July 21, 2002
The visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington this week was anything but routine. President Bush surprised almost everyone by announcing that the United States would share nuclear technology with India, in spite of the fact that India does not adhere to the Nonproliferation Treaty. Arms control activists are up in arms (!), fearing that this may undermine global efforts to prevent the spread of dangerous technology to terrorists and rogue states. Such an agreement with India had been expected, but not for several more weeks or months. The intellectual support for this strengthened partnership came from Robert Blackwill, a former ambassador to India, and Ashley Tellis, who recently wrote a paper titled "India as a New Global Power." It's not a done deal, however, as the administration will need to get approval from the 40-member Nuclear Suppliers Group, and persuade Congress to modify the U.S. Nonproliferation Act. See Washington Post. Bush stopped short of endorsing India's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, but that day can't be far off. The only question is how to handle Germany, Japan, and perhaps Brazil. Some might regard this compromise with global nonproliferation norms as an ill-advised, hasty gamble, and some might see it as a sign of strategic desperation by a U.S. government that badly needs allies in South Asia. It at least has the virtue of consistency with the Bush administration's support for democratization and capitalist free trade, as India scores far better than Pakistan on both counts. Nevertheless, taking sides in such a volatile part of the world is something that could easily backfire. The stature of Pakistani President Musharraf seems to be shrinking, meanwhile, as his government fails to gain control over Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists along its border with Afghanistan. So much for the political payoffs of joining the nuclear club! Is Bush willing to put strategic cooperation with Pakistan at risk by solidifying an alliance with India, or is this just maneuvering to put pressure on Pakistan to get its house in order?
The India story is inseparable from what has been transpiring in U.S.-China relations of late. Yesterday's Washington Post reported that the Pentagon is worried that China's military modernization poses a threat to the regional balance of power, making India's strategic role all the more important. China has acquired modern submarines and missile destroyes from Russia, and is developing a medium-range missile force, an air force capable of reaching hundreds of miles from the mainland, and a mobile ICBM force that could launch a second strike against the United States. We need to face this emerging situation soberly: China is unabashedly flexing its muscles over the Taiwan reunification issue, and it is not cooperating very much on nuclear proflieration or containing its rogue neighbor in North Korea. Henry Kissinger wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on June 13, arguing that a passive strategy of containment of China will not succeed. For someone who has been a paid lobbyist for the Chinese Communist government, and whose firm maintains that relationship, that's quite a statement. He is correct to say that we should not panic and start treating China as an enemy, and we should make every effort to respect their new role as a great power, but we cannot be complacent about actions it takes that constitute a clear challenge to U.S. interests. It will take patience, wisdom, and determination to manage the inevitable rise of Chinese power in the 21st Century.
China raised fears in the U.S. when one of the giant state oil firms, CNOOC, made a takeover bid to purchase Unocal, which is also sought by Chevron. China bluntly warned Congress to stay out of the matter, even though it routinely bristles at any implied foreign intrusion into its internal affairs. Some say that in this era of globalization, corporations no longer have fixed national identities, as borders are blurred by ever-increasing trade and financial flows. That argument does not apply to state-owned enterprises, however. Coincidentally or not, China tried to assuage U.S. concerns about its huge trade surplus by announcing that it will no longer peg the value of its currency to the U.S. dollar. The yuan has been grossly overvalued in recent years, subsidizing Chinese exports and making imports of Western goods prohibitively expensive for Chinese consumers. It's a classic mercantilistic strategy that has obvious strategic motivations, and raises big doubts about whether China should have been granted membership in the World Trade Organization.
The recent worries about China happen to coincide with the 600th anniversary of a landmark historical event that hardly anyone in the West even knows about. The Chinese fleet under Admiral Zheng He made a voyage of discovery in the Indian Ocean that reached the east coast of Africa, a century before Portuguese mariners first rounded the Cape of Good Hope from the other direction. Because of the expedition's high cost, however, Chinese leaders decided to give up their maritime ambitions, after which they retrenched and stagnated, paving the way for European civilization to dominate the globe. Paul Kennedy highlighted this fateful historical twist in the opening pages of Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.