The New Tense Tango: China versus India-Japan-US

December 27th, 2011
in Op Ed

by Sanjeev Kulkarni

china-india-soldiersChina seems to be digging itself into a deep diplomatic hole. It routinely gets into diplomatic spats with its trading partners which are perceived as bullying tactics by targets of Chinese attention.The Middle Kingdom’s increasingly bellicose stand on the South China Sea, or to anything that does not fit into its worldview, has triggered alarm bells in Washington DC, Tokyo and New Delhi. The planning communities in those three capitals are quietly pursuing strategies to protect their Asia-Pacific interests. These, many believe, are a response to Chinese intransigence to routine diplomatic and trade issues.

India and Japan have established a broad-based strategic partnership. They have concluded both a security pact and a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA). Japan, India and U.S. have also carried out a joint dialogue in D.C.

Follow up:

According to an article in The Economics Times, coauthored by Hemant K Singh & Karl F Inderfurth, the India-Japan-US partnership (is) in transformational stage.  The article quotes President Barack Obama:

"The Asia-Pacific [region] is absolutely critical to America's region will do more to shape our long-term economic future."

India's responses to the Chinese didactic outburst on Dalai Lama and its warning to India to desist in South China Sea exploration have generally been mild, but that has not prevented India from taking the issue up with China squarely.  According to an article in New York Times:

India is being pulled into a complex and increasingly tense territorial dispute in the South China Sea, with China repeatedly warning ONGC, the Indian state oil company, that its joint exploration plans with Vietnam amount to a violation of Chinese sovereignty.

The Indian government responded to the latest Chinese warnings Thursday by repeating its pledge to continue exploring for energy in the South China Sea, where China is embroiled in territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. We plan to restart drilling there," said ONGC Chairman A.K. Hazarika. "The [Indian] Ministry of External Affairs has informed us that the block is well within the territory of Vietnam and so there are no issues with exploration there.

Reacting to the Chinese warning to India on South China Sea, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged Indian Navy to join hands with Japanese Navy.  As per news reported in Indian Express:

Abe, who still has a say in the shaping of Japanese foreign policy, today stressed the need for greater co-operation between Indian and Japanese naval forces at a talk delivered under the auspices of the foreign ministry. He said the two navies should work closely with the US naval force to secure Asian sea lanes. He delivered his lecture, titled “Two democracies meet at sea: For a better and safer Asia”, at a meeting organized by the Indian Council of World Affairs.

In another move which is bound to upset Beijing, US has announced that U.S. Navy may station ships in Singapore and the Philippines. The South China Sea is the shortest route between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and has some of the world's busiest shipping lanes, with more than half the globe's oil tanker traffic passing through it.  According to the Times of India:

President Obama told Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at a regional summit in November that the United States wanted to ensure the sea lanes were kept open and peaceful. Wen was described by US officials as being "grouchy" later at the summit, when other Asian countries aligned with Washington. The Chinese premier said "outside forces" had no excuse to get involved in the complex maritime dispute, a veiled warning to the United States and other countries to keep out of the sensitive issue.

China is uneasy about India's Agni-V missile program with potential to reach Chinese cities. Chinese media widely reported last month's successful test flight of the 3000 km range Agni-IV missile.

Adding to its unease are growing U.S.-India military ties. As reported in the Times of India:

The Obama administration has been quietly pushing to sell armed drones to key allies, including India, but it has run into resistance from lawmakers concerned about the proliferation of technology and know-how, media reports said. India currently buys drones from Israel.

These recent moves by U.S.-Japan-China point to increased exasperation with the Beijing world view. Even in routine trade matters China does not hesitate to do arm twisting.  A recent article in Wall Street Journal calls China a bully:

Watching China bully Wal-Mart Stores this week—and watching Wal-Mart prostrate itself under the beating—is an embarrassing reminder...

There is growing belief in India that New Delhi has been mild in response to Chinese tactics.

Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir an ally of the ruling center coalition government has said that

“India must show more spine when dealing with China.” There is growing exasperation in India about Chinese rant against Dalai Lama who is widely respected here as a spiritual leader.

The Economist, in a tongue in cheek article, “Little red card :The telling reasons why, at least in football, China is unlikely to rule the world in the near future” comments:

In a country so proud of its global stature, football is a painful national joke When, in 2008, milk powder from the Chinese company Sanlu was found to have been tainted with melamine, causing a national scandal, the joke was: “Sanlu milk, the exclusive milk of the Chinese national football team!”

All this hints at something rather unique and powerful about the place of football in Chinese society. It is, like all organized sport in China, ultimately the domain of the government.

China cherishes its many inventions, real and purported. It recently laid official claim to creating Mongolian throat singing (much to Mongolia’s consternation). With the blessing of the international football body FIFA, China also claims the world’s earliest recorded mention of a sport similar to football, during the Han dynasty in the 2nd century BC. A version of the game cuju, or “kick ball”, involved a single, elevated net and two sides of 12 men..... Everyone is free to take aim, and publicly.

...China’s wait for glory looks set to be a long one.

Sarcasms and British humor aside, there are normal mechanisms for addressing trade issues, including maritime issues in the South China Sea; China seems to believe in only one world view: its own.  But Beijing is increasingly getting isolated.  It remains to be seen how Beijing responds to the fast changing realignments in Asia-Pacific. Of course tempers need to cool down.  Jaswant Singh, a former Indian finance minister, foreign minister, and defense minister has put this very well:

When confronted by... diplomatic snarl, there are, in reality, only two options: either allow the disputes to boil in their own cauldrons, or lower the temperature on all of the region’s antagonisms before a cataclysmic explosion occurs. Clearly, today’s frozen regional diplomacy must end; far too much of global importance is at stake.

There are mechanisms to resolve the South China Sea imbroglio. The 'Equidistance Principle for Maritime Boundary Claims' is a good idea to start the resolution process. In a world burdened with severe economic problems, Beijing’s aggressive posturing complicates matters further.  It is hoped that better sense prevails all around.  Wars and armed hostilities have ultimately turned out to be non-options for generally beneficial solutions.


India-Japan-US partnership in transformational stage: The Economic Times

China warns India against ‘providing a platform' for Dalai Lama: The Hindu

India Faces Standoff With China on Sea Oil: Wall Street Journal

Japan call for navy tie-up: Indian Express

US Navy may station ships in Singapore, Philippines: The Times Of India

Agni-V shows India's intention to become major power: Official Chinese media: The Times of India

Obama administration wants to sell drones to India: The Times Of India

China: Bullying to Prosperity: Wall Street Journal

India must show more spine when dealing with China: Omar: The Indian Express

Little red card: The Economist

Equidistance Principle For Maritime Boundary Claims: Wikipedia

A South Asian Grand Bargain: Project Syndicate

On Kicked Cans, WW3 and Other Alternatives: Econintersect


About the Author


Sanjeev Kulkarni is an entrepreneur based in Pune, India. He worked for large organizations in board level position before venturing on his own. He is currently involved as an investor in health care software company and as an investor, mentor in an automation company. Very widely traveled, he has experience of working in different geographical areas with people of varying nationalities. He did his BS from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.


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  1. Joseph Tan says :

    1)Guess why is it called the South China Sea as in Indian Ocean? What do you think the connotation "China" and "Indian" mean?

    2) China is unease with "Agni -V" as with short range missiles from North Korea. No one capital like to be pointed by a nuclear missile. Just like what trigger the Cuban crisis.

    3)To say that China bully Wal-Mart is not true. Why should it be? Wal-Mart promotes and sells so many Chinese-made goods

    4) It is not good to point at China "Sinlu" milk powder scandal or her football crisis. India fare no better - just a week ago tens of poor Indian were killed as a result of drinking poorly brew back-yard moon-shine. What have you got to say?

    5) My friend had a saying - the higher the baboon climbs, the more his buttock is exposed - wait till India climb a little higher - currently the joke is on China, soon it will be on India.

    6)Cheers - Merry Christmas (oops, just over) and Happy New Year!!!

  2. truth says :

    Typical indian nationalist author high on deluded indian pride and paranoia.



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