Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The "Shared Vision" of India and China:

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ended a three-day visit to China on 14 January by signing with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao an agreement setting out "A Shared Vision for the 21st Century." It is intended "to promote the building of a harmonious world of durable peace and common prosperity." If the agreement achieves that end the gods will have been kind indeed, for if my reading of it is correct, a much more likely outcome is conflict.

That outcome is likely because of the unmistakable challenge the document poses to the United States. The text calls for India and China to "build their Strategic and Cooperative Partnership in a positive way" and "explore together and with other countries a new architecture for closer regional cooperation in Asia." They will also "strengthen their coordination under the framework of Asia-Europe Meeting, and are committed to strengthening and deepening Asia-Europe comprehensive partnership." The Russian Federation will be included in that effort as a founding member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which also includes all the Central Asian republics created after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The agreement also calls for India and China to strengthen cooperation with other developing countries to achieve their shared objectives. There is not a word about the importance of the United States to world order, or indeed anything about the crucial position it occupies in the economic plans of both China and India.

The agreement must appear as a serious setback to Washington's prolonged strategic effort to push China towards democracy and incorporate it into the existing world order, the only long-term guarantee that its rise to global power will remain peaceful. To the current regime in Beijing the democratic prospect is, of course, deeply threatening, involving its own demise, and a victory for the world order the United States has shaped and managed since World War II. In that context, if the agreement derails the development of a strong and effective alliance between the world's most powerful and most populous democracies, the regime in China will be under much less pressure to move towards democracy.

Why India felt it necessary to sign the agreement is hard to say. Prime facie, all New Delhi got from it was nebulous support for its claim to a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and the pledge of a quick settlement of the disputed border, neither with any bankable value. On the Security Council seat the text clearly shows that there was no meeting of minds: India reiterated its "aspirations for permanent membership of the UN Security Council;" China said it "attaches great importance to India's position as a major developing country in international affairs" and said it "understands and supports India's aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council." The pledge of a quick settlement of the border dispute has been made before, and whether it will lead to significant action will become clear in a matter of months. The only scenario in which Indian support for the agreement would make sense is one in which it perceived the United States pushing Asia into a general war; the American invasion of Iraq and its sabre-rattling at Iran and Pakistan could certainly be read that way.

Other elements of the agreement sound good but are of little or no value to India. The two sides agreed, for instance, "that the right of each country to choose its own path of social, economic and political development in which fundamental human rights and the rule of law are given their due place, should be respected." China could go along with that because in the eyes of its regime, the "due place" of human rights and rule of law is always secondary to the power of the ruling Party. The agreement expresses the belief that an "international system founded in tolerance and respect for diversity will promote the cause of peace and reduce the use, or threat of use, of force." It favors "an open and inclusive international system." The signatories "believe that drawing lines on the ground of ideologies and values, or on geographical criteria, is not conducive to peaceful and harmonious coexistence." How can anyone seriously believe that a country in which there is no freedom of speech or Press, where dissidents are routinely subject to brutal treatment, will support tolerance and respect for diversity internationally? Especially when China supports the most repressive regimes in developing countries, including those of North Korea, Burma and Sudan?

The support for Panchsheel, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence first agreed in 1954 is laughable in view of China's record in breaking every one of them. The five principles are (1) Respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty (2) Non-aggression (3) Non-interference in each other's internal affairs (4) Sovereign equality, and (5) Peaceful co-existence. China has supported insurgencies in India's north-eastern states, supplied Pakistan with conventional and nuclear weapons and technology, and generally behaved as if India is a vassal State. After the Indian nuclear tests in 1998, it was China which drafted the acerbic Security Council resolution 1172 which demanded not only that India get rid of its nuclear weapons but its missiles as well. While the other permanent members of the Security Council never mention 1172 now, China still harps on it. The agreement says it is "time to look to the future in building a relationship of friendship and trust, based on equality, in which each is sensitive to the concerns and aspirations of the other;" but the record of Sino-Indian relations indicates little reason for optimism.

The agreement expressed the belief "that the continuous democratization of international relations and multilateralism are an important objective in the new century." Singh and Wen also supported the "central role of the United Nations in promoting international peace, security and development." Luckily, they twinned that with a call for the reform of the Organization, for as it now stands, the UN is central to very little. Unfortunately, none of the reform measures currently envisaged will change the marginal status of the world body.

The two sides pledged to "work together and with the international community to strengthen the global framework against terrorism in a long-term, sustained and comprehensive manner." Believing "that cultural and religious tolerance and dialogue between civilizations and peoples will contribute to overall peace and stability of our world," the two sides endorsed "all efforts to promote inter-civilizational and inter-faith dialogues." There is no mention of Tibet, where the Chinese are systematically destroying an ancient and distinctive culture. On Taiwan, the Indian side reaffirmed its one China policy and said it would "oppose any activity" against that "principle." That effectively reduced its capacity to develop healthy economic relations with Taiwan. The Chinese side expressed its "appreciation for the Indian position."

The agreement endorsed "strong growth" in India-China trade and economic relations and welcomed the conclusion of a Feasibility Study on a Regional Trading Arrangement (RTA) between the two countries. They will "explore the possibility of commencing discussions on a mutually beneficial and high-quality RTA that meets the common aspirations of both countries, and will also benefit the region." As China offers virtually unrestricted entry for Western transnational corporations and India is much choosier, what New Delhi hopes to gain from a regional RTA remains to be seen.

Other elements of the agreement are boilerplate. It expressed the readiness of India and China "to face and meet" the challenges of globalization; they "will work with other countries towards "an open, fair, equitable, transparent and rule-based multilateral trading system." Each viewed the other's participation in regional processes as positive, and agreed "to strengthen their coordination and consultation" within such mechanisms. They want an "early conclusion of the Doha Development Round" of trade negotiations, "placing the issues that affect the poorest of the poor at its core." The two "are determined to strengthen their coordination with other developing countries in order to secure their shared objectives." In appealing "to the international community to move forward the processes of multilateral arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation," the two declared that outer space "is the common heritage of humankind" and that "all space-faring nations" have the responsibility "to commit to the peaceful uses of outer space. "They expressed "categorical opposition to the weaponisation and arms race in outer space."

Convinced of the need to "establish an international energy order that is fair, equitable, secure and stable, and to the benefit of the entire international community," the agreement pledged India and China to "joint efforts to diversify the global energy mix and enhance the share of clean and renewable energy, so as to meet the energy requirements of all countries." While expressing support for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project to develop nuclear fusion as a source of energy, the two sides pledged "to promote bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy, consistent with their respective international commitments, which will contribute to energy security and to dealing with risks associated with climate change." ITER brings together the European Union, Japan, China, India, South Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States in a cooperative effort to build the world's first fusion plant at Cadarache in the South of France.

Saying that they took "the issue of climate change seriously" the two sides reiterated their readiness to join international efforts to address it "in accordance with principles and provisions of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol, in particular the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities." They "stand ready to enhance technological cooperation" and "to work closely during the negotiation process laid out in the Bali Road Map for long term cooperative action under the Convention."

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