Essay Competition Winners - Expansionism vs. Development: India, China and the Asian Century

Posted on: 2020-07-29 10:49:37

1st Price - Swetha Srinivasan, IIT Madras

Expansionism is a policy by which countries expand their power, territory, wealth or influence. This can be seen throughout human history. With underlying military, economic and moral reasons, expansionism over the past few centuries has been dominated by Western powers and Japan. However, the current arena is populated quite differently.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Chinese action on Tibet and parts of Ladakh are some instances of post World War 2 expansionism. Seeking to expand territorially and dominate globally, China has taken a multitude of decisions with underlying expansionist tones. China’s actions fall under four strategic pillars:

Diplomatic manoeuvring
Over the past several years, Beijing has systematically positioned its nationals at the helm of UN bodies like the Food and Agriculture Agency, International Telecommunication Union and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. By doing so, China exerts its influence over multiple jurisdictions and receives support from major organizations.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres celebrated the 'alignment of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the SDGs’ though the project has been widely criticised for its disregard of environmental protection. The UN recently announced a partnership with China’s Tencent for online communication services. WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus praised China for its handling of the pandemic despite criticism from the international community. And recently, a part of the Indian union territory Ladakh has been depicted as Chinese territory by the WHO website.

China seems to be maintaining this strategy, and has ramped up funding to the WHO. Now with President Trump’s plans to defund the WHO and US’ unwillingness to foot big UN bills compared to other countries, China has a greater opportunity to fill up the void and further increase its influence.

China has also placed itself in strategic positions and created lobby groups in other countries’ governments, oppositions, media and NGOs. Nepal exemplifies this. From a China-brokered merger of two rival communist parties in 2018 to the current inter-party peace negotiations managed by Chinese ambassador How Yanqi, China possess immense clout in Nepal’s political sphere.

Debt trap policy
China’s BRI is widely viewed as a strategic scheme to dominate the international space. Numerous countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Pakistan are being trapped into debt wells. Beijing loans large sums of money for infrastructure and development to countries with junk ratings. When they struggle to repay the sum, China sweeps in and waives a portion of the debt in exchange for control. This is exemplified in the case of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port.

Territorial and military aggression
China has been nibbling at Indian territories via multiple intrusions at the border. Following the recent clash at Galwan Valley, major world powers have rallied in support of India, condemning China’s expansionist strategy. Its National Security Law in Hong Kong triggered massive protests and international outcry. Taiwan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Philippines and Japan are also subjected to China’s hostility. By shrouding true intentions under garbs of ‘defensive needs’ and ‘humanitarian aims’, Beijing engaged in militiarizing the South China Sea, a globally important shipping route which China stakes claim to.

Skewed trade balances
China is moving fast on economic expansionism, leveraging cheap labour, cost leadership and heavy government intervention. Multiple countries criticize China for dumping cheap goods and violating IP norms. While this strategy has aided China so far, things are changing. With calls to boycott Chinese products growing louder, increased scrutiny of Chinese companies and foreign manufacturers looking at alternative options, China is taking a hit.

There is an increasing power shift from the West to the East. Demographic dividends, phenomenal growth, technological development and policy shifts are resulting in increased focus on India and ASEAN from the West. The US is redeploying its troops from Europe to Asia. The Quad, comprised of India, US, Japan and Australia, is the new talk of the town.

India is countering China in a smart manner, seeking to reduce Chinese imports and stymying some of China’s major sources of income. Our key focus is development, set on a strong foundation, in line with India’s values and culture. A sustainable form which is not solely dependent on other countries, but one that skilfully balances globalization with internal development and propels us towards an Atmanirbhar Bharat.


2nd Price - Akanksha Bhende

History echoes with the instances of colonialism, military aggression, and assertion of the ideas of ‘Manifest Destiny’. With social evolution, economic integration, and globalization the doctrine of expansionism isn't confined merely to the idea of territorial expansion. Instead, subtler forms of expansionism have been reaffirmed and woven into the fabric of international arrangements.

In recent times the ability of a country to demonstrate its command over the global value chain, technology, physical/monetary resources, intellectual property, its ability to engage in strategic investments to establish an untethered virtual presence in distant countries and to position itself globally have become symbolic of power and seem to have challenged the conventional ideas of power defined in terms of the extent of military size, territorial boundaries and traditional forms of wealth.

China’s expanding control over Inner Mongolia, Tibet, East Turkestan, the unceasing incursions in Ladakh, and the recent Galwan Valley attack are indicative of the passive- aggressive expansionism pursued by the Chinese over the years. Not only has China followed the path of territorial expansion but also created an atmosphere conducive for a major geo- economic power shift. PwC in its report ‘The World in 2050’ projects China to be the leading economy followed by India and the US. Thus, hinting at a major reshuffling of economic power. Fundamental to the much-discussed Chinese growth story are the 1978 reforms that turned the tide for China. From being economically secluded, poverty-stricken, and largely agrarian to being deemed of having the capacity to overtake the US lies a remarkable journey of reforms guided by phenomenal central command and decentralized management. China an importer of intermediate components from the US and an exporter of high-end technology strategically changed stance by emphasizing the need for self-sufficiency and reduction in its dependence on other countries through the ‘Make in China 2025 (MIC) Initiative' aimed at tightening its grip over the global markets. While China reaps tremendous benefits from the capacity accumulated among its firms giving them a competitive edge in the global markets. The economies of scale garnered by the Chinese firms remain unmatched with those of the competitor firms from other countries enabling them to supply high-end products at exceptionally low prices. The Chinese vigour on one hand and the US impotency to compete with China on the other hand has been a fundamental reason for the growing tariff feud between the two gigantic forces. As Rebecca Fannin, Journalist & Author of Tech Titans of China stated “The U.S. is still the world’s leader, but China is coming up very fast”. The Chinese investments driven by the ‘Go Global Policy’ have not only been growing immensely but carry an imperious trait raising concerns worldwide. The Chinese ambition to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe through its much discussed and debated Belt and Road Initiative is indicative of its desire to invigorate its physical and virtual dominance over the emerging economies and increasing the dependence of countries on China primarily due to its competitive advantage.

Countries at the cusp of development when often faced with challenges of market saturation and demand stagnation are forced to expand to newer markets, extend and enhance collaborations, reinvent, and innovate in order to thrive. This builds the foundation for globalization promoting the creation of a global ecosystem that fosters positive interdependence between countries, encourages trade, paves way for a single market, integrates economies, and distributes wealth equally. It would hence be purely misleading to view expansionism in its pure sense as a force incompatible with development. However, it is when the intention of expansionist nationalism overpowers that of positive global integration and the rules of the game favor one/few distorting the level playing field for all, the consequence is an asymmetric concentration of wealth and power. China’s growth story hints at the arrival of a humongous global player dominating rules of the game, advancing its interests of expanding and tightening grip over transport/connectivity routes, tech, resources, and global politics. It is at this crucial juncture that the ideology of Vistarwaad (Expansionism) threatens the ideology of Vikaas (Development).


3rd Price - Adarsh Patel, University Of Delhi

Development can be conceived only within an ideological framework. The Liberal approach to development is rooted in the ideas of economic liberalism, promotion of democracy, a faith in multilateralism and resolution of disputes in accordance with International Law and not war. Just a few days after the Ladakh clash, EAM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at RIC virtual meet reiterated India’s belief in “time-tested principles of international relations” and emphasised that “respecting international law, recognising the legitimate interests of partners, supporting multilateralism and promoting common good are the only ways of building a durable world order.”

Antithetical to the Liberal view of development is the idea of mercantilism, a feature of Classical Realist political tradition, which was influential in Europe from the 15th-18th century. Classical Realism holds that the nature of International Politics is that of war and the primary motive of states is security maximisation, often through imperialism or expansionism. It downplays the role of multilateralism and international law and refutes any attempt at international peace as idealism. Aggressive mercantilism aims to strengthen the national economy in order to provide a basis for expansionism and war.

Scholars have argued that China has embraced economic mercantilism at an unprecedented scale by using state policies to encourage Chinese firms like Huawei and Alibaba, while discriminating against foreign establishments. These policies include standards and currency manipulation, regulatory certification requirements, discriminatory government procurement activities and subsidies (loans, tax breaks, land grants) for state-owned enterprises. The retaliation to Chinese mercantilism came in the form of US-China trade war, UK banning Huawei from 5G spectrum allocations and India banning 59 Chinese apps and revising its FDI policies vis-a-vis Chinese investments.

However, economics is not the only contention between the Indian and Chinese vision of world order. China has little regard for the current model multilateralism and is displeased even with the proposal of a reformed multilateralism which favours the developing world. The phenomenal rise of China in a relatively short time has meant that Beijing no longer sees the need to build closer relations with India and other developing countries. It is keen on building Sinocentric institutions like AIIB and BRI. The COVID-19 crisis has also exposed Chinese political dominance in institutions like WHO.

China has little respect for International Law. It has violated the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and undermined the sovereignty of its neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam by carrying out illegal construction of islands. The Chinese regime has been charged with human rights violations against its minorities in Xinjiang and brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The idea of Asian unity seemed impossible after the 1962 Indo-China war, however, in the 1988 meeting between Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping, the first high level meet after 1962 war, Deng emphasised the centrality of India-China cooperation in realising the dream of the Asian century. However, the potential of India-China cooperation was never met because of the rising power imbalance between the two. China has consistently blocked India’s membership of the NSG and opposed India’s Kashmir stand, taking it to UNSC. It has been hesitant at voting in India’s favour at FATF. Close Sino-Pak relationship gives no scope for a India-China strategic convergence.

Nationalism on both sides is high after the Galwan clash, which rubbishes all past attempts at cooperation in India-China ties. ASEAN was impressively successful as a regional organisation because there was a shared understanding that regionalism should precede over nationalism for collective prosperity. After the 9/11 Attacks and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, there was a surge in nationalist sentiment worldwide. Some scholars described it as a wave of de-globalisation and weakening of multilateralism and the liberal world order - the COVID-19 crisis seemed to be the final blow. In such situations, questions have been raised at the present model of development and if it is relevant in the face of expansionism. However, it should be noted that the Chinese model of development, though impressive in the short term, is brewing with discontent and contradictions. When it spills, India must find itself on the right side of history.

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