Wednesday, April 09, 2008

M.K.Bhadrakumar on Engaging China as Friendly Neighbor

M.K.Bhadrakumar, Hindu's favorite columnist on China, expounds on his vision for India's foreign policy.

India’s foreign policy since the early 1990s has begun careering in esoteric directions. Its external relations gave primacy to acquiring military technology, sustaining our neo-liberal economic policies and realising greater middle class consumerism. More and more, the nation got alienated from its foreign policy.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the Narasimha Rao government made a strategic decision to improve India's relations with the US. And it has consistently moved to strengthen these ties ever since, not unlike what every other country including Communist nations like China did as part of their effort to readjust to the new world order. His argument that it has careened in esoteric directions has no leg to stand on.

Secondly, he says that we have given 'primacy to acquiring military technology'. Many of the military technologies we have acquired were no different from a routine effort to keep our armed forces well-armed so that our defense preparedness is not compromised. Given the protracted testing and negotiations involved as well as the controversies that have surrounded many of the deals, much of the acquisition in the '90s was essentially a carry-over from the '80s that happend to get inordinately delayed (remember the Navy Chief's outburst during Deve Gowda's tenure? The reason was the long delayed modernization of the Navy - what he perceived to be due to the government's neglect) and likewise, recent purchases have been deliberated for well over a decade. Besides, India's spending on defense has always been far less in terms of GDP than many other countries of the world, certainly including China. Any developing nation that seeks to maintain its stability and growth must be prepared to do the minimum necessary to guard itself and its interests in the neighborhood - exactly what India has endeavored to do modestly and somewhat imperfectly. In light of all this, it should be clear to anyone that the idea that we have given primacy to military technology over other civilian priorities has no basis in fact.

Thirdly, he claims that the government has given primacy to 'sustaining neo-liberal economic policies and realizing greater middle class consumerism'. The government embarked on neoliberal economic policies because the other alternative, namely, socialist/government-led economics led us to bankruptcy. When the Narasimha Rao government took office, the fiscal situation was so dire that India had to rely heavily on borrowing from the IMF to meet its obligations. The government was and continues to this day to be primarily interested in FDI/private entrepreneurship and private sector-led job economic growth rather than consumerism. It so happens that to make this happen, it has had to align its policies with that of other Asian countries by cutting income taxes, etc. - factors that in turn have fueled consumerism as a consequence. I would suggest to Mr. Bhadrakumar to read Arvind Viramani's analysis that came out in a recent issue of EPW to learn some basic facts about the consequences of the new economic policy.

Next he asks:

We must seek explanations on how the strategic alliance with the United States, which New Delhi made the quintessence of its foreign policy for almost a decade, helped to discourage farmers in Vidharbha from taking their own lives in sheer despair, reduce the profound alienation of the people of Jammu & Kashmir or bring the neglected northeast into the national mainstream. Would “Malabar exercises” or the Indo-U.S. defence agreement or the envisaged “inter-operability” of the armed forces of the two countries make the South Asian security environment any less complicated? Would they help to ease India’s troubled relations with its neighbours? Do they tackle energy security or the looming food security crisis or the appalling illiteracy and malnutrition stalking the outer rings of our shining metros?

I fail to see the connections here. Relations between states are meant to cater to particular interests of both sides. They are certainly not translational instruments that subsume the prerogatives of national sovereignty. And yes, states that have a strategic relationship too can profoundly disagree on matters not within the ambit of agreements that bind them. There are many examples of this in international affairs. Western Europe shares a strategic relationship with the US - they are all members of NATO. Yet, Europe has had numerous trade disputes with the US since the inception of the WTO - there have been several rulings by the WTO dispute redressal forum on these questions. Several European nations led by France which were members of NATO strongly disagreed with the US decision to wage war in Iraq. Likewise, the US has strongly opposed the jurisdiction of the World Tribunal in Copenhagen despite the fact that numerous of its allies supported it. The Kyoto Agreement on Climate Change is another example where even a staunch American ally Japan has chosen to stand apart from the US. None of this has necessarily diluted any of these strategic relationships in the medium to long term and there is no reason why the rules ought to be any different for India. If the US is unwilling to open up its farm sector to Indian imports, we are free to vigorously fight this barrier in the next round of trade talks. Strategic relationship only implies that we share certain interests and hold a common set of values, not that we go along with the other country on every policy. It is surprising that Mr. Bhadrakumar who is from the IFS lacks this elementary knowledge of international affairs.

Again, I am not sure by what he means by the Indo-US defense agreement complicating the South Asian security environment. He asks if it would help ease India's troubled relations with its neighbors. From the evidence currently available, I would answer in the affirmative. Before the US got involved in Afghanistan, our relations with Pakistan were marked by constant acrimony punctated by intermittent efforts at fruitless dialogue that often stood paused or terminated by outrageous acts of terror perpetrated by groups based on the other side of the border. Seven years after the US engagement began and the Bush administration made clear its alignment with India's position as far as regional security and terrorism are concerned, there is far greater recognition of the terrorist problem not only internationally but domestically in Pakistan, the border is relatively quiet, the rhetoric has greatly softened, President Musharraf no longer speaks of self-determination in Kashmir and leaders of the newly elected Pakistani government have even expressed some willingness to normalize relations with India before resolution of this major issue, all extremely significant and positive steps to bring peace to this troubled region. Agreed that there has been no resolution of any issue either with Pakistan or with China but whatever progress has come can only be viewed in a positive light. The answer to Mr. Bhadrakumar's rhetorical question should therefore be obvious.

Then he talks of relating foreign and domestic policies:

Even smaller countries realise how important it is to relate foreign policy to their domestic policies. Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC last week, Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia, said: “I’ve said elsewhere this simple point, that there is now no longer a clinical divide between the national and the international, the foreign and the domestic, the internal, the external, as the great divide collapses. So much of what we do internationally is an extension of what we do nationally. And to be effective in what we now do domestically, we have to be in parallel terms active externally.”

Any serious world power would readily agree. What we know as “Putinism” of today’s Russia is, arguably, the finest example. Again, the 60th anniversary summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in Bucharest on April 2-4 revealed how major European powers like Germany, France and Italy refused to be hustled into a new eastward expansion, which Washington robustly sought. For the major European countries, the prime consideration is not to antagonise Russia, which is a resurgent economic partner, especially in energy security. And energy security is in their first circle of foreign policy. If we are to draw a comparison, for Germany or Italy, the priority of cooperation with Russia is no less than the high importance New Delhi would attach to its relations with Iran if its foreign policy were to make sense.

Is Kevin Rudd correct? Is there no distinction left between foreign and domestic, internal and external? National boundaries continue to exist and are enforced in every aspect from visa requirements to customs duties. International institutions like the UN, while regulating national conduct to some extent, are hardly in a position to dictate terms in every instance. Global capital is certainly a powerful equalizing force but cannot be said to have erased distinctions. In fact, there is much evidence that multinational corporations adapt themselves to local conditions as much as the other way around. There are numerous examples of this - Google, Yahoo and Fox's willingness to abide by Chinese censorship laws, StarBucks' recent exit from the Forbidden City, McDonald, Subway and Pizza Hut serving Indian flavors in their Indian outlets, etc. This is therefore clearly an exaggeration. Distinctions remain, the most prominent example being that of trade - countries willing to encourage free markets domestically often take steps to prevent a level playing field for foreign players.

Apparently, in the author's view, Putinism is the 'finest example' of this tendency. Vlamidir Putin has killed or intimidated every significant opposition force in Russia, abolished elections to gubernatorial positions, assumed control of all major business concerns including press outlets and virtually consolidated all powers in the Kremlin. The Russian parliament is little more than a pathetic body that rubber stamps his decisions, the media almost entirely under his sway spouts progovernment propaganda and the people who have lost interest in electoral participation are coerced into voting for the Kremlin's favored candidates, having been threatened with dismissal if they do not. If Mr. Bhadrakumar is talking of Putin putting this national agenda into effect on an international stage, that is something that India and all thinking people ought to fear, not applaud. If he truly sees this as the 'finest example', there is little left to say - it is unfortunate that those like him who breathe the free air of Indian democracy actually delude themselves and others into believing in the inherent superiority of foreign tyranny.

I also do not see how this previous point relates to his next claim of how major European powers obstructed NATO expansion. For the record, America did not seek NATO's expansion originally. The former Soviet and East European states have long sought refuge in NATO and all that America has done is to support the idea.

He then correctly points to Washington's engagement with China and urges that India not be 'caught in a time warp' (there is no evidence it has). He goes on to add:

We must, therefore, think positively how our seemingly intractable border problem can be resolved, rather than fancy that we would force China to solve it on our terms by playing a fictional “Tibet card.” Given the complexity of the issues involved, a resolution of the border problem cannot happen overnight. But a process is under way and we can afford to give it time to mature. The Sino-Russian border dispute was finally resolved three years ago — pronouncedly in favour of Russia, even though it had become a pale shadow of the Soviet Union — after decades of negotiations. It provides some useful lessons. The tempo of the Sino-Russian border negotiations qualitatively picked up once the overall climate of bilateral relations started improving since the mid-1990s.

Whether the Sino-Russian border dispute was resolved 'pronouncedly in favor of Russia' is debatable - the issue is complicated and involved conflicting historical claims. It ended when Boris Yeltsin agreed to pull back Russian forces - in that sense, the matter was settled in China's favor though folks who believed that China ought to have obtained more territory may convince themselves that Russia actually won.

He finally ends with this exhortation:

An honest stocktaking on why the climate of India-China relations has suffered since 2005 can do us only good. The plain truth is, the slide began following the aberrations in our strategic posturing in the Asia-Pacific region. It was a catastrophic folly on the part of New Delhi to take to the notion of a “quadripartite alliance” involving the U.S., Japan, and Australia. The hare-brained idea was doomed to collapse. And the damage was done as it took the nature of an amorphous anti-Chinese move despite its overt projection as an “alliance of values”.

Fortunately, with the extraordinary professional talent ensconced in our foreign policy establishment today — both in South Block and in our mission in Beijing — we have the capacity to put that macabre “neocon” phase in our mindset to rest, and move on, provided, of course, our chatty think-tankers and the devil’s advocates in our corporate media allow that to happen.

Have Indo-China relations suffered since 2005? This is the first time I have heard of such a claim. The volume of trade between the two countries has risen year after year and there has been little change in the status of political disputes despite occasional claims of one side intruding into the other's territory. There has been some recent tension over the Chinese Ambassador's remarks about his country's claim over Arunachal Pradesh but barring that, nothing major has actually happened in the last three years. Again he claims that New Delhi has taken to the notion of a quadripartite alliance. There has been some speculation in the media about such notions but I am aware of no official movement in that direction. A few years ago, there was similar idle talk of a strategic alliance amongst India, China and Russia - even A.B.Vajpayee publicly said that the matter was being given consideration. Nothing however came out of it and it begs the question whether this writer's fanciful assertion on this point is anything more than a fictitious notion conjured by a fevered mind.

His advice is that we set aside our 'macabre neo-con...mindset' meaning that we give up championing freedom in Tibet and apparently our corporate evildoers are somehow to blame for this. Why our corporations which have set shop in China and are eager to pursue business initiatives would be anxious to stifle the fledgling relationship is a mystery to me. Often it is businesses who are against the 'neocon mindset' that he is talking about - the US treasury secretary's six visits to Beijing buttress this point amply. And yet, to denigrate freedom in other nations would hardly serve India in good stead. As a country built on lofty principles, it behoves ill of us to sell away those values merely to appease a rising world power. Since Mr.Bhadrakumar undervalues his liberties, it would behove him to practice what he preaches and spend some time in a Chinese gulag.


Dirt Digger said...

I have one question, how much hallucinogens did Bhadrakumar take to cook this article up?
Anyways jokes aside, this whole article could not be better written by a left wing lunatic.
Your arguments against the article stand up every point written by MK on its head.
Its unclear what his focus is. Is it internal issues or anti-US rage or hate Tibet agenda?
The best part is his rant about China's relevance,
First, China is a rising world power. Second, its rise is irreversible. Third, the international community is coming to terms with its rise. Fourth, China’s integration with the world economy is so far advanced that no one in his senses will talk about a “Tibet card,”
This is real evidence that the author MKB should be committed.

Anonymous said...

" Second, its rise is irreversible."
What sort of statement is this by MKB..he surpassed even himself in sucking up to his chinese bosses.

Hindu Fundamentalist said...

Wonderful analysis, pilid. On foreign policy matters, Chindu has been coloured by its bias. Objectivity has been sacrificed at the altar of trans-national loyalty to communism.
Bhadrakumar's question about how relations with America have helped farmers in Vidarbha or people in J&K is naive. In fact, it is a stupid question to ask in geoplitics unless there is evidence of direct interference in or impact on India's internal affairs by the US. In other words, has India embarked on strategic alliance with US to help farmers in Vidarbha? Chindu is attempting to get away with appealing to communist and socialist ideals rather than commonsense.

Anonymous said...

"India's foreign policy since the early 1990s has begun careering in esoteric directions. Its external relations gave primacy to acquiring military technology, sustaining our neo-liberal economic policies and realising greater middle class consumerism."

I am not sure how middle class consumerism is directly (or indirectly) related to foreign policy. In fact, Chindu has been a champion of middle class consumerism as seen by its Metro Plus supplement (glossy advts. and frequent coverage on fancy stuff) and the newer glossy supplements (in competition with the New Indian Express) with funny sounding names. In addition, Chindu sponsors MetroPlus food festivals, fashion shows etc.

So, Bharakumar should direct his anger first against Chindu. Anyhow, this fellow seems to have something in common with Harish Khare who also periodically exhibits a blind hatred towards the "middle class".

Anonymous said...

The intelligentsia in India are largely leftist and see in the middle class, a threat to the values they espouse. This is partly because the middle class is seen as a loose cannon - they can think for themselves and form their own opinions objectively and are less amenable to outside propaganda, something the left needs to drum up support consistently for its agenda. The other reason is that the left sees the middle class as being wrong-headed and elitist, selfishly concerned with its own interests and uncaring of other sections and also too assertive of its own opinions formed on the basis of insufficient and improper knowledge. There is truth in the latter charge - the middle class' general cynicism of politics and politicians is plainly destructive and does nothing to address any problem. However, the left, in order to fulfil the first of its objectives (cadre building through propaganda), is not interested to win the middle classes over through reason but is well-aware that the middle classes enjoy considerable power in the state institutions. However instead of saying so publicly and thereby losing whatever little support it has from this section, it takes its anger out at the policies that have empowered them - hence all the vitriolic about LPG (liberalization, privatization and globalization).

Hindu Fundamentalist said...

enlightening post by the anonymous author above. i read it with keen interest. appreciate the insightful analysis.