India has finally woken, a bit late in the day, to Chinese advances in Myanmar. Like, in many other areas, the Indian govt rushes into a stance prompted by “political correctness” — in this case of human rights violations and the incarceration of Aung san su kyi, before realizing that the costs India has had to pay for thus alienating the military junta in Yangbon were too heavy to bear in terms of the expanded Chinese role and presence in that country — something simply unacceptable from India’s strategic and regional perspectives. Hopefully, we can recover lost ground by cashing in on the traditional enmity with China and begin taking the first substantive steps to elbowing out the Chinese from that country.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Myanmar-India

  1. Amit Agarwal says:

    Bharat – there is no point in throwing an adversary from the 2nd floor. It is imperative that the adversary is allowed to expend his own capability to climb up to (say) the 10th floor. Then one may push the adversary off if there is no other path to peace. What needs to be ensured is that one retains the ability to push off the adversary even while the adversary continues to climb higher and higher. Where such a capability is lacking, it needs to be built. China is making things easier for India in this respect by frantically building long-arm links to far flung places without it having the necessary cultural appeal, business acumen, technology-sharing approach or give-as-a-big brother economic policies. These links to far flung places will therefore contiue to remain logistically weak. As long as that remains so, its continued investments in Myanmar, Africa, Sri Lanka or Iran, once they have become substantial, can be clipped. The threat that this could be done in that case would constitute a considerable leverage over China.

    My second point is that there is no point in fighting a war with China unless it is absolutely necessary – which, in my view, will be the case if it overruns and holds on to Indian territory in a declared act of war. If one were to agree with this view then one would also see that it may be advantageous to not to get in the way of natural evolution of anotagonistic relationship of China with Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. India should not become the sole magnet for China’s hegemonistic behavior – the other countries must experience that too for an Indo-Pacific alliance to emerge against Chinese hegemony.

    Thirdly, China approaches the countries in its neighborhood purely from the POV of extracting geopolitical mileage, or for bringing these countries into its mercantilist fold (which will become increasingly more important in the coming decade as China switches role from being a net exporter of deflation to a net importer of inflation. India should however demonstrate intentions for supporting human capacity building in the same countries and expanding the developiment of liberal political set-ups in those countries. India should supply Vietnam with anti-ship missiles and marine survelliance systems but at the same time offer unilateral reduction of trade barriers to Vietnam, deepen cultural links and go long on joint civilian technology projects with her.

    To sum it up, be different from China in our regional approach, let China expend energy to climb up to the 10th floor given the direction she has chosen and, recognize that an Indo-Pacific alliance cannot be built unless China is allowed to focus her hegemonistic projections on neighbors to the east and north of the Malacca Straits.


    • Amit, I quite agree with much of what you say, but here are are a few comments on your prognosis: (1) China will get to the “10th floor” on its own notwithstanding anything India, the US, et al may do to stall its climb upwards. To imagine that India will be stronger by the time China reaches the 10th than it was when China was merely on the 2nd floor is to believe that India will grow faster and more powerful than China in the interim period, to be able to push China off the bldg from that hogher level. (2) Other Asian states are already experiencing the strong-arming tendencies of Beijing — reason why most of the countries on the Chinese periphery are seeking the countervailing presence of the US and India in proximity. If we do not respond to these overtures by Japan, S Korea, Taiwan and the ASEAN, these countries will be convinced India, whether or it has the whereiwthal, lacks the will to join in containing and constraining China. And, absent the US desire and resources to remain an Asia-Pacific power, will slip more readily into the Chinese orbit and accept China as the natural hegemon.

      • Amit Agarwal says:

        Bharat – indeed, India will need to make sure she maintains ability to cut off China’s long logistic lines to West Asia and Africa when such an action is necessary. I do not think however that India will need to grow faster than China to achieve that. Given the curse of geography that China faces in this part of the world, India can achieve so without having to match China on a one-on-one basis. India will however need to strengthen her nuclear deterrent. I do not know enough to comment on whether this strengthening is needed in the technology sphere. However I think it is psychological deterrence that needs a fair bit of work – China is not afraid of Indian nukes as it does not think India has the necessary political will.

        I think it is not possible for any power to stop the gradual slide of S. Korea and Taiwan into the China orbit. This will be merely a correction of a recent anomaly – since WWII when the US became a major Pacific power. Japan, Vietnam and Philippines on the other hand have been historically opposed to Chinese hegemony and I do not see that changing. Australia does not view itself as an “Asian” entity. Therefore I think it will view the emergence of any major power in Asia as a hegemon and not as natural ascension. The US is not preparing to draw down its forces in the near East for at least two decades – its attempts to reach an accomodation with China have largely failed as noted by Shyam Saran. The continuing financial crisis is merely worsening the divide between the US and Chinese elites (US’ problems are not trade deficits but concentration in trade deficit). I agree with you that India will need to send out signals that she is prepared to co-lead a new securiy architecture in the near East. Perhaps our views differ on how much time we think India has to put the political apparatus into place. I think India needs to up the technological and financial edge now however she still can afford the luxury to wait and watch the natural evolution of East Asia on the political front in the region. A military showdown in East Asia between China and one of is numerous competitors would put an end to that luxury.

        PS: Just saw your reply while doing a google search.

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