“India would be making a big mistake if it allowed itself to get dragged into a Western anti-China alliance,” warns Martin Jacques, author of the international bestseller When China Rules the World.

The 67-year-old British author, broadcaster and speaker whose association with China began nearly two decades ago, is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on that country. His book, rated as by far the best on China to have been published in many years, has already sold more than a quarter of a million copies worldwide, a rare achievement for a scholarly 800 page work of non-fiction.

Mr Jacques has examined the remarkable rise of China and has predicted that “China will soon rule the world (and) as China’s powerful civilisation reasserts itself, it will signal the end of the global dominance of the Western nation-state, and a future of ‘contested modernity’”. In these circumstances, he argues that it would be better for India to make a grand rapprochement with China on entirely new terms rather than to treat it as an enemy.

China today has more to offer the world in terms of trade and other economic opportunities than the West, Mr Jacques believes. “East Asians at one time considered the United States to be the biggest market for their products but that has changed,” he points out. Today, China is a bigger market than the United States for all east Asian economies, including Japan.

Western markets, including that of the US, are declining or are stagnant whereas the Chinese market is growing and already China is the biggest trading partner of a host of key global economies, including India. “The principal strength of the United States in Asia today is the military, and in particular the navy,” says the author. “But how long can military strength be sustained without an underlying economic base? A nation’s strength cannot just be confined to its navy, it has to be much more.”

Mr Jacques believes that a time will soon come when most east Asian countries will no longer look to the United States for leadership. Washington probably realises this and President Obama has tried to recover ground lost by the Bush administration in east Asia.

Today, the United States is hinting at strengthening alliances in the Asia-Pacific that would contain China.

Countries such as Japan, Australia and Singapore have expressed their willingness to promote such an alliance without being overtly confrontational and India is being induced to join. But there is a big problem with this formulation.

According to Mr Jacques, “The problem the United States faces is of a profound nature: the source of its power is military while its economic strength is waning.”
“The problem with India is that its relations with China are stuck somewhere despite a great increase in trade and cooperation on several global issues,” he points out. China nevertheless is of great importance to India and it would be in New Delhi’s interest to sort out its disputes with Beijing, especially those related to the borders.

It appears to Jacques that India continues to remain traumatised by the 1962 War and cannot seem to move on. He suggests that New Delhi should drop its historical baggage and take a grand new initiative in improving ties with China. Yet, he also does not deny that there could be some major impediments.

Mr Jacques incisive look into China reveals some disconcerting aspects, some of them cultural. In his book he describes how a very charming, intelligent and progressive young Chinese woman is acutely discomfited at the idea of marriage with a Black person. He hints at an underlying Chinese racism that permeates even official thinking on global matters. That leads Mr Jacques to pose the big question: “What will China be like as a great power?”
There is of course no simple answer. In his book, Mr Jacques makes a profound observation: “The geopolitical approach informs how a state elite reasons and acts, while a cultural analysis, rooted in history and popular consciousness, seeks to explain the values, attitudes, prejudices and assumptions of a people. In the short run, the former may explain the conduct of relations between countries, but in the longer run people’s values and prejudices are far more significant and consequential. Ultimately, nations see the world in terms of their own history, values and mindset and seek to shape that world in the light of those experiences and perceptions.”
His chapter on “The Middle Kingdom Mentality” contains many pointers to the way Chinese think and it should be mandatory reading for all those concerned with China policy-making. Moreover, there is a lot in there that should make Indian policy makers wary.

Attitude could perhaps be one reason why the Sino-Indian relationship is stuck with Beijing showing no hurry in resolving its border row with India. Though Mr Jacques does not say so, it is possible that Beijing might wish to impress upon New Delhi that it does not consider relations with India important enough to make concessions on the border dispute.

Strange as that rationale might sound, it is possible. For, as Mr Jacques admits, “The Chinese do look down upon Indians and it’s a racial thing.”
He also admits that Chinese understanding of other cultures is weak partially because of their inherent strength. If that is true then it is quite possible that over time as China gets more powerful, it could develop a contemptuous view of weaker nations around it. And that would not be good news for any of those countries, India included.

– Indranil Banerjie is an independent security and political risk consultant