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China’s Neighbourhood Policy


China’s Neighbourhood Policy


Srikanth Kondapalli and Emi Mifune, China and Its Neighbours (Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2010), pp. 288, Price Rs. 795/-

This book is a compilation of papers presented in an international conference organized in New Delhi in November 2008. The conference was organized with the financial support from GASR (Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research) International Conference, Tokyo. The two editors are reputed Sinologists. Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli is associated with the Chinese Studies programme in Jawaharlal Nehru University and is one the reputed Sinologists in India. Prof. Emi Mifune is a faculty member in the Department of Law, Komazawa University, Tokyo. She is a specialist in China’s foreign relations and has done commendable work on US-China relations. The other contributors to the volume are leading Sinologists from India and Japan.

The independence of India in August 1947 and the emergence of China as a united country in October 1949, in both cases after years of subjugation and after relentless struggle, are momentous events in Asian history. In his book, Asia and Western Domiinance, Ambassador-historian KM Panikkar mentions that the two epochs making events brought to an end “the Vasco da Gama epoch of history”. And, as the two countries develop, in their own unique way, they are destined to play significant roles in international affairs. The future of neighbouring countries in South and Southeast Asia would depend on the impact that China and India would exert on them in the years to come.

The remarkable transformation taking place in these two countries is a fascinating chapter in contemporary history. As India’s leading strategic specialist late K. Subrahmaniam has pointed out, “Who could have predicted within three decades after the death Mao Zedong, China would be a citadel of capitalism with inequalities greater than those prevailing in India, or that China would be able to hold the US as an economic hostage? Similarly, who would have predicted that within 18 years of the initiation of economic reforms, the Indian economy would be trillion dollar economy and India and China would be considered as emerging rivals, moving up in the global hierarchy of economies? The two countries together number 2.4 billion, 40 per cent of the world’s population. Given proper leadership and vision, the two can transform themselves from demographic giants to economic and political super powers. It was this common commitment which made Deng Xiaoping to tell Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that when India and China attain their full potential, the world will witness the “Asia-Pacific Century”.

Keeping in mind China’s rapid growth during recent years – 9 per cent to 12 per cent pen annum – it seems fairly certain that China’s GDP will overtake that of the United States in two or three decades. China’s growth has also meant the rapid modernization of its armed forces. Will China behave like a responsible and constructive player in international relations? How do the neighbouring countries perceive China’s phenomenal rise? How are they responding and preparing to meet the new challenges? This interesting theme constitutes the academic focus of the edited volume.

The nine chapters deal with different facets of the complex subject. Satoshi Amako deals with China’s foreign strategy as a great power; Prof. Brahma Chellaney addresses how the Asian neighbours are managing the “rise of an authoritarian power with uninhibited ambitions”; Yoshiyuki Ogasawara provides a lucid description of China – Taiwan relations from the perspective of Taiwanese identity and “one China principle”; Vyjayanti Raghavan describes China’s rise and its impact on the Korean peninsula; S. Rajasimman  touches upon the twists and turns in China-ASEAN relations; Takenori Horimoto throws light on “bonhomie with ambivalence” which is the hallmark of Sino-Indian relations; Jagannath P Panda analyses the rationale behind China’s South Asia policy; Prof. Emi Mifune highlights the salient features of China’s policy towards Central Asia; and Srikanth Kondapalli describes China’s stakes in West Asia. The essays are characterized by lucidity and sound reasoning, a natural outcome of years of rigorous research in China’s foreign relations. The volume will be extremely useful for all those interested in understanding contemporary China’s foreign policy.

It will not be possible in this brief review to analyse all the chapters. I shall highlight on those essays which have relevance on Sino-Indian relations and China’s policy towards Southeast Asia. Let me first dwell upon the essays which have a bearing on India-China relations. There are two contributions which deal with this important subject, namely those written by Prof. Brahma Chellaney and the second written by Takenori Horimoto. The Indian perceptions on China can be broadly studied under three heads. The first, the Government point of view which advocates that two countries should co-operate in creating a world of positive externalities and mutual prosperity, rather than one based on balance of power calculations and animosity. As Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh highlighted in his lecture to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in January 2008, “This involves India and China working together clearly to ensure a global order in which our simultaneous development will have positive influence not only on our own economies, but also on the rest of the world”. The second school of thought does not share this sense of optimism. As Prof. Brahma Chellaney argues, “the rising heft of a single country – China” has transformed the international geo-political landscape. History is witness to the fact that the “dramatic rise” of a new world power creates volatility in international relations. China today is pursuing a “more muscular foreign policy”. After having touted its peaceful rise, it has shown a creeping propensity to flex its muscles. At the core of the China’s foreign policy is an abiding faith in China’s right “to be a world power second to none”. As the proud descendant of the “Middle Kingdom”, China claims to be a mother all civilizations, weaving legend with history to foster an ultra-nationalistic culture centered on “regaining lost glory”. As Brahma Chellaney puts it, “it sees a historical entitlement to super-power status”. The third point of view, to which the reviewer belongs, subscribes that in the coming years India-China relations will be characterized by convergence, co-operation and dissonance. And the success of Indian and Chinese diplomacy will depend upon how we maximize the areas of convergence and co-operation and minimize the areas of dissonance. Prof. Takenori Horimoto alludes to a European parallel to describe the present stage of India’s foreign relations. He says today India is “Asia’s France”, as France has kept friendly relations with the United States by sharing American interests and perceptions, but has also managed to view the world through its own national prism and pursue its own national interests.

Bordering on Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam through land and with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia through the sea, China’s relations with Southeast Asian countries will be viewed with great interest by all China watchers. Historically Southeast Asia is one region where Indian and Chinese influences had made their profound impact. This interesting subject has been dealt with in the valuable contribution by S. Rajasimman. During the Cold War years, to the anti-communist countries in Southeast Asia China projected three complex, but inter-related images.  As a country trying to find its rightful place in the comity of nations, as a communist country, which was providing strong ideological support to the communist parties in the region and third, as the original homeland of the economically powerful, culturally exclusive and politically aggressive Chinese minorities. Naturally China was viewed as an expansionist country posing a threat to the peace and stability of Southeast Asia. But over the years, thanks to the adroit Chinese diplomacy China’s image has undergone a fundamental transformation. It has established political linkages with all countries; its trade and economic linkages have expanded, as a result China is the major trading partner of most of the Southeast Asian countries. What is more, by astute diplomacy China has proved that it could be counted upon for help in times of need. The fact that China did not devalue its currency during the Asian financial crisis, but, on the contrary, entered into long term credit and trade arrangements boosted the positive image of China.

In a recent article in the Straits Times, the Singapore statesman Lee Kuan Yew has articulated the hopes of ASEAN. To quote, “I believe China will need to maintain friendly relations with the US for several decades. China’s growth depends upon its exports to the US and its imports of American technology”. Lee Kuan Yew added, “The countries of the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and Australasia have established and maintain good relations with China, and though China says it will never seek hegemony over them, it is in their best interest to have a strong US presence in the region”. In this connection, two points need to be highlighted. In their perceptions of China, the member states of ASEAN are not homogenous. The military junta in Myanmar is heavily dependant on China not only for military and economic support, but also for its legitimacy; Malaysia and Singapore would like the US and China to co-exist peacefully; but Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines are, in varying degrees, wary of the short term and long term consequences of the emergence of China as a major political, economic and military power. Second, from an Indian point of view, it is surprising that many astute Southeast Asian observers of China turn a “Nelson’s eye” to one grim reality. China is the only major power which has used force to buttress its territorial claims – against India in 1962, against Soviet Union in 1968, against Vietnam in 1974 and in1979 and against the Philippines in 1995. We can ignore this reality only at our peril.

* Dr. V. Suryanarayan, formerly Senior Professor and Director, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras  is currently Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Asia Studies, Chennai. Prof. Suryanarayan is also the President of the Chennai Centre for China Studies.

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