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Again: India and China

India and China have opened talks on their common border in the Himalayas. Are they determined to put an end to decades of rivalry and dispute? Possibly in order to become stronger together against the world? When they fought a war against each other in 1962, they both were poor developing countries and both were excluded from the dynamics of international trade. Half a century later they are said to be driving forces in globalising economy and politics, leaving the USA and Europe behind when it comes to economic growth figures, challenging the USA and Europe when it comes to political leadership in the world. India and China look like partners when joining hands within the group of the BRIC(S) countries. How much of economic drive and political leadership can be expected from India and China when they “walk together”? Nothing, since they do not “walk together” in the BRICS. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are, each of them, fundamentally different in resources, social and organisational structure, strategic positioning and manoeuvring and overall interests. Add to this the historic antagonism between India and China in particular. They talk to each other now about the border because there are too many other fields of actual or potential conflict requiring to be tackled. The very latest development with regard to India’s and China’s global positioning is the break put on the dynamics of their economic rise. Increasing unemployment, reduced growth rates and rising inflation have shown the degree of vulnerability of their economic development. And worse for friends of India: on every figure, China fares better than India. India, however, still commands an advantage in qualities relevant for success in an ultimate globalised society: open society, free media, democratic structures. In the interest of worldwide open societies, free media and democratic structures, India should do more in the fields where it is being challenged by China. Talks on border disputes are the right thing. But more is needed. China has a strategic vision for the defence of its interests worldwide, and it has a strategy for implementing the vision. It is engaged politically, financially and technically in the construction of deep-sea ports in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iran and farther away in the Indian Ocean. Some call it the strategy of the “string of pearls”. This strategy is said to support China in the protection and promotion of its trade routes over the Indian Ocean. “It is only about trade!” We know the disarming quality of this argument; but from history we remember also that the protection of trade routes can be a first step on the escalation towards war. Is India ready to challenge China’s comprehensive protection of its sea lines? Is it at least ready to officially concede that the potential of a “string of pearls” deserves to be permanently examined. China has invested large funds in the development of its sea-faring power projection capacities. And thanks to its domestic policies of promoting industrial growth, it is able to generate the funds necessary for building up the military fleet. The fundamental structure of a command society helps. The obvious challenge for India is to strengthen its own sea forces in the Indian Ocean. Would be! But how can the Indian Government think of spending more on defence as long as the Current Account Balance is negative and the deficit is getting bigger? This is not a military question. It is first of all about economic policies which enhance the creation of wealth. Globalised economy can give the right advice. Liberalise the market rules, reduce red tape, fight corruption! Since the early nineties of the last century, this has been the Indian Government’s endeavour, but not seriously enough and, to the eyes of some today, with decreasing commitment. Renewing that commitment would create wealth, would generate increased legitimate funds for the State, would enable the State to play its role in international strategic affairs and eventually would offer a credible and successful alternative to the Chinese model of a command society. All that would be in the interest not only of India but of open society, free media and democratic structures of globalised society all over the world.

30th July 2013 / Philippe Welti

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