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Event Report: C3S Roundtable Discussions- Led by Prof. John Garver

C3s Report No: 0149/2016

The Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and National Maritime Foundation- Chennai Chapter (NMF) held two Round Table Discussions (RTDs) from November 15-16 2016. They were led by Prof. John Garver, Professor Emeritus , Sam Nunn School of International Affairs , Georgia Institute of Technology. Col. R. Hariharan, Member, C3S moderated the sessions. Prof. John Garver’s profile can be seen at this link.

The sessions focused on ‘Implication of Rise of China’ and ‘Changing Strategic Landscape in South Asia – In the Backdrop of Chinese Initiatives’.

John Garver RTD

Prof. Garver expressed an interest in learning what Chennai’s strategic community perceived about India-China relations. According to him, China-Pakistan relations are mainly driven by the Indian angle. However China-Pakistan relations can be scarred by threat to CPEC from increasing insurgency in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The speaker added that India is a regional power, hence China engages with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives. India is not at the same level as China when it comes to linkages with these countries. China believes that India “belongs” in South Asia, on the same plane as Pakistan. China perceives U.S.A as its main rival. It is obvious as seen in China’s launch of a space lab and its Anti-Satellite (ASAT) capabilities. However China also views India and Japan as rivals.

Prof. John believes that India will attempt to block China’s relations with countries like  Maldives and Sri Lanka. Yet, India is not to blame for this ‘bad blood’. The concept of blame is not applicable in such scenarios.

On Russia-India-China relations, Prof. John studies China’s perspective as one which has common dissatisfaction with unipolarity of U.S.A. There is a joint opposition from Russia and China against U.S.A’s global influence. Nevertheless, China is not going to ally with Russia against the US. This is because China-US relations are vital, and Beijing will avoid any confrontation that can derail these ties. On the other hand, China will not challenge Russia in Central Asia, as Moscow’s economic and soft powers are very high in the region. Interestingly China fears a scenario where Russia will defect from Beijing and join Western democracies, leading to China being surrounded. It is similar for the Chinese view in case of Pakistan. In fact, China feared U.S- Russia relations would enhance under Yeltsin, whereby Moscow could have even joined NATO.

The subject of U.S.A’s strategic partnership with India was raised. In Prof. Garver’s view, these strategic partnerships are for U.S.A’s gain, in order to prevent China from growing the way of erstwhile militaristic Germany and Japan. Thus Washington D.C is supporting the growth of countries like India, Indonesia, etc. India is a multicultural and multiethnic democracy. The Indian diaspora in U.S.A is also a vital factor in Indo-US relations.

Prof. John Garver opined that there are Chinese who believe that U.S.A is in decline and China is ascendant. Eventually other countries may accommodate China. It will gain status of a pre-eminent power. China will seek friendly cooperation via multidimensional relations with all countries in the Indian Ocean, including India. However India will take umbrage at China’s friendship with Sri Lanka, Mauritius, etc. Nevertheless India will realize at a certain time that it cannot compete with China and will hence cooperate with Beijing. This is not a policy statement but an inherent belief. The question remains on whether India wants to accommodate a Sino-centric world order.

Prof. Garver added that India has “too weak a hand”. China does not need to resolve the border dispute, because according to Beijing, it is ‘Chinese territory seized by India’.

A query was raised on whether China’s government is capable of propelling the country to pre-eminent power status, given its domestic governance policies. Prof. Garver replied that the Communist Party of China (CPC) enjoys a high level of support domestically. This is so as performance is delivered. 1.36 billion people populate the economy of China and the government is able to extract power from these (human) resources. China also has a blue water navy. It has a permanent ongoing presence in the Indian Ocean since 2009. Its navy is primarily designed to defeat U.S.A in Taiwan. China is not seeking bases in the Indian Ocean yet, except for Djibouti. This is because Beijing needs the capability to defend them. It involves ammunition, fuel, aircraft carriers, etc. Someday, step-by-step, China will achieve these requirements. It is in China’s DNA to desire the status of an elite power.

A question was raised, asking if U.S.A should continue to advise Delhi on how to tackle the rise of China, and be more proactive in international relations. The answer according to Prof. Garver was that U.S.A wants multiple strong powers in Asia in order to deter China against war. U.S.A fears that China will engage in conflict like militaristic Germany had in the world wars. Washington D.C would like to encourage growth of India’s power to balance China’s power. There are commonalities between India and U.S.A: they are both multicultural and democratic.

Regarding geopolitics, it is not Japan, Britain, or France, but India which acts a great power. This is a significant factor to be considered. U.S.A is not prepared to ‘ally’ with India. America views India more as a friendly power. This is unlike France, which is seen by U.S.A as one if its oldest allies. U.S.A had once rejected India’s unique Iran stance, but pulled back because it is very understanding. It comprehends that India has its own interests, even with reference to China. It is significant that China is growing as a very powerful country. It population of 1.36 billion people has immense potential. They are well educated and the number of Chinese engineers is also high. China’s investments in science and technology are also increasing. While China is committed to a peaceful rise, there is a danger that a vacuum of power may come up which China can seize. The American view is that India should step up to fill the power vacuum if any, as it is a democratic country.

China views India as a geopolitical rival, since the inception of the Tibet issue. India also aligns with U.S.A and Japan, and has maritime partnerships with these countries. Prof. Garver believes that China wants to balance India because it thinks that Delhi has a tendency towards hegemony and recklessness, and thus must be kept in check. Besides, China thinks that India wants to check China in South Asia and in the Indian Ocean. This could lead to India blocking China’s friendly relations with states such as Sri Lanka.

One way China can keep India under check is a strong Pakistan. In fact, China does not manage alliances well, except with Pakistan. India explains the stability of China-Pakistan relations.  Sundeep Kumar S., Research Officer, C3S pointed out that Pakistan is a bridge to West Asia, thus explaining the true intent of China-Pakistan relations. Col. Hariharan, Member, C3S held the view that China engages with Pakistan to protect its overseas interests. Mr. L. V. Krishnan, Member, C3S expressed Beijing has ties with Islamabad mainly in order to counter global terrorism and terror rooted in Pakistan.

Prof. Garver recommended the following for India: That Delhi should cooperate with China on important issues such as climate change, WTO talks, etc. India should not interfere in the foreign policy of China. India should also accommodate China in the Indian Ocean region.

John Garver RTD 2

Prof. Garver’s talk was interspersed with insightful inputs from the members of the RTDs, in response to Prof. Garver’s queries. His question on the members’ views about China’s strategic interactions in the Indian Ocean was met with a prism of diverse responses. According to Admiral Mohan Raman (Retd.), until some years ago, China was looking at the Indian Ocean only to avoid possible problems in the Straits of Malacca. The second advantage is to enhance the economy of Western China which is not as developed as Eastern China. China is buttressing its communication channels, like it did in Africa (Djibouti). Beijing has made even Austalia an ‘economic slave’. If China’s SLOCs are choked, then even countries like Australia will fell the pinch. China’s activities depict a resurgence of the Chinese empire as in the 15th century. Now, countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh are not only under the military thumb but economic thumb of China.

Prof. Garver asked the forum whether it is easy to envision China as a pre-eminent economic power in the region and the status of India’s role in this context. Admiral Mohan Raman’s take is that despite India not being in China’s ballpark, either financially or militarily, India is on the right path to slowly becoming powerful in the economic, social and military domains. The GST Bill is one example of this progress. Other countries in the region will find that following a ‘slowcoach’ Indian model is more acceptable than an unpredictable China.

Col. Hariharan, Member, C3S, explained that the rise of China must be understood from the country’s deep sense of shame post the Opium wars. It was not a naval power until recently. There is a deep sense of nationalism in China. It wants to exit its navy’s dominance in the South China Sea and become a trans-oceanic power. This has led to its military modernization. The entry of China into Indian Ocean must be seen from an overall context. China wants to protect its interests abroad, as via the Djibouti base. Hambantota (Sri Lanka) is an economic example. However this does not imply the ‘string of pearls’ theory is valid, as China considers India to be of low competency. India has a narrower perspective. It is still a very powerful naval force in the Indian Ocean. This is not only to contain China. In reality India wants to be a more assertive in the region just as China wants to be a more responsible power. China holds ambitions as it is ruled by a monolith party. However it fears insecurity. On the other hand India is a democracy which can diffuse internal pressures with elections. Col. Hariharan added that we should not view China’s entry into Indian Ocean as anti-Indian or anti-US moves. The concept of Maritime Silk Road is connected to that of the One Belt one Road, a project which was conceived in mid 20th century, when the warlord of Xinjiang was made a general in the PLA and the province was integrated into China.

Prof. Garver’s posed a question on how India’s interests are impinged upon by a nationalistic China which has a modernized military. Captain Avtar Singh felt that India is going to contain China. Admiral Mohan Raman added that this containment could be done in the military sense, with an adversarial posture between India and China. India’s military capabilities are being enhanced to counter China’s design on India, not just on the border issue. The opinion of Mr. K. Subramanian, Member, C3S was that if U.S.A has a right to protect its own interests, so does China.

Prof. John Garver asked the RTD members what they thought of India’s role in China’s relations vis-à-vis Japan. Col. Hariharan quoted the Chinese media report on Prime Minister Modi’s recent Japan trip, that “India will never be a pawn of Japan.” Vithiyapathy P., Research Officer, C3S, took a stand that China is not pleased due to good relations between Japan and India. Sundeep Kumar S., Research Officer, C3S, expressed that China and Japan do have high economic linkages, yet there is disconnect between Tokyo and Beijing.

With regard to Indo-Chinese relations, Mr. Medrik Minassian, M.Phil Scholar, Madras Christian College highlighted that we should not forget the common player, the United States. The interests of the United States play an influencing role in shaping the actions of the countries of the region. This is mainly because of the U.S.A’s international position of strength in diplomatic, economic and military fields. India and China are the largest players in the region and see their interests clash in regard to this. They are trying to safe guard what is their own interest and also are filling up a vacuum that the recent decline of the United States influence has left in the geopolitical region common to India and China.

The issue of China’s claims on Arunachal Pradesh were discussed. Ms. Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S, stated that India believes in a pragmatic, peaceful approach to the problem. India should continue its current stance of allowing dignitaries to visit Tawang. It has already been observed in the case of Richard Verma, US Ambassador to India and the Dalai Lama. India believes in sending such signals to China, rather than showing a provocative or offensive force.

The RTDS were concluded with Col. Hariharan giving the vote of thanks.

(Compiled by Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S.)

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