The main presentation of interest on the first day of the 16th Asian Security Conference hosted by IDSA (Feb 19-21) was by Beijing’s designated hardline pitchman — Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University. Yan made clear that the “new model for major power relations” that President Xi Jinping has articulated, tends in fact towards “competition” not “cooperation” as many in the West and the usual docile lot of China-pleasers in the Indian foreign policy establishment believe is the case. He, moreover, stressed that the world was moving towards bipolarity owing to the increase in China’s “material power” which, he claimed, is the sole reason for the “inevitable” rivalry with the United States. And, as regards Japan, Yan was almost vituperative. But he got as good as he gave from Vice Admiral (ret) Fuma Ota, former head of Japanese Military Intelligence, who responded with zest to Yan’s provocations — and on a projected map highlighted the growing incidents at sea and in the air, any of which could have escalated into military crisis. When asked how long the Chinese Navy would take to integrate their recently inducted aircraft carrier, Liaoning, into fleet operations — the litmus test of a carrier-centered navy, Ota estimated 20 years, and Andrew Scobell of RAND ventured that this eventuality “is long way off”.
In the first event of the morning, MK Narayanan, Governor of West Bengal, in his keynote address proved what I have publicly written and stated that he was, perhaps, the worst National Security Adviser India has had to-date. In the main because of his singularly risk-averse attitude and thinking. For instance, he went on and on about “the risk of unintended consequences” of the India-China naval race, and why “deft management” is necessary to avoid conflict — something, no doubt, he feels he provided as NSA. Worse, he yoked the country’s nuclear arsenal and policy not to its own national security interests or the emerging geostrategic situation in Asia and the world, but exclusively to Chinese aggressiveness and also to whether and how much America retrenched. It emphasized his way of thinking that had confirmed India’s status as a free-rider on security and is the sort of approach that helped Narayanan deliver the inequitable nuclear deal that enormously hurt India’s nuclear weapons program and strategic interests, to Condoleeza Rice in July 2005. He also confessed that in his time “We never worked very hard on an Asian security architecture” because of the divisions and differences between Asian states. He ended with a gratuitous dig at me saying MEA stalwarts such as — and he named — Rakesh Sood, who was in the audience, had stalled “our erstwhile foe, Bharat Karnad” in the foreign and security policy realms. While this mention was flattering, wonder what Yan Xuetong thought about it considering China is the foe Narayanan ought to have worked aggressively against as NSA, but did not.