30 March 2017

Silk Road: China’s new battleground

Abhijit Bhattacharyya

Beijing’s threat to Taiwan is a routine breakfast-lunch-tea-dinner syndrome.

The scenario by now has an expected pattern. China will attack anyone trying to stand up to its pressure.

In general, whoever occupies the battleground first and awaits the enemy will be at ease; whoever occupies the battleground after war and must race to the conflict will be fatigued,” Sun Tzu (The Art of War). China has already illegally occupied the “battleground”, which is illegally occupied by Pakistan too, but is a legally-owned Indian territory around the Karakoram mountain range, where the borders of at least five countries meet (Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and China). China, therefore is “at ease”, having occupied the battleground first. India, on the other hand, could be seen to be psychologically “fatigued”, being nowhere near the Chinese position, as now there is no scope for India even to think of theoretically reaching the “battleground” which stands beyond its reach. Strangely, China is not at ease and India is not fatigued. On the contrary, it is India that is more at ease! Because, despite reaching the battleground first, it has suddenly dawned on China that stubborn India has taken an unreasonable position. Although China stands “supreme” in the landlocked high terrain of Central Asia, the “inferior” India refuses to play ball with it. And that is irritating the Chinese no end because every power in the vicinity of Chinese dream projects like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); Belt-Road-Initiative (BRI); One Belt, One Road (OBOR); has to be a part, as ordained by the Lords of Middle Kingdom. Even if that “dream project-party” embraces territory-grabbing, terror-masterminding, diplomatic-bullying as part of its grand scheme of things. Understandably, the Chinese cannot take it, as they are desperate to achieve their unfulfilled ambition to prove their supremacy and make it acceptable to all “inferior powers” in the region. Time is short, and the road long.

Seen in this backdrop, the endless, vitriolic semantic gems of the Chinese state-controlled media at India are inevitable. Fortunately, China’s traditional dream (run) to dominate (all) foreigners is being noted and challenged with suspicion with a dose of enhanced lack of diplomatic niceties.

The scenario by now has an expected pattern. China will attack anyone trying to stand up to its pressure. Thus, China stoked grievances against Seoul. Why? Because Seoul allowed the US to set up terminal high altitude area defence (Thaad) missile shield to protect itself from North Korea’s erratic behaviour. That was a “grave cause” of action for Beijing to order 87 out of 99 Lotte Mart’s stores to close in China. It was followed by anti-Korean diatribes, stoppage of tourist travel and rabid anti-Seoul indoctrination of Chinese children.

Beijing’s threat to Taiwan is a routine breakfast-lunch-tea-dinner syndrome. Anyone talking to Taipei is a foe. Anyone trying to help Taiwan is an implacable enemy of mankind. China has issued clearcut warnings to the US to cease arms sales to Taiwan. China, however, can jointly develop aircraft, missiles and submarines with Pakistan, and any objection raised by India is rubbished with harsh admonitions. Additionally, warnings are issued to India to disallow the Dalai Lama from visiting Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar. Why? Because the Chinese consider the universally-admired peace-loving lama to be a threat to the world order and harmony. This, despite the fact that India (unwisely) allows bulk import of cheap and sub-standard Chinese consumer goods, thereby destroying its own indigenous producers. China is well aware of India’s craze for foreign goods and foreigners, and takes full advantage of it. Thus obscure Chinese mobile phone brands like Tinno, Huaqin and Malata are about to flood the Indian market. Simultaneously, the Chinese threat looms large over Indian battery-makers. After all, it is a combination of FDI plus cheap, competitive products. The panacea of all economic ills.

However, there appears to be a reverse reaction too, as Australia rebuffs China’s offer of formal Silk Road ties. Canberra rejected Beijing’s push for a “formal alignment” of its Australian $5 billion state infrastructure fund with China’s “New Silk Road strategy”. It has firmly rejected any agreement over the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility during Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s trip to the country. According to Australia, OBOR is a way to extend Chinese influence at the expense of the US, and Australia cannot afford to annoy Washington. Canberra too clearly sees security and economic threats moving thick and fast from Beijing.

As the OBOR project faces serious challenges, Beijing is desperate to hurtle down the Central Asian heartland to the warm water ports, connecting the world sea trade lifeline passing around the southern periphery of Indian geography. Hence, the direct challenge and threat to New Delhi.

“New Delhi cannot prevent the growth of the OBOR’s influence,” the Global Times, a Communist Party-run tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, said in a commentary. “If India wants to exclude itself from OBOR at a time when the initiative is receiving widespread support from the global community, India will end up simply watching the rise of China’s international reputation.”

As if India’s sole aim is to concentrate on an eternally turbulent terrain in which OBOR and BRI will make the Central Asian geography the best trade mart of prosperity, commerce, economics. Some lofty ideas!

China is grievously wrong to assume that India is a pushover owing to Beijing’s financial and firepower assistance to Islamabad, Dhaka, Kathmandu and Colombo. Hence, Beijing’s aim to put pressure on Kathmandu by denouncing the former “Chinese projects stuck due to Prachanda’s pro-India policies” is futile. India and Nepal have been intertwined with each other since time immemorial, much more than the Kathmandu-Beijing connect of recent times.

All in all, the Chinese push for OBOR, CPEC, etc are nothing but a grand military strategy of “forward deployment” like that of the US after the Second World War. Although global reach is still way beyond China, the Silk Road slogan is a good alibi. After all, a grave threat looms large for China from its “all- weather friend” Pakistan, as the Uighurs vow to return to Beijing and ISIS threatens to bleed China.

In the guise of its dream projects, it is Beijing’s beyond-the-horizon and beyond-the-visual range war preparations far from mainland China.

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