Arnold J. Toynbee, in his monumental ‘A Study of History’ (12 volumes) predicted in his final volume in 1961 that when the modernization process now going on in India and China reaches its culmination, “…the huge populations of these two countries will begin to weigh in the political balance of the world. Such invigorated giants,” he further says, “will then demand their fair share in the world resources, currently grossly in favour of West.”
While India continues to flounder, China has indeed ‘arrived’ as a super power on the world stage. In May 2021, with her successful launch of rover on the surface of Mars and an earlier feat of a nascent space station, China has caught up with the advanced nations in space technology. It is only a matter of time before this manifests itself in military power. Its obvious prior knowledge about a virus created in its own lab, China is the only country in the world that has weathered the economic storm caused by Covid-19. In the coming years, China is well on its way to becoming both a military and economic super power. The assertive foreign policy since 2020 is only the beginning and more as a trailer of things to come.
While the Chinese may well claim that its rise is solely due to its own efforts and genius of its own people, it is a fact that the rise of China owes much to US and Western help, investment and technology that it received during the three decades beginning 1970.
In March 1969, the long simmering ideological dispute between the Soviet Union and China erupted into armed clashes on the Ussuri river border. The active conflict went on for over sevenmonths and later even escalated to the Soviet Union’s border with Xingjian province. The US and the West decided to use the ‘China card’ against the Soviet Union that was regarded as the main threat. Under Reagan in the 1980s, American abandoned its long standing policy of technology denial to China and pulled out all stops in its aid to China. Reagan was obsessed with ending ‘an Evil Empire’ as he called the Soviet Union and no cost was too great to achieve it. It is around the same time, in order to make Afghanistan into ‘Vietnam’ of Soviet Union, the US began creating and arming Islamic radicals. The blow back of that disastrous policy came on 9/11 when Al Qaida terrorist launched an attack on US mainland. The unbridled aid to China during the same era is now coming to bite the US in 2021 in the shape of an aggressive China. In the backdrop of Cancun Summit between President Reagan and PM Indira Gandhi, an Indian diplomat had protested at the technology curbs that were still in place against India while the same was freely available to China. To this an American State Department official had breezily replied that “with China we have no such worries as they are our allies”.
The Cold War ended around 1992 with the dissolution of Soviet Union. But a review of Cold War policies and approach to China and future threat it may pose was never given a thought. Besides the vested interest of Cold War lobbyists and scores of ‘Soviet Experts’ in American think tanks who feared unemployment, the Western multinationals weighed in favour of pro-China policy. After Mao’s death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping became the supreme leader of China. He abandoned the statist Chinese communist policies and embraced Western capitalist model. China opened its doors to Western capital and provided cheap land, labour and unrestricted freedom to establish industries. With no labour unions, no minimum wages or environmental regulations, industries flocked to China to establish new industrial plants and even shift their old ones from mother country to China. There was a virtual stampede by Western Multinationals to invest in China for super profits. These influential multinational companies ensured that the pro-China tilt continued even in the post-Cold War era.
Joseph S. Nye and Bob Keohane authored ‘Power and Interdependence’ is a seminal work dealing with the later 20thcentury that saw the emergence of an interdependent world. The authors make a distinction between ‘sensitivity’ and ‘vulnerability’ in interdependence. Somewhere down the line, the economic relations between the rest of the world and China transited from sensitivity to becoming vulnerable. As China emerged a major industrial power house, it began to see and exploit this vulnerability. It was only a matter of time before China flexed its muscle.
Another complicating factor in the world not reacting to China is the lingering suspicion about Russia. The hangover of Cold War has prevented the West from making a common cause with Russia that has most to fear from Chinese revanchist policies as that pose threat to its Far East.
It is indeed a time for making hard choices between an insecure Russia as an ally or push it into Chinese embrace. During 1945 when faced with Hitler’s Germany, the Western world made up with Stalinist Russia to deal with Hitler.