Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

China and India Could Save The U.S.

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy, Uncategorized by Dan on July 22, 2010

We have all heard about China’s rapid rise as a world power.  Economically, China is projected to pass the United States as the world’s largest economy by 2040; politically, China is projecting itself to be the most influential state on the Asian continent…or at least in its immediate neighborhood.

India, too, is experiencing this same trend.  The Indian population is expected to increase in the next decade, with more people entering into the types of jobs that actually make a decent living (like doctors, lawyers, computer engineers, and professors).  The Indian GDP- currently a hefty $3.56 trillion- will likely improve as the Indian economy diversifies into different areas, particularly the technology sector which is already extremely popular among educated Indians.  The CIA World Factbook confirms that the Indian economy grew by over 6 percent in 2009, which is an astounding rate given the global economic recession of the past two years.

It seems like the future for China and India is all roses.  But what happens when energy demand starts to outweigh Beijing and New Delhi’s supply?  India is already ranked 6th in oil consumption as of 2009, and China’s place on the consumption scale is even higher (they are in 3rd place, behind the European Union and the good old U.S.A.).  Given future trends in population, oil imports will have to substantially climb if both countries want to maintain their economic success.

China and India could get on Russia’s good side in order to fulfill its energy needs, but dealing with those pesky Ruskies is a tricky business (they love to spy, and they have some interests that conflict with China in particular, like control of Central Asia).  So once again, the Middle East- with all of its oil glory- is not going to go away.  In fact, if you like to bet, place your wager on the Middle East being the most important region for at least the next ten or twenty years.

It’s going to be interesting to see how China and India- who have thus far been able to distance themselves from the turbulent politics of the Middle East- maneuver with governments in the Islamic world.  Are they going to assert themselves, much like the United States has in the last three decades?  Or will they take a more passive approach; building economic ties while keeping a distance from the region’s messy politics?

The second option is by the far the most desired.  If there is anything that can be taken away from America’s involvement in the Middle East, it is the fact that the region’s politics is a terribly frustrating and spurious thing to deal with.  The problem is that the same energy demands that drew the U.S. to the Persian Gulf could eventually drag China and India into a similar predicament.

Middle Eastern politics is full of cataclysmic situations where violence always seems to be one step away. Political turmoil between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program, and the continued frustration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may eventually threaten the oil market.  What would Beijing or New Delhi’s reactions be in this circumstance?

If the oil market is volatile, or if regional tensions somehow stop the oil from flowing at a relatively low cost, China or India may need to get involved in a much more aggressive fashion. One of the reasons why the United States decided to establish military bases across the Middle East (despite preserving a balance of power among the Middle Eastern states) was to protect oil interests and ensure that a conflict doesn’t get out of control. China and India (and perhaps Japan) may need to act in much the same way.

But in all honesty, Chinese and Indian foreign policy is not want I’m concerned with.  Rather, the reason I’m bringing this whole affair to light is because China and India’s future energy needs could actually lift some of the burden from America’s strained shoulders.

Most Americans are sick and tired of acting as the world’s policemen, and some simply want to withdraw all together. Being the world’s primary guardian requires lots of manpower and lots of taxpayer money, and after three decades of filling that role, Americans want to cut their losses and stop spending money on what many deem to be hopeless ventures (like the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, although wouldn’t put myself in this camp).

A resurgent China and India in perhaps just the excuse Americans are looking for to finally cut back their forces and disengage militarily from the region. The United States will no longer feel the pressure of going it alone on some of the world’s most important security issues.

Whether this is what Washington is thinking is a whole other story. Lawmakers probably view a strong China as a threat to U.S. interests, and they may be right in some areas. But they should also remember that the U.S. has the strongest and most technologically advanced military in the world…not to mention the ability to influence countries indirectly through billions in economic assistance. A few Chinese soldiers won’t change that.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Geoffrey Kemp of the Nixon Center.  His article can be read on FP.com**


10 Responses

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  1. Norboose said, on July 22, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    The impact on the US from Indian actions is fundamentally different from the impact from Chinese actions. India’s and the US’s long term interests align in far more places than they conflict. Though we may politically and economically compete with them, (like we do with Japan), when push comes to shove, they will always be a strategic ally. China will always be more of an opponent than a partner as long as the US is halfway democratic and China is run by the CPC.

    • BobChen said, on July 22, 2010 at 9:14 pm


      Did you type that post on a computer? Because chances are have parts that were manufactured in China. And chances are you use products that were made in China.

      The prime reason China even goes to these third world countries is to secure the raw resources, which are used to manufacture stuff, which we as Americans consume (and boy do we consume). This isn’t China’s bid for world domination. This is China’s bid to keep the material inflow running so they can keeping making the iPhones and the flat screen TVs and the various cheap crap for us that we really don’t need. This sounds like a partnership to me, or maybe a loveless marriage. After all, it’s not like the US hasn’t been BFFs with authoritarian governments past or present.

      This arrangement is supported by every administration since Nixon, American corporations, and American consumers. The electronic devices you use to post your message on FP contains solid-state parts, which contain rare earth metals, which were most likely mined from some morally-dubious middle-African country by Chinese middle-men to be sold as finished products by Apple, Microsoft, Dell, etc. But you don’t question that, your typical American consumer wouldn’t either. Just like the crackhead won’t think about how his $100-a-day habit is funding paramilitary groups in South America.

      To say that me or you, or US as a whole, is not complicit in Chinese actions abroad is utterly disingenuous. This IS a partnership, and we play our role in it. In fact, we got a pretty sweet deal on our end: China get the bad press, we get the iPhones.

  2. AlexBC said, on July 22, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    China, and especially India, may have growing economies, but their ideas of international leadership are sorely underdeveloped. At this stage, if the U.S. doesn’t take the lead in Middle East (or anywhere else, really), then there isn’t much leadership to be had. China has no vision for the world other than securing resources abroad and propping up states like North Korea. India has enough issues in its own backyard (Kashmir, Pakistan, Maoists, China) to keep its hands tied.

    Geopolitically, neither country has the massive maritime strength and the internal security that have allowed both the former British Empire and now the United States to serve as international policemen. The litany of issues I mentioned regarding India is fair testimony to this point. China, too, is more or less a land power hemmed in by a host of volatile neighbors. If anything, these countries will have to amass an even more impressive array of military, political, and cultural strength than those two hegemons, just to overcome their inherent challenges.

    Also, hasn’t the United States been “disillusioned by the burdens of hegemony” for decades (Korea, Vietnam, Germany, Japan, etc.)? I think it would be more useful to accept that, in order for a hegemonic power to step aside, someone else must fill the void, or at least have pretense to do so. This article doesn’t even mention Turkey, which is already assuming some of the same leadership responsibilities in the Middle East as the United States; it would fill the potential vacuum much more readily than any East Asian would-be power

  3. CountChocula1010 said, on July 22, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Well, quite frankly, I personally would much rather Chinese infuence be more prevalent in the region than American influence. China doesn’t have a population who blindly supports Israel due to their inane belief that doing so will bring about the return of Jesus. China doesn’t have an obsession with spreading their form of government. This might change, but from what I’ve observed, the Chinese could care less whether or not a country is communist. Many in the US however have a jihadist-like mentality towards democracy; they’ll try to spread it no matter how much death and destruction it causes. I doubt the Chinese would mind if many of these states starting enforcing aspects of the Shariah within their countries (which is what most of the people want). China has shown itself to be quite reserved in its foreign policy; hell, if they haven’t invaded Taiwan yet, I really doubt they’re going to start a bunch of wars of attrition in order to “spread the glories of communism.”

    • MidPoint said, on July 22, 2010 at 9:16 pm

      What a great world it would be if only China could have the hegemonic power that the US has had for the last thirty years. I am sure that unlike the rapacious Americans, the Chinese would have used, or will use, their unilateral power to grow flowers I everyone’s backyards and distribute poodles to every house.

      You must be out of your mind! The United States is no paragon of visrtue, but I am pretty confident a world under Chinese authoritarian control these last thrity years would have been a far bloodier place. There are constraints on American leaders and businesses that simply don’t exist in China. I can imagine how many would have been crushed as they throw their weight around.

      Regarding Israel/Palestine, I suspect they would have decided to support one or the other and simply endorsed the destruction of the other. I am sure I can tell where your preferences would be, but it may not have gone your way. The Chinese might well have decided to side with Israel in its heyday and support a true destruction of Palestine. And I am talking about the kind of populations transfers that happen in other places like the 2 million Khurisani Kurds deported by Persia in the 17th century, the millions of Armenians killed or deported after WWI, or the wholesale repopulation of East Prussia by ethnic Russians after WWII. The occupation of Palestine by an Israel restrained by its own and US politics is nothing on that scale.

      Be careful what you wish for.

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  5. anan said, on July 23, 2010 at 12:55 am

    “China and India- who have thus far been able to distance themselves from the turbulent politics of the Middle East”

    This plainly isn’t true. China is Iraq’s largest investor and trading partner today [Afghanistan’s and Iran’s too]. China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner and buyer of oil. China wields great influence throughout the middle east and all the powers that be in the middle east know it. Granted many Americans and Europeans don’t know it. That is because many Europeans and Americans are stupid on international affairs.

    India’s trade and investment with the middle east also results in great influence.

    Where did the money for the Kashmir war 1989-2001 come from [after 9/11 Kashmir violence fell 90% as the Kashmir resistance moved to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they form a large part of the Taliban]? Where did the money for the Xinjiang Uighur Taliban linked war come from? Where did the money for the Iraqi resistance come from 2003-2007? Where does the money for the Taliban [both sides of the Durand] come from now? By some estimates the Taliban gets a couple billion dollars a year in external financing. A flow that has increased recently, possibly as funding for the Iraqi resistance has been redirected towards Pakistan/Afghanistan. Where did the money for the Chechen war come from? The AQ linked groups in Bosnia and Kosovo?

    We know where the money streams come from. It directly affects China and India, so they are involved with the middle east.

    As you are probably aware, India had an alliance with Saddam 1971-1990. 15 thousand Indian “advisors” and trainers use to stay in Iraq to help Saddam out. The Iraqi Army fell apart in early 1991 when the Indian, Russian and French advisors pulled out because it was so dependent on them. Iraqis and Iranians know about this. Many Americans don’t. But that is because many Americans have almost no interest in the middle east.

    If China and India aren’t closely connected to Israel, I obviously don’t know what closely connected means. India is Israel’s closest and most important ally after the US for many reasons you are probably aware of.

    China is probably Israel’s second largest trading partner [India] R&D and military collaboration with Israel are extensive.

    • Dan said, on July 25, 2010 at 12:02 am

      Ironically, your criticisms validate my point. Unlike the United States- which has had to endure tremendous political headaches in the Middle East over the past three decades- the Chinese have been able to avoid the region’s messy political situation by focusing itself on commercial trade and investment (whether resource related or construction related).

      Each example that you give- China and India connected to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, etc- has one thing in common: they all point to economics. I hate to break it to you, but just because China is Israel’s number 2 trading partner does not necessarily mean that the Chinese Government is supportive of everything the Israelis do (http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=177081). Perhaps the reason that the Chinese sell weapons to the Israelis is the billions of dollars in profit that state-owned companies make in the process. (P.S. Notice that you didn’t mention the word “politics,” or “political” once in your example…which validates my thesis).

      Your argument is too simplistic…there are a number of trading partners that don’t necessarily agree with one another on world affairs. Russia is giving economic aid to Iran, but does that mean that the Russians support an Iranian nuclear program? The Chinese are selling military equipment to the Sudanese Government, so does that mean Beijing endorses the genocide in Darfur? According to your argument, I guess it does. The problem is that international affairs is a heck of a lot more complex than that.

      As far as your endless series of questions on the Chechens, Taliban, Iraqi resistance, and Uighur fighters, I’m not exactly sure what your point is. A more likely source of money for the Chechen resistance would be the hundreds of Wahhabi-based charities in the Middle East that had a similar ideological agenda (especially in Saudi Arabia). You seem to imply that either India or China had something to do with the Islamic wave that was sweeping Central Asia at the time? If so, where is your evidence? What interest does India have in arming Chechen fighters? To destabilize Russia? What interest does China have in arming Islamic extremists? None, because doing so would be directly contrary to official Chinese policy: cracking down their own Islamist insurgency in Xingjiang Province.

      • anan said, on July 25, 2010 at 1:55 am

        “Unlike the United States- which has had to endure tremendous political headaches in the Middle East over the past three decades”
        Can you explain this line, because I don’t follow. Are you referring to the middle east peace process? If so, then that isn’t America’s “headache.” Let’s not pretend that it is. The quartet [UN, US, EU, Russia] mediates between Israel and the Palestinians. But it really is the headache of Israelis and Palestinians.

        Why do some of our fellow Americans automatically assume that certain international problems are ours when they aren’t?

        China and India quietly back Israel and facilitate Israel getting the heft it needs to survive. China and India do it inconspicuously, ignoring incidents such as the Mari Marmara and all the rest. Avoiding talking about it, but still quietly giving Israel the help it needs when Israel needs it. Our state department could learn a lot from this. Just shut up already and say nothing, but quietly back your friends. Think it would irritate the Israelis a lot less than the hysterics we Americans usually do.

        Israelis like Indians in particular, but also Chinese. In fact, Israel correctly considers them more reliable allies than the US [we Americans often behave unpredictably and irrationally.] We Americans should try reading what Israeli leaders actually say about China and India and how much they value them. Israel has carefully cultivated China and India as close allies to ensure they don’t really need our [America’s] help anymore. The Israelis know they don’t need us anymore but they don’t want to hurt our feelings by telling us that to our face. The world knows this as well, but too many of our fellow Americans are oblivious.

        If you read Osama Bin Laden’s and Zawahiri’s speaches, they have both railed against the Israeli Indian alliance and called for violent attacks against both countries. The fact that many Americans don’t know this reflects our unwillingness to read OBL/Zawahiri speeches, and our inability to accept the reality that we are but one of many very powerful currents affecting the world.

        You underestimate the degree to which Israeli R&D is at the heart of the Chinese defense industry. Israel helped provide the designs for a knock off F-16 fighter. Do you realize how incredibly valuable to China that is? Israel risked its US relationship and was subjected to extensive US sanctions for their transfer of cutting edge military tech to China, including radar tech. Why did Israel risk the largest rupture in US/Israeli relations since 1948 over this? Because Israel enormously values its de facto alliance with China.

        “there are a number of trading partners that don’t necessarily agree with one another on world affairs” True. But that doesn’t stop countries from applying significant pressure on each other, often successfully. Why do few in the world make a big deal about the Armenian genocide and Turkish bombing of Kurdish terrorists? Because Turkey uses its global economic clout and influence to ensure that the world doesn’t make a fuss about it. Countries that defy Turkey pay a heavy price. Unfortunately Israel forgot to pay obeisance to regional hegemon Turkey, and is paying a heavy price for it.

        “Russia is giving economic aid to Iran, but does that mean that the Russians support an Iranian nuclear program? ” Russia is most definitely not giving Iran economic aid and Russia/Iranian relations are the worst they have been since the USSR/Saddam alliance ended. Khamanei is publicly bashing Russia in harsh language reminiscent of Khomeini calling the USSR Satan. Similarly there has been a major deterioration in Indian/Iran relations over Indian pressure related to their nuclear program. The Indian and Pakistani press is full of articles about this.

        China’s reducing their oil imports from Iran by half is another major blow to Khamenei.

        Obama has scared Russia, India and China with the prospects that America will not stop Khamenei and the IRGC Kuds from getting a bomb. This has forced them into taking action in collaboration with the Arab states and Israel to ensure Khamenei does not get the bomb. Personally, I give Obama a lot of credit for this. He isn’t letting them free ride the way Bush did on Iran.

        Unfortunately, Israel, the Arab states, India, Russia and China have been caught off guard and angered by recent Brazilian and Iranian actions.

        “The Chinese are selling military equipment to the Sudanese Government, so does that mean Beijing endorses the genocide in Darfur? According to your argument, I guess it does.” Sudan was too poor to buy many weapons from China. China did have more influence on Sudan than any other country. Chinese pressure helped end the genocide. George Clooney and global civil society bashing China ahead of the Beijing 2008 olympics forced China’s hand.

        The largest source of funding for the global extremist Takfiri syndicate is the Arab world, Gulf, Pakistan and some other affluent muslim extremists who live in other parts of the world. This poses an enormous threat to China and India and forces them to involve themselves in those regions of the world, whether they would like it or not.

        Notice the heavy pressure both countries have placed on America to not abandon the Afghans and build up the ANSF, and how frightened they are by the prospects that America might not do this.

        Similarly, both China and India wanted America to build up the ISF and stabilize Iraq before leaving because they were afraid of being attacked from Iraq, and afraid of Iraq metastasizing into a greater middle east war.

        Our [America’s] mistake was not demanding that they put up more to solve these and other global problems.

  6. anan said, on July 23, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Posted prematurely. Research this F-16 knockoff Chinese fighter:
    It is rumored that Israel provided the tech for it.

    Israel’s providing top of the line military tech to China has been the biggest source of tension between Israel and the US since 1948 [at least in my opinion.] Israel even had sanctions placed on it for providing radar tech to China. Israel and Russia are China’s two largest arms suppliers and R&D collaborators.

    Conventional trade between Israel and China is also very extensive.

    In what way are China and India not deeply involved with Israel? I don’t get it.

    Daniel, do you think the Quartet lead middle east peace process should be expanded to include China and India? [UN, US, EU, Russia] Or would it merely add confusion?

    China and India need to stop free riding on the efforts of others and carry their own weight. They are already planning for it. Naval procurement for both countries is based on protecting global sea lanes including the Persian Gulf and Port of Aden.

    China and India both placed considerable pressure on Iran recently and passed the UN sanctions. China has reduced its oil imports from Iran by half [that is what you call pressure.] India, China and Russia were irritated with Turkey and Brazil for messing it up with Iran.

    The fact is that the US, Brazil, EU, Russia, China, India, Japan and South Korea all have great influence over the middle east. We would all be much better off learning to collaborate better to pursue our common shared values and interests.

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