Anita Inder Singh
PAX SINICA: Implications For The Indian Dawn
Samir Saran and Akhil Deo
Rupa Publications, 194 pages, Hardback, Rs 595
Pax Sinica? China’s astonishing rise over the last 40 years is documented in this timely book by Samir Saran and Akhil Deo. But surely the US will remain the lone superpower? It will take China, the aspiring great power with a $ 15 trillion GDP, a long time to catch up with America’s $ 21 trillion one. And America’s $650 billion defence spending is set to increase. China’s military expenditure is $250 billion. It is unlikely that China will continue to ascend while the US remains stagnant or declines.
China’s progress has undoubtedly enabled it to reshape the world order through a mix of economic and territorial revisionism. In the 1980s Deng Xiaoping laid the foundations of China’s rise by opening its economy, allowing foreign capital and skills to build the domestic industrial capacity which made China the world’s largest exporter. From the start of Xi Jin Ping’s presidency and the inauguration of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, to the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (2014) and the Doklam standoff (2017) the authors identify pivotal developments that have shaped China’s game-changing engagement with Asia and the world.
Mr Xi’s China Dream is about rejuvenating China and making it a rich country. The aim is to make China ‘fully developed’ by 2049, to celebrate a century of communist rule.
China’s rise has exposed the weaknesses of capitalism and of democratic institutions in the West. Socialism with Chinese characteristics, and the realisation of the importance of technological progress as a tool to gain global influence, have made China the world’s number two power. It intends to become a “cybersuperpower” and uses sharp power to woo international opinion. Meanwhile, Asian and European countries are attracted by China’s investment offers even though it threatens the territorial integrity of many of its Asian neighbours.
The authors rightly say that the good relationship between China and Russia, the collapsed former superpower, is unlikely to result in a formal alliance. For the joint aim of challenging American dominance is intertwined with a sense of rivalry.
China’s influence is obvious from the expansion of its BRI, which is a goal of the ruling Communist Party. It runs across continents, including Europe. The authors could have added that Eastern Europe gets a mere 10 per cent of Chinese investment in Europe. The little debated fact is that the remaining 90 per cent goes to America’s rich West European allies. All are democracies. While having some of the world’s best educated citizens they lag technologically behind China and are at odds with the US on welcoming Chinese telecom giants. When it comes to countering China, isn’t “the West” really the US?
As for India, the authors appear to take at face value New Delhi’s line about its enhanced world role and ability to shape the Asian century. But their own comparisons about the economic and military disparity between China and India suggest that Pax Indica is barely a spot on the international horizon.
The Doklam crisis reflected wider differences between India and China. Noting that most global wealth has moved to Asia, the authors seem to accept New Delhi’s forecasts about India developing into the world’s third largest economy and making a regional and international imprint. Does this square with their own assertion that it will take decades for India to catch up with China?
At another level, given India’s absence from multilateral Asian trade agreements how much can it contribute to future of Asia and compete with China as an alternative leader of Asia ?
India has signed on to President Trump’s Indo-Pacific, which to New Delhi reflects the unity of the Indo-Pacific Oceans and gives it the chance to exert influence as leading Asian power. But if Trump’s absence from East Asia summits mirrors his cavalier attitude to Asia, to what extent can India enhance its Asian role by trying to get militarily closer to the US?
To make progress, the authors correctly assert that India must overcome its history of protectionism, and “learn” how trade, economic partnerships and domestic regulations can advance its own interests and maintain a rules based order.
Having presented itself as a democracy integrated into the global economic system, India could enjoy widespread influence. Official New Delhi sees the “post-Western liberal order” beginning in India. The authors, however, opine that India must “stay consistent at home to the values it professes on the global state”. And isn’t the US likely to remain the top hard- and- soft power player?
The many questions raised by Pax Sinica highlight its contribution to the debate on the consequences of China’s ascent for India’s international role . Messrs Saran and Deo rightly caution that an Indian definition of the norms for the 21st-century world order is “not inevitable”. But they remain optimistic that India will bring together East and West, North and South, and offer “inclusive and democratic” arrangements to developing countries. A risen China will interact with rising India and an emerging Idea of India to shape the world in the 21st century.
Let’s wait and see. Only time will tell.
Anita Inder Singh is a Founding Professor of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi