Asian Security Environment: India's options
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Issue Vol 25.1 Jan-Mar2010 | Date : 16 Dec , 2011

Asian security environment is in a state of deep turmoil. The single event which has occasioned it, is the giant rise of China during the past couple of decades, reaching higher and higher levels of economic and military strength. All neighbors of China, as also some others, are engaged in working out strategies to cope with China should it turn into a rogue state sometime in future.

Even the US is looking for new equations of power as the centre of political and economic balance shifts towards Asia, led by China whose long-term vision of itself remains unfathomable. Setting aside its suspicions of many decades and making an exception to its consistently held non-proliferation policies, the US offered to India a civilian nuclear agreement which will boost its economic and military strength. The rapprochement has been followed by another agreement for joint defense framework that will be in place for ten years envisaging a closer military relationship and arms sale to India. China has not been very happy over these developments as it already sees itself as being the reason for them.

The US has thus become an active participant in the power play in Asia with a new vantage hold on Asian security.

China has been singled out by US as its most likely bête noire of the future because of its galloping economic growth. Economists assess that the Chinese economy will outgrow US economy by the third decade of this century, giving it almost an equal status. But the Indian economy is also expected to grow almost uniformly during the same period, equaling the size of US economy and growing beyond by 2050s.

Thus, while China becomes the largest economy in the world in the next 20 years and the most powerful nation in Asia, it will also have to share the high table with India, and Japan which before the spurt in Chinese growth, was the biggest economy in Asia. These three powers Japan, India and China, will have jointly or singly the greatest sway over Asian security in the coming years. History has already decided that they cannot love each other.

And since rising to such eminence requires assurances of availability of markets and resources, the relationship among the three is likely to be marked by mutual rivalry, jealousies and recriminations. This accounts for the turmoil which is already visible in Asian security. If careful and visionary steps on future strategy are not taken now by all the nations of Asia, dark times will lie ahead. By opting for India, also a fellow democracy and hence sharing common values, the US wants to preempt those dark times.

The US has thus become an active participant in the power play in Asia with a new vantage hold on Asian security. With its new alignments with India, it will try to balance off any attempt by China to dominate over Asia. Furthermore, its own impact on Asia and its security will stay unabated as it plays the role of mentor in the region.

China is no longer a Marxist country even though it is a one party ruled authoritarian communist state. It turned capitalist a long while ago”¦

The Japanese have also lately, been displaying a special interest in India, compelled by similar reservations on China. Since 2004, India has become the largest recipient of its overseas aid. In addition they are also mulling over how the constitutional embargoes, placed by the victorious US on a defeated Japan at the end of World War II, restricting their defense forces by size and role, can be amended.

Japan is spending not more than 1 per cent of its GDP on its defense whereas the figure for US is 4 per cent. Some clever maneuvering is taking place in this respect and the size and lethality of the Japanese Coast Guard, not identified as a self-defense force, is being furiously expanded. The Japanese, like China and India, is also entering space in a big way. All the three countries have set somewhat identical targets for space and research programs for lunar orbit and manned flights to moon, because the common belief is that space can become the platform for future wars if they cannot be avoided.

Another source of future aggression can be the economic tool of currency reserves. China is no longer a Marxist country even though it is a one party ruled authoritarian communist state. It turned capitalist a long while ago, of course with Chinese characteristics and opened itself to foreign investments, trade and globalization with its instant connectivity. The boom in economy which came in their wake has enabled it to accumulate reserves of which nearly $ 1.4 trillion is invested in US treasury bonds. Japan, the number one economy in Asia until overtaken by China, holds reserves of just less than $ 1 trillion.

Such enormous wealth, in the context of cash imbalances in other Asian countries, gives them opportunities for purchasing or heavily investing in state assets of the weaker Asian nations and thereby acquiring undue hold over such countries. It can effectively turn out to be a new form of colonialism. This calls for the establishment of appropriate review committees in such countries to exclude what can prove to be politically mandated sinister investments. Lesser nations have, thus, to remain on guard to preserve their economic integrity and safety.

The Chinese military budget hides much more than what it reveals and can be conservatively placed between US $50 billion to US $80 billion.

In fact the nations of South East Asia, neighbours of China and Japan, have already been vigilant for quite sometime. Five of these, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Singapore in 1967 created ASEAN, Association of South East Asian Nations, gradually enlarging it between 1984 and 1995 to include Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. These nations primarily got together to expand intra regional trade and to move towards a single market and customs union.

The secondary objective was to create a forum for joint assessments for any predatory assault from more powerful nations of the North and across the Pacific. While the ASEAN has not been able to accomplish much so far by way of integration and common policies, it has given its members a sense of being a close knit group with some common concerns the most important of which remains not getting over shadowed by more powerful and not necessarily benign neighbours like China, Japan and the US.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anand K Verma

Former Chief of R&AW and author of Reassessing Pakistan.

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