Tuesday, April 12, 2005

India-China update

Good news out of New Delhi, the New York Times reports:

China and India agreed Monday to resolve a decades-old border dispute and let trade flourish between the countries. Promising a new era of "peace and prosperity" between the world's two most populous countries, the announcement came during a four-day visit to India by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China.

It signaled an end to a protracted dispute over several patches along the 2,200-mile border between the countries, stretching from Kashmir to Myanmar. China defeated India in a war over territory in 1962, and relations have been fraught for four decades. The two countries have reached "a certain level of maturity," India's foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, said at a news conference here. "India and China are partners, and they are not rivals," he added. "We do not look upon each other as adversaries."

The announcement did not spell out which territory would go to which country, but the two countries did agree to come up with a plan to resolve disputes over frontier territory. Each side has troops along the border, but there have not been any recent skirmishes. Despite the border dispute, relations between India and China - both nuclear powers, both witnessing rapid economic growth, both facing an enormous demand for energy - have flourished in recent years, led primarily by trade. China is now India's second-largest trading partner, after the United States.

On Monday Mr. Wen and his Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said the two countries expected to increase bilateral trade from $13 billion last year to at least $20 billion in 2008.

Twelve separate agreements were signed during the visit, ranging from the border issues, to cooperation on filmmaking, to the export of Indian bitter gourds and grapes to China. India and China also agreed to expand flights between the countries, and to military exchanges to enhance "mutual trust" between their armed forces. They also agreed to engage in joint exploration for oil and gas in other countries. What India did not mention were agreements that China has made with India's neighbors and rivals, from building road links with Bangladesh to financing a deep-sea port in Pakistan.

On that last point about the Chinese financing a deep-sea port in Pakistan, there was an op-ed yesterday in the Times by Nayan Chanda about this issue and larger issue of expanding Chinese navy that I meant to clip and post as well. The primary reason for this port is obviously better accessibility to energy reserves in the Middle East:

Five hundred and ninety years after a Chinese fleet cast anchor at Hormuz, the Chinese are back in the Arabian Sea. When Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China visited Pakistan last week, one of the many deals he signed was for the deepening of the port at Gwadar, whose Chinese-built facilities symbolize China's return to an area that was, briefly, a playground for its navy.

The port's just completed first phase - three berths that can accommodate very large ships - is relatively insignificant. But its projected size and strategic location have sent ripples of anxiety through Washington, Tokyo and New Delhi about the potential establishment of a permanent Chinese naval presence near the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world's oil passes.

For the sake of regional stability, Beijing should forgo any ambitions to use Gwadar for its naval vessels. Yet China has valid reasons to help develop a commercial port that other powers must accept. Its return to the Indian Ocean is the logical outcome of its blazing economic growth, which the West has encouraged, applauded and profited from. A China that depends increasingly on imported oil transported great distances can justifiably seek commercial refueling and repair facilities, just as European powers dependent on far-flung coaling stations for their ships did in the 19th century.

Many believe it is only a matter of time before the Chinese Navy, much strengthened by recent purchases of ships and technology, arrives in Gwadar. Pakistani officials boast that Gwadar's Chinese connection will help to frustrate India's domination of regional waterways. A Chinese maritime presence in the area would enable the mainland to monitor naval patrols by the United States and protect Chinese sea lines of communication. China Economic Net, an online news outlet sponsored by China's leading business paper, calls Gwadar "China's biggest harvest."

The fact remains, however, that with the exception of the Chinese "fishing trawlers" occasionally found mapping the ocean floor (information needed by submarines), the Chinese Navy has yet to show up. So for now, instead of raining on China's parade at Gwadar, India and the United States should welcome China's contribution to expanded maritime commerce and the additional sense of security that Beijing might derive from it. The port at Gwadar will be a boon to the regional economy; and to deny China's need for a secure oil supply while pumping billions of dollars into China to produce more gas-guzzling cars is both illogical and, in an indirect but palpable way, hostile. China should be left in no doubt, however, that using the Gwadar port for its military would increase tensions and weaken the energy security that it ostensibly seeks. Checking its frigates and submarines at the door would be a good way for China to ensure that others are also able to enjoy the party.

In a separate, unrelated article, the Washington Post picks up on the strengthening-Chinese-military theme that has been circulating the major papers in recent weeks. The article basically documents China's hardwares and the strategic posturing vis-a-vis Taiwan. However, I did find this line to be noteworthy:

"The main purpose of that is not to attack the United States," Lin [Chong-pin, a former Taiwanese deputy defense minister and an expert on the Chinese military at the Foundation on International and Cross-Strait Studies in Taipei] said. "The main purpose is to throw a monkey wrench into the decision-making process in Washington, to make the Americans think, and think again, about intervening in Taiwan, and by then the Chinese have moved in."

Interesting that line comes from a former Taiwanese official. It makes you think the absorption of Taiwan by China is inevitable (we just don't know when) and that the U.S. really isn't going to do anything about it. So in 2025, don't be surprised if the "War of the Taiwan Straits" really isn't war at all - or, at the very least, a war without the American Navy.

*Just a note: for whoever reads this blog and wonders why I post huge chunks of new articles with little commentary, it is because I like to "clip" articles that I feel are important in helping me understand ever-changing world we're living in. In that context, I consider this blog a personal research archive (along with being an outlet for my own commentary). For example, I see the economic and military emergence of China and India as critically important developing story in the world today, and I think the United States is in a position to create important relationships (economic, strategic, political) with both countries to advance its interests in Asia. Likewise in the Middle East. So, my goal, I guess, is to do my best in tracking all the important goings-on around the world and attempt to synthesize that information for myself and whoever else might be slightly interested. Of course, as I said before, commentary on whatever issue that needs discussed will not cease.


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