Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Balance of Power in Asia

It was quite an exciting night at the NSG plenary in Seoul, Korea, where a special late night session stretched on for three hours specifically to discuss India's application to join the nuclear cartel that was actually created in response to India's first nuclear test. Such exciting deliberation is the stuff of the UNFCCC or the TPP, and few imagined that the NSG would see something like this. Indeed, if not for the Modi government's firm commitment to get this through on the back of years of work to join various export control regimes, this whole affair would've died down long ago. At this stage, it is hard to say what will happen as negotiations will continue tomorrow and a final statement will be issued.

However, the result of this whole episode will resonate across Asia, specifically because of what China has done. It is no secret that China does not want a rising India to impinge its own rise in the world, and the China-Pakistan alliance has been as much about holding back India as it has been about gaining access to the Arabian Sea and thus getting over the US shield in the West Pacific. But so far, the Chinese have officially talked about a 'peaceful rise' while doing exactly the opposite in the shadows, through proxies (including Pakistan). Pakistan's NSG membership application itself came out of this process, because even China knows that there is no way the NSG would admit one of the world's biggest nuclear proliferating counties and the center of much of the world's terrorism, a fact that US President Obama himself has called his biggest headache.

The Seoul plenary changes all that - China has come out in the open in its opposition, trying initially to mask it behind technicalities (knowing full well that the burst of diplomatic energy from India and its backers, the US, France, and the UK, cannot be sustained forever), and then quite brazenly in the garb of maintaining the balance of power in South Asia. This is quite silly in fact, because without China's nudge, South Asia already has a massive power imbalance, with India enjoying hegemony. Without China, there is no balance of power in South Asia at all! And NSG membership will not change that. But in trying to maintain this fictitious balance, it seems China has forgotten the bigger picture - the balance of power in Asia itself.

In 1962, Nehru, always the anti-American, was forced to request President Kennedy for help in the face of imminent loss of territory in the Northeast (primarily on account of his own stupidity) Back then, it was China's aggression alone that could turn India's establishment towards the US. In 2016, while the world as a whole has changed greatly and India is not a poor backwater of Britain any more, there is still much angst towards joining any American military alliance. The broader public is uneasy about the prospect. But looking at this NSG plenary, when once again it is China that is leading the assault and the Americans who are backing us, the resistance would be greatly reduced.

Chinese diplomats have to ask themselves - do they want an Independent India in global forums that may or may not support China but is open to discussion; or do they want, with some other name, some other arrangement, a NATO at its doorstep. If there is anything that can push India towards a closer military alliance with the US, it is China. And such naked display of hostility is only going to catalyze that. China may succeed in maintaining the so-called balance of power in South Asia at the NSG, but in the process, it risks losing the balance of power in Asia.

No comments: