Role of China in South Asia's Future
16 Mar, 1998 · 73
Report on the South Asia Futures Conference, New Delhi Giri Deshingkar Director
Not unexpectedly, China was a running thread in almost all the presentations made at the South Asia Futures Conference held in New Delhi (20-21st March 1998), although only the presentation by Jonathan Pollack of the Rand corporation was specifically devoted to it. Such is the importance given to
China both by American and Indian scholars when discussing South Asian future scenarios.
China ’s domestic evolution in terms of political institutions and economic development;
China ’s response to
US strategic and economic dominance in
Asia ; and
China ’s capacity to shape its external environment. Despite
China ’s many accomplishments, Pollack said,
China still had to overcome many difficult challenges; it is at best only a "presumptive great power" at present. On the political side the Chinese leaders worry about stability and continued legitimacy of their rule. This is why they are averse to taking risks in policy making both at home and in
China ’s external relations.
China is not a revisionist state bent on challenging the existing international order. Despite its irredentist claims, it is, in fact, a status quo power. It is anxious to settle its borders amicably; it supports the prevailing arms control arrangements; it is opposed to nuclear proliferation and has signed treaties controlling nuclear and chemical weapons. Breaches of agreements in these areas are a thing of the past and export controls are now strict. Such policies, Pollack hoped, would diminish
India ’s suspicions with respect to Sino-Pakistani relations. Here, it was evident that Pollack was not aware of the depth of
India ’s suspicions not only in the context of Sino-Pakistani relations but also about the potential "nuclear threat" posed by
China ’s "ample hard currency reserves" and the availability of advanced weaponry and technology from
Russia would be immensely helpful to
China . He is somewhat less than half right in this respect. A significant proportion of
China ’s imports of military hardware is paid for, not in hard currency, but through compensatory trade. Moreover, while
Russia is happy to sell the hardware, it is reluctant to part with the technology; and, in any case,
China ’s defence industry is unable to absorb the technology even if when available.
China ’s shift to a maritime-based strategy and enhancement of its air capability for shaping its regional security environment. But he pointed out that modernization in these areas was a long-term task. Unless qualified, such a view can be read as supporting the prevailing "
China threat" theory. Subsequent discussions showed that Pollack did not support that theory, which the
US media drums up regularly. He also conceded that Russian military hardware transfers to
China were given far more weight than they deserved.
China ’s efforts at military modernization are geared towards longer-term goals. Military rivalry with
India is not among them.
India ’s own links with
China and the
US , but for the present, no conclusions are possible. At present, both
China and the
US , under the label of "constructive strategic partnership" are keeping open a range of options, not in "either or" terms but as "more or less". Given the growing strong economic relationship, abrupt shifts in policy on either side are greatly inhibited. But mutual suspicions will continue.
India should follow that course with profit.
Pollack predicated his scenario on three factors:
Contrary to what is widely believed, Pollack’s view is that
As for military modernization, Pollack thought
Pollack also spoke of
US-China strategic rivalry is more presumed than real. The future shape of US-China relations will no doubt shape the Asian strategic system, including
None of the views expressed either by Indians or Americans in other presentations or in the discussions challenged Jonathan Pollack’s very sober assessment. At the same time, no one spoke about the "inevitable" clash of interests between India and China or about India-China rivalry in Asia that appear all too frequently in the Indian media. As one distinguished American participant put it, much of the success in US-China relations is due to the fact that they have agreed to disagree and still get on with their business.
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