Thursday, March 23, 2017

In an America First world, pursuing an India First policy is the logical response

The Trump disruption is now in full flow and the tectonic plates are shifting under our feet. The fault lines run along the issues of trade, immigration, relations with China and Iran.
In Trump’s America First world, there are no friends and enemies. Trusted friends and allies have been given short shrift as the new President has taken the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). How little the US bothers about loyalty is evident from Donald Trump’s testy conversation with Australia’s Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull last week. Trump’s bullying behaviour towards Mexico indicates that he cares even less about good neighbourliness.
At first sight, India has little to worry. Prime Minister Narendra Modi says that his conversation with Trump was “warm” and that he had invited the US President to visit India. The two leaders had “discussed security in the region of South and Central Asia” and resolved that the two countries “stand shoulder to shoulder in the global fight against terrorism”. But parsing the sentence could well suggest that the US may want Indian boots on the ground in the quagmire of Afghanistan. Note there is no reference to the flavour of yesterday – the Asia-Pacific aka the Indo-Pacific.
There are actually just two ways of dealing with Trump: Go along with whatever he says and does, or hedge. New Delhi would be well advised to adopt the latter course. Trump is the kind of person who will insist on always holding the steering wheel and maintain that only he knows the direction; complainers will be asked to get off. In an America First world, pursuing an India First policy is the logical response.
In recent years, India, like many other middle powers like the UK, Germany or Japan, has gotten used to leaning on Uncle Sam who, of course, revelled in the role of global leader. But things have changed and it is time to explore other options. Without much money or military muscle, our India First strategy has to be based on building durable coalitions with like-minded countries without egregiously stepping on American toes.
First, we need to shore up our most vital external area – the Persian Gulf. Obama exempted India from the oil sanctions in 2012. But such accommodation would be out of character in the Trump era, which has just put Iran “on notice” for testing a ballistic missile. Leave alone sanctions, the big worry now is the possibility of a shooting war in the region. Trump has declared that “nothing is off the table”, with regard to Iran.
India will not escape the collateral damage of a war in Iran. It is the fourth largest supplier of oil to India, and any war against Iran will also hit oil supply from our other partners like Saudi Arabia and Iraq. More than oil, a US-Iran standoff will dent our geopolitical plans centred on the port of Chabahar to link up to Afghanistan and Central Asia, as well as the International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) connecting India’s west coast ports through a multi-modal network to Europe, via Iran and the Russian railway system. INSTC is India’s humble but important version of China’s One Belt One Road plan.
Second, we need to guard against instability in the Asia Pacific. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, said in early 2016 that war with China and Iran were real possibilities. In his confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the US would deny access to the seven artificial islands China had constructed in the South China Sea.
India would not be directly affected, and may even revel at China being put in its place, but even a short sharp clash between two of the world’s leading powers will, at a minimum, generate severe turbulence in the global economy which cannot but affect our growth.
What we need is an eastern coalition with Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore to rein in China, but also moderate American adventurism. A western coalition with Russia, Persian Gulf states and Japan should aim to calm things down in the Persian Gulf. Russians have a major stake in INSTC, and oil from the Persian Gulf is vital for Japan.
One country is in both lists, Japan, which has emerged as a major economic partner and aid giver to India. Tokyo is enhancing India’s domestic connectivity and has expressed interest in partnering India in Chabahar and the larger connectivity goals in Iran and Central Asia. Strategic coordination between the two middle-powers of Asia would be a big hedge against the vagaries of America First.
Times of India February 4, 2017

Dealing With Hafiz Saeed Not Easy For Pakistan Because JuD Commands Great Street Power

So we are back to the future with the “house arrest” of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the malignant head of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. As of now we have no direct knowledge as to why the Pakistan Punjab Province government took this step, so it becomes a bit difficult to analyse the situation. Perhaps there was American pressure, because Indian efforts have not yielded results.

 Dealing With Hafiz Saeed Not Easy For Pakistan Because JuD Commands Great Street Power
The News of Pakistan claims that both American and Chinese pressure led to the present action, though the US pressure is not because of the present Trump administration, but its predecessor Obama Administration. (   Maybe like the last time around the whole thing is another farce designed to pull wool over our eyes. The Pakistani notification says that action is being taken as he under the watch list as per the sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 of 1999. Both the JuD and Hafiz Muhammad Saeed are specifically listed in the resolution. Under the resolution, Pakistan must seize their property and restrict their movement.
Saeed is, of course, desperately wanted by India for his role in planning the terrible terrorist attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008 that took the lives of 166 people. In 2012, the US placed a bounty of $ 10 million on his head for his role in the killing of 6 American nationals in the Mumbai attack. Though he is the head of the founder and head of the LeT, he now claims that he is merely the head of the Jamaat-ud Dawa and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation. Now, Pakistani sources say he has renamed the JuD as the Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir, to maintain the fiction that a) it operates outside Pakistani territory from the so-called Azad Kashmir, and b) that it is devoted exclusively to the Kashmiri “freedom struggle.”
It may be recalled that Hafiz Saeed had been placed under a similar house arrest in the wake of the Mumbai attack and was released by the Lahore High Court in June 2009. At the time the government appealed against the judgment, but in May 2010, the Supreme Court of Pakistan dismissed the appeals. Actually, Saeed was arrested even earlier in 2001 following the attack on the Parliament House in New Delhi. With India threatening military action, he was held till March 2002 and then arrested again for a couple of months following the Kaluchak massacre. It was at this time that under Musharraf’s orders, the parent organisation Markaz Dawa ul Irshad changed its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Saeed distanced himself from the LeT. At the same time Musharraf ordered the LeT to shift its  operations to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The JuD made a name for itself in the relief work it did during the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 and subsequently spread its wings as a social welfare organisation, keeping its Lashkar-e-Tayyeba connections clandestine.

Following the Mumbai attack of 2008 and the enormous evidence accumulated by Indian and American officials on the complicity of the LeT in the massacre, Pakistani officials raided the LeT camp in Muzaffarabad, POK and arrested its Operations Chief Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi and 12 other persons. A year later Lakhvi, Mazhar Iqbal, Hammad Amin Sadiq, Abdul Wajid, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Yonus Anjum  were charged by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court for helping execute the attack. However in December 2014, Lakhvi was given bail and despite the efforts of the Pakistani government, he was finally released from jail in April 2015. Most observers say that Lakhvi’s jailtime was spent in relative luxury and he retained his operational command of the LeT.
There is nothing secret in the connections between Lakhvi and Saeed and US national Daood Gilani aka David Coleman Headley said in his testimony to a Mumbai court early last year that he had been assured by his handler, the ISI official Sajid Mir, that nothing would happen to either Lakhvi or Saeed.

In his statement to the Indian authorities, Ajmal Kasab, the captured gunman who was subsequently hanged by India, said that Saeeed was personally present in selecting the terrorists for their attack and has visited them during their training. However, the issue has been clouded by the fact that Kasab formally retracted his confession, claiming that it had been forced.
Legal proof in terrorism cases is very difficult. After all terrorists don’t maintain minutes of the meetings in which they plan and organise their attacks. However, in the case of Saeed, he has openly broadcast his hatred for India and his intention of not just “liberating” Kashmir, but conducting jihad throughout India.
Dealing with Saeed will not be easy for Pakistan because the JuD and the FEI have established roots across Pakistan, especially in Punjab through their active social welfare works. In addition Saeed has been active in the Dife-e-Pakistan Council, an umbrella coalition of more than 40 right-wing religious outfits that support the Afghan Taliban and the closing of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. They may not have widespread support in the country, but they still have a great deal of street power.

Given the past history of Saeed’s arrest and releases, it remains to be seen as to whether Islamabad is serious in shutting down the Lashkar/Jamaat outfit. It would require a great deal of political courage to do so. But more important, it would require the cooperation of the Pakistan Army and the ISI which have always maintained close links with the outfit. If that happens, it would mean the beginning of the strategic shift away from the use of state sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan. But, as of now, it remains a big ‘if’.
Outlook web 31 January 2017

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Trump May Be Pushing China Into Clash That Won’t Benefit Anyone

US (L) and Chinese national flags flutter on a light post at the Tiananmen Square. Credit: Reuters/Petar Kujundzic 
US (L) and Chinese national flags flutter on a light post at the Tiananmen Square.

Given his actions on a range of issues so far, US President Donald Trump is likely to go after China using a range of tactics from punitive tarrifs to casting aside the US’s ‘One China’ policy and embracing Taiwan. So far, of course, he has scored a self-goal by scrapping the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the foundation on which the Barack Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia was anchored.
In an intriguing op-ed in the New York Times, Yan Xuetong, a leading Chinese academician has painted a dramatic portrait of what China can become if it is put into the pressure cooker by Trump.
Instead of playing it on the backfoot, China could, he said, actually take on the attack on the frontfoot and emerge as a “full fledged super power”. What does that mean? First, it could fill the vacuum left by the US abandoning free trade by creating a new trading bloc to replace the TPP. Australia and South Korea would be encouraged to join, but Japan would be left out of the new bloc.
Second, he says, as of now, only “Pakistan is a traditional military ally,” but if the US changed its one China policy and recognised Taiwan’s independence, China “should establish as many military alliances as possible.” Specifically, Beijing should enter into military pacts with Cambodia, Thailand and the the Philippines. With the trade and military alliance in place, Beijing would become “the leader of East Asia and make the region safer.”
Third, even as the US cracks down on immigration, Beijing should change its policy and begin welcoming immigrants. This way it could possibly attract some talented Americans who wanted to have nothing to do with the Trumpian US, as well as the best and the brightest from other parts of the world. Such immigration and the US ability to attract the best students from around the world has long been seen by China as an essential attribute of American soft-power. Despite its authoritarian system, China has been going out of its way to attract foreign students and talent, but it is no where as successful as the US. But, Yan says, opportunity is beckoning.
Yan, dean of the prestigious Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a PhD from University of California at Berkeley, is perhaps the leading theorist of shaping the Chinese Communist Party’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist system to the needs of the world of today. He has termed its culture as “atheist Confucianism” and has compared the politics of China’s “communist ruled socialist country based on private ownership” to the dragon that has aspects of fish, bird, deer and snake! Yan’s views on China developing alliances are well known because he believes that the world is becoming bipolar and that this will actually make it more stable.

In 1993 when presidential candidate Bill Clinton attacked incumbent George H.W. Bush’s China policy and threatened punitive tariffs, Washington Post carried a full page infographic which showed how much each household would end up paying for the common items they bought from the supermarket. Sanctions on US companies in China and counter-tariffs would bring the cost of the trade war back home as well. As Stephen S. Roach, former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, has pointed out in a recent article, the relationship is more of a “co-dependency” and evolved out of their mutual needs. In the 2000s the Chinese helped to keep US consumer prices low, while their purchase of US treasury bills helped keep US interest rates low. There can be little doubt that making an abrupt and unilateral change to the terms of the relationship will have devastating consequences for not just the China and the US, but other countries as well.
China has, of course, been steadily building its way into super-powerdom. The beginnings of its financial architecture are visible in the setting up of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. As for trade, it is mooting the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as well as the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.
From the point of view of security, besides the bilateral pacts Yan is speaking off, China has already gone some way in creating the SCO where counter-terrorism military exercises and intelligence sharing are conducted.
No doubt, the idea of China as a power rivaling the US appears to be fanciful today. China’s GDP may be greater than the American one in PPP terms, but it is still poor in per capita terms. Likewise, the US remains a much greater military power. But, unlike the US, which has stumbled twice in recent times – in its $ 2 trillion “war of choice” in Iraq and the 2008 financial crisis – China so far has been coasting along, though facing some headwind in recent years.
Trump’s policies seeking headlong confrontation may compel Beijing to get into a fight that it would otherwise have avoided. But there can be little doubt that such a clash will damage both parties, though to what extent cannot be gauged now.
The danger became manifest this month when US secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson said in his confirmation testimony on January 11 that “We’re going to send China a clear signal that first the island-building stops and second your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.”
The Chinese response was measured, emphasising its “irrefutable sovereignty” over the islands. Earlier this week, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that the US would protect its interests in the South China Sea region. “We are going to make sure we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” he added.
Now, the international tribunal that nixed China’s Nine Dashed Line in 2016 has not had a say on the sovereignty of the islands which it says are not true islands, but rocks entitled to just 10 nm of territorial sea. The islands are contested between China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia. So far the US position was to emphasise the freedom of navigation and overflight in the region, but not take a position on the sovereignty of the islands.
In the past few years, China has built up military facilities on three key reefs after reclaiming land there. The Subi reef, Mischief reef and Fiery Cross island now have airstrips and hangars capable of taking military aircraft.
A US effort to prevent their access to the islands would be a blockade, which is an act of war in international law. As it is, the location is sensitive for China because it is proximate to the Hainan Islands, the main base for the nuclear propelled submarines which carry a key element of their nuclear deterrent.
It is no surprise then, that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists have advanced their Doomsday clock by half a minute to just two and a half minutes to midnight.
The Wire January 28, 2017

Trump's bite as bad as his bark as hopes for a 'presidential' leader fall away

The full weight of Donald Trump's election as the President of the United States is now being felt.Unlike his predecessors, he seems determined to walk the talk of his campaign. Expectations that he would become more 'presidential' and moderate his views have been belied.

Trump: Great for India?

The flaws, both moral and practical, in his policies are also becoming apparent.
Take the decision to block Muslim travelers from Iraq and Iran. Now Iraq is the country that the US willfully devastated through a war, and now it is refusing to deal with its human consequences.
As for Iran, Mr Trump may not know it, that in the Islamic world there is probably no other country whose middle class is more pro-American than the Iranians.
And the irony is that the Saudis, who are responsible for funding terrorism all over the place and whose nationals allegedly carried out the horrific 9/11 attack are not on the Trump exclusion list.
Indeed, there is no record of American citizens being killed by nationals of Yemen, Syria, Somalia or Sudan either.
Another strange policy measure has been to remove the Director National Intelligence and the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff from the National Security Council.
Instead, he has included his right-wing strategic adviser Stepen Bannon, a former media and financial executive, to the NSC.
The American NSC, as its name suggests, is the principal adviser to the President on foreign policy and security and its principal job is to coordinate the work of other departments.
The removal of two key staffers is bound to affect the institutional capacity of the body. More important, it will give freer rein to controversial NSA chief Mike Flynn.
The hapless travelers who have been blocked from the US, from their loved ones, families and jobs, have only one alternative - turn to the courts.
But it will not be plain sailing for other Trump policies, principally, his effort to upend the world trading order and bottle up China in the mainland.

Trade war
Recall, earlier this month, the US secretary of state designate Rex Tillerson declared that America would 'send China a clear signal that, first, the island building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.'
In effect, the US would blockade China from accessing the military bases they have constructed on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross island in the Spratlys chain. 
The tribunal that heard the Philippines claim against China did not make any judgment on who owns the features. So any effort by the US to blockade China would constitute an act of war.
The Chinese have in the past couple of years strengthened their positions on the islands and built hangars and point air defence systems.
So far, the US policy had been to carry out Freedom of Navigation Operational Patrols. But last year, the US did privately warn China not to begin any reclamation or construction on Scarborough Shoal, an area which even the arbitral tribunal clearly said was within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines.
But the Obama policy was criticised for being ineffective. It remains to be seen what 'avatar' of Trump we will see in the region - the hawk or the deal maker.
The issue of trade, of course, is paramount in the relationship between the US and China and the world is bracing for a possible trade war which will damage not only the US and China but could have a wider fallout.

Rough ride
Companies in South-east Asia who are linked with the US and China through supply chains will also be affected.
A slow-down in Chinese exports would lead to a reduction in their import of raw materials from countries in South-east Asia, Australia and Africa.
Of course, any effort by the US to hike tariffs would be challenged by China in the WTO and it is possible that this could actually be resolved by a deal between the US and China.
But with Trump you never know.
In all this, India is a bit player. We will not be directly affected by the trade war, though we need to worry about pressure on IPR issues relating to pharmaceuticals, and of course, to business process outsourcing. 
Notwithstanding the nice readout of the Trump phone conversation with Modi, we need to watch out because of the nature of the new administration which seems to believe that it alone has the answer to everything, and in any case, no one else has problems, only the United States.
If we are prepared to play the role of a supine partner it s okay, but if India wants to stand up to the US on issues that matter to it and pursue its own national interest, we should be prepared for a rough ride.
So far, India and the US had steadily developed a congruence of interests in a range of areas, today, all bets are off. 

Mail Today January 29, 2017

In a World That’s Always Been America First, Trump’s Way May Undermine US Power

So President Donald J. Trump wants to put America first everywhere. There should be no surprise in this. Every leader of every country, presumably, puts his or her national interests first on every issue. This, as the early 20th century revealed, leads to intense competition – and sometimes war. For this reason, the community of nation states got together to moderate and regulate conduct among themselves, first creating the League of Nations and, eventually, the United Nations.  But even so, there have been countries like the United States which refuse to be regulated and play an out-size role in world affairs.
Without venturing into the controversial nature of the phrase in 1940, even a cursory look at recent US history will demonstrate how things have been ‘America First’ for a long time. The issue is of definition. While US presidents since Truman put forward a broad interpretation of the meaning of the term – where the US assumes the role of a leader – Trump & Co want to put across a hard line, narrower vision.
In ancient Chinese political thought, there is a concept of “all under the heaven” – signifying the rule of an emperor who is supreme, moral and humane and accepted so by everyone. “Hegemony” is the second category of rule which is indeed supreme, but maintains itself so through the obvious exercise of power.
After  the Second World War, the US exercised hegemonic power but was also seen by many as an exemplar of humane authority – a state which was powerful, but also moral in some sense. Its concepts of democracy, trade policy, human rights – though not always evenly adhered to or advocated – had wide acceptance. Its challengers –the Soviet Union and China – never quite managed to move up from the third category, which is that of “tyranny.”
It was a world where America was First. The US shaped the monetary order, its dollars were the world’s reserve currency, its universities dominated the world of the sciences and arts, its popular culture was widely admired and  emulated. There was a lot of US benevolence – the Marshall Plan in Europe, the PL 480 grain supply and economic aid to India, the re-industrialisation of Japan and South Korea – but all this enriched the US and also shored up  a system whose biggest beneficiary was the US itself. The American grand strategy of reshaping the world in its own image was as much an expression of  liberal altruism as a means of securing America and its dominance by creating a world order where everyone lived by rules set largely by the US, with a little prodding from the United Kingdom.
Though the US military was deployed all over the world, there was little doubt that the security of CONUS, or the Continental United States, was its primary concern; American soldiers fought battles in far off lands to ensure that they did not have to fight them in their own. Further, in providing security guarantees for allies in Western Europe and East Asia, the US also checked the ambitions of regional hegemons like Russia and China.
So it is a bit difficult to understand just what Trump’s  America First slogan really means. The US remains the foremost military and economic power in the world today. It is not that other countries have become rich at America’s expense, the US, too, has become richer. It is not that in securing others, the US has not enhanced its own security. It spends more on defence than the next five countries on the list. The problems have arisen when the US chose to fight wars which had no real relation to American security and, in the case of Iraq, were based on fictitious grounds. A contributing factor to the weakening of its economy was the excesses of its own bankers and investment houses, who brought about the 2008 financial meltdown.
These two self-inflicted wounds – both the product of an America First mindset – have brought on a sense of crisis which Trump is massaging.  Even the US could not afford the $2 trillion cost of the Iraq war. Worse was the impact that US unilateralism had on the world order, especially when it became clear that the american intelligence manufactured evidence to justify the war. Its baleful consequences have been evident in the rise of the Islamic State, which Trump now says is the principal enemy.
Trump’s critique of the Washington establishment, of American corporates who have enriched themselves while the middle class and workers have stagnated, is generally accurate. However, it is not just the economic system that has failed a large number of Americans who elected him, but the political system which is dysfunctional.
Take for example, the US Congress. Barely 5-10 incumbents lose an election to the 435-member House of Representatives which takes place every second year. One major cause of this has been the gerrymandering of constituencies. But, stagnation in a key branch of US government has an overall negative impact on the policies of the country. The US Senate moves at a glacial pace on every issue because it has created procedures and processes that require the consent of all all 100 senators to do anything. And, then of course, there is the presidential election system that sent Trump to the White House even though he got 3 million fewer popular votes.
The great US  workers’ unions have been eviscerated with the decline of American manufacturing industry and today even the middle class is fearful that they are entering an era where jobs will be scarce. US hospitals may be the best in the world, but its healthcare system keeps more people out of it than anywhere else in the rich world. US life expectancy is 27th among the 34 industrialised OECD countries. US universities are so expensive that they are losing  their function of being the core of the liberal democratic state.
So, if Trump means that he will reform the political system to make it more responsive to the concerns of the middle class and workers, rebuild its infrastructure and keep special interests in check, the US does indeed have a vast America First agenda. But if it means abandoning allies, tearing up trade treaties and disrupting the international system, America First is a recipe for disaster, not just for the world, but the US itself.
In hindsight, Barack Obama’s presidency was all about seeking to balance issues. He was the one who insisted on pulling the US from Iraq and Afghanistan, minimised the commitment in Libya and refused to get involved in Syria beyond a point. He was able to pull the US from its economic crisis and also sought to build multilateral coalitions on a range of issues from taking on China in the South China Sea to getting Beijing to cooperate in the Paris climate change summit.
Self-created circumstances are making it difficult for the US to maintain its role as being “all under the heaven.” That is why the country appears to be slipping into the lower rung of being an ‘ordinary’ hegemon that will seek to use its raw power to maintain its primacy. Casting itself as a humane authority has meant accepting some constraints on its behaviour but, backed with the power of the American military and economic system, the strategy has been a winning one for the US until now. Trump is now threatening to upend that but if he goes down that path, he will soon realise this is a more difficult role for the United States to assume.
The Wire January 22, 2017

White Paper on Asia-Pacific Security Reveals China’s Regional Ambitions

The paper discusses issues like the Korean nuclear crisis and the South China Sea dispute, as well as ties with the US and India. But it is important to read between the lines to understand the Chinese perspective.

A Chinese national flag flutters at the headquarters of a commercial bank on a financial street near the headquarters of the People's Bank of China, China's central bank, in central Beijing November 24, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files

China’s policy white paper on Asia-Pacific security cooperation, its first ever dealing with the region, signals the country’s desire to put its own stamp on the region’s security order. The central thrust of the document, issued on Wednesday, January 11, is security cooperation. The document mentions, but does not dwell, on “hotspot” issues like the Korean nuclear crisis, the Afghan reconciliation process, the South China Sea dispute or, as it is often called, the Senkaku-Diaoyu issue.
Nevertheless, the paper provides a clear outline of the realist basis of Chinese security policy. For instance, it explicitly warns  that “small and medium-sized countries need not and should not take side among big countries.”
India will be happy that it is listed among the “major countries”, along with the US, Russia and Japan, who are, in turn enjoined to “treat the strategic intentions of others in an objective and rational manner, reject the Cold War mentality [and] respect each other’s legitimate interests and concerns.”
This peculiar formulation – coming from a country that has long espoused equality of nations big and small – is eminently practical advice in some ways, with echoes from China’s past.
A retired Singapore diplomat posted a tongue-in-cheek reference from a book by scholar Wang Gungwu. The quote is about the advice Emperor Hung-wu gave to the Srivijaya king of South East Asia in 1392: “should the Son of Heaven become violently angry…This petty little country, by daring to be wilful and refusing to submit, seeks its own destruction.” Earlier the same emperor had in a policy statement told the smaller kingdoms, that “If they do not trouble China, we will definitely not attack them.”
With the US itself knocking out the key foundation of its Asian pivot – the Trans Pacific Partnership – China has gained ground in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia, thus effectively neutralising the ASEAN. This despite China’s humiliation in 2016 when the UNCLOS arbitration tribunal effectively declared China’s extensive maritime boundary claims in the South China Sea null and void.
China’s take on international law
The South China Sea issue appears to be an important influence on the white paper because the Chinese position – which includes a rejection of a mandatory award by the arbitration tribunal in 2016 – runs counter to the theme of the document, which seeks to project China as a country that wishes to “promote rule-setting and improve institutional safeguards for peace and stability” of the region.
So, the white paper insists everyone in the Asia-Pacific should discuss and formulate the international rules for the region.
“Rules of individual countries should not automatically become ‘international rules’ still less should individual countries be allowed to violate the lawful rights and interests of others under the pretext of the ‘rule of law.’ ”
It would appear that China is calling for re-writing established canons of international law, especially the ones that do not suit it.
In any case, to square the circle on the South China Sea issue, China says that countries in the region should resolve disputes peacefully, “sovereign states directly involved should respect historical facts and seek a peaceful solution through negotiation” on the basis of international law and modern maritime law, including the UNCLOS. Essentially, China is reiterating its stand that it is willing to bilaterally negotiate on the South China Sea issue with the various disputants, but will not accept the UNCLOS arbitration award.
Returning to the subject late,r the document declares unequivocally, “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha (Spratly) islands and their adjacent waters.” It goes on to reiterate that “no effort to internationalize and judicialize the South China Sea issue will be of any avail for its resolution; it will only make it harder to resolve the issue, and endanger peace and stability.”
Much of the white paper is anodyne stuff about China’s desire to promote peace and stability in the region, resolve issues through negotiation, promote the resolution of other “hotspot” issues like Korean nuclearisation, the Afghanistan imbroglio and “non-traditional security threats” like terrorism, natural disasters and transnational crimes. In all this, China would play a lead role, befitting its size, status and interests through its bilateral relationships, as well as through multilateral mechanisms.
What to expect from China’s various bilateral engagements
However, the talk of consensus, cooperation and common security does not mean that China will not act unilaterally, sometimes with military force, to protect what it considers its interests. The best example currently is China’s effort to coerce South Korea into not hosting Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptors on its soil – China has refused to approve large consignments of Korean cosmetics, banned highly popular Korean stars from its TV networks and refused to allow Korean airlines to run charters in the coming Chinese new year period. Earlier this week, ten Chinese military aircraft flew in and out of the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone.
Singapore is still reeling from China’s decision to seize nine Terrex infantry combat vehicles which were transiting on a ship from Taiwan to Singapore, but were seized while the ship made port in Hong Kong.
The Chinese see themselves as the US’s successors in the Asia-Pacific region but they are not directly challenging the US-led mechanisms as yet. For the “foreseeable future”, the practical Chinese say outfits like ASEAN-led mechanisms, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and military alliance structures led by the US will continue to operate. What Beijing is seeking is not some new security architecture, instead, according to the paper, “China promotes the building of a security framework in the Asia-Pacific region, which does not mean starting all over again but improving and upgrading existing mechanisms.”
But with US itself waffling on a range of issues, China has to simply wait it out.
The future framework, the white paper notes, should be based on consensus and be “multi-layered, comprehensive and diversified.” During the May 2014 CICA summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for a new Asian security concept and there was little doubt among observers that the Chinese saw CICA as a possible new regional framework.
The white paper speaks of a possible regional platform that looks at security in its widest form, involving common security for all states large and small, comprehensive security involving both traditional and non-traditional issues, cooperative security through dialogue, and cooperation and sustainable security to focus on development and economic growth for all. CICA, mooted originally by Kazakhstan, does have the widest membership among the Asian regional organisations at present, and meets the other criterion as well. For the Chinese, another valuable point is that the US is merely an observer, not a member.
Again in an ever-practical way, the white paper deconstructs (to the extent diplomacy will permit) China’s relations with the big countries.
With the US, China wants the “new model” relationship mooted in 2013 by Xi which involves non-conflict, non confrontation, mutual respect, including for each other’s core interests and concerns, and mutually beneficial cooperation.
So far the US has not obliged, but the white paper says that their relations are stable and have “made new progress” and have maintained close cooperation and coordination on the Korean and Iran nuclear issues, Syria and Afghanistan.  They also have maintained good military-to-military ties and China has expressed its willingness to “work with the new administration”  on the principles of the new type of great power relations and “to manage and control divergences in a constructive way.
With Russia, China is committed to “deepening its comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination”, which means a level of relationship that India has with the US, and not an alliance. With Japan, the obvious agenda is “for improvement of relations.”

China and India
As for India, China wants to establish “a closer partnership”. The white paper says that since 2015, “China-India strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity has been further deepened.” This is a formulation that many Indians may find difficult to recognise. But it is par for the course of a diplomatic document.
Indians may also not quite recognise that the Chinese commitment to fighting terrorism is as clear-cut as has been made out in the white paper, which recognises that “the region faces severe security and stability challenges posed by violent and extremist ideologies spreading at an ever-faster pace….” So, the white paper makes it clear that China opposes terrorism in all its forms and seeks cooperation in fighting it. Without irony, it declares, “there should be no double standard in fighting terrorism,” but goes on to say, “which should not be associated with any particular country, ethnicity or religion.”
Reading between the lines is mandatory for understanding the Chinese perspective.
The Wire January 14, 2017