The Russians have been proven right about the Asia-Pacific – intellectually and politically. With the advantage of a detached look, they could see far better than most observers. The latest indication from Bali is that US president Barack Obama decided to kiss and make up with China on the eve of his departure from the Asia-Pacific to back home after the 9-day outing.
Obama did the right thing seeking out Chinese premier Wen Jiaobao for an unscheduled meeting Saturday at Bali – his second closed-door session with the Chinese leadership in a week. (PM Manmohan Singh got an audience with Obama after nearly an year’s agonising waiting in the ante room.)
Just the judicious thing to do. Obama sensed he took rhetoric too far. More importantly, he saw the Chinese held their ground and talked back – and there is simply nothing US could do about it. Now, Obama knows best that China is an “indispensable partner” for America’s economic recovery and there is a limit to grandstanding as a world power when influence is so visibly declining in Asia.
More than anything, Wen’s speech at the ASEAN summit in Bali made Obama sit up. Quite obviously, Obama lost the plot. There is nothing he can offer to match Wen’s goodies, which might prompt the ASEAN to break loose from its profound engagement with China and gang up as part of a US-led bloc. Wen also reminded the ASEAN that it will be a very long while before the world economy recovers and the western world emerges from the jungle, if at all, and meanwhile, Asians have solid reasons to hold on together – just as they did during the financial crisis in 1999.
That leaves the US literally in the Australian outbacks, biting nails in exasperation. The next thing we should expect is for the Australians to do some swift back-pedalling toward China. As an extension of the Anglo-Saxon world into Asia, they are in great dilemma at this historic juncture, with Europe in disarray and America in decline. Where do they go, what should be their new “identity”? Fortunately, they have brain power – and also a roaring economic relationship with China. To my mind, they should follow Professor Hugh White’s sensible advice.
I’m speechlessly glad that our mandarins read the tea leaves correctly in Bali and told Wen that India’s interests in South China Sea are “purely commercial.” The two words conveyed volumes, as any keen diplomatic observer would agree.
Essentially, China isn’t bothered about India’s “military modernisation” programme. It doesn’t feel threatened if another lakh Indian soldiers take up position on the border on top of the 40000 today. It also seems to understand know our compulsions to exaggerate the “threat perceptions” so as to justify the massive military expenditure at a time when the economy is on a distinctly downward slide and we face a “resource crunch” very soon. In brief, as China Military put it bluntly, Beijing estimates that this is a superfluous, contrived path and India will realise it on its own.
The “red line” for China will be if ever India were to gang up with the US. The recent moves to accelerate the military ties with Japan and Vietnam and to take basing in Vietnam for the Indian Navy amounted to crossing the “red line”. It is the equivalent of China’s Navy setting up shop in Gwadar or Karachi or Trincomalee. Unacceptable.
Equally, it is time to introspect what purpose is served by this quaint business of having a “trilateral dialogue” with Japan and US? It is the equivalent of China entering into collective security talks with Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Unnecessary.
An occasion becomes readily available to assess the Chinese intentions when Wen visits Nepal in December. The Chinese say it is one thing for India to have its legitimate interests in enhancing its cooperation with the countries in the Far East, but it is an entirely different matter if India were to cross the “red line” in the troubled waters of that region. The big question will be: Do the Chinese practice what they preach?
Wen’s visit will be a clincher. Be sure that our pundits remove their 1962-vintage blinkers and draw the correct conclusions. That may also be an appropriate occasion to fling back at the CIA analyst the “string of pearls” that she beaded for us to entrap our besotted pundits. My guess is that Wen will steal India’s Buddhist heritage in Lumbini in an outpouring of “soft power” – even as our mandarins struggle to cope with the challenge of setting up the Nalanda University in Bihar – and he will offer an economic package for Nepal that will embarrass India.
Posted in Diplomacy.
– November 19, 2011