Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tickling a feinting dragon

Apologies for the outdated post you'll be reading... I'd planned to post it after the 2nd day of the NSG meet, but as things so often happen, I found myself looking at the train as it passed me by. Still, even though the deal is now done (Hurray??), I didn't feel like putting this piece to the trash, so here it is, a whole 3 days late.... Please give me your opinions.

The goings on in the NSG and out are laughable - and not in a good sense; more in the sort of laugh that movie characters end up giving when victory turns to impending doom, when there isn't any hope, and they're amazed at the unbelievable turn of events.

I'm talking of course about China's "U-turn" on the Nuke deal, after "expressing its support" for our Nuclear Ambitions earlier (goddam desi media can't read a thing right, can they?).

TimesNow called this stance "nuanced". Not so I say. CNN-IBN has termed it a "broadside". Not so again, Sir. I'm now expecting some half-assed TV opinionator to call it a betrayal.

Except that in the case of China's "turn-around" on the Nuke Deal issue, it really wasn't unexpected to close watchers of the game. Ajai Shukla has an excellent analysis of Chinese thought process on his blog (China's strategic thinking: A gold medal for mental gymnastics). That somewhat unrelated report has a lot of insights to apply to what our government is now facing.

Chinese thought, deeply influenced by Sun Zhe's classic on warfighting and strategic thinking, has a few principles that underline its actions. First, never fight a battle you aren't ready for - The "Hot Peace" is a common feature (a concept also elucidated by Chanakya). Second, don't do something (eg. lead a war) when someone is already doing it for you. And, if it does require, never hesitate to attack with all your might. And lastly, no promise can stand against an iron fist (as indicated by their repeated disregard for laws, treaties, and promises in their single-minded pursuit of national pride, strength and greatness).

Unfortunately, our own South Block Mandarins, hamstrung by their own personal problems, failed to read the Chinese, or if they did, weren't able to come up with a suitable battle plan. And all indicators say that they did anticipate such a move by the Chinese. Any reasonably regular reader of the diplomatic winds would have been able to see the storm coming.

The Battleground:

  1. China is absolutely wary of any nation being able to challenge it in any respect. As the new leader of the third world, it is trying desperately to bring nations into its warm, tight embracing fold of renmenbi (yuan for common folk), guns, aircrafts and technology and secure its energy and mineral needs for the coming 50 years.

    The last thing they'd want is a challenger to any of these, and certainly not one with such a strong hold over the energy routes as India, and even worse, a neighbour and an old leader of the poor (although that nehruvian idealism was both flawed and useless, and is now, dead).

  2. The US has already signaled its wariness of a powerful China in no uncertain terms. China already sees the US as an enemy (and an ideal of power that they look up to as well). Any tie up with India will (and already has) set alarm bells ringing in Zhongnanhai, PRC's corridor of power.

    Beijing's alarm of US doesn't extend to India, which it views with a more patronizing and condescending viewpoint (read any internet forum populated by Chinese posters, and you'll see the picture pretty soon, even among the civil and friendly ones too). That condescension only increases their eagerness to keep Indian interests far away from their (expanding) sphere of influence.

  3. Pakistan is a friend China needs, and not just as an enemy's enemy - the land route afforded to Xinjiang and energy security gained by removing the need to traverse the US-infested Malaccas is attractive to China, as is the foothold that Pakistan affords due to its standing among Muslim nations. And anything that is bad for the Land of the Pure is of concern to its leige-lord.

Still, China cannot take on India head on - not because of what India could do (honestly, with such a weak system, Indian responses to provocations have only made for dinnerside humor at the tables in Beijing and Islamabad), but because of what a spat between two heavy-weights will do to an image-conscious China. Their aim right now, and for the next 10-15 years is to keep quiet, maintain good relations, grow, become powerful, and then roar to subjugate the world, and report with China and dispute on the same page is bad. Neither would they like to take on the US, whose markets are sustaining Chinese manufacturing growth for the time being, and whose opinion matters to a whole load of Chinese business clients.

Hence, their reticence to come out with an open opinion about the Nuke deal. Till now, that is. However, this wasn't unexpected. As their sabre-rattling in 2005 alarmed our government into appeasement (whitewashing of the incursions in Sikkim, a flurry of official visits by the high and mighty among the Indian leadership, ignoring China's strategic throttling of our bilateral relations with neighbouring countries, courtesy their "string of pearls" doctrine, and eyes shut to Chinese barks on various issues).

The Game Plan:

  1. From the very beginning, it was China that had our guys worried. Early grumblings notwithstanding, the Chinese silence after that probably got a few hopes up, as did the improving bilateral relations (our perception as always). But a Chinese silence is no comfort, not to us anyway. Repeated attempts to get a clear opinion from them failed - coaxing, prodding, even wrong news reports (in the hope that Chinese reaction would shed light) couldn't move China to show its cards that early in the game (Patient waiting - another Chinese trait).

    It was here that we should have taken a slightly stronger line. Press China for a response. Heat up things a bit on the border issue as well as with our defense capabilities, while at the same time showing China what it had to gain by supporting us. Even better, get America to do that. Its a risky game - too little pressure and they wouldn't budge; too much and the opinion would only turn against us. Instead, we did the Indian thing and decided to leave things till they boiled - escape from the task at hand. And China was happy too. Wait and watch - strategy for battles, applied to statecraft.

  2. China didn't really need to talk or be heard till now - after all, they were able to ride on their lapdogs, the Indian Left's antics to scuttle the deal, and before that, the certain political wranglings within the Indian system. What they probably hadn't counted on was the Congress' determination to get the deal pushed, even at risk of death. Then again, they achieved a one years delay. Then, there wasn't much to be gained by talking at the IAEA, where only a simple majority was needed. Why do that when a no vote at the NSG would be a veto.

  3. The NSG was where China had planned to set up its ambush point. Classic military tactics here too - instead of meeting the enemy on level ground, attack and choke him where the road is narrow and chance of escape is slim; where you have a huge advantage.

    Again, if there were signs from the small nations that they would oppose the deal no matter what, perhaps China wouldn't have needed to open out. I guess Prez. Bush's decision to personally lobby for the deal with the dissenters and possible signs of easing off by them spurred the leaders to take control.

  4. The People's Daily piece and the Chinese spokesperson's comments are not aimed at India... they're aimed at the nations which would take solace in the knowledge that they'll have a strong nation to support them if matters came to a head. It was also a way of reminding people about possible reasons they'd have to say nay to the deal - Non-proliferation (however flawed and hypocritical the concept may be), hatred of US's overbearing attitude, or simply a way for them to squeeze something. Notice the clever way in which the piece talks about the reason why the NPT was created in the first place (India's '74 tests).

    Mind you, the game isn't over yet - the Chinese have a lot of cards yet. They'd still take the backseat, and not oppose the deal any more than they already have, nor take leadership in the issue. Leave the barking and fighting and suggesting changes to the smaller countries, and wait for India to say enough is enough and draw the line. That way, they can paint us as the stubborn ones, the ones to blame.

    Alternatively, they can quietly support a whole range of overbearing conditions. And in case all other nations decide that its not a bad thing at all, they may CONSIDER vetoing the deal. Remember, NSG is not an organization - its a cartel, where every member can veto an agreement.

    But this option will be dangerous for China, and one they'd very carefully consider before implementing. Chinese torpedoeing of the deal will bring them the unmitigated animosity of India and the US (although that will depend upon how the next administration looks at it). It will not be easy for them to destroy whatever progress they've made with India. More importantly, such an action could cost them the goodwill and support of some nations, which they've painstakingly earned after the Olympics. But that seems like a relatively mild prospect.

    In all likelihood, China will not keep itself at the forefront of this. It may back the smaller pomeranian nations that are barking away at the NSG, and have secret meetings to support them. But if America does step up its backdoor negotiations and probably give a tough word or two to the Chinese, they should grumble, but will most likely back off and abstain... either way, there is no way we can expect a Chinese yes vote for the 123 Deal.

But certainly, if China plays an instrumental role in destroying almost 8 years of painstaking embroidary, it will only earn them the animosity of the Congress Party. I see that as a good thing - a bright sliver in a very very dark cloud; for it will give us, a eunuch nation, a chance to act and think decisively (much like the Chinese). Take the strong line and act on it, unlike our previous all-talk-and-no-action farces.

If the deal goes through, China will be a big loser - not only will it have lost all its good relations with India and a good deal of support in US, but it will lose the trust of the nations it has been supporting. Its a zero sum game - India's win is China's loss; China's gain will be an Indian disaster.

My only hope is that if the deal does go bust, we will not think of it as a small disappointment. And if it does go through, we'd better make the Chinese know exactly what we think of them - in diplomatic style, of course!

A translation of the latest Chinese re is available at:

For those who think that this was unexpected, read this Chinese release from 2005:


Anonymous said...

The nuclear deal clearly puts India under US strategic influence similar to the US strategic "partnership" with the EU (NATO), Japan, South Korea, Latin America and the emerging AFRICOM. The intention of the US is to prevent India from being an independent power like Russia or China.

The focus of the Indian media and it's leaders on China seems to be a tactic to divert the publics attention away from statements by US politicians regarding control over India's ability to to test nuclear technology.

The idea that Bush "strong-armed" China to accept the nuclear deal during the same week China forced the US to nationalize Freddie Mac and Fannie May is weak.

I think that China wanted assurances from the US that it is in control of India's nuclear capabilities. China and the US are more coordinated than people would like to think. That's something that India will have to always keep in mind.

The US has and will never created another "power."

sniperz11 said...

Good points Anon... however, I think we'll need to hold those opinions till the full text of the NSG waiver agreement and the 123 deal text in congress.

Second, the agreement itself does not force a collective responsibility to act if India tests - the US govt will interpret the text as advantageously as can be to get the support of their representatives, and our govt will do the same... Note that they are both correct, just that each pushes the points that are most advantageous to the forefront - its marketing; plain and simple.

However, once we have the NSG waiver, we're free to trade with anyone, without any approval from the US - and these nations may look more favorably at our Nuclear Weapons Program. Thats the biggest advantage of this deal.

However, again, we'll need to read and chew up the fine print.

As for your points about China, I do agree that Bush hasn't strongarmed them - no one can. But making the Chinese aware of the reactions to its actions is good enough to get them thinking, and thats what I think happened.

I don't really believe in the last two points you raised. For one, US is wary of China, but is undecided about which route to take. And second, US has created 'powers' - China itself, for one.

sniperz11 said...

Adding to my previous reply, the US does realize that the days of a unipolar world are ending, and it will need to get its friends to the high table before it becomes unable to - hence I believe, the reasoning behind trying to push India.

Anonymous said...

"I don't really believe in the last two points you raised. For one, US is wary of China, but is undecided about which route to take. And second, US has created 'powers' - China itself, for one."

The US never made China into a power. There's a saying in the states regarding China, "Who lost China?" China and the US fought 2 proxy wars in the 20th century: Korea and Vietnam. Both ended in a draw but China forced a much stronger power to negotiate. This benefitted both sides: the US was able to further separate China from the Soviet Union and its participation in Vietnam. For China, it created space for economic and political reform without having to worry about US intervention (political or military.)

China didn't adopt the "Washington Consensus" that other developing economies did during the 80's and 90's but negotiated for 15 years to implement what is known as the "Beijing Consensus" which allowed China better leverage in the global economic system and took advantage of America's weaknesses during the 2000's to further leverage itself.

As for the "other nations" that India can turn to for nuclear technology, the only one that's not under US control is Russia. If India turns to Russia, the US can use its allies to isolate India ... the G7 is more likely to work in concert than be divided and conquered.

I suspect that the real reason behind the US wanting to allign with India has more to do with America's War on Terror and the situation in Pakistan and Afganistan. The interest of America's allies is waning and the US needs a partner that can share the burden of this war. What better country than India?

Strategically speaking, American strategists would benefit from exploiting the tension between Hindus and Muslims. Given the situation in Kashmir, Americans would have to ask themselves, "What if Kashmir turns into an armed conflict?" And what if Iraq-style terror starts forming on the streets of Mumbai or Delhi? It would force India to go on a war footing for territorial integrity which means that the US will now have a "partner" that can share in the burden (both finacially and militarily) in the War on Terror.

This is just a guess ... it should be interesting to see what happens in the coming months in Kashmir or if there will be any acts of terror by Muslim extremists in cities in India. If so, India has to not get trapped into going on a war footing and deal with the situation using low level counter-insurgency tactics. Otherwise, the US will play India and Pakistan like they did with Iraq and Iran during the 80's (and yes, the US has a deep relationship with Pakistan's military that goes back to the 80's. In fact, it was the US and Saudi Arabia that brought most of the extremists to Afganistan and Pakistan to fight Russia. America's unknowingly supplying Pakistan with $10 billion of advance weaponry during the past few years is suspect. America's support of Musharif against the will of the Pakistani people indicates that the US values it's own interest than democracy and human rights. Another lesson for India.)