It's time India used SCS disputes to snatch concessions from China


Submitted by alvin on Tue, 2016-08-30 11:50 The French Nobleman Francois de Rochefoucauld said it well when he stated “Self-interest makes some people blind, and others sharp-sighted”. Most countries ensure that they follow their self-interest in all their policies. Their degrees of success depends on how ‘sharp-sighted’ they are. The most sharp-sighted of them all was Britain and its East India Company. At its peak, it controlled over 23 per cent of world trade. Self-interest here was the key. There is no other explanation otherwise of how a small island with its capital in London controlled countries as far as Hong Kong which is 9,600 kilometres away, and Cape Town which is 13,200 kilometres away. It was pure economic self-interest. In comparison, the Spratly islands which is seeing problems among China, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei is just 3,700 km away. Considering that Kashmir to Kanyakumari is 2,800 km, the Spratly’s are almost in our backyard. The disturbance in the Spratly’s have the potential to disrupt the world economy in a way the Middle East cannot do. A total of 5.3 Trillion dollars of trade a year goes through the Spratly islands. Two Thirds of Korea’s trade, 60 per cent of Japan and Taiwan’s and 80 per cent of China’s trade goes through this region. Half of the Worlds merchant shipping goes through here as well. And it is not just shipping. The undersea reserves of oil is estimated at 130 billion barrels, next only to Saudi Arabia. The gas is estimated at over 100 trillion cubic feet as well. The dispute? China claims 80 per cent of the territory based on ‘historical evidence’. It even seized a small group of islands in 2012 called Scarborough reef and has built bases there. But a few weeks ago, a UN Tribunal ruled that China was in violation of all international norms and had no justification for any of its actions in the Spratly islands and its historical claims were invalid. Since then there has been heightened tensions in the region. China has sent more military forces into the area and is attempting a no-sail zone. The USA on the August 17 dispatched 3 of its state-of-the-art nuclear bombers to make a flypast across the region to pass a message that it would not accept Chinese claims. All elements of a potboiler about to explode. Enter India! We have made a bland statement stating we don’t accept Chinese claims and have forgotten about the entire incident since then. India is recognised as a great nation because of its tolerance. In Israel, they teach that the only country in the World where Jews have never been persecuted is India. In the land of Gandhi, Buddha and Ashoka, we have also been applauded as one of the only nations that has never invaded another. Self-sacrifice and tolerance is part of every Indian’s ethos and is important. But it must be also tempered with self- interest, at least in our national interest. We must not make the mistake of applying our sterling moral principles to our nations self-interest. They are totally different things. The United States has mastered this art today. They learnt the right lessons from the British. We did not.  In 1945, it was rumoured that India was offered the permanent seat on the UN Security council, but insisted it should go to China. Even today, we are muted in our criticism of China. But China has never really been important to us. They are more of a major hinderance. They have blocked our UN Security Council seat. They have blocked our NSG clearance. They stir the pot against us on Pakistan regularly. They keep giving us pinpricks on our border and have ensured that in the last 50 years they pursued their interest totally against India’s. And they are really not important to us in spite of being neighbours apart from a large military presence. China’s trade with India is around 49 billion dollars. On the other hand, the USA’s trade with India alone is around 103 billion dollars.  This brings us back to the opportunity India has been given with the Spratly imbroglio. Instead of muted and toned down statements, we should be loud in our condemnation, even going to far as to support the UN resolutions and the US with token military forces. On the other side, we should pass the message to the Chinese that we want our NSG membership and the UN Security Council support to tone down our voices. After all, what more can China do to us? Irritate us more on the border? Block the UN Security council and NSG seat more? Block exports from China to us? They need us more as a market in todays economic decline. They are in a weak spot and we are not making use of it. Self-interest. India is poor at focusing on its self-interest. We lose focus on internal concerns. Gau Raksha’s are one. We have forgotten to play the Realpolitik game. It is time our country remembers that international politics is not internal politics. Will it happen? It hasn’t in the last 65 years. But we can still hope. Author: Dr Joseph Rasquinha, a Bengalurean, received his PhD in Economics from St. Andrews University, Scotland. An economic analyst, he is currently the CEO of Blueleaf Software, Bengaluru.