After the United States President Barack Hussein Obama’s visit, India will be hosting Russian, French and Chinese Presidents. Hu Jintao, whom recently Forbes magazine rated as the Most Powerful Man in the World pushing Barack Hussein Obama to the second place, will be in India in the mid-December.
It was only on October 29 that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in Hanoi on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit and another meeting with top Chinese leadership on our own soil shows the growing importance of our northern neighbour. Much of Obama’s talks also revolved around the strategic partnership between the United States and India amidst growing influence of China in East Asia, South Asia, Middle East and Africa.
The challenge before the United States is, in some aspect, even bigger than one it faced during the Cold War years when Soviet Union was influencing a large part of the world.
The problem with the United States is that it is facing China’s emergence – which recently replaced Japan as the second most powerful economy of the world – when its own economy is in a bad shape.
What is disturbing the United States most is that China has been able to do in the last one decade what the then Soviet Union failed to achieve in 70-long years. While between 1917 and 1941, that is the year Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the latter was a second-rate power and the world as such was not so much threatened by its Communist ideology.
In fact, the Soviet Union had, to much extent, survive on the western help to fight the World War-II. When the Nazi Germany finally collapsed, it left an open field for the Soviet Union to occupy in East Europe. In the years to come these Eastern Bloc countries helped the Soviet Union play a very significant role in Europe. But apart from that the Soviet Union did not manage to increase its area of influence smoothly in Africa, Asia and South America. This in spite of the fact that the Soviet Union did support freedom struggles in Africa and Asia and had good ties with some frontline Arab countries taking on Israel.
In next 45 years that is from 1945 to 1990 the geographical expansion of Communism was very slow though it won significant wars in South-East Asia – Vietnam in particular. In fact, the Soviet Union lost a much bigger ally, China, where the Communists under Chairman Mao came to power in October 1949.
In contrast the Chinese expanded their area of influence much faster in the last one decade than the Soviet Union in its entire post-Second World War years or what China itself did in the first 50 years of Communism in that country (1949 to 1999).
China managed to reach the warm water of Indian Ocean much easily and without spilling any blood. It has posed a big challenge not only to the United States but also India. It built ports in Pakistan and linked them with the Karakoram Highway so that they can be used to transport Chinese goods. Export from China to the Middle East and Africa and import into that country from these regions have become much easier. Now the Chinese cargo ship need not cross the entire South-East Asia to reach the eastern coast of that country, for example, Shanghai.
To give a further boost to its trade with the oil-rich region of the world it is now planning to lay railway track on this very mountainous region connecting Pakistan and China. Since it would pass through Pak-Occupied Kashmir (as in the case of Karakoram Highway too) India is obviously concerned about these developments. In a matter of years train-link may be established between Shanghai and Karachi or any other cities of these two countries. While Eastern China has been booming now the western hinterland would also get an opportunity to grow. Today the United States is more concerned with the China-sation of Pakistan than its Islamisation as it often made out in the western media.
Similarly, China has increased its influence in Myanmar in the east and Sri Lanka in south. China’s muscle-flexing in East Asia is already causing concern to the US allies such as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. The United States has recently befriended the old enemy Vietnam and had signed nuclear pact with it last August with the view to encircling China. But the latter has gone on diplomatic offensive and is trying to reduce the influence of the United States by breaking this shackle.
While China has been able to penetrate deep into the strategically important Middle East region without any big military struggle the then Soviet Union got stuck in Afghanistan when it did try to enter that country with a long-term plan to increase its influence in Baluchistan, which has a long coastal area.
The Russians got bogged down for eight-long years and had to make a retreat after paying a huge price. A couple of years later it got dismembered and the dream of reaching the Indian Ocean remain unfulfilled.
The problem with the then Soviet Union is that it mixed its own imperialist design and business interest with the Communist ideology. So instead of making friends it ended up making more enemies. In a large part of Middle East and Africa it lost many friends simply because of the ideological reasons, though it did support Arabs and African countries. By thrusting its own Communist ideology the Soviet Union created suspicion in the mind of the rulers as well as the people of these countries.
Twenty-first century China, on the other hand, chose to keep its ideology behind. Till it was pursuing Communism aggressively it had fewer friends in the world – in fact it too was antagonising others. Now the Arabs or African countries are not suspecting Chinese presence in the region.
With China increasing its area of influence by befriending countries rather than making enemies, the United States is bound to be concerned. Its area of influence is reaching the soft underbelly of the United States, where Brazil is emerging as an economic power. China is fast befriending other Latin American countries. The Soviet Union only had Cuba as an ideological and military ally.
Though China has no military presence around the world, its economic presence inside the United States and other parts of the world is causing more problems to Washington than anything else.