October 15, 2018
A few thoughts
1. Fundamental weaknesses in the conceptualisation of China’s external relations, especially President Xi Jinping’s Belt & Road Initiative, suggest that growth of Chinese maritime and sea power in our region will fluctuate over time.
This is an archived blog post from The Acorn on Medium.
- Firstly, established and aspiring powers will find greater reason to cooperate, and align against China. Note the relative fates of Quad 2008 and Quad 2018.
- Secondly, nationalist backlash from countries inside China’s bandwagon. Post-Hambantota, Zambia and Tajikistan even Pakistan is worried. History tells us that power projection precedes understanding; so is it with China.
- Reversal of Deng’s formula — stable & institutionalised party rule, high economic growth and greater openness to the world — is taking China Maowards.
- Trade war will hurt the bases of Chinese growth. The countries that China is spending money on as part of BRI won’t be able to substitute the US as an economic partner. Quite the contrary.
2. The trajectory of Chinese sea power is moving from securing dominance along its shores and where it has maritime territorial disputes to trans-oceanic power projection. However, given the weakness of China’s international model, a modern navy is assuming post-modernist roles with a flawed blueprint.
- It will well and good to accumulate sea power to defend your shores and assert your national interest in territorial disputes. It’s quite another thing to maintain a trans-oceanic power profile.
- The British Navy and the US Navy didn’t merely protect their immediate national interests, but rather an international system that enabled globalisation.
- It is unclear what China’s “big story” is. Replacing the. existing world order with a Chinese model does not appeal to anyone outside China.
- The norms are not particularly attractive: replace multiple sovereignty and sovereign equality with a imperial tributary system; replace free trade with a discretionary system of exchanging tribute; replace equality of all human beings with the superiority of one race and culture
- This restricts China’s maritime and sea power growth
3. The Ledger of Power is subject to double-entry book-keeping
- Given the geography, Chinese ships will be a long way from home in the IOR; to supply these ships it needs friendly ports; these friendly ports need to be connected over land; connection over land involves involvement in politics. All these create vulnerabilities. Gwadar as an example.
- Each item that creates strength also creates vulnerability.
4. India’s Response
- Every great power tries to dazzle the audience — Chengiz Khan’s hordes deliberately created an image of being mass murderers to get his target cities to submit without too much violence. We should not be dazzled. Nor should we be complacent.
- We must project power East of Singapore, for many reasons: to show to the region’s people that there are options; and to have the capacity to manage China’s power in our own neighbourhood
- Cooperation with the US, Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia is necessary; Quad is good idea; but always keep in mind we’re the only country that shares a long land boundary with China.
- Our goal is not confrontation or enmity with China, but a stable order that allows trade, economy, culture and people to flourish.
- Ultimately, the answer to OBOR is MBMR. The Indian model is one of openness and pluralism. We shouldn’t lose sight of this. In the years to come, a lot of countries will find it more attractive.
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