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EMERGING HEGEMON IN ASIA
M.L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur
April 17, 2003
Now Indian and
American military specialists agree that China is the new
danger in Asia including the Indian Ocean area, and it is in
the joint interests of the two countries to contain the
spread of the China threat. A recent 130 pages report
prepared for the American Defence Secretary clearly sees
China as the economic and military competitor in the
future. The analysis is based on interviews with over 80
senior Indian and American officials. ‘Strategic
engagement’ with India is seen as an ‘investment’ in a
volatile region which now, following the end of the Saddam
regime, extends from the Middle East to Southeast Asia if we
think of regional and world politics along East-West lines,
and from China to the Himalayan region and Myanmar/Bay of
Bengal if we think of regional and world politics along the
North-South Axis. The East-West axis depends heavily on the
sea lanes as the lines of military and commercial
communications. The North-South axis depends primarily on
the land routes which are being restored by China’s push to
build rail and road links into Tibet and Nepal, its revival
of the old Silk Route which passes through Central Asia, and
its build up in Myanmar which revives the China-Burma road
links of the Second World War. China is the activist in
building the North-South axis of military, commercial and
political communications, and America, and India are the
activists in building the East-West axis which relies on sea
power and a political strategy to strengthen ties with
traditional as well as non-traditional allies. The
political and military geography of the Asian continent is
changing rapidly as a result of the economic and military
competition between USA and China, and between China and
India. These two competitions now form the center of
gravity of action in Asia’s landmass and its sea lanes. The
Indian Ocean is the new strategic arena for India and
America and the military action against Sadaam should not be
seen as a sign that America is distracted from its focus on
China by the Iraq issue. The problem remains China’s
capabilities and intentions, Sadaam was a side show which is
useful in creating a cover for America’s activism in dealing
with the arc of crisis that extends from the Mediterranean
to the South China seas.
A number of
issues show the scope and depth of China’s hostility towards
India and the challenge it poses to American authority in
It refuses to
recognize India’s position in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh,
and it maintains military pressure in India’s north.
American interests are engaged in the Himalayas because of
the fear of a communist Nepal.
China insists on India’s nuclear disarmament while
maintaining a supply line of nuclear arms and missiles to
It is building defence ties with Bangladesh
It is building a 12,000 ft. runaway near Mandalay.
It is building a deep water port in Gwador, Pakistan
It has resumed supply of arms to insurgents in India’s north
after many years.
The territorial dispute in the Himalayas and in Kashmir
(China occupies a part of Kashmir) is unresolved.
American strategic needs in the region? The USA needs to
develop a long; lasting presence in the area from the Sea of
Japan to the Arabian Sea/Persian Gulf to deal with multiple
North Korea has a missile capability to threaten Hawaii,
Alaska and the western part of America.
America needs to protect Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and
Taiwan straits – the lifeline of American, Japanese and SE
Asian commerce including oil supply and military power.
It needs to manage terrorism in SE Asia, particularly in the
Philippines and Indonesia.
It needs to contain the spread of China’s influence into
Pakistan and Afghanistan, and through them to the Middle
East, and to loosen China’s missile and arms supply links to
Middle East countries such as Iran, Syria and Egypt.
It needs to check China’s desire to build up the UN as the
lead agency for the reconstruction of post Sadaam Iraq, a
ploy which is meant to marginalize the USA and to bolster
the UN Security Council where China has a veto and a voice.
Now that the Security Council is no longer relevant to the
issues of international and regional security, China’s UN
advocacy is self-serving and it is not constructive. China
does not favour America’s ascendancy in the Middle East,
rather it prefers continued disorder in the region so that
it can project itself as the guardian of the Muslims and the
defender against US hegemony.
policies favour protracted conflict in the Indian
subcontinent and a power vacuum and anti-Americanism in the
Middle East and in Southeast Asia, because a vacuum creates
opportunities for Chinese interventions through aid,
economic and military trade, and political diplomacy.
Indian and American practitioners need to learn from
Pentagon’s military and political tactics in the fight
against Sadaam. The Pentagon has secured two important
victories. First, it defeated Sadaam and his ideology, and
signalled America’s impatience with oppressive Middle East
regimes, but the Pentagon won over Colin Powell and his
State Department. Powell lost big on two grounds. A
respectable black leader and a war hero, a voice of reason
in the White House, and a seeker of peace through the UN,
Powell lost in both the power structure of Washington and in
the international arena. Rumsfeld advocated a smaller
invading force using precision bombing, timely intelligence,
and hits in the right places and at the right time, compared
to Desert Storm while Powell advocated a force with
overwhelming power to fight Sadaam. Powell was fighting the
last war. This is always a bad mistake for a general.
Rumsfeld and CENTCOM on the other hand won the war of the
future, a nimble, precise military action with special force
run by the Pentagon. Secondly, Powell failed at the UN
where he alienated the Europeans and the Middle East
countries and could not even muster a majority of nine
votes. Powell was both too hawkish as well as ineffective.
He was neither a good general nor a successful diplomat.
So the Indian government was right to put its faith in a
strategic relationship with the Pentagon and to dismiss
Powell’s love in with fellow political general Pervez
Musharref, and secondly to put the focus on China as its
long term strategic problem. Neither Indo-Pakistan nor
Sino-Indian normalization makes sense in present