the two countries have already met 17 times to settle the issue, but have made precious little progress, not least because of Chinese concerns about the restive border provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang.

As if the conflict were not already complicated enough, China has adopted an increasingly assertive stance in the area, including several incursions into disputed territory. For example, last year, Chinese troops established a temporary camp in Ladakh’s Depsang valley, leading to a high-stakes standoff with India. As long as the “line of actual control” remains undefined, tensions will continue to escalate – raising serious risks for both countries.

Another major point of contention is China’s reflexive support for Pakistan’s efforts to destabilize Ladakh and Kashmir, buttressed by deepening military cooperation. This aspect of China’s foreign policy is puzzling, not only because it undermines relations with India, but also in view of Chinese fears of Islamist radicalism among the Xinjiang’s Uighurs.

All of this highlights a fundamental flaw in China’s external strategy: its efforts to use its increasingly powerful military to intimidate its neighbors come at the expense of its own long-term security. Indeed, instead of trying to build a mutually beneficial relationship with its largest neighbor, China has sought to encircle India by asserting military control of surrounding territories. This so-called “string of pearls” strategy directly threatens India’s national-security interests, rendering the type of robust bilateral relationship that would benefit both countries next to impossible.

Of course, China claims that its intentions toward India are peaceful. For example, it contends that its efforts to establish bases in the Indian Ocean and bolster its blue-water navy are aimed at safeguarding the Malacca Straits, a maritime trade route that is perceived as a choke point for the Chinese economy.

But actions speak louder than words – and the message that China’s behavior is sending is far from peaceful. Indeed, Chinese leaders seem to be taking advantage of the opening provided by an overstretched United States to assert control over a broad expanse of Asia’s oceans.

To this end, China has created a vast Air Defense Identification Zone covering most of the East China Sea – including territories claimed and controlled by Japan and South Korea – where it has also declared disputed territories to be part of its own exclusive economic zone. These unilateral moves resemble the announcement by the United States in 1823 of what became known as the Monroe Doctrine, which, among other things, placed Latin America within a strictly US sphere of influence.

At the just-concluded Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called China’s actions “destabilizing.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe echoed this sentiment, declaring that Japan will play a larger role in safeguarding regional security, including by providing patrol ships, training, and military surveillance equipment to countries engaged in territorial disputes with China.

The response from China was immediate and unambiguous. Wang Guanzhong, Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, blasted Hagel and Abe for “corroborating and colluding…to provoke and challenge China.”

While Modi has not yet commented on the security challenge that China’s actions are creating, he will have to do so soon. In fact, Chinese President Xi Jinping practically insisted that India join the discussion when, in a speech in Shanghai last month, he said that “India, the world’s largest weapons-systems importer, must take very serious note” of mounting regional tensions.

But Modi will need to offer more than words to meet India’s national security interests. Because India has just endured a decade of neglect by the previous Congress government, the new administration will have to act quickly and decisively to safeguard the country’s national-security. This imperative is made all the more urgent by China’s decision to expand its defense budget by more than 12%, to $132 billion, in the next fiscal year, as well as its recently concluded 30-year energy deal with Russia, which has strategic implications for India.

Wang’s visit thus is coming at a time of fundamental redefinition of Sino-Indian relations. Given that continued friction is inevitable, even if no conflict occurs, the challenge is to find a way to engage in creative and competitive cooperation that bolsters both countries’ efforts to eradicate poverty and promote economic development.

Xi has said that, “We need to innovate in our security concepts, establish a new regional security-cooperation architecture, and jointly build a shared, win-win road for Asian security.” But China’s actions suggest that its leaders view Chinese hegemony as the only viable security structure for the region.

Subordination to China is certainly not Modi’s goal. The question is whether he can work with China and other Asian actors to design an alternative framework for regional peace.

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  1. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

    Mr. Jaswant Singh is asking whether there is a "Chinese Monroe Doctrine"? Now that the US aims to pivot to Asia, the question is whether it would grant China any equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine there. Development in recent years shows that Chinese are political realists and may see the competition with the US in East and Southeast Asia as a zero-sum game.
    Since Modi's election, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi is coming to India to hold first meetings with the new government. Relations between the two nations had been overshadowed by a border dispute that saw a brief war in 1962. Tensions were high again during a three-week stand-off in April 2013. Yet later in October, a border defence accord was signed to avert potential stand-offs in their disputed border areas.
    Although the agreement provides no long-term solution to the decades-old deadlock, it serves as a pragmatic protocol to prevent armed conflict between the two Asian giants. Both China's Premier Li Keqiang and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh believed the deal would help maintain peace, tranquillity and stability on their borders, uphold the Sino-Indian co-operation and promote economy. China saw it as a wedge against US pivot to Asia, which has put a lot pressure on China, as it is trying to beef up its presence in the region, seen by Mr. Singh as a manifestation of a "Chinese Monroe Doctrine".
    Apart from the contested frontier, China and India have been playing a cat and mouse game for years. Both have ambition to achieve great power status in an era where the centre of global affairs is shifting to Asia. Both know that neither side can afford to have a powerful enemy next door. Yet India is also wary of China's good relationship with Pakistan, whose "efforts to destabilize Ladakh and Kashmir" are a thorn in India's side.
    India is now seen as a coveted ally by the US and Japan, whose relations with China have frayed, as historic wounds have burst open again. Battleships and disputed islands are worrying echoes of past conflicts, that have come back to haunt the region. Together Japan and the US are trying to establish a strategic circle from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean.
    This prompted immediate actions from China to upgrade the Sino-Indian relations to a higher-level. "Subordination to China is certainly not Modi’s goal". How he will "work with China and other Asian actors to design an alternative framework for regional peace", remains to be seen.

  2. CommentedJeff GE

    The goal of the Monroe doctrine is to avoid the situations that make the New World as the battleground of the Old Word. Is the author suggesting that US is making Asia a new battleground that China is to avoid?

    As for the Air Defense Identification Zone, the neighboring countries such as Japan and Korea all have one in place, China is late in the game for many years. I can see being late is a problem for China but why for those who already have? They should be more experienced with it.

  3. Commentedhari naidu

    Jaswant Singh is raising US Monroe Doctrine (1823) to enlighten Indian PM/Modi to assert a proactive national security posture against China across the Himalayas and elsewhere. But he’s apparently myopic in not understanding the raison d’etre of Chinese (PLA) military doctrine in South China Sea, in particular, against Abe’s Japan. History has a way of repeating itself, if Abe chooses to play the role of an *infidel* against the PLA. President Xi initiated setting up a National Security Council, on resuming power. Why? To enforce civilian political control of defense policy decision-making by PLA. This new initiative by Xi should facilitate Modi’s strategic dialogue with Chinese leadership with a view to resolving final demarcation of Himalayan boarder (+5000Kms) by mutual political consent, on a priority basis, by both sides. The 1962 boarder war was based on false (UK) maps which Nehru knew but refused to acknowledge. Modi should therefore finally release the *Sino-Indian War Report (1962)* to close this historical chapter. Any objective student of that period understands Nehru miscalculated PLA action and paid a very heavy political price for India’s national humiliation. And, recall, PLA moved out of sovereign Indian boarders once the defeat of Indian Army was a foregone conclusion…PLA has not since crossed and occupied a foreign sovereign territory.

    Modi has it within his political grasp to (1) make China (and Iran) members of SAARC; (2) initiate mutually agreed reduction of Himalayan defense forces + establish a joint Himalayan force against terrorism; (3) expand bilateral development cooperation with China and FDI in select sectors; (4) re-energize BRICs with a view to (re)balance global strategic and economic policy; (5) establish a political framework of policy to settle bilateral disputes arising with a permanent joint-secretariat.

    It’s feasible for both sides now to coordinate bilateral policy transparency based on mutually agreed principles (Panchila) and refrain from military confrontation, in future.

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