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China’s Increasing Role in World Affairs; by Mr. M. R. Sivaraman

, dated May 3, 2017

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C3S Article no: 0039/2017

China is once again in the limelight with the US government bent on forcing North Korea into submission and disabling it to an extent that it does not flex its muscles against its neighbours and periodically threaten the US with a nuclear strike. China for its own reasons has fostered and nurtured North Korea perhaps as a bulwark against the US in as much as it has nurtured and armed Pakistan against India. This sabre rattling by Kim against the US has at least for the moment deflected US thoughts from the South China Sea and also its anger against China’s trade policies. President Trump has been forced in a way by China to seek its intervention with North Korea at least for the moment. Even the novice President of the US understands that a pre -emptive strike against Pyongyang by the US and its allies in the Pacific notably South Korea and Japan may have intolerable and most unforeseen consequences to the world as a whole. North Korea may attempt to launch a crude nuclear device against the South Korea or against the US forces. The Defence ministry of South Korea has estimated that its northern counterpart may have around 5000 tons of chemical weapons and a crude delivery mechanism.

It would be naïve to think that the US and South Korean air forces may be able to shoot down all the incoming aircraft or missiles. In any such deadly conflict China is bound to be adversely affected either through a fall out or massive influx of refugees apart from the economic and trade consequences that would befall the whole world. What would be Russia’s stance is any body’s guess, as it would not like a war at its doorstep either.

All this brings China into the centre stage of this major international dispute. So China on the one hand while being proud of its international stature would also be wary of the immense responsibilities that it has to bear in either talking Kim Jon Un out of his unreasonable stand or join forces with the US.Is China capable of playing the role of a mediator when it has been using North Korea as a kind of intangible weapon?

China as the new imperialist

China remained an insular country for millennia but believed its culture and achievements were the highest in the world and expected others to pay tributes till the westerners made inroads. Undeniably there is truth in that belief. Mao unified China into the country that it is now.

The US under Nixon and on the advice of Kissinger opened its economy to the Chinese perhaps thinking that the US would flood its markets and thereby propel its growth forward in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. But the reverse happened with China dominating and flooding it with its goods. Den Xiao made the best out of it by opening China to FDI and allowing them to use its cheap labour the latter being totally state controlled. The Chinese got technology and they copied what they could not get.  Using the subsequent wealth gained, they have embarked on a mission to strengthen their military.

They have made most countries dependent on their cheap goods including India.

China over the years has built 4 trillion dollars of foreign exchange reserves on demand of consumers outside China for their cheap goods.

Now China with that money has armed itself and trying to dig into its history to manufacture ownership of portions of contiguous countries claiming that they were parts of China reminiscent of the German lebensraum.

China has reportedly made claims to portions of land in eighteen countries all of which have some border with it including Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, apart from the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh and so on. They have for the moment acknowledged Sikkim as a part of India.

They are  perhaps resorting to a methodical approach:

First establish trade, make them dependent on cheap goods, lend back money, which they have earned from the country for infrastructural projects like in Africa, Srilanka and the OBOR, and the CPEC. Make Chinese labour move into the foreign construction sites–own buildings, industry, toll roads and power stations. The next stage will be to militarily control the governments if not physically but mentally and through trade and investments. Pakistan may soon lose its entire CPEC area to Chinese control. The Pakistan army has already raised a Division to protect CPEC which most probably the Chinese have funded and armed. Nowhere there is a statement by the Chinese that the OBOR will not be used by the military.

Srilanka is one of their main targets, as they know that the former’s finances are in dire shape and China could step in to finance them.

Srilanka has been a perpetual borrower from the IMF. They are also stepping into Bangladesh with millions of dollars hoping that sooner than later a regime that is hostile to India will be in power in Dacca.

India a bulwark against Chinese expansionism

The country that stands in the way of China’s unrivalled march to world power status is India and they are trying to shake the will of this country by encircling it, by luring its neighbouring small countries with financial largesse. It is also the view of this author that these countries have always tried to gain an upper hand over India by using various cards. All this because China has realised that India will grow faster in the coming decade and its edge over India on the economic front will soon be lost. Modi’s step of inviting these neighbours who are increasingly becoming beholden to China’s dollars, to his swearing in ceremony to perhaps indicate that a new era has started in India has perhaps lost its sheen.

China has through its controlled press issued ‘dire’ warnings to India on issues such as the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang or for that matter on the visit of any Indian dignitary to Arunachal Pradesh.

The lessons that India has to learn are 

  1. Small countries will always think of their own national interest even with larger neighbours.
  2. India must prepare to face continuous disturbances on its borders.
  3. There is a threat that the long coastline of India may also get infiltrated.
  4. The armed forces must be strengthened and given all the resources they need. The army should be given all they want to expeditiously raise the additional three mountain divisions and if necessary more. The depleted squadron strength of the Air force must be made good by outright purchases of more aircraft from Russia.
  5. The Indian Administrative Service must be reformed in all its dimensions of selection, training, (including giving them a nine month training and deployment with the army) promotion and postings as they hold key posts for effective governance of the country.
  6. The Finance Minister must provide resources where they are of vital interest to the security of the nation. An increase of 0.5% in fiscal deficit only for the armed forces can always be bridged by better collection of government taxes or by the sale of shares in government PSUs.
  7. Diplomacy should be played the hard way without exhibitionism.
  8. Neighbouring countries should get a subtle message that a friendly India is good for them.
  9. India should not seek intervention from countries when they change their immigration rules. It is for them to diversify into other areas.
  10. It is time for the PM to call a meeting of all the CMs of the country and share with them all the international and national issues facing the country and arrive at a unanimous approach to policies that will take the nation forward without endangering its safety.

[Mr. M.R.Sivaraman IAS (Retd.) is Former Revenue Secretary GOI, ED IMF and Adviser UN SC CTC, and Vice-President, C3S. The views expressed are solely the author’s own.]

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