“Start of a new Cold War?” Really! By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

“Start of a new Cold War? India stands to gain”, writes Mr. Shyam Saran, Former Foreign Secretary of India in the Tribune dated Oct 13, 2018. Here is a rejoinder by  JITENDRA KUMAR SHARMA, Director Marshall McLuhan Centre:



“Start of a new Cold War?”  Really!

By Jitendra Kumar Sharma

This is a half-baked understanding of the phenomenon called ‘cold war’ as also of the post-cold war diplomacy. The ex-foreign secretary, Mr. Shyam Saran’s  is a rearview of history while diplomacy today calls for a future oriented view of the fast changing international scene amid mind boggling technological and economic developments.

True, American policy toward China has “run a full circle” since Nixon’s historic visit to Beijing and de facto US-China alliance against the Soviet Union too is outdated.  USA and China are no longer dictating to the rest of the world together but separately because their alliance took an economic rather than political turn and China emerged as the biggest manufacturer of the world supported by US-Europe market. Consequently, China assumed a haughty posture and USA’s world influence started declining.

In 1989 the Tiananmen pro-democracy protests occurred only to be decisively suppressed by the Chinese government. China entered WTO in 1990 and the West was ineluctably caught into an economic tangle with China.

From 1990 to 2007, there was a global financial crisis but China continued to dominate major consuming markets. By 2007 China had become the world’s second largest economy.

Forgotten Tiananmen incident was followed by trends of political and social liberalization in China. Private enterprise expanded, state owned enterprises (SOEs) shrank. Free choice of employment, marriage and travel was allowed. The Communist Party’s directive control in administration, armed forces and economic management got restricted; grassroots organizations were granted autonomy; Chinese media started tasting freedom of expression by mildly criticizing the Party’s functionaries.

China was now seen as a macro-Singapore model of high growth brought about by private sector, foreign investment, authoritarian regime. Theory of High Level GDP leading to Liberal Democracy akin to Western Model was seen as working in China. Western powers showed respect for China’s increasing economic power on the pretext of welcoming the concomitant democracy. Western tolerance for Chinese assertiveness also increased.

Now suddenly America is scared of China and under Trump’s presidency wants to reverse its alliance with China for world political dominance. The USA and West, in fact, are ruing their own assumptions about Chinese peculiar brand of state capitalism under one-party rule and are baffled by Chinese geopolitical dynamics.

China’s cocking a snook at the USA and USA’s belated reversal of its China policy, however, cannot be called a cold war. Cold War was a hegemonic race between the Soviet Union and USA-led Western Alliance for influence over other countries, a vast number of which were erstwhile colonies of western powers, including India, who wanted to be freed from poverty, ignorance and disease. The largesse distributed in terms of aid to the poor and depressed countries was an important weapon to corrupt and win over developing nations.

The current rivalry between China and the USA to become or remain as the world’s superpower is altogether a different game. Indian diplomats naively construe it as a version or variation of the cold war. China is a shrewd player in world politics; it does not regard India of much consequence and will not distribute any favors to keep India on its side. The West, especially the USA, respects China much more than India because China holds the balance of power not only in Asia but globally. In Asia it is a sole superpower.

The West, in fact, instead of doling out dollars to India, expects her to make big commitments to stem the Chinese onslaught on American influence in Pak-Afgan and the Indian Ocean. India has never played the power game internationally. Its diplomacy is woolly and its diplomats are pliable. Indian bureaucracy has vested interests in keeping the American presence dominant over Asia. As long as Indian diplomas and bureaucrats continue drafting as well as implementing Indian foreign policy, India can never become a Superpower.

The Communist China does not consider itself a macro- Sngapore. Its inspiration comes less from Leninism-Marxism, more from its own past empires. Chinese leadership is reducing to irrelevance Mao, Deng Xiaoping, other heroes at will. Party control is back in full force. Personal freedoms, media and academic freedom are being curtailed. Technologies like AI and quantum computing are developing apace. China is showing to the world that it can do better and bigger than the West. Xi Jinping  has become China’s sole leader for life.

U.S. Vice-President Pence’s policy statement accusing China of ‘employing a whole of government approach using political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the US’ may be loud and strident but hardly impressive.

China has the USA in its economic grip and U.S.A. is unsure of winning its so-called Trade War against China. China’s diplomacy is clever and sly, at times conciliatory, but always self-respecting.

 The escalating Sino-US contention, according to Mr. Saran, “offers opportunities to India as a swing state.” This misreading of the US-China confrontation is a Himalayan blunder. India just is not strong and equipped enough to fish in troubled waters of China-USA imbroglio. Neither China nor USA has much to offer India. Therefore, “India’s cause will be served if Sino-US differences stay just short of boiling point” a la Mr. Shyam Saran, is goosey thinking  and will bog India down into international geopolitical morass.

India has to be self-reliant. India must help avoid conflicts among big nations rather than crave to pick up the crumbs thrown at it by belligerent powers. India must strive to change the world order currently presided over by Five Powers who lord it over smaller and weaker countries rather than seek to be a beneficiary of such conflicts and lower itself in its own and world’s eyes.

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