Gideon Rachman, writing in the Financial Times, says that “The Sino-Soviet split was a critical moment in the cold war. A Sino-Indian split could be just as crucial to the “second cold war” that seems to be developing between the US and China. Until now, the Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has tried to avoid choosing sides in the fast-developing antagonism between Washington and Beijing. But a parting of the ways between India and China now seems inevitable following last week’s border clashes between the two nations’ armies, which left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead and an unknown number of Chinese casualties.“
The Indians had real hopes for some dort of an arrangement with China ~ and Asian condominium, perhaps ~ but now, Mr Rachman says, “Indians feel assaulted and humiliated by China. On Friday, Mr Modi held emergency meetings with leaders of the Indian opposition — a remarkable development in itself, given the extreme partisanship of Indian politics today. There is now near-consensus in the Indian policymaking elite that China is a hostile power and that India’s only feasible response is to move closer to the US and to Asian democracies, such as Japan and Australia.“
I think this is not an entirely unexpected development. Just as with Russia, China makes friends of convenience, only. I cannot think of any time for the past 3,500 years, since the Shang dynasty, when China has had “friends” or allies. Even when China was being subjugated by the people from the. Northern plains it remained aloof. I think that geography provides a partial explanation …
… As you can see, ancient China had oceans to the East and South, impassible desserts to the North-West, equally impassible mountain to the South-West. There was a wide open plain tot eh North, occupied by fierce nomaid tribes, and only a few narrow corridors out:
- One to the cold, inhospitable, North East;
- One to the already well-populated South West ~ the land route to India; and
- One tenuous route to the West, which, about 2,500 years ago became the fabled Silk Road.
China became inherently, naturally, isolationist. It built, again 2,500 years ago, the Great Wall, which was, until Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative, the gold-standard for strategic defence. The point is that China is, instinctively, based on 2,500 years of history and culture, a defensive state. There were a few bursts of expansion, most notably by the ancient Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 BCE) and most recently under the (Manchurian) Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 CE) when Tibet and far West (Xinjiang) were added to China.
India was even better protected, geographically, by Oceans and impassible mountains:
But there were two land routes: to the east, to the fertile, populated region later called Indo-China, and, more tenously, but, ultimately, more dangerously to the West.
This is not a history lesson, but India and China were, once, the economic centre of gravity of the world and both seem, to me, very likely to be so again …
… as you can see, 2000 years ago the world’s economy was dominated by the countries surrounding a spot in the middle of nowhere ~ a place about which I have commented before ~ because China dn India were the world’s largest, richest economies. By 1500 a noticeable shift had started, by 1800it was well undway and by 1950 the global economy;s centre of gravity had shifted to the new world … then, as first Europe and then Asia recovered it began to shift back. By 2050 it will likely be back near the middle of nowhere.
China and India are, I think, bound to be economic, political and strategic competitors. For now, I also think, China and America are bound to be enemies because China’s inexorable rise is happening against both the realtive and (temporarily) very real decline of American influence in the world. For that reason, alone, India, despite a long history of wanting to find a way to “sit out” international conflicts. But its geostrategic position means that it is the main force containing Chinese expansion to the West, just as America is to the East. It is on ly logical that India should find common cause with Ameica.
I have said, repeatedly, that I do not believe that the Chinese want a war with anyone … not with Ametica and not with India. My sense remains that the Chinese leaders are long-term, strategic thinkers who fear war for its unpredictability and costs. I suspect that there is some (considerable) worry in the corridors of power in Beijing that Xi Jinping has bitten off more than he can chew. His economic plans are huge and daunting and I am sure that his opponents ~ and he has some, he has not been able to purge them all ~ are just waiting for a misstep.
But Xi is not alone. Prime Minisyer Modi governs a deeply fragmented country and his brand of Hindi nationalism is deepening those divisions. Both leaders might welcome the sort of distraction that a little border shoot-’em-up provides but neither is interested in a real war.
On the other side of the world, we have Donald J Trump. He’s a bully and a braggart but he is afraid of war. It’s not that he loves peace, he just knows that war is complex and dangerous and he is afraid of it because even he understands that there is no bankruptcy court to rescue you ina shooting war. He can be, reliably, expected to huff and puff, to threaten, to curse and cajole and then to back away. It’s what bullies do.
Meanwhile, the real threats to world peace look on, from the sidelines, give us a saucy wink and smile, and enjoy the distractions which take our eyes and minds off them.