The China-India Conflict (III. The Background: Accelerating Rivalry between China and India in a Period of Capitalist Decay)

 

 

 

However, the conflict between Beijing and Delhi over the domination of Bhutan is only part of a more comprehensive struggle between these two powers for regional hegemony. China's rise as an imperialist power has resulted in a series of economic and political initiatives by Beijing both in Asia as well as globally. One of these initiatives is the co-called Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – which is basically a kind of loose political and military alliance dominated by China and Russia and which is intended to serve as a counterweight to NATO.

 

The character of the SCO is relatively lax, something which becomes manifest when we realize that both India and Pakistan joined it June 2017. As is well known, these two countries are engaged in a bitter, long-standing border conflict between them, in particular regarding the region of Kashmir. The ongoing conflict between China and India further demonstrates the limited coherence of the SCO.

 

 

 

China's Belt and Road Initiative

 

 

 

Another particularly important project of imperialist China is the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (originally called One Belt, One Road or OBOR) which was launched in the autumn of 2013. This is a huge project which seeks to bring about economic integration – under Chinese hegemony – of Asia, Europe, the Middle East as well as East Africa and Oceania. It involves more than 60 countries accounting for about 60% of the world’s population and with a cumulative GDP equivalent to 33% of the world’s wealth. In contains numerous infrastructure projects (ports, highways, railways, etc.) as well as the intensification of trade.

 

On the one hand, the Belt and Road Initiative incorporates a sea-based Maritime Silk Road initiative (also called the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road). The Chinese government has recently published a more detailed plan, dividing the project into three “blue economic passages”: the China-Indian Ocean-Africa-Mediterranean Sea Blue Economic Passage; the China-Oceania-South Pacific Blue Economic Passage; and one that will lead to Europe via the Arctic Ocean. [1]

 

On the other hand, the BRI includes the so-called Silk Road Economic Belt involving six land-based economic corridors: the New Eurasian Land Bridge; the China - Mongolia - Russia Corridor; the China - Central Asia - West Asia Corridor; the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor; the China-Pakistan Corridor (CPEC); and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC). [2] (See Map 4.)

 

 

 

Map 4: The Corridors of the Belt and Road Initiative [3]

(See below)

 

 

This initiative has already resulted in numerous concrete projects like the construction of a vast port in Gwadar (Pakistan) and the take-over and expansion of the Greek port in Piraeus to name only two.

 

This brief overview should be sufficient to demonstrate that the Belt and Road Initiative is designed to serve Beijing’s plan to significantly expand its global economic and political sphere of influence. Primarily, it is not a project designed to raise the people's standard of living but rather to expand the hegemonic role of Chinese imperialism. [4]

 

This is why socialists should oppose this project, as in the past they opposed the so-called Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II and the so-called Alliance for Progress initiated by US President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Both projects were economic initiatives which primarily aimed to serve the expansion of the sphere of influence of US imperialism.

 

Here we repeat our conclusion from our statement on the China-Pakistan Corridor (CPEC): "However we oppose the CPEC project since it primarily serves the interests of Chinese monopoly capital and the small Pakistani comprador bourgeoisie – and not the interests of the people of Pakistan and China. In particular, we oppose those projects which will directly increase the oppression of the Baloch and other national minorities." [5]

 

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the old imperialist powers – the US, EU and Japan – are extremely concerned about China's economic and political expansion, and that they are attempting to counter Beijing's rising influence.

 

 

 

India's OCOR as an Alternative to OBOR?

 

 

 

If the old imperialist powers are worried about the rise of China, India's ruling class is even more so. Despite its being the second-largest country in the world in terms of population and one with a rapidly growing economy, Delhi has been powerless to restrain China's rapid growing influence in all its neighboring countries.

 

The journalist Pepe Escobar accurately formulated Delhi's problem: "When India looks around, to its east or to its west, what it sees is China connecting everything from Dhaka in Bangladesh to Bandar Abbas in Iran." [6]

 

Since the right-wing government of Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, India has intensified its attempts to catch up to China and to become a Great Power in its own rights. Consequently, it has taken various steps to hamper China's Belt and Road offensive and to intensify its collaboration with US and Japanese imperialism.

 

In contrast to many other states, India under Modi has refused to join the Belt and Road Initiative, making India the sole country in the region that boycotted the project’s summit in May 2017. [7] This policy of India is clearly intended as a challenge to the core project in which China is placing such strategic importance, given the major role played by India as a regional factor in South Asia. Dr. Sanu Kainikara, a Canberra-based military strategist with a clearly anti-Chinese and pro-Indian stance, noted in this context: "At the time that India boycotted the OBOR Forum, China had warned that India would be isolated and also warned that India’s pro-US stance was akin to being a US stooge." [8]

 

However, Delhi is not only refusing to join the Belt and Road Initiative – which it brands as an expression of “Sinocentrism” – it is also trying to advance alternative economic trade projects. One of these is the so-called Chahbahar Project, a tripartite agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan signed in Tehran on 23 May 2016 during a visit by Modi to Iran. This is basically a transport corridor, linking India with Central Asian energy resources by opening up a new route from Afghanistan to the Iranian port of Chabahar. Towards this end, Modi signed 12 agreements with Tehran, including a deal to develop Iran’s Chabahar port. India has committed itself to spend some $500 million on the project, and plans to invest an additional $16 billion in the Chabahar free trade zone. [9]

 

A potentially even more significant project is the so-called Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). It was first announced in a joint declaration issued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, in November 2016. In May 2017, an official plan was published. [10]

 

The Asia-Africa Growth Corridor is a joint project of India and Japan focused on the establishment of a sea corridor linking Africa with India and Japan as well as other countries in Southeast Asia and Oceania. According to its initiators, this project will give priority to developing production and trade in the areas of health and pharmaceuticals, agriculture and agro-processing, disaster management and skill enhancement. [11]

 

The project aims to connect ports in Jamnagar (Gujarat) with Djibouti in the Gulf of Eden. Similarly, ports of Mombasa and Zanzibar will be connected to ports near Madurai; Kolkata will be linked to the port of Sittwe in Myanmar. India is developing ports under the Sagarmala program specifically for this purpose.

 

An Indian newspaper optimistically reported: "Apart from developing sea corridors, the AAGC also proposes to build robust institutional, industrial and transport infrastructure in growth poles among countries in Asia and Africa. The idea is to enable economies in Asia and Africa to further integrate and collectively emerge as a globally competitive economic bloc." [12]

 

There can be no doubt about India's intentions. Recently, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a semi-fascistic, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary organization which enjoys great influence inside the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party, published an article outlining the government's foreign policy. In this article, it promoted One Culture One Region (OCOR) as an alternative to China's OBOR. They accuse China of wanting “to dominate the region to overpower India” and that OBOR is an “imperialistic concept” that cannot “fulfill” the present “cultural vacuum” in Eurasia. [13]

 

Pepe Escobar has accurately pointed out the similarity of worldviews of both Indian and Chinese chauvinists when he writes: "Hindu nationalism qualifies South Asia and the Indian Ocean as an indisputable sphere of influence for Indian civilization – and one not that dissimilar to China’s in relation to the South China Sea." [14]

 

In judging India's efforts to counter China's foreign economic projects with its own initiatives, one has to come to a very sobering assessment. To put it mildly, the Chahbahar Project seems to be a pipe dream – at least compared with the high-hopes if Delhi.

 

First, it is based on the assumption that Afghanistan could be a safe corridor for exports from energy-rich Central Asian countries. This however, presupposes that the civil war in Afghanistan, going on since the beginning of the US occupation in 2001, can be somehow stopped. However, this is hardly feasible, at least in the foreseeable future. If the Trump Administration increases its troops – the Pentagon currently proposes to add around 4,000 more US troops to the 8,400 currently deployed in Afghanistan [15] – the national liberation war of the Afghan resistance will unavoidably escalate. If the US withdraws, the current regime in Kabul will collapse and anti-American forces will hugely increase their influence – a development which will probably be to the advantage of Beijing. As a sign pointing to future developments, China already has a $3 billion contract to develop a copper mine about 25 miles southeast of the Afghan capital, Kabul. [16]

 

Second, the Chahbahar Project was very much influenced by the assumption that the relations between the US and Iran would improve after the nuclear treaty. [17] However, as we have seen, the relations between Washington and Teheran began deteriorating when the Trump Administration took office and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. It is unlikely that close relations between India and Iran can develop when the former is at the same time looking for closer relations with US imperialism.

 

Regarding the Asia Africa Growth Corridor, it is still too early to evaluate. In contrast to China's Belt and Road Initiative, it is still very much in the early stages of planning. On its own, India certainly lacks the economic potential to push the AAGC forward to full fruition, as it is not an imperialist state but a peculiar semi-colonial one. However, given the involvement of Japan – an economically potent imperialist state – one should not shrug off the chances of this project. It is, however, not at all certain at this stage that Tokyo and Delhi will continue their concerted efforts to make  the Asia Africa Growth Corridor a success.

 

 

 

India's Increasing Ties with US and Japanese Imperialism

 

 

 

Another crucial facet of Modi's new foreign policy strategy is India's desire to build closer ties with and Japanese imperialism. Particularly since Trump became U.S. President, India's ties with Washington have massively improved. Sanu Kainikara recently observed: "It is also noteworthy that the current impasse was created almost immediately after the Modi-Trump meeting, which China has perceived to have strengthened the Indo-US strategic partnership. (…) The recently concluded military exercise between the navies of India, US and Japan seems to have made China uncomfortable. There is a visible sense of insecurity that seems to have made China resort to an unprecedented war of words against India." [18]

 

Naturally, both U.S. and Japanese imperialism are eager to utilize India in order to create a counterweight against the seemingly unstoppable rise of China.

 

The New York Times reported recently: "Both Japan and the United States have expressed eagerness to team up with India on its maritime frontier. Last month, the United States agreed to sell India 22 advanced surveillance drones, which could be deployed to the Strait of Malacca and used to track Chinese naval movements. The drones can be used in concert with the American-made P-8I Poseidon surveillance aircraft, which are already staged on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Indian government has signaled that it is willing, after many years of resistance, to expand security infrastructure on the archipelago. In May, a wildlife board approved the creation of missile testing and surveillance facilities on Rutland Island, a project first proposed in 2013." [19]

 

Furthermore, in July this year India, US and Japan conducted the largest-ever Malabar naval exercise, focused on detecting submarines attempting movement via the Malacca Strait into the Bay of Bengal. Beijing countered by surging PLA Navy submarines into Bay of Bengal.

 

The Indian Navy also announced a plan to permanently station warships to monitor movement through the Strait of Malacca, where many Chinese vessels enter from the South China Sea. Unsurprisingly, this has provoked a “surge” of Chinese military vessels entering the Indian Ocean.

 

In short, we see that the recent escalation of the Sikkim border conflict has to be viewed in the broader context of India's intensified efforts to counter China's expanding influence in Asia by intensifying its own economic, political and military efforts as well as by looking for support by US and Japanese imperialism.

 

The Australian-British journalist and scholar Neville Maxwell accurately interpreted these recent developments as indications for Delhi's leaning towards an alliance with the Western imperialist powers: "This may be another indication that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided that India’s interest will be served better in an aggressive American alliance rather than in a neighbourly relationship with China." [20]

 

 

 

How are the chances in a military confrontation between India and China?

 

 

 

Naturally, it would be highly speculative to make any concrete prognosis about the future developments in the stand-off between Chinese and Indian troops in the Sikkim border region. It is quite possible that the two powers will agree on a kind of face-saving comprise in the short-term. However, given the underlying acceleration of the antagonism between Beijing and Delhi in their struggle for dominance as well as the recent rapprochement between the India and the US and Japan, the chances for a military escalation are increasing.

 

The Modi government hopes to be able to take a strong stance in the border conflict. Manoj Joshi, an Indian journalist and former security advisor of the government in Delhi, expresses the self-confident point of view of the South Asian regional power that it can force Beijing to make concessions: "That China has become more assertive since 2008-2009 is well known, but Modi’s India also sets a value by adopting an assertive stance in the South Asian and Indian Ocean region. And, unlike the smaller countries of the region, India does have the capacity to deal with China on its own terms. And almost everyone is agreed that in the coming decade, this capacity will only increase. As the more powerful party, China is the one that needs to figure out how it must deal with India because whether India becomes more powerful, or, for that matter flounders, it can still cause a lot of trouble for Beijing. Conflict between the two Asian giants will act as a drag on their rise. It was famously said that there is enough room for both of them to grow at the same time. As of now, unfortunately, their simultaneous growth is causing dangerous friction and their unsettled border can always provide the spark for conflict." [21]

 

John Garver has a more sober assessment of India's chances. He accurately puts the alternative for India like this: "China’s creeping encirclement of India confronts New Delhi with the choice of either accommodating itself to Chinese primacy or of hedging in partnership with the US and Japan against China’s advances, fuelling the regional rivalry even further. (…) India is in a vulnerable position. Unlike Japan, it is not protected by an alliance with the US. (…) Beijing might conclude that New Delhi is the weakest link in the chain of “anti-China containment” (…). The US might object to Chinese chastisement of India, but could not fundamentally alter the outcome. Moreover, India’s military modernisation is proceeding slowly. The PLA enjoys considerable superiority over India’s military in most areas. As Indian military modernisation proceeds with US and Japanese assistance, the PLA’s relative advantage may diminish. It might make sense for China to teach India a lesson before China’s advantage is eroded." [22]

 

Garver even does not exclude the possibility Chinese forces might seize part or all of India’s Northeast, putting it in a strong position from which to dictate peace terms.

 

For Marxists it is clear that the economic, political and military antagonism between the powers will unavoidable accelerate given the general background of decay of the capitalist world system. Any hope for a peaceful and cooperative future for Asia is built on sand, on illusions that capitalism can find a way out of its accelerating contradictions in the near future.

 

To put it bluntly, the alternative for Dehli is either to accept the hegemonic role of imperialist China in Asia and to find a place as a second-rate power in a Beijing-dominated order. Or Delhi decides to intensify the confrontation with Beijing. However, as we will demonstrate below, India is clearly weaker than China – in economic as well as military terms. Therefore, India can only resist China if it tightens its alliance with Washington and Tokyo. Given the strength of the latter and the semi-colonial character of India, this can only mean that India subordinates itself to US and Japanese imperialism.

 

In other words, in the longer run India can not run an independent course. It has only the alternative of becoming a secondary power subordinated to Chinese imperialism or subordinated to US and Japanese imperialism.

 

We believe that in any military confrontation between China and India it is likely that the former will come out as the winner. The massive modernization of the PLA while India's army is far behind, the huge modernization of China's transport roads to its southern borders, all these are factors which in our opinion determine the military advantage for Beijing.

 

India could only successfully resist China in a longer military confrontation if the US would intervene on its behalf. Naturally such an intervention can not be excluded and, as the RCIT has repeatedly emphasized, in the longer run a war between the US and China, even a Third World War, is inevitable if the working class does not overthrow capitalism before. [23]

 

However, it is highly questionable, indeed unlikely, if the Trump Administration – with all its current domestic problems – is prepared to start a war with China because of the dispute between Beijing and Delhi about control of the Doklam/Donglang area.



[1] Zhao Lei: 3 sea routes planned for Belt & Road Initiative, China Daily, 21 June 2017, http://english.gov.cn/state_council/ministries/2017/06/21/content_281475692760102.htm

[2] For a summary of China's Belt and Road Initiative see e.g., China-Britain Business Council: One Belt One Road, 2016

[4] On CPEC, see, e.g., Amiera Sawas and Nausheen H. Anwar: For Pakistan, China’s huge energy investments may have political costs, August 8, 2017, https://theconversation.com/for-pakistan-chinas-huge-energy-investments-may-have-serious-political-costs-80704; Deloitte: How will CPEC boost Pakistan economy; The Economist: Dark corridor, June 4th 2015, http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21653657-conflict-balochistan-must-be-resolved-trade-corridor-between-pakistan-and-china-bring; Dr Shabir Choudhry: Can CPEC land Pakistan in hot water? 10 February 2017, http://drshabirchoudhry.blogspot.co.at/2017/02/can-cpec-land-pakistan-in-hot-water-dr.html; Dr Shabir Choudhry: Impact of CPEC on domestic products of Pakistan, 20 February 2017, http://drshabirchoudhry.blogspot.co.at/2017/02/impact-of-cpec-on-domestic-products-of_20.html; Dr Shabir Choudhry: Our right to development, CPEC and Pakistan, 23 February 2017, http://drshabirchoudhry.blogspot.co.at/2017/02/our-right-to-development-cpec-and.html

[5] RCIT: The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor is a Project of Chinese Imperialism for the Colonialization of Pakistan! 22.1.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/pakistan-cpec/

[6] Pepe Escobar: China and India torn between silk roads and cocked guns, July 25, 2017, http://www.atimes.com/article/china-india-torn-silk-roads-cocked-guns/

[7] See, e.g., Sanjeev Miglani: Diplomacy fails to defuse India, China border crisis: sources, August 8, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-china-idUSKBN1AO1D4

[8] Dr. Sanu Kainikara: India-China Relations: Complex And Out-Of-Step – Analysis, August 8, 2017, http://www.eurasiareview.com/08082017-india-china-relations-complex-and-out-of-step-analysis/

[9] See on this, e.g., Sajjad Shaukat: Chahbahar Project – A Dream, 22 December 2016, http://kashmirwatch.com/chahbahar-project-dream/; Dr Subhash Kapila: Chah Bahar Tripartite Agreement Signals New Geopolitical Power-Play, Paper No. 6120, 30-May-2016, http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/node/1997

[10] Asia Africa Growth Corridor. Partnership for Sustainable and Innovative Development. A Vision Document, published by The Research and Information System for Developing Countries, New Delhi, the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia, Jakarta, and Institute of Developing Economies (IDE-JETRO), Tokyo, May 2017

[11] See on this, e.g., Avinash Nair: To counter OBOR, India and Japan propose Asia-Africa sea corridor, May 31, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/to-counter-obor-india-and-japan-propose-asia-africa-sea-corridor-4681749/; Times of India: Asia-Africa growth corridor launched, May 25, 2017, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/asia-africa-growth-corridor-launched/articleshow/58830900.cms;

[12] Avinash Nair: To counter OBOR, India and Japan propose Asia-Africa sea corridor, May 31, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/to-counter-obor-india-and-japan-propose-asia-africa-sea-corridor-4681749/

[13] The Indian Express: RSS’s counter to OBOR: One Culture One Region, July 24, 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/rsss-counter-to-obor-one-culture-one-region-4764071/

[14] Pepe Escobar: China and India torn between silk roads and cocked guns, July 25, 2017, http://www.atimes.com/article/china-india-torn-silk-roads-cocked-guns/

[15] On this, see, e.g., STRATFOR: In Washington, War Fatigue Is Setting In, Aug 2, 2017, https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/washington-war-fatigue-setting; Steve Holland and John Walcott: Trump, frustrated by Afghan war, suggests firing US commander: officials, Reuters, August 3, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-afghanistan-idUSKBN1AI2Z3; Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart: In Afghan review, Trump's frustration carries echoes of Obama years, Reuters, August 6, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-afghanistan-trump-idUSKBN1AM0F5

[16] Mark Landler and James Risen: Trump Finds Reason for the US to Remain in Afghanistan: Minerals, New York Times, July 26, 2017

[17] On the RCIT's analysis of the nuclear treaty see Yossi Schwartz: Nuclear Agreement Signed: Will Iran Become the Policeman of Imperialism in the Region? 23.7.2015, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/us-iran-nuclear-deal/

[18] Dr. Sanu Kainikara: India-China Relations: Complex And Out-Of-Step – Analysis, August 8, 2017, http://www.eurasiareview.com/08082017-india-china-relations-complex-and-out-of-step-analysis/

[19] Hari Kumar and Ellen Barry: India, US and Japan Begin War Games, and China Hears a Message, The New York Times, July 10, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/10/world/asia/india-us-japan-war-games-china.html

[20] Neville Maxwell: This is India’s China war, Round Two, 15 Jul 2017, http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2102555/indias-china-war-round-two

[21] Manoj Joshi: Doklam Standoff Means Current Process Of Settling China Border Has Run Its Course – Analysis, August 8, 2017, https://thewire.in/165228/china-india-bhutan-doklam-standoff-border-dispute/

[22] John Garver: This standoff is China telling India to accept changing realities, 16 July 2017, http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/geopolitics/article/2102547/standoff-china-telling-india-accept-changing-realities

[23] See on this e.g. RCIT: Escalation of Inner-Imperialist Rivalry Marks the Opening of a New Phase of World Politics, Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation, April 2014, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-april-2014/

 

Map 4: The Corridors of the Belt and Road Initiative