China’s South Asia tour: win-win meets zero sum

December 20, 2010

wenJust over a year ago, President Barack Obama suggested during a visit to Beijing that China and the United States could cooperate on bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan.¬†¬†As I wrote at the time, China ‚ÄĒ Islamabad‚Äôs most loyal partner ‚ÄĒ was¬†an obvious country¬†to turn to for help in working out how to deal with Pakistan. ¬†Its economy would be the first to gain from greater regional stability¬†which opened up trade routes and improved its access to energy supplies.¬†And it also¬†shared some of Washington‚Äôs concerns about Islamist militancy, particularly if this were to spread unrest in its Muslim Xinjiang region.

The big question was whether the suggestion would fall foul of the zero sum game thinking which has bedevilled¬†relations between India, Pakistan and China for nearly 50 years.¬† India was defeated by China in a border war in 1962 and since then has regarded it as its main military threat. Pakistan¬†has built close ties with China to offset what it sees as its own main military threat from its much larger neighbour India.¬†China¬†in turn has¬†been able to use its relationship with Pakistan¬†to clip India’s wings and curb any ambitions it has at regional hegemony.

So where does Obama’s suggestion stand now that Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has just completed¬†a visit to both India and Pakistan?¬† The answer to that probably depends on how far economics and how far politics determine the behaviour of India and Pakistan¬†in the coming years. China itself is seen as putting its economic interests first, or in the words of the¬†People’s Daily,¬†a search for “win-win results consistently dominate China’s diplomacy”.

In India, Wen offered expanded trade and greater cooperation between two countries which increasingly have reason to align their positions in negotiations within the G-20 economies. That is¬†positive for those whose world view is seen through the lens of economic development –among them Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In an editorial in The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan argues that India needs to stop focusing so much on China as a strategic threat and take advantage of the¬†gains it can reap from Chinese economic growth.¬† And while expanding trade left India with a¬†$16 billion trade deficit with China in 2007-2008, you can argue that India could still be a long-term beneficiary¬†if rising¬†Chinese wages open up¬†space for cheaper Indian manufacturing.

However, at the same time the two countries apparently failed to make any progress on the political and strategic issues which divide them, among them their disputed border and Chinese support for Pakistan.¬† That is a worry for those who focus primarily on the strategic, rather than the economic, environment in South Asia — particularly given that both Beijing and Delhi have become much scratchier about¬†their political disputes in the last few years.¬†

“During the first visit of a major Chinese leader to India in more than four years, some easing of political tensions should have been accomplished. Instead the two sides decided to kick all contentious issues down the road and expand bilateral trade by two-thirds over the next five years. However, increased trade is no panacea for the sharpening geopolitical rivalry,”¬† Brahma Chellaney wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

In short, there is no real consensus on what to make of Wen’s¬†visit as India grapples with growing Chinese power and tries to decide whether to hitch a ride on the coat tails of China’s economic growth or stand up to it.

In Pakistan, the picture was no less complicated.

Wen¬†praised Pakistan’s efforts to tackle Islamist militants at¬†a time when the United States is pushing Islamabad to “do more”.¬† But China has also been leaning on Pakistan to crack down on militants.¬† It broke ranks with Islamabad when¬†it¬†supported a U.N. Security Council ban on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the humanitarian wing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) after the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.¬†¬†In¬†Pakistan, the JuD continues to operate openly, albeit under a different name.

Wen also promoted¬†trade and investment with¬†Pakistan.¬† During his¬†visit, the two countries signed commercial and trade deals worth at least $25 billion. By comparison, Wen signed $16 billion in deals in India. But for all its reputation as an all-weather friend, China¬†refused to bail out the Pakistani economy in 2008, forcing it to turn instead to the International Monetary Fund. That decision, amongst others, prompted a rethink about whether relations with China were quite as cosy as Pakistan thinks – though those questions appeared to have been forgotten¬†during¬†Wen’s visit.

No doubt much energy will be expended trying to work out the signals from Wen’s tour of South Asia. Did he, or did he not rebuke the United States over its pressure to “do more” -¬†a guaranteed winner in Pakistan where Washington is deeply unpopular? Or is¬†China’s position actually nearer to that of the United States, which¬†also presents itself as an ally struggling to balance, in Admiral Mike Mullen’s rather curious choice of words, strategic impatience with strategic patience? And has¬†China stepped up its support for old ally¬†Pakistan at India’s expense, or¬†is it trying to keep Delhi¬†on board given India’s¬†growing economy?

It is going to be awfully hard to tell for sure. Everyone is talking from¬†a different perspective, depending on whether you prioritise economic issues¬†or political and strategic disputes.¬†And¬†we are¬†speaking¬†in¬†different languages.¬†¬†Since partition in 1947, relations between India and Pakistan have been¬†dominated by zero sum game thinking. China officially is talking about¬†”win-win”.

13 comments

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Chinese are enigmatic. No one knows their true intentions. From a political stand point, they cannot be trusted. The only thing India should do is to open up and expand trade relations with China. Economic interdependency will shape diplomacy. When money is involved, no one will want to lose their investments. India should bring in China to help develop is struggling infrastructure – roads, buildings, bridges etc. Chinese are very good at making these construction projects reliable and quick. Roads must be built between the two countries to expand land trade. There is no use retaining enmity with China. It is a big power in all aspects now – economically and otherwise. We need to accept it and move on. Isolation between the two Asian giants is not healthy. They need to open up to each other. India’s relationship with China should be independent of that between China and Pakistan. Pakistan has its own needs and they are vastly different from that of India. if India and China grow a healthy relationship, it will be to everyone’s benefit. Even Pakistan might change its mind towards India. One can never bargain with the Chinese. Therefore India must be careful not to lose its edge.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

its actually less complicated
china has followed a policy of ostensibly supporting the west led orders status quo on various issues and joining its institutions while backing countries that seek to subvert it in many ways- pakistan (how does it nuclear cooperation with pakistan square with its commitments under the npt/nsg? answer it on its merits rather than in context of the india-us nuclear deal), north korea, venezuela, iran etc; a modern nuanced version of classic leninist strategy;
so again it talks win win with india while trying to use pakistan in particular vs india , and trying to convert nepal into a myanmar and to build its string of pearls in the indian ocean and increasing its territorial caims on india
similarly it has achieved high economic growth by accessing free trade while practicing both state control and extreme mercantilism
and on terrorism it was annoyed with pakistan in 2008 but has since done a side deal on this with the pak army and pakistan has facilitated a side deal between china and turkey hence the reference to resolving ‘root causes’ which was absent in 2008. so this is no longer a barrier to closer relations.
of course all this is part of the growing role of the pla in chinese foreign policy. and above all china wants to demonstrate that its a better ally than the usa which has to balance and be seen to balance different interests and to promote peace, prosperity and stability- a reason that the west led order is like democracy, both for all their faults and warts (in all democracies whether usa, india, europe etc), are the best we have.
infrastructure projects- the chinese expression for this policy translates into ‘uniting the empire’ and is used to create jobs for chinese labour. so they can be generous with these.
in india china may try to cultivate a few i-t or pharma cos to create a pro china lobby as it believes business interests have a strong influence on indian polity
this is part of a more ancirnt stategy expressed in go, win without fighting by dividing your adversaries and making it impossible for them to oppose or resist you.

Posted by buntyj | Report as abusive

[...] China’s South Asia tour: win-win meets zero sum [...]

@bunty
Let us say that your analysis reflect some logic. So….., what is the bottom line? Do you recommend this strategy for any other country? The reality is that it is China which is slowly but steadily becoming the next Super Power of the world, gaining respect from the African and Latin american countries as well as from its Asian neighbours. It has just started a diplomatic offensive in Europe by offering to provide support for the EURO!

Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

ps- a significant inference from china’s side deal on uighur jehadis with the pak army is that it suggests china’s confidence that no terror strike can emanate from pakistan without the blessings of the pak army, especially the isi; contrary to western reports of rogue elements

Posted by buntyj | Report as abusive

One of the things, I find ansolutely amusing, is the love of Pakistanis (who country’s creation & identity is based on religion) for the godless Chinese. Talk about hypocricy!

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

Mortal1: “One of the things, I find ansolutely amusing, is the love of Pakistanis (who country‚Äôs creation & identity is based on religion) for the godless Chinese. Talk about hypocricy!”

There is a big difference between being a friend and being the enemy of the enemy. China falls in the latter category. Pakistan’s identity is based on the existence of a perpetual enemy. It is their life line. If you take that enemy away, they will cease to exist as a cohesive nation. And China is needed to keep that enemy alive at all costs.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

“And China is needed to keep that enemy alive at all costs.” Posted by KPSingh01

I wonder what will happen if China & India become really good friends. Pakistan might commit suicide :)

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

Mortal1: “I wonder what will happen if China & India become really good friends. Pakistan might commit suicide”

Don’t worry. There are enough yoyos out there who will make sure that India and China never get close. Pakistan can rest easy.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

An excerpt on China-Pakistan relations:

“The umbilical cord that chains Pakistan to China is a mutual suspicion of India. In guarding against real and imagined Indian designs, Pakistan even negotiated away part of Kashmir that it had earlier staked a claim to in the Sino-Pakistan Agreement of 1953. The China-Pakistan alliance made sense during the Cold War, China needed us to put a spanner in India‚Äôs ambitions whenever possible while we sought an ally that would, unlike the US, reliably deliver military aid whenever we were at war with our eastern enemy. This was an alliance based on convenience not ideology.

There is evidence that the closeness of the alliance may now be an anachronism. As long as we hew to our traditional anti-India stance, we will always need China to keep Indian ambitions in check. China, though, may not need as close a relationship with Pakistan for much longer. Bilateral trade between China and India is now close to $50 billion, up from below $150 million just 25 years ago. The former ‚Äď and likely future ‚Äď rivals are also cooperating on energy and civilian nuclear projects. In that situation, Pakistan is sure to lose out.

While we have significant trade activity with China ourselves, we also need to reconsider its value. Our manufacturing industry is unable to compete in terms of price and quality with China. Despite this, Chinese manufacturers are granted trade benefits, which is leading to the closure of similar small-scale industries in Pakistan. Add to that the massive trade deficit Pakistan has with China and it is reasonable to ask if we couldn‚Äôt find a more complementary trading partner ‚Äď India perhaps, where we could export agricultural products while importing from them the same items we currently get from China.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

An excerpt on China-Pakistan relations from Dawn:

“The umbilical cord that chains Pakistan to China is a mutual suspicion of India. In guarding against real and imagined Indian designs, Pakistan even negotiated away part of Kashmir that it had earlier staked a claim to in the Sino-Pakistan Agreement of 1953. The China-Pakistan alliance made sense during the Cold War, China needed us to put a spanner in India‚Äôs ambitions whenever possible while we sought an ally that would, unlike the US, reliably deliver military aid whenever we were at war with our eastern enemy. This was an alliance based on convenience not ideology.

There is evidence that the closeness of the alliance may now be an anachronism. As long as we hew to our traditional anti-India stance, we will always need China to keep Indian ambitions in check. China, though, may not need as close a relationship with Pakistan for much longer. Bilateral trade between China and India is now close to $50 billion, up from below $150 million just 25 years ago. The former ‚Äď and likely future ‚Äď rivals are also cooperating on energy and civilian nuclear projects. In that situation, Pakistan is sure to lose out.

While we have significant trade activity with China ourselves, we also need to reconsider its value. Our manufacturing industry is unable to compete in terms of price and quality with China. Despite this, Chinese manufacturers are granted trade benefits, which is leading to the closure of similar small-scale industries in Pakistan. Add to that the massive trade deficit Pakistan has with China and it is reasonable to ask if we couldn‚Äôt find a more complementary trading partner ‚Äď India perhaps, where we could export agricultural products while importing from them the same items we currently get from China”

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive

@Mortal
Dawn is a Indian influenced newspaper, run by a kaafir, always sides with Indian perspective and never serves to goals of PA, traitor of Islam siding with (supposed)hindu nation. Umair, Belal, Matrixx, other Paki friends…am I correct??

Mortal, why u forget that Pakis did not accept aid from us even in times of disaster then how can they accept a trade treaty with us? These guys are impossible ready to kill themselves out of hatred and warped religious theories but not ready to come out of hatred and make friends.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

The 20th century more or less saw the rise of the USA to a Super power and then due to the folly of its leaders, the strong hold of zionist lobbyists on its foreign policicies and the corruption of its capitalist institutions, the decline began in a dramatic speed becoming the most disliked Nation in its relations woith allies and foes in the world. The 21st century is witnessing the emergence of China as the Super power in the world in a very calculated and controlled manner, avoiding the mistakes of the others, and keeping to their cherished principle of non interfearance in other countries domestic arena. Let us hope that the new Super power would bring more good for the humanity and its socialist ideas would show solidarity with the masses of the world.

Rex Minor

PS I cannot wait to see the removal of the current secretary General and its entirte staff at the UNO.

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

[...] China’s South Asia tour: win-win meets zero sum [...]

India is trying to be nice to avert the pressure created by China on the border by emphasizing on expanding trade commerce and cooperation. It is obvious because the past experience of 1962 war with china on record in battle field does not speak well for India.

And now it will be a catastrophic for India to stand in front of China in battle dress, though lot of war moral boosting movies were produced by India targeting Pakistan to boost up the moral of Indian Population but unfortunately no movie was produced targeting China.

India is in grave tension with China’s unpredictable activities as the veteran Economist PM of the country seems to be sweating inside out more so after the President of China’s US visit wherein HU Jintoa very sweetly brought home his view point to both US government and India about Tibet and Twain.

To any person with intelligence will understand that no amount of trade, commerce, and cooperation would facilitate China to withdraw from its commitment about Tibet and Twain issues may what it comes to accomplish the mission.

India would now realize the agony of enforcing untold miseries on the poor Kashmir people for decades as the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians. China has yet not imposed its might on India but the impact has already been felt.

So India should realize what would it be if the full weight of China is imposed than what would the Indian’s condition would be particularly where would be the Political party that boasted of Indian might of Hindus and committed genocide. May be they have already forgotten about it but people have not..

The Indian hegemony in the region is indescribable reports the political activists. It is reliably gathered that first India installs a puppet government and then Siphons all economical, commercial, Industrial produces leaving the neighboring country financially crippled. That is what it did to skim and now the same project as is reported ventilates is in practice in another neighboring country having a secret defense pact so that the political opponents cannot protest out of fear of Indian army entering the country with some ominous plea.

Time has come for India to Change its attitude and activities with its neighbors and let the countries run their affairs by themselves and not interfere with ulterior motives to grab land, kill human like birds. In addition, show red eyes to the neighboring government and make them agree to comply with whatever it wants them to do.

In recent reports, it is revealed that Indian intelligence had been working in collusion with Karzia and Iranian government to undermine the war of terror and fighting against the Taliban’s with ulterior motives against Pakistan.

Before, closing the comment it is imperative to mention that in case India hackles with Tibet Issue then India is sure to go on a high jump which none will come to help stop it. Trade, no trade cooperation, or no cooperation of any nature, China would like to do things in peaceful manner and that is to submit to its legitimate demands.

I would refrain from commenting about India Pakistan relationship as after the high jump it will depend on India how it wants the relationship to be. I suppose with certainty that Pakistan will have the courtesy to wait for it and would not hurry to make any change on its own.

Posted by KINGFISHER | Report as abusive