India-China-Germany: A Trilateral Dialogue

02 Nov, 1997    ·   23

Report of the Adenauer Stiftung Conference held at Bonn

Why Germany, China and India?

The international strategic order is changing surely, if slowly, from unipolarity to multipolarity. Simultaneously, it is adopting the path of multilateralism. It is a logical consequence of global interdependence and a concern for maintaining peace and stability through greater predictability. This is also leading to a certain convergence of national interests among disparate but major countries. It highlights the need for interacting with a wider circle of players, in order to understand better the dynamics of an ever-changing world order. It was in this spirit that three nations, separated by long distances and widely divergent interests, found it necessary to come together in October 5-7.

The setting was the Petersberg Hotel near Bonn in Germany overlooking the Rhine. It had witnessed history unfold a hundred times. After the Second World War it housed the Allied Powers Headquarters. Today it is a State Guesthouse for distinguished visitors. The twenty odd participants from the three countries reflected a typical Track Two dialogue: officials and experts, scholars and practitioners, some who had recently relinquished high office and others who continue to occupy them.

The Conference itself was the beginning of a process, an attempt at getting to know each others views in a wider and broader context. The subject was Global Security in the 21st Century. Topics were structured to elicit general views rather than specific approaches. Yet, there clearly were differences even as there were similarities. More often than not, Chinese and Indian views coincided.

Peace more likely than war

There was broad agreement that peace and stability were likely at the global level. Both Europe and Asia were attempting to come together in their own special way. The process would not be easy in either region. Other Bosnias might develop in Europe, with possibilities of a wider fall-out. North Korea remained an enigma. But a global conflict appeared unlikely, even though no one was clear how to bring about stability in disturbed regions. There was agreement that the differences in the situation in the two continents required different approaches.

A former Chinese diplomat provided three reasons:

·                     People wanted peace.

·                     Conflicts were not like before; no gains were now possible through war.

·                     The Chinese people had suffered the loss of 30 million lives in war and were determined to avoid it in future.

The changing nature of conflict

Moreover, conflict was neither absent nor about to become obsolete. It was, instead, changing its character. From an inter-state orientation it was developing an intra-state nature. Neither continent knew how to deal with this new phenomenon. But they agreed that it required a different approach. In Europe it was being attempted through the expansion of the NATO, a process which Asians and Chinese, in particular, found difficult to comprehend. Why retain Cold War structures and even expand them, when the Cold War itself had ended? The German explanation was competent but perhaps not sufficiently persuasive. The Post Cold War era was different in Asia and methods of addressing its problems, too, varied. These were being addressed in a more Asian way, through dialogue and discussion under the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). There also appeared a slight divergence here. Chinese participants felt that the era of nation states was by no means coming to an end. State sovereignty must continue to remain supreme. Thus, the State must be the centre point of international intercourse and its role must not be undermined in any way.

The China threat

Chinas leading military strategist presented Chinas view on the international strategic environment. He strongly downplayed the China threat. There was no "rise of China", according to him. According to World Bank estimates, 1/3 of its people continue to remain below the poverty line. Population continues to expand by 18 million a year. Consequently, maintaining social stability would remain an extremely difficult problem. The Nation was still in the "Primary Stage of Socialism". It needed a long period of stability to develop. It needed to be a "good guy", a member of the international community. China was interested in developing a new kind of state to state relations with its neighbours. It would maintain low profile in Southeast Asia. It would persist on the path of settling its borders peacefully.

His comments on Indias nuclear policies were more pertinent. While China understood and accepted India keeping its nuclear option open, it would not support Indias stand. The NPT regime itself was fragile.

There were other issues of divergence as well as convergence in the Trilateral Conference. These have been articulated elsewhere in these pages. What do such dialogues achieve? A surprising degree of understanding for one, though not of convergence or agreement. It is not the result that is vital, but the process itself. All sides were determined to keep this going.