Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
TELEVISION channels and most other media outlets remain as obsessively focussed on the reported efforts by Vladimir Putin to promote the political fortunes of Donald J Trump ( who as President has done more against Russia during the past year than his two immediate predecessors had during their double terms in office). For those not attuned to the Washington Beltway and its news preferences, it has become unbearable to watch television, although the quality newspapers ( including the Washington Post and the New York Times) fortunately have several more stories than the obligatory put-downs of their target, the 45th US President. However, while the outer noise and sparks are almost entirely about Moscow, deep within the recesses housing key agencies of the Administration, attention is being concentrated on China. Now that clear dates have been articulated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership about when it is planned that China will overtake the US as the foremost global power, it is impossible even for acolytes of Henry A Kissinger to pretend that the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is not on course to surpass the US within a short period.
The heart of US power is technology, followed by soft power. While the soft power projection of China is way below even that of much smaller countries such as France, it is in technology that immense leaps are being made as a consequence of the attention being paid by CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping towards making China a hyper-advanced power by 2025, the country having already become an advanced power by around 2007. By that year, it is expected that China will outpace the US in the telecom sector, and be within striking distance of defeating Boeing and Airbus in passenger aircraft manufacture for the global market. China is the only country where companies exist that can take on the might of Google, Amazon and Microsoft, a feat that even the major European powers are unable to accomplish. Hence the transparent effort by the Trump Administration to block select Chinese technology products (such as Huawei’s 5G systems) from entering as many markets as possible. The US, much of the EU, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Japan have banned Huawei 5G from entering their markets, despite the benefits of increased competition to customers there.
Apple and other technology giants such as Microsoft are following the example of Big Pharma, Big Banking and Big Oil in the US and the EU by talking in idealistic “little guy” terms while at the same time pricing their products in a manner that can only get described as extortionate. The Chinese are offering almost the same products at far lower prices, and consumers in those markets where Chinese tech products have been forcibly excluded are the victims of the (understandable if ultimately futile) effort by local governments to protect their companies from the PRC juggernaut. Those countries that have banned Huawei 5G are working to ensure that India follows their example, as opening the India market to Huawei’s futuristic product would give that company a boost that would assist it to weather the shocks that it has been facing as a consequence of protectionist action by governments wedded to free trade, but only on condition that their own companies dominate the market.
Although European countries are in public opposing some of the measures being taken by the US, in reality they are enthusiastic backers of the Trump Administration’s war on China’s rise, for that is the purpose of the “Trade War”. The intention is to ensure that the US remain the top economy on the globe throughout the 21st century, as it has been since the end of the 1939-45 global war. The calculation is that if enough pain is inflicted on the Chinese economy through economic sanctions and tariffs, the CCP leadership will give up its plans to evolve into an autonomous hyper-power and remain content to be the purchaser of US-EU hi-tech products, as was the situation when Jiang Zemin was General Secretary of the CCP. It is no accident that business as usual with the PRC was quickly resumed by the US and the EU after the 1989 Tienanmen incidents, for the then leadership of the CCP made no effort at challenging the technological and other superiority of the US but remained a zealous buyer of technology and other products and processes from what is still the world’s biggest economy. The US-led response now (at a time wen China has become a global challenger to US leadership) to another set of incidents such as that which took place in Tienanmen would be very different. Such an incident would be used as an excuse to launch a full scope mercantile war on the Chinese production base in an effort to not merely slow down but to shrink the world’s second biggest economy and climbing. Apart from the China 2025 Vision, what is creating concern within the US is the Belt & Road Initative (BRI). Under Xi Jinping, China has extended its global reach to almost every corner of the globe. Recently, Israel leased the ports of Ashdod and Haifa to a Chinese consortium, in order to ensure their modernisation. The move resulted in an immediate blowback from the National Security Council of the US, which has banned US navy port calls to both Israeli ports until Prime Minister Netanyahu withdraws from the agreement with China.
Meanwhile, India is being put on notice that US-India military relations would be impacted severely, were Huawei permitted to bring 5G technology into the country. Ultimately, such warnings are a bluff. The US cannot for long seal off multiplying contacts with Israel or India without harming its own national security interests. Washington has been warning Delhi that Huawei 5G rusks giving the Chinese Company access to data from hundreds of millions of potential consumers, data that, although Indian, is as of now a US monopoly through Google, Facebook and other Us-based platforms. It remains to be seen whether Narendra Modi will take US warnings seriously and block Huawei from entering the fast-expanding potential Indian market for 5G technology the same way as Japan and other countries have done. Across the world, the US is creating new alliances and strengthening existing linkages in its efforts at rolling back the expansion of Chinese influence. Even in South America long regarded as an extension of the US, an increasing number of countries are becoming closer to Beijing than they are to Washington. The “Trade War” is unlikely to end in 90 or even 900 days. It will continue until either Beijing breaks out of the cordon and becomes the top economic and technological power, or the US succeeds in doing to the PRC what it could achieve with the Soviet Union, the meltdown of a Communist system.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.