Chennai Informal Summit: Walking the path for the Asian Century

The Chinese President Xi Jinping will be visiting Chennai, India for the 2nd Informal Summit, a 2 day event beginning Friday 11 October 2019, on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation. The two leaders had their inaugural Informal Summit in Wuhan, China on 27-28 April 2018. The Chennai Informal Summit will provide an opportunity for the two leaders to continue their discussions on overarching issues of bilateral, regional and global importance and to exchange views on deepening India-China Closer Development Partnership.

To mark this Summit, Newsroom24x7 has drawn extensively from the presentations, research articles and speeches of Major General Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM (Retd), Distinguished Fellow, United Service Institution of India to present a comprehensive analysis of the whole gamut of issues linked with the geo-political situation, security, economy and the entire global stage with special focus on India and China.

Here below are exclusive views of Major General Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM (Retd)

Asia is on the cusp of transformation in the geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic spheres on the global stage. The Indo- Pacific Region is witness to a gradual shift in the maritime trade centre of gravity towards it from the Atlantic and the Pacific regions. This has resulted in a major geo-political and geo-strategic flux in these regions, thereby providing Asia with a unique opportunity to achieve the Asian Century. For this the rising, emerging and developed nations of Asia, viz., China, Japan, India, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore (to name a few), need to come together, shed their historical and colonial baggage and contribute for the larger good of Asia, rather than limit their vision to their own growth at the expense of the rest.

Road map: The first phase would be to establish an IPRC that act as succour to the smaller nations and ensure that rule of international law, good governance, equality, transparency and economic prosperity for all is ensured within the region. It could then metamorphosis from a Regional Commission into an Asian Union – a structure that would be able to ensure the actualisation of the Asian Century. Such an organisation would be able to ensure stability, peace and prosperity within the region.

Security: Security, both internal and external, is fast becoming a major destabilisation factor in the region. Use of non-state actors as a state policy, exploiting internal fissures for petty political gains, external support for regime change and internal instability to gain geo-political and geo-strategic space, and the expanding New Great Game to the Indo-Pacific region from West Asia and North Africa, is creating political and economic instability, much to the detriment of Asia’s growth.

Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
A rising and revanchist China wants to gain sole leadership of Asia ( first phase of China Dream) – something that is anathema to India and other like-minded democratic countries (Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand), which look towards a multipolar Asia within a multi-polar world. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) appears to be China’s economic strategy to achieve its Dream – a debt-trap strategy, to entrap states to gain geo-political and geo-strategic space. However, there is a concerted push back by affected nations against such predatory mercantilism by China, especially after it arm-twisted Sri Lanka to gain control of the Hambantotta port. Coupled with the trade war with USA, these events have forced China to re-evaluate its future regional and global strategy.

Asian Century: The extant geo-economic and geo-political flux does provide a window of opportunity to commence the process for achieving the Asian Century in a phased manner by establishing an IPRC. Ideally the scenario of a united Indo-Pacific would be the best for the region. However, it seems more likely that a bipolar Asia could emerge in extant geo-strategic environment, wherein most of the other seven like-minded emerging / developed nations coming together to establish the Commission. While China would use its revamped BRI strategy to firmly entrench itself in some countries of the region. It would not be an ideal situation, but would be manageable as it would provide the Asian states with an alternate narrative to the BRI model to choose from. There could be a possibility of some modus vivendi between these two blocs to achieve an entente cordiale. It would enable adequate sustainable development of the region, especially of the countries that would opt to be part of the Commission.

These eight rising / emerging / developed nations need to arrive at ways to achieve a new modus vivendi entailing consensus, cooperation and building strategic trust. The need is to move away from ‘compete & contest’ towards an entente cordiale leading to greater harmony and cooperation within the region. Considering that there is marked instability in the West Asia and a degree of uncertainty over Central Asia, the first focus for achieving a Regional Multilateral Economic and Security Architecture (subsuming requisite extant architectures) could limit its scope to South (less Pakistan), South East and East Asia – an Indo-Pacific Regional Forum.

In order to achieve the Asian Century, the first step would be to form an IPRC, covering East Asia, South East Asia and South Asia (less Pakistan), given the issues in Pakistan, the Middle East and Central Asia. The next step would be to gradually convert this forum into a Multilateral Regional Economic and Security Architecture, based on the four guiding principles enunciated above. After this architecture stabilises, it would lead to an Asian Union, which would aim to bring maximum Asian nations under the umbrella for mutual benefit.

China’s strategic behavior and its consequences for India
There exists hype, built up in the West and USA, on the assertiveness of President Xi Jinping, ever since his elevation as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. They seem to be fixated by him and appear to look upon him as the sole leader responsible for China’s unprecedented rise. They fail to grasp the strategic continuum since Deng Xiao Ping, which created the structures for Xi Jinping to be able to take such an aggressive stance, thereby missing the wood for the trees. Unless this aspect is grasped and understood, the responses would largely fail to achieve their purpose.

The 19th Congress saw President Xi Jinping appear to emerge stronger, with his thought – ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era’, now part of the constitution as ‘Xi’s Thought’. His pet project the ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) / One Belt One Road (OBOR)’, the broad umbrella under which he has grouped all the ongoing infrastructure projects in South East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Europe, India Ocean Region and Africa that he inherited, has also been enshrined in the Constitution.

President Xi’s Chinese Dream has been described as achieving the “Two 100s”:

  1. the material goal of China becoming a “moderately well-off society” by 2021, the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, and
  2. the modernization goal of China becoming a fully developed nation by about 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.

President Xi Jinping appears to view the coming decades as a ‘strategic opportunity’ for China to establish a ‘Pax Sinica’ in Asia – the fruition of phase one of The China Dream and the great rejuvenation of the nation. He wants China to be a “moderately prosperous society” by 2020; “basically modernised socialist nation” by 2035 and “rich and powerful socialist nation” by 2050.

While China is working towards these goals, it also appears to be moving towards ‘an integration of the Comprehensive National Power (CNP)’ of the ‘Neighbourhood’ with itself, in a step by step approach – an umbilical connect that would not be easily disrupted, a reshaping of the regional economic and security architecture with ‘Chinese Characteristics’.

The retired Army top brass, who is an expert on Chinese affairs underscores that President Xi Jinping is pushing for a Regional Security Architecture in the Indo-Pacific (Asia-Pacific) region, without any external powers and at the same time, he is also of the firm view that a rising, liberal and a democratic India poses a direct challenge to this narrative – proverbially the second sun in the Asian sky.

But, Maj Gen. Rajiv Narayanan points out that there lies a huge challenge before India as China would continue to attempt to isolate India and the region and beyond. It would aim to undercut India’s economic growth from within, using its ‘deep connections’ and create socio-political and socio-economic turmoil to subvert India’s steady rise. It would strive to curtail India’s outreach within the region and within ASEAN to enable it to secure its ‘edge and sides’.

China would work to wean away both Bhutan and Nepal from Indian influence and bring it firmly under its own ambit. Further, it would use its geo-economic clout to gain strategic space/equity from Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It would aim to show India as an undependable partner in region.

Even as India looks to ‘Act East’, China has been utilizing its geo- economic outreach bilaterally to undermine the cohesion of ASEAN and ensure its overarching influence to the detriment of both India and USA.Beijing seeks to achieve the following to be able to achieve its Dream.

China’s aim is to weaken India’s Comprehensive National Power  (CNP), thereby preventing its rise and ensuring that there is no threat to its narrative within South, Central and South East Asian Region. It would aim to curtail India’s internal security and limit India’s security outreach by presenting it with multi-dimensional
asymmetric and hybrid threats, both internal and external.

China’s view of CNP differs from the Western construct that had for long seen it as a sum of the economic, diplomatic and military strength of a nation. Deng Xiaoping had formulated China’s concept of CNP by mid-1980s, that had four major index subsystems:

  • hard power index (such as economic wealth, natural resources, science and technology, military might),
  • soft power index (such as political power, foreign affairs, culture, education),
  • coordinated power index (such as line of command, leadership in policy decision-making), and
  • environmental index (such as international environment).

President Xi Jinping sees the current geo-political flux as an opportunity for China to assert itself within Asia and occupy the vacuum due to USA’s strategic retrenchment. Towards that end, he has clubbed the existing infrastructure projects, and
added a few, under the much touted BRI, with the aim of gaining geopolitical space in Asia.

In this backdrop, Major General Rajiv Narayanan asserts that the Middle Powers of Asia must utilise this opportunity to form a ‘Middle Power Coalition’, an Indo-Pacific Association, to assist the small nations and ensure peace and stability within this region.

India needs to ensure it has a strong, viable, modernised military, internal stability, strong inclusive governance and a strong inclusive economy to be able to counter all the asymmetric challenges that could be posed by China and its cat’s paw(s).

India also will have to ally with like-minded democracies to provide an alternative narrative to BRI- ensure inclusive and sutainable development for all and set up a regional multi-lateral architecture with them to provide the full spectrum security.

India should also continue to work with China for the new modus vivendi and get it to change its strategy.

Maj Gen. Rajiv Narayanan, is recognised globally as an expert on China. With 37 years of experience and established leadership qualities across the career span with the Indian Army, he has been responsible for policy formulation for strategic and operational preparedness, resource optimization based on periodic SWOT & PESTLE analysis and Force Structuring, modernization plans of Weapons and Equipment including prioritisation. He is an expert in terms of Strategic Financial Analysis over the entire breadth of operations; Planning & Forecasting, Human Resource & Resource Planning, Logistics and Equipment Management, Corporate Communications, Knowledge Management ,and Financial Analysis and Planning. He has been awarded Ati Vishishta Seva Medal (AVSM) for outstanding contribution.
In his capacity as Executive Director Military Opeations Ministry of Defence, he has played a key role in Strategic Force structure, equipment upgrade and modernisation, strategic financial planning.

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