How to view China, and engage with it : The Tribune India

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How to view China, and engage with it

How to view China, and engage with it

The Asian giants can’t avoid constructive ties.

Book Title: Power Shift: India-China relations in a multipolar world

Author: by Zorawar Daulet Singh.

Manoj Joshi

This is a brave book to write for many reasons. This is the season of Sino-Indian acrimony and the basic argument of the book is premised on a vision of their relationship based on constructive cooperation, mutual benefit, and even friendship. But that is what scholarship is all about. Zorawar Daulet Singh has been a prolific commentator and author.

Power Shift: India-China

relations in a multipolar world
by Zorawar Daulet Singh.
Pan Macmillan.
Pages 335.

The book takes us through the dynamics in the India-China relationship which has always been influenced and shaped by a wider geopolitical context. In some ways though, to coin a phrase, there does seem to be a tendency of the author to be a “geopolitical determinist”. But there should be no doubt that he has put across a formidable and sophisticated argument and for that reason, this book ought to be read by all those who study Sino-Indian relations and international politics. But equally by policymakers to whom, in a sense, this book is addressed.

One strand of the argument seems to view the difficulties between India and China as arising out of “mistrust”, “misperceptions” and “misunderstandings”. If they are so, probably they are on account of both sides perceiving the other at varied geopolitical levels: the Chinese seeing India as a secondary player in its calculation, whereas India has increasingly begun to see the salience of the Chinese challenge. It is true, though, that both sides have in recent decades behaved within bounds of fairly responsible behaviour, ensuring that the issues between them, including their long-running boundary dispute, do not escalate to the point where it is mutually destructive. Take for example the recent Ladakh events. We know that the PLA suddenly amassed on the border compelling India to respond in kind. Yet, the clashes featured fists and clubs, rather than guns, tanks and howitzers.

To become a global power, and China makes no bones about wanting to be one, it must first be the dominant power in its own periphery. In its primary direction, Japan and Taiwan are hardly challenges, but they are linked to the US, which maintains a forward policy in the western Pacific with a view to secure its own global primacy. And second, there is India, which has its own notions of regional primacy and in terms of size and potential views itself as China’s peer.

Singh believes that the emerging world order is non-hegemonic. But is that really true? Global power may have diffused and may not be overwhelmingly unipolar, but planning in countries like the US and China is determinedly hegemonic. Take the 2020 US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific. The very first goal it states is the need “to maintain US strategic primacy”. There is nothing in current American policy to suggest that it is ready to work along alternate lines. China doesn’t give us documents as stark as the US, but we have Chinese policy through which we can assess its goals and they are not dissimilar.

As for India and China, the bottomline that Singh puts across is that the two Asian giants and neighbours cannot avoid a constructive relationship, one that should combine elements of competition and peaceful co-existence. He has presented policy prescriptions that are realistic and hard-headed and backed his arguments with a rigour and detail which is often missing in the current Indian policy discourse on China.