Looking fixedly at the rearview mirror is not the best way to go forward at speed, and the fixation with the past that Lutyens Lok exhibit in their policy recommendations (or in their resistance to necessary policies) has already cost India dearly since 1947. Per capita income and other indicators of societal progress have been rising, but only from “catastrophically low” to “abysmally low”. The characteristic of those steeped in the culture of the Lutyens Zone is to fasten themselves to whichever party and whoever leader is dominant at the period, discarding the old in the manner that lionesses forget an ageing lion that heads a pride who gets chased away by a competitor.
Should another change occur, within days if not hours, they will be at the side of the new victors, making themselves appear indispensable, and causing the new masters to infuse into their government enough elements of the old so as to ensure continuity in the policies that have kept much of the population of the country poorly compensated, inadequately educated and badly housed. It was said of some of the ruling families that they forgot nothing and learnt nothing, which is why tectonic shifts in global geopolitics were not taken advantage of within the policymakers congregated inside the Lutyens Zone.
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When the doors of the UK were open to Commonwealth citizens and hundreds of thousands of those from Pakistan or the Caribbean were flooding Britain, the incomprehensibly difficult path towards a right as fundamental as a passport ensured that far fewer citizens of India could make that journey. Much of the migration was from locations in Africa, where some of the rulers destroyed their own economies by expelling the Indian community, sometimes with great cruelty, as in Idi Amin’s Uganda.
The national leadership of the world’s most populous democracy, having failed to keep the subcontinent united when the British left, and after handing over to a hostile country the strategically essential territory since known as PoK, those in authority not merely welcomed but facilitated the PLA’s conquest of Tibet in 1950 by standing by in silence, but by even feeding Chinese troops marching into Tibet with grain from India’s less than ample granaries. In the 1990s, when the USSR collapsed, India lost about $9 billion (in 1993 values) by agreeing to an artificially high price for the Russian rouble, the only country to make such a sacrifice. It is true that the USSR stood by India when the US and the UK joined hands to wrest Kashmir for Pakistan, and assisted India in building up its defence infrastructure against both China and Pakistan. However, that country was very different from the entity that came under the control of Boris Yeltsin in 1991, and it was Yeltsin’s Russia that got the advantage of India’s largesse. These days, the same consideration for a Moscow that has changed beyond recognition from what it was before the meltdown under Gorbachev has, through Lutyens Logic, thus far kept India from taking any except very limited advantage of Cold War 2.0. Interlocutors from Russia are deft at convincing their Indian counterparts that they hate the Chinese, and hence all talk of a Sino-Russian alliance is the product of biased minds. In China, the same individuals usually give unflattering descriptions of the Indians, apparently out of earshot of either the people or intelligence agencies in India.
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The reality is that the Sino-Russian alliance and the US are locked in an existential battle as potent as was the Cold War 1.0 contest between the USSR and the US. Shabby diplomacy towards the Russian Federation from President Bill Clinton onwards has convinced Vladimir Putin (easily among the best strategic minds of the century) that the surest path to revenge on the slights of the past and present is to join with Xi Jinping in ending US primacy, including in matters military or the economy.
Should the Xi-Putin bet fail and the PRC lose Cold War 2.0, the present structure of governance and the coherence of the administrative and political system formed since the 1990s will be the casualties in both Russia as well as China. From the Yeltsin period, the Russian Federation has never had the attributes of a functioning democracy, and by now, the country is being ruled by the “New Class” that has thrived under Putin in a manner reminiscent of the control of the military-bureaucratic complex in Japan until 1945. Of course, should the US be bested by the Sino-Russian alliance, the effects on its highly leveraged economy and the potentially destructive lava of class and race tensions would almost certainly result in a slide into an instability not witnessed in that country since the 1861-65 Civil War, and which would make the turmoil of the 1960s seem a picnic in comparison.
The Chinese have, since the early years of the Xi Jinping period, understood that there exists a fundamental tension between the US and China, and has acted accordingly in practice, while sending out signals designed to mask the reality. Which is that for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the contest taking place with the US is similar to the 1930s’ protracted battle for survival against the Japanese Empire.
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The second term retirement as Secretary of State (in order to concentrate on the 2016 Presidential campaign) of Hillary Clinton gave some leeway to President Barack Obama in his pivot to Asia from the earlier obsession with Europe. Any such pivot would place an alliance with India being an essentiality for Washington, something that was recognised both by Ashton Carter, Condoleezza Rice and Susan Rice, the very capable associates of Presidents Bush and Obama, and into the Trump Presidency by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In the Joe Biden camp, the Biden campaign’s current foreign policy guru, Antony Blinken, seems to have retained his Euro-focused blinkers from the days when the hold of the Clintons was pervasive even in the Obama administration.
The proliferation in Team Biden of such rearview mirror enthusiasts is why the Chinese Communist Party leadership is eager for a Biden victory, despite inspired media reports that Donald Trump is the favoured choice. Whatever be the other faults of the CCP leadership, masochism is not among them. Among other vulnerabilities (in the context of Cold War 2.0) is the ubiquity of Pakistani-Americans having close ties to the Islamabad embassy, whose effective task has been to convince the campaign that China was a friend and that the real threat to US values came from India. However, if Trump was a disappointment to the Chinese version of Raisina Hill in Zhongnanhai, a President Biden is also likely to be, given the cascading flow of information about the activities of the Sino-Russian alliance that are designed to thwart Washington’s security and other interests. Even Antony Blinken is likely to be less deferential towards China and less dismissive of India as an essential US partner than recent pronouncements show.
The separation of industrial supply chains from the PRC, followed by financial and tech chains, of countries outside the circle of those powers beholden to the Sino-Russian alliance will continue, even if Biden bests Trump on 3 November 2020. Although Trump is being written off in chancelleries across the world the way he was in 2016, the possibility of (a) a flood of revelations about Biden and those close to him, and (b) a movement close to or into the kinetic zone where Cold War 2.0 is concerned may yet upend the polls.
President Xi is moving ahead at speed to actualize the China Dream. In this process, there is frequent recourse to the Zero Sum methods used by European countries in previous centuries. According to the Xi Doctrine, the entire South China Sea (not to mention the East China Sea) belongs to China, as does the entire Himalayan massif, which is (no longer slowly) being nibbled at by the PRC from India, Nepal and Bhutan.
China can block Indian Information Technology companies from servicing domestic companies, or much of the pharma industry. However, it calls for unrestricted access to its own manufactures, even at the cost of hundreds of thousands of small enterprises and artisans. If the Modi apps ban (and presumably other like steps) did not come about, it is likely that more than 90% of Indian meta data would be flowing seamlessly to Chinese entities by 2024. Indeed, the PRC’s trade surplus with India has jumped several times during just the past decade, and has reached a level that ought to have been recognised as unsustainable years ago.
Apart from data and the related field of telecom, other sectors where Chinese companies seek to take over the Indian market are electric power generation and infrastructure. Were such a situation to come about, India would be shut off from the US market and over the course of the next few years, most of the markets in Europe as well. The effect on markets of President Xi’s use of the PLA to win territory in pursuit of the China Dream has been to leave the PRC with significant extra capacity in manufacturing, thereby causing a potential deflationary spiral as too much capacity chases too little demand. Until the reality of Cold War 2.0 hit US policymakers in earnest in 2017, the US exported dollars to buy Chinese goods, which money was then returned to the US through US Treasury Debt purchases and other such pathways.
Since at least 2016 Xi Jinping has sought to replace the US dollar with the Ren Min Bi (RMB) in international transactions, and has had significant success thus far. The trajectory now being taken by the PRC resembles that sketched out by Lin Biao in his essay “Long Live the Victory of the Peoples War”, which was published in 1965. In it, Marshal Lin Biao followed Mao Zedong Thought in forecasting that the “villages” of the world (i.e. the poor South) would in time overcome the “cities (ie the rich North) The deepening separation between China-centric supply chains and those that follow the lead of the US is resulting in a bunching together of the poorer “South” with China, including some countries in the south of Europe, such as Greece.
The North (as well as countries with high GDP, or on the way to such an outcome) are increasingly allying with the US. Of course, the word “alliance” is a swear word in the lexicon of the Lutyens Zone, so perhaps the word “dalliance” would be more acceptable to them, despite the latter term lacking the permanency and predictability of the former.
The Chinese Crisis
Given the leeway that the PLA is being given in the framing of policy in China, the chances for kinetic situations are rising. Taiwan is an obvious location, with the US, Japan and other countries certain to deploy military assets for its protection, in case an attack is launched by Beijing across the straits. Another is the South China Sea, which is being sought to be converted into a PRC lake, while the Himalayan boundaries (no part of which is recognised by Beijing) are another.
A defeat for the PRC in a land contest along the Himalayas or in the South China Sea or Taiwan Straits may have the same impact on the PRC as the defeat of the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905 proved to be for the future of the Czarist regime. Expectations of Chinese invulnerability have been built up to such a level that such a setback would severely impact the credibility and hence support for the CCP regime. President Xi has relied on his diplomats to ensure (1) that the countries along China’s southern and eastern periphery do not unite but face the PRC singly and in particular that (2) an alliance does not form with the objective of presenting a united front against the PLA, should the need arise in any of the vulnerable theatres. All for One and One for All is a nightmare scenario for planners in Beijing, especially if the mix includes its existential foe, the US. Geopolitical plates are moving in a tectonic fashion, and ingenious policy is needed to ensure that India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes full use of the synergies released by Cold War 2.0, the way China under Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping did during Cold War 1.0.