By David Soysa
Sunday Island (Sri Lanka)
“Let the Chinese sleep, when she wakes the world will be sorry” – Napoleon
Ever since China woke up in 1949, with Mao Tse Tung declaring that the “new China with a big population and a great wealth of products could change everything,” the US is indeed sorry. The new un-expected tectonic force of the East has been sending waves of fear, envy and resentment across the globe. As Mao promised, the new leaders of China want to change the west dominated world order that enabled the Opium war and nine foreign nations to tromp through China for nearly two centuries.
Deng Xiaoping, famously advised his colleagues in 1991, to maintain good relations with the U.S while building up China’s strength. Henry Kissinger, a connoisseur of fine diplomacy, proposed that a U.S. Chinese confrontation must be avoided. A.L. Friedberg (in his book “A contest for supremacy China, America) criticize Kissinger’s proposal saying it “fails to take national interest into account”. By synthesizing the views of Chinese intellectuals, authors, think tanks and a few military officers, he reads these experts as saying “China should seek to “displace the U.S. as the dominant player from East Asia and perhaps from the region altogether”. To the new breed of intellectuals in Beijing, US is a declining weak power. They pair 9/11 with 9/14, the day that Lehman Brothers collapsed in Wall Street. Chinese President Hu Jing Tao and Jin Ping (who will be the new President at the end of 2012) emphasize that “China is not spoiling for a fight with US!
The re-action of the global media to the re-awakening of China, and to a potential conflict between China and US, proves Napoleon was correct in his prediction. A selection of screaming and alarming headlines tell the story. “Clash of the Titans, the real clash of civilization” (Newsweek 24.04.1996), “War Games’’ (Newsweek 18.03.1996), The Dragon vs the Eagle” (L.M.D. Sep 2005), “China’s Merchant Marine, Alarm bells ringing in Washington’’ (Newsweek 28.03.2005) and “How to Think about China” (Time 10.04.2012) Add to this list, numerous Pentagon and think tank reports with titles such as String of Pearls, meeting the challenge of China’s rising power across the Asian littoral – Christopher J. Pehrson – July 2006. China Oil (Agence France Press – 18.01.2005). These titles themselves reflect the growing fear of a confrontation between U.S., the current super power and China, the superpower to be crowned.
Closer to home, former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka (and currently senior fellow of Brookings Institute), Teresita C. Schaffer, wrote to the Sunday Times of 01.04.2012 under the title “Sri Lanka and US, post Geneva repairs”, that “the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, is not just a passage way between the major US Security presence in the Persian Gulf and the
Western Pacific. It has become a strategic zone in it’s own right and the US needs to engage with Sri Lanka on that basis”. Translation from diplomatic language – the strategic Chinese built Hambantota port, in the String of Pearls, is a major threat to US presence in the region.
Chinese current leaders claim that China is not spoiling for a fight with US. The truth though is that, the string of Pearls (SOP) is a classic example of Chinese strategy to win battles before you need to fight them. Kissinger quotes (in his new book ‘On China’) the advise of ancient Chinese military strategist Sun-Tzu, who argued that one can win battles before it begins, by staking out a dominant political and psychological position. In 1958, Mao Tse Tung received the Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev not in his office, but in the swimming pool, forcing Kruschev to negotiate in water wings. Is SOP such a tactical strategy, along with both Sri Lanka and US’s increasing indebtedness to China? (More on Suntze strategy and Chinese folk lore strategy later)
With SOP, China has re-shaped the landscape around both US presence in the region and India instead of colliding. Indians call SOP “a string of thorns round India”. The problem for Sri Lanka though is that we are a part of the problem, both for US and India. US waves the HR flag and India waves the 13th Amendment flag as a pretext to cover the threat from SOP. The slip was shown when India sent its national security adviser Menon recently to Colombo rather than a Kautilya from the South Block. A Kissinger or a Kadirgamar perhaps would have received Menon with a string of (artificial) pearls, to prove it is harmless.
Napoleon Bounaparte – the military genius of the 18th century, has been proved correct, by the global turbulence China has created without a fight. So what? Why should we in Sri Lanka be concerned? Let the Titans fight, could well be the response of those who are stone deaf and blind, even when VVIP political goons disrupt a peaceful, democratic political meeting and kill with T 56 rifles. The highly politicized police remain an impotent spectator. Truly amazing Sri Lanka!
The spectre that is staring at us though, is that just as wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and currently in Afghanistan were fought by US on Asian turf, destroying those countries in order to protect US national interest, will Sri Lanka be the next turf? Our folk lore teaches us when elephants clash, it is the grass that get crushed.
In Thailand, the adviser to the Thai Senate Paitoon Sayswant, provided an answer to the question, why we should be concerned. He said “Thais don’t want to take the risk of a turf battle between China and US. No Asian State does. But if they stand on an oil supply route, there may be no way to avoid the battle” (Newsweek 28.03.2005)
While Sri Lankans are exclusively focusing on the daily laundry list of rape plus murders by politicians’ goons, politicized and impotent police and public administration, laws and judiciary against opposition only, stench of corruption rising t the skies of Sri Lanka, monumental corruption, nepotism breaking Guinness Book of Records, and dengue mosquitoes killing those Prabhakaran could not, tension between US vs Pakistan, US + India vs China, are ratcheting upward in a queer love hate triangle. US military needs Pakistan’s road exit, even to escape from Afghanistan, US needs Chinese funds even to bridge the Budget deficit, China is India’s biggest trading partner and the two are pillars of BRICS. India secured observer status in Shanghai co-operation Organization (SCO). Sri Lanka applied for observer status lately.
Simultaneously disagreement between the two powers US and China, are mounting over Iran, Syria, Tibet and Dalai Lama, currency, climate change and Doha Trade Talks. While Sri Lanka (preoccupied with domestic issues) remains a passive spectator of those disputes, China is pulling Sri Lanka to it’s orbit with multi billion dollar funding for prestigious projects like, Sea ports, air ports and South Asia’s tallest tower! Hambantota port alone will cost ($510-810) US$ 1.3 billion with no return so far. China requested our authorities to allow Chinese navy to use Hambantota port as a supply hub-more later (para 30).
With the spectre of current Greek tragedy in mind, and since Hambantota port fiasco is a topic of discussion, I was asked by a journalist recently, what would happen if Sri Lanka defaults, with no EU or IMF to bail us? I replied somewhat light heartedly, by referring him to an ancient Chinese strategy. It is called “shangwu chauti” or “let your enemy get on to the roof, then take away the ladder.” Is this China’s strategy both for US and Sri Lanka or in respect of Sri Lanka, what biology calls co-evolution – work together to become strong? “God only knows”, may I say repeating the convenient answer by legal luminaries to embarrassing questions in courts.
Gavin Rabinowitz wrote under the heading “Hambantota harbor and Indo-Ceylon war” “India see ominous designs behind the project, while China is deeply concerned by the possibility of a US – India military alliance (Sunday Times 8-6-2008) Upul Joseph Fernando asked whether “Mahinda’s cherished dream, Hambantota port will turn into a gruesome nightmare due to a clash of stake holders in the Indian Ocean (Daily Mirror 8-9-2010). Did the brainstorming session for our diplomats (mostly of the family tree) at the military base in Diyatalawa include this subject? I bet not.
U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in his address to the annual “Shangrila Dialogue” in Singapore in June 2012, announced US decision to shift 60% of the US fleet from the West to Asia Pacific. A move prompted no doubt, by the increasing tension in the region. After visiting Vietnam thereafter, Panetta held talks in New Delhi with PM Manmohan Singh and the Defence Minister. Next stop was Kabul from where he issued a stern warning to Pakistan saying “US officials are reaching the limits of their patience”. Panetta’s explicit description of frustration, is due to the fall of Saigon (in April 1975) type spectre, staring at US military planners for US exit in 2014. If Pakistan refuses to open the only exit route from Kabul, a military confrontation between US and Pakistan appears to be inevitable. Fearing this, Chinese Foreign Minister visited Pakistan in June 2012, and assured Chinese intervention to defend Pakistan if attacked by US. Chinese senior officials also visited Kabul to sign a deal to extract oil and to give a face lift to the ancient Silk Route through Afghanistan. Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) has given observer status to Afghanistan. Hillary Clinton in July 2012 conferred on Afghanistan non NATO ally membership. Thus Hillary brought NATO base to South Asia. Hence when US leaves Afghanistan after destroying (and plundering even most valuable museum artifacts) China may enter to begin repair work. If Tibet under Chinese, is a headache for US and India, Afghanistan with a Chinese face lift may become a nightmare. That’s how China wins battles without a fight. US Defence Dept. Publications “America’s Security Role in a changing world’’ describing India’s development of nuclear weapons and delivery systems “raises the risks to the physical security of both nations nuclear weapons” and that additional tests might compromise US-India nuclear agreement. The report highlights the risk of a nuclear war either through accident or misperception in crisis (page 232). I wonder whether either Defence or Foreign Ministry has seen the report?
The growing tension in Sri Lanka’s neighbourhood which is becoming almost palpable while China is building economic blocs sending diplomatic sherpas in to overdrive. Hillary Clinton and Panetta held discussions in New Delhi in May and June 2012. Talks were on explosive developments in the region and Sri Lanka’s conduct while on bail, after the Geneva conviction. Soon after, the Indian Foreign Minister went to Washington to hold US-India “strategic talks”. He may not come to Sri Lanka to be cheated again! American power is the only plausible bulwark against China’s hegemony in Asia – says Indian defense analysts. A plane load of Sri Lankans too, led by the President visited Cuba, the thorn in the US underbelly. What bravado of David against Goliath! The latest sherpa is Indian National Security Adviser visiting Colombo despite a one to one meeting between our President and Indian PM in Rio de Janeiro. What is the message Menon delivered in Colombo? God only knows!
In the first Indo-China war of 1963, India was given a drubbing by China. CIA was credited for instigating that war. Once bitten twice shy they say. But will India with US backing give a second try, as Sri Lankan did in London recently in a speech making duel, which we lost!
US Presidential elections are due in November 2012 while in China Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to succeed Hu Jin Tao at the end of 2012. If the Republicans win the US elections, US-China war over SOP and other disputes may become inevitable. China has been building economic blocs like Shanghai Co-operation Organization, China Africa Forum and BRICS while USA has been building military blocs and bases around China in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.
Jin Ping sent a loud message from Mexico across the borders to US recently. He said, “China does not export revolution, poverty or trouble to other countries.” It’s a message worth listening to by Indian leaders to avoid Nehru’s blunder in 1963. Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, repeated the blunder by exporting terrorism to Sri Lanka. Will Indira’s daughter-in-law Sonia with US backing export a turf war to Sri Lanka? India is ahead of Sri Lanka on two fronts – a disastrous foreign policy and corruption.