Wednesday, March 18, 2009

China, India and Russia on Global Clout

The history of countries, continents and the world is an ever-changing phenomenon. There were so many historical changes, upheavals, revolutions, records, destructions and re-emergence. In the known history of the world, the Romans were the first power to reckon with. They ruled the UK and part of Europe, followed by the Greeks, symbolised by Alexander the Great, who came up to India. Then the British, after a gap of almost more than one-and-a-half millennium, ruled the world, colonising more than half of the globe—Australia, the US, Africa and Asia. The brightest jewel of their crown, of course, was India.

After reigning supreme for almost six hundred years, the British gave way to the Americans who ruled the world and became the superpower. The erstwhile USSR, though another superpower, could not hold its fort for long and disintegrated. Now all the three superpowers of the 20th century the US, UK and the erstwhile USSR have lost their penetration. But the question is: “Who would replace them?” The answer is they would be replaced by the three Asian giants—China, India and Russia.

The Reasons
The time has changed and changed drastically. There are many countries in the world which have ruled over others in the past century. But in the new millennium many of them have been routed over or vanished from the list of superpowers. They have been replaced by another emerging powers.

The trio—China, India and Russia—each of them calls for multi-polarity in the world, which amounts to a barely concealed expression of discomfort with the overweening the US global presence—in other words, the hegemony of the US. Each of them is on an upward economic path, which makes for a more active foreign policy.

China has experienced high growth for nearly three decades and is a weighty factor in the global economy. Starting later, India has also shot ahead and bids fair to join its neighbour. China is a country whose economic success can influence the global balance. And Russia has finally put behind it the problems of its collapsed Soviet legacy, being now on a path of rapid growth which has helped restore a good part of its lost international influence.

The US might have bashed Afghanistan and Iraq or for that matter any other country in the world, but on economic matters it carries no influence on others. In the globalised world, the competing centres of wealth and power have shifted to China, India and Russia. There are many other factors which have contributed to the erosion of the American leadership. For example, the Americans are not ready to change their wasteful style of living. The Americans are only five to six per cent of the world population, yet they consume 25 per cent of the total world’s production. America was the world largest oil producer till 1974 and, therefore, it never cared for the world prices. Now it imports 60 per cent of its requirements and is hit hard by its swelling prices.

The New Trio
As the leaders of the US and the UK have been losing grip on the world economy, the leaders of China, India and Russia have been gaining strength at least in the past two decades. The South-east countries, in a combined way, got the economic activity shifted from the US to their countries. Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea were designated as Asian Tigers. Later China, India and Russia gave stiff competition to these countries besides the US and Europe.

The shifting focus of the economic activity to Asia has given a new dimension to the leadership in China, India and Russia. Asia has more than half the world’s foreign exchange reserves but only 15 per cent of the votes in the International Monetary Fund’s Executive Board. The continent also accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of global Gross National Product (GNP), yet only two countries are the permanent members of the UN Security Council from Asia. However, the major players remain in the form of India, China and Russia.

As far as China is concerned, it entered the world economy in the late 70s and soon became the manufacture of most of those products that were being manufactured in the US. Even Japanese companies shifted to China because of cheap labour, strong infrastructure and favourable Government attitude towards multi-national corporations. Soon it became the world’s fastest growing economy and the second biggest holder of American debt. All this was happening because of the strong leadership in the country.

A decade ago, China was engulfed by a largely diffident and isolationist mentality. Much has changed since then. With foreign exchange reserves in excess of one trillion dollars today, China enjoys a huge trading surplus over the US and the European Union. This economic surge has bred a new self-confidence and a prevent insistence on playing a more active role in the world order. Which the US constrained by the expensive military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and therefore, unable to devote sample resource to South East Asia, China has glacefully filled the vacuum. It is telling that Indonesia and the Philippines get more financial aid now from Beiging than the US.

China’s huge appetite for natural resources has led it to cultivate deeper relationship in Africa, Central Asia and Latin America. In 2008, it hosted a summit in Beijing attended by at least 45 African Heads of State. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), founded in 2001 with Russia and other Central Asian countries, has become a crucial ins¬trument of China's energy security policy.

China is also trying on its rich cultural heritage to draw visitors and project a more positive image of itself. China soft power is playing a vital role in commenting its global eminence.

The rise of China’s global clout is manifestly obvious. But it also poses an altogether different and challenging question: Is China’s growing influence desirable? To the extent that China’s coming of age is paving the way for a multi¬polar era in global politics there are good reasons to take some comfort from it.

Yet the glow surrounding China’s ascendancy should not camouflage a colder reality. Economic success has not been accompanied by a corresponding expansion of political freedom. Few allowances are made for dissenting voices. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a well-regarded international NGO, China has imprisoned more journalists than any other country in the world for the last eight consecutive years.

There is little to suggest that this contemptible repression will subside. At the Communist Party’s recently held National Congress it came as no surprise that the genuine need for political reforms went unacknowledged. The monolithic, centalised political structure with its chronic scorn for divergent opinion still holds sway.

Whereas India was a latecomer to join the economic prosperity. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi gave the lead when she came back to power in 1980. She introduced the process of economic liberalisation. However, the true harbingers of reforms in early 1990s, were the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh when he was Finance Minister.

The country, especially in the last two decades, has come out on the global scene at the second fastest-growing nation in the world, next only to China. It is believed that in the decades to come Indian economy will be larger than Italy, the UK and Japan.

Fortunately, Singh became the Prime Minister in May 2004 and is playing a dominating role in the Asian politics. His stature and competence has given the country, strength and has acquired acceptability among the world leaders. India has already established fruitful dialogue with APEC, ASEAN, SAARC, the US, the UK, Japan, Russia, China, Germany, Canada, and many other powerful countries in the world. The results are visible in the flow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and the willingness of more foreign companies to join hands with India.

In the wake of high-profile diplomacy by Indian leaders during the past decade, India has emerged as a true leading country. The country has regained its supremacy on the international scenario.

On the other hand, Russia, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, the former President and present Prime Minister of the country, has recovered and gained tremendous momentum from the crippling and humiliating aftermath of the collapse of the erstwhile USSR.

Russia is more prosperous today when Putin took over, and Russians at all income levels have benefited. Like all post-Communist countries, it endured a rise in poverty and political upheaval in the first half of the 1990s.

In 1997-98, Russia along with other “emerging markets” suffered a financial crash. Yeltsin appoined a new Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, who restored fiscal solvency and began Russia’s recovery, before Putin appeared on the scene. The forlorn babushkas selling their personal effects that many foreigners remember were ancient history by the time Putin took power.

Russia continued the economic reforms for the last eight-nine years to good effect, especially under the leadership of Putin. But as he clamped down on poli¬tical businesses and began to resocialise the economy, investment was dampened.

The country has not only made its economy strong but also marked its presence in the various sectors especially nuclear and military powers. Its army has resumed long-hand missions by their strategic bombers with strong capability. The country has uplifted itself in such a position from where it can dictate terms in international arena.

Missile Defence System
Another subject on which the three Asian countries shared an approach is the missile defence system, a concept being promoted by the US. Evidently this was not part of the formal agenda that these countries had come up in their recent talks. As there is no difference of view between them, they felt no need to place it on the formal agenda.

The missile defence system, which is taking shape in Eastern Europe and the Cancasus region, is a particular aggravation to Russia, and that country has been swarting at its likely impact in its immediate neighbourhood.

Several Russian attempts to stave off this development have failed, so that the US missile defence plans have served to complicate relations between the two major global nuclear powers. India and China have kept clear of becoming entangled in this matter. As a non-aligned nation, India can scarcely be involved, nor is it within the affected geographical region, any more than China.

There will be a temptation to give exaggerated importance to these visible differences, perhaps even to regard them as signs of an emerging challenge to the existing US global dominance. But that would be to leap too far ahead. Though each of the three countries of this group may chafe at one aspect or other of the policies of the US, none of them can contemplate actions that would seriously complicate their relationship with the US. That remains the key connection for each of them.

It has become obvious that three-country group is not engaged in any grand redesign of the global architecture. Thus, the value of these meetings is important in fashioning a shared global vision in creating a forum that would permit useful diplomatic discourse among these super Asian countries whose impact on Asia and the world will continue to grow.

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