- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

NEW DELHI — When China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao arrives in India at the end of next week, the rhetoric of cooperation between the two Asian giants that comprise 37 percent of the world population is sure to intensify. But one has only to scratch the surface to know the extent of mistrust and rivalry between the two countries.

Can India really work with Beijing to fashion a multipolar world when China tries to bully Taiwan, shame Japan, divide ASEAN, and make use of client governments like those of Pakistan, Burma and North Korea? China is now seeking to pull another failing state, Nepal, into its orbit after a palace coup there led New Delhi, Washington and London to suspend cooperation with Katmandu.

And to block its Asian peers, India and Japan, from permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council, China opposes enlarging the council’s permanent membership.

The schism between India and China, however, is not just because one is a politically open and the other a politically closed society. The two embody opposing worldviews and approaches.

China’s ruthless pragmatism and assertiveness contrast sharply with India’s sanctimonious posture. Prone to seduction by praise, India yearns to be loved and feels best when its policies enjoy external affirmation. China, on the other hand, wants to be held in respect and awe, and never muffles its view when any of its interests is at issue.

Compare Beijing’s early warning against the potential sale of U.S. Patriot anti-missile systems to India with New Delhi’s silence on the decision of its strategic partner, the European Union, to lift its 15-year arms embargo against China, altering Asia’s power equilibrium.

Their approaches to bilateral ties are also revealing. India does not believe in strategic balancing and has no intention of using Tibet or Taiwan for leverage against China.

When then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Beijing in 2003, he used the legal term “recognize” — in a document signed with his Chinese counterpart — to accept what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region as “part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.”

In fact, by narrowing Tibet to the Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibet’s central plateau, Mr. Vajpayee implicitly conceded the incorporation of Tibet’s outer territories into the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichaun, Gansu and Yunnan.

In contrast to India, Beijing pursues bilateral ties with India by playing the strategic cards it holds — including a Himalayan Line of Control, which China steadfastly refuses to define despite 24 years of continuous border negotiations, its commitment to maintain Pakistan as a military counterweight to India south of the Himalayas, its new strategic flank via Burma, its budding military ties with Bangladesh, and its depiction in official maps of three Indian states as being outside India — Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Kashmir.

Despite endless speeches of political cooperation, this remains intangible. Take energy, for example, where India has sought cooperation to prevent competing Indian and Chinese demands from exacerbating high energy prices on world markets.

Playing the new “Great Game” on energy, India and China have made state-owned companies buy far-flung oil and gas fields, especially in pariah or problem states. But while China made many such investments in the 1990s when oil was less than one-fifth current prices, India began buying costlier assets more recently at the high end of the price cycle. Multinational companies hesitate to acquire such risky assets, but the bureaucrats running Indian and Chinese firms readily gamble with taxpayers’ money.

This could prove a profligate waste of state capital, especially for India, if oil-rich nations, following the Kremlin’s recent example, were to reassert control over their assets. When that happens, China, with its greater power projection could recover more of its investments than India.

At present, however, China’s autocrats revel in outbidding the Indians and others, even if it jacks up prices to artificial levels.

Energy needs, in fact, are beginning to sway military planning.

China’s growing oil imports serve as justification for its pursuit of sea power.

Beijing clearly perceives the sea as a sphere of opportunity for extending its influence. It is positioning itself along vital sea lanes from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea. Its new strategic focus on the seas, in turn, is influencing India’s long-term defense planning.

Nothing better illustrates the competitive dynamics between the world’s two most populous nations than Mr. Wen’s own trip next week.

When the No. 2 Chinese official arrives in New Delhi to talk cooperation, he will have first done his bit to constrict India’s strategic options.

Starting his South Asia tour early next week from Pakistan, Mr. Wen is to open the Chinese-built port and naval base at Gwadar, close to Pakistan’s border with Iran. Gwadar, one of the world’s largest deep-sea ports, will not only provide Pakistan with more strategic depth against a 1971-style Indian attempt to bottle up its navy, but it will also open the way to the arrival of Chinese submarines in India’s back yard, completing India’s strategic encirclement by Beijing. Gwadar, at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, is part of China’s strategy to fashion a “string of pearls” along sea lanes between the Indian and Pacific oceans, by securing naval or eavesdropping access from regional states.

This leaves India with obvious choices. If instead of industrializing rapidly through infrastructure growth, reform of work laws and open competition in labor-intensive manufacturing, India remains content with gross domestic product growth of 6.6 percent, versus China’s 9.5 percent, it will find it more difficult to build a level playing field with Beijing, whose ascendancy will pose the single biggest challenge to world security in the years to come.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, is a regular contributor to The Washington Times.

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