Quotable (#36)

M K Bhadrakumar on the meaning of the Xi-Modi meeting:

… there had been a pronounced ‘militarization’ of India’s strategic outlook through the past 10-15 years, which was a period of high growth in the economy that seemed to last forever. […] In those halcyon days, geopolitics took over strategic discourses and pundits reveled in notions of India’s joint responsibility with the United States, the sole superpower, to secure the global commons and the ‘Indo-Pacific’. […] The underlying sense of rivalry with China — couched in ‘cooperation-cum-competition’, a diplomatic idiom borrowed from the Americans — was barely hidden.

Then came the financial crisis and the Great Recession of 2008 that exposed real weaknesses in the Western economic and political models and cast misgivings about their long-term potentials. […] Indeed, not only did the financial crisis showcase that China and other emerging economies could weather the storm better than western developed economies but were actually thriving. […] The emerging market economies such as India, Brazil or Indonesia began to look at China with renewed interest, tinged with an element of envy. […] Suffice to say, there has been an erosion of confidence in the Western economic system and the Washington Consensus that attracted Manmohan Singh. […] From a security-standpoint, this slowed down the India-US ‘strategic partnership’. The blame for stagnation has been unfairly put on the shoulders of a “distracted” and dispirited Barack Obama administration and a ‘timid’ and unimaginative Manmohan Singh government. […] Whereas, what happened was something long-term — the ideology prevalent in India during much of the United Progressive Alliance rule, namely, that the Western style institutions and governments are the key to development in emerging economies, itself got fundamentally tarnished. […] What we in India overlook is that the 2008 financial crisis has also been a crisis of Western-style democracy. There has been a breakdown of faith in the Western economic and political models.

Discussing the concrete potential of closer China ties as an accelerant for India’s development process, Bhadrakumar remarks:

China has shrewdly assessed Modi’s national priorities and sees in them a window of opportunity to transform the relationship with India into one of genuine partnership. […] In comparison, Japan stalks China wherever the latter goes, but its actual capacity to match China is in serious doubt. Also, in the ultimate analysis, Japanese businessmen go only when conditions are perfect — unlike his Chinese or South Korean counterparts. […] As for the US and the European countries, they are yet to figure out a way to catch Modi’s attention span with an idea that is attuned to his development agenda. […] In any case, the Western economies are still on recovery path and their interest in the Indian market has traditionally devolved upon boosting their own civil or military exports, rather than help India build its manufacturing industry or develop its infrastructure. […] In sum, neither the Western countries nor Japan can hope to match the scale of involvement that China is offering — setting up industrial parks, making the creaking Indian railway system work and so on.

The Chinese offer to invest US$50 billion in the first instance for the upgrade of the Indian railways speaks for itself. […] Put differently, Modi has redefined India’s strategic autonomy. […] In the changed circumstances, strategic autonomy goes far beyond a matter of India’s aversion toward ‘bloc mentality’ or, specifically speaking, its diffidence in the authenticity and sustainability of the US rebalance in its Asian strategy. […] It may seem a paradox but under Modi, strategic autonomy increasingly presents itself as the key underpinning to create a level playing field for India’s partnership with China. […] Make no mistake, the opening up of sensitive sectors like railways or ports for the Chinese companies demands a certain security mindset and Modi is surely taking a leap of faith. […] The best outcome will be that as India and China get engaged deeply and extensively, they realize that they indeed have so very much in common by way of shared interest while clawing their way up on the greasy pole of the world order, where the lessons of history amply testify that established powers do not easily concede space to newcomers.

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