BOOK REVIEW Asian drama The New Asian Power Dynamic edited by M K Rasgotra
Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia
The interactions among China, Japan, India, Russia and the United States have
crucial importance for Asian and global stability. The New Asian Power Dynamic
is an edited volume by eminent Indian scholars and diplomats on the complex
interplay of the five states whose actions matter the most for 21st-century
Alka Acharya's opening article argues that Chinese foreign policy has transited
into a "post-conflictual" mode. To prime domestic
economic growth, China has normalized relations with all its rivals of previous
decades. Acharya believes that "if the forces of globalization are assisting
China's rise, they are also simultaneously constraining it" (p 22). Caught in
the throes of economic modernization, a confrontation with the US is eminently
avoidable for China. Chinese thinkers are particularly sanguine about
cooperation with the US on counter-terrorism since the September 11, 2001,
Beijing is tackling US
hegemony in indirect and defensive ways by forging
a buffer of harmonious relations with Asian
states. There is virtually no US presence in
emerging regional formations such as the Shanghai
Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Chiang Mai
Initiative and ASEAN Plus Three (the 10 member
states of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations plus China, Japan and South Korea) on
currency-protection measures. China
multi-dimensional approaches to security in contrast to the US way of military
alliances. Acharya notes that China is popularizing alternative norms of
inter-state relations such as the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence that
resonate better in Asia than US unilateralism.
Gurmeet Kanwal's chapter posits that the capabilities of the Chinese People's
Liberation Army's could pose a credible threat to other modern militaries
operating in Asia. The new PLA doctrine of "active defense" envisages
engagement in conflict beyond China's immediate periphery by taking the battle
into enemy terrain.
China's upgraded air and naval power, involving plasma, laser and microwave
weapons, stems from "a desire to project power well away from its shores" (p
56). To counter Washington's overwhelming conventional military superiority,
Beijing is pursuing "acupuncture warfare" with a yen for information attacks
and computer-virus onslaughts. In light of the growing military gap between
China and India, Kanwal urges the latter to graduate from a position of
"dissuasion" to "credible deterrence".
D S Rajan's piece on Sino-US ties maintains that Beijing's moderate course
vis-a-vis Washington is merely a near- and medium-term tactic. Since mid-2005,
China has released a soft line on US global supremacy. A bevy of Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) bigwigs (even hardliners such as Qian Qichen) are
assuring the US of good intentions and playing down the traditional line of
having the option of force against Taiwan.
However, the CCP's long-term vision rates the US as "an untrustworthy,
duplicitous superpower" (p 85). Chinese scholars hold that the US is following
a "hedging strategy" to prevent their country from rising too rapidly.
Washington's use of Japan as a frontline state and its efforts to "draw India
against China" whet Beijing's suspicions.
On the US side of the fence, uncertainty and lack of consensus prevail over
China's future behavior. Voices supporting engagement with China remain strong,
but hawkish views are not scanty either. Besides Taiwan, Rajan sees potential
of Sino-US conflict on energy security, due to Washington's antagonism for Iran
Jayshree Sengupta's essay compares US-China and US-India economic relations. To
retaliate against the mounting Chinese trade surplus, the United States is
resorting to sanctions, anti-dumping acts and restrictions on technology
transfer. Chinese acquisitions of US companies are being resisted on national
strategic grounds. One big US concern is that China negotiates free-trade
agreements in East and Southeast Asia with the intent of shutting out US
exports. On the vexed yuan-revaluation debate, Sengupta foresees reruns of US
pressure as long as compliance by Beijing is not emulated by other Asian
India's economic linkages with the United States are thickening, but the former
matches China in inadequate patent protection. About 44% of Indian exports to
the US face hardcore non-tariff barriers, and controversies remain over
outsourcing of information technology by US companies to India. Sengupta
suggests that US companies "could seriously consider making India an
alternative manufacturing base in order to diversify from China" (p 118).
Harinder Sekhon's appraisal of US-India relations revolves around the declared
US aim of "assisting India's rise as a major world power" (p 121). Since
September 11, the relationship stands on strategic heights, buttressed by
matching foreign-policy objectives. To Washington, a powerful India would block
the domination of Asia by any one power and ensure a stable equilibrium on the
continent. A major problem lies with the US goal of assisting Pakistan to
become a "successful state" while propelling India to great-power status.
D S Rajan's second write-up on the testy India-China relationship ascribes
recent improvements to "the overall need felt by Beijing to respond to the US
regional strategy to contain China" (p 157). China's friendly overtures to
India fit the former's advertised objective of a "peaceful rise". Economic
cooperation with India would also benefit backward western regions of China
such as Xinjiang and Tibet. Rajan presages competition and rivalry between the
two Asian giants for overseas oil and gas reserves. Potential for friction also
rests in China's bid for a blue-water navy patrolling the Arabian Sea and
elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.
China has risen to the level of a lead partner in the context of economic
interests driving India's foreign policy. Both countries are ready to shelve
intractable disputes and reap immediate harvests of bilateral trade. The Indian
business community is setting up shop in large numbers in China, and Chinese
companies are winning heavy infrastructure contracts in India.
Arjun Asrani presents the Japanese perspective on Asian security, with Tokyo's
"normalization" in the defense field as a backdrop. Japan frowns at China's
naval buildup that could jeopardize its vital sea-lane security around Taiwan.
Japan's 2004 National Defense Program Guideline singles out China as a
potential threat. Yet the economies of Japan and China are so enmeshed that
prospects of war appear incredible. Japan's revised alliance with the US holds
the key to restraining Chinese hegemony in East Asia.
Parallel to the growing might of China, Asrani observes a distinct improvement
in Russo-Japanese relations. Tokyo's ties with New Delhi are also moving out of
the confines of foreign aid into strategic channels. Apprehending China's
predominance, Japan invited India to the 2005 East Asia Summit as a "balancing
factor" (p 225).
The survey by M K Bhadrakumar (a regular contributor to Asia Times Online) of
worsening Russia-US relations impugns Washington for trying to eliminate
Moscow's influence in the post-Soviet space. He echoes Russian opinions that
the United States is promoting encirclement of Russia through the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization. To preserve preferential geopolitical rights in
its "near abroad", Russia is re-centering its energies on Asia and the Pacific.
By the end of 2005, its influence in Central Asia had "touched an all-time
high" (p 241). A profound strategic dimension has evolved in Sino-Russian ties,
manifesting in joint war games and dynamic institutions such as the SCO.
Compared with China, Japan and India occupy a lower pedestal in Russia's
partnership kitty. Moscow prefers Tokyo to follow an "independent foreign
policy" instead of being a "Britain in Asia". Russia is nervous about the US
succeeding in replacing it in the Indian arms market. Bhadrakumar takes a dig
at the US-obsessed Indian elites who grossly underestimate Russia's potential
as a partner. He places the onus on Delhi's political leadership to revive
Indo-Russian cooperation up to an optimal plane.
K Raghunath's postlude sums up the Asian drama in which relationships are
simultaneously cooperative and competitive. "Conflict remains part of the Asian
scene, but it is now conditioned by a less confrontational milieu" (p 275).
With shifts in the Asian power configuration, the US is translating its belated
"discovery of India" into practical measures even as it faces a "cold peace"
Beijing's acceptance of New Delhi as a weighty partner stems from a reckoning
of India's rapid economic growth and nuclear-weapons program. Raghunath
recommends dialogue with China to be accompanied by a systematic development of
Indian capabilities (economic, military and soft power). Delhi will have to
realize the full promise of cooperation with Japan "in a non-confrontational
Asia-Pacific framework" (p 290). Likewise, the much-broached India-China-Russia
strategic triangle will need to be received as a non-adversarial enterprise in
A cutting-edge publication with acute analyses of the rhythms swaying Asia,
this book fashions a logical story out of the dense thicket of contradictory
trends. Its contents offer glimpses of Asia's diffuse power constellation in
the coming decades.
The New Asian Power Dynamic edited by M K Rasgotra, Sage Publications,
New Delhi, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-7619-3572-8. Price: US$14; 307 pages.