The belief that China is emerging as a new global hegemon and the world is hurtling towards Chinese unipolarity is misplaced as it lacks the wherewithal of the US which remains a pre-eminent power.
The belief that China is emerging as a new global hegemon and the world is hurtling towards Chinese unipolarity is misplaced as it lacks the wherewithal of the US which remains a pre-eminent power, says former foreign secretary Shyam Saran. According to Saran, whose new book “How India Sees The World – Kautilya to the 21st Century” was launched here last night by former prime minister Manmohan Singh, longstanding narratives of China as a pre-eminent Asian and global power and its projection at the centre of global trade through history are mostly “contrived” and “imagined”. “It is interesting how successful China has been in convincing the world that a China-centric world is inevitable. Many people say it is better to acknowledge it rather than trying to confront it because it is not worth trying to confront it,” Saran told former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon during a discussion on the book. He said this notion had gained credence due to “manufactured” history of Chinese dominance over the centuries.
Saran rejected outright the possibility of a hegemonic world order, saying challenges like climate change and international terrorism were global in nature and required “collaborative responses”. “Hegemonic world order is simply not possible,” he said, adding that there was no one dominant power but a cluster of major powers in the current world order. “If there is an inevitability, it is the inevitability of a multipolar world order,” he said at the event. The 71-year-old former diplomat argues in the book, published by Juggernaut Books, that such narratives are useful in mobilising national pride and in creating a “sense of awe” among the countries of Asia and beyond.
“The US remains a pre-eminent power against any metric of economic and military might. Its status as the chief source of technological innovation and creativity remains undiminished,” Saran writes. “We are, in reality, neither in a China-centric Asia nor in a world destined to become China-centric,” he adds. While China’s presence in Central Asia has been expanding, its military capabilities on both the Western as well as on the Eastern flanks of Asia are nowhere near that of the US which continues to be the “most formidable” military power in Asia, he notes. “Chinese economy is slowing down…A simple linear projection of China’s current growth rate into the future may not be realistic. China remains a brittle polity and the rising insecurity within its political leadership sits uneasily with overweening arrogance of power.
“Its historical insularity is at odds with the cosmopolitanism that the densely interconnected contemporary world demands of any aspiring global power,” Saran affirms. The 292-page book, which has a foreword by Manmohan Singh, is a riveting account of critical events and shifts in Indian foreign policy in the post-Independence period, including the landmark India-US nuclear deal. With a strong focus on China, the book, which is part memoir and part thesis on India’s international relations, also has a section dedicated to the country’s complex and troubled ties with Pakistan and Nepal. The book has four sections, each representing a seminal theme. It takes the reader behind the closed doors of the most nail-biting negotiations and top-level interactions – from Barack Obama stopping by a tense developing-country strategy meeting at the Copenhagen climate change summit to the private celebratory dinner thrown by George W Bush for Manmohan Singh on the success of the nuclear deal.
“I believe the Indo-US nuclear deal was significant precisely because it expanded India’s foreign policy options…The deal is an example of how India enhanced its energy security and expanded its strategic space,” Saran observes. Noting that India-Pakistan relations remain a “prisoner of Partition”, Saran asserts that Pakistan has nurtured its quest for parity with India through its large and powerful army, and now through an expanding nuclear arsenal. He argues that Pakistan’s willingness to become a client-state of the US, and now of China, arises from its obsession with constraining India.
“There is a fond belief in Pakistan that China’s proposed USD 46 billion investment in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and in Gwadar port on the Balochistan coast will be a game changer for Pakistan and buttress its ambitions to become equal to India,” Saran writes. The book is also an attempt to trigger greater interest in China, which Saran says is a “fascinating” country but remains poorly understood in India.
“This lack of familiarity can be costly when it comes to safeguarding India’s interests…Without an understanding of China’s worldview and how it influences the country’s association with other nations, it would be difficult for India to confront the China challenge,” Saran warns.