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Challenging the ‘World Order’

October 23, 2010

You see the world goes round in a particular way. I do not mean to explain the physical movement of the earth and its tilted axis, spinning like a top with a satellite – the beautiful moon, going round in circle around a ball of fire called the Sun. Suffice to say, the Earth is skewed a particular way in more ways than one. It’s what one calls the western way; the movers and shakers of this planet that keep it going in a particular way – their way. Not that they do not deserve it. They do, they work hard, systematically and have the power and the muscle to mean what they say. They can invade a hapless country in the Middle East on flimsy grounds, with less than a green signal from a body that they put in place to serve their own ends. Not satisfied they also entered another country in South Asia, managed a regime change there too. You see they have all the puppets in the right place. They are rich, they speak together in one voice on subjects of international import and even have agencies that do their bidding because they put up these agencies in the first place. The UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the IAEA, the NSG and now they are attempting to float an institution that will monitor green house gases that each nation emits every year. These are tools to further their cause. This is the ‘World Order’ – their ‘World Order’.

The rules are clear to one and all. Everyone goes by the book. The West is in heaven and everything is right with the world! The Soviets understood the rules of the game and did not try to disturb the arrangement. Yes, there was a Cold War going on but even the Soviets did not challenge the ‘World Order’ head on. The semantics have changed recently. There is a country and there are a people who are questioning the very structure on which the ‘World Order’ rests.

There was this one news item that caught my attention – there were ammunition recovered in Darfur, Sudan with Chinese markings. Those that had carried out the carnage obviously were using Chinese weapons. The West sat up and took notice of this detail. Yours truly was not surprised in the least as this was to be expected. It will surprise no one if it is revealed at some later date that some Shiite and Sunnite ultras in Iraq were backed by Beijing. Let us not forget that the West has had a healthy body count and the war in Iraq was not a one sided affair as many would like us to believe. There were IED’s going off at regular intervals in various parts of Iraq and these were not restricted to Baghdad. How did these ultras get such weaponry?

If we look at what is happening in Afghanistan again the same story is being repeated. The Taliban are not short of arms and ammunition. Is Pakistan giving the Taliban arms? If yes, then why and how many? How is it that a bankrupt Pakistan has the guts to defy the hand that feeds them? Who is backing Pakistan such that they can stand up to mighty Uncle Sam!

Like in the times of the Cold War, there is a game of chess being played out. The West is being challenged in ways they have not been for a very long time. Fundamental institutions are being taken head on, their validity being questioned in a manner never before in recent history (most of these institutions are of recent vintage, as it were). The US went in for a Civilian Nuclear deal with India, giving India access to fuel and nuclear technology which they had banned. India also found favor in that we can now reprocess the spent fuel which is a big step forward. Pakistan was hankering for a similar deal with the US. Washington politely but firmly told Pakistan that their needs did not require any such deal. Islamabad while still pestering DC for such a deal has nevertheless got a similar arrangement with Beijing! Pakistan will get three nuclear reactors from China. I do not know whether any of these reactors will have reprocessing facilities suffice to say that Beijing is willing to go that extra mile for Islamabad as they see Pakistan an extension of themselves. This Beijing has done in defiance of the international ‘norms’.  The NSG waiver and all those long drawn international treaties have no meaning now. Beijing is ready with technology and more for nations they feel are working in their national interest. IAEA, NSG and others are looking foolish and redundant. China will give Pakistan fuel too.

I mean look at it from the Chinese perspective. They are questioning as to how is it that a bilateral deal between US and another country becomes legally binding on world community and any such deal is a passport to technology and fuel and what have you? They do have a point.

With more than 2 trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves, China today has the power to call the shots. They are asking another fundamental question – why is the US dollar the world reserve currency. It is true that Beijing has two thirds of its foreign exchange reserves in US dollars too, but that does not stop them from asking these fundamental questions. They are keen to float a yuan reserve. They want their own currency as the world currency and are trying to reject the US dollar as the world currency for trading and banking. The West realizes that an artificially depreciated yuan gives China an advantage in trade and commerce, making their goods cheap and have been pressurizing Beijing to revise the value of the yuan, but Chinese are adamant and will make any such changes when it suits them. You see, if the yuan is revised upwards the huge foreign exchange reserves automatically get reduced substantially. US is uncomfortable with this huge financial leverage that Beijing enjoys and that is a big cause for concern.

China is doing all it can to use these resources for the benefit of its people and to make strategic forays that further its interests. The building of railways to Lhasa from Beijing was one huge project. They have done it and this is as much a strategic maneuver as it is for transport of people to Tibet. Then they are planning a huge dam on the Bramhaputra that will give them the key to the mighty river. India will be dependent on Beijing for its water needs in the North-East. They are even expanding the railways to the border of Arunachal Pradesh which they call ‘Lower Tibet’. They have further plans of extending the rail line from Lhasa to Kathmandu, right under India’s nose. They have upgraded airfields across the border from Arunachal Pradesh and their fighter planes can land there. They have encircled India in what is called the String of Pearls by strategic thinkers.

What is happening with India is not isolated. China is throwing its weight with other neighbors too. They have dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands which are claimed by both. They become hugely important because the South China Sea has oil and gas potential that could be strategically important for both the countries.

Spratly Islands again in South China Sea are being claimed both by Philippines and China and there is a huge tug of war going on. The Taiwan question has seen the US and China spar over the issue. While the US had announced a $7.5 billion arms package to Taipei it is not clear whether Washington is going ahead with the package as per the announcement. Obama received a cold reception in Beijing and this was one of the contentious issues.

The war in Afghanistan is as much about strategic depth as it is about security. The Central Asian oil cache is what interests the West. While the Chinese have already built a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Xinjiang the west is finding it difficult to uncork the cache as the pipeline has to pass through Afghanistan – Pakistan and on to India. China would find any such gas pipeline a threat to its ambitions. They wanted to cut the long sea route through the Strait of Malacca and therefore developed Gwadar port in Pakistan. China wants security for its strategic assets and wants to make sure it is not threatened in any way. The war in Afghanistan is not going west’s way and that is a huge cause for concern for Washington.

The Iranian question is also in a limbo as the West is bogged down by Afghanistan and to a lesser extent by Iraq. Besides after their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan they are not sure they can afford to expose themselves in Iran. The slump in the world economy is not helping matters either. Yet the Iran question needs to be addressed. A $60 billion defense deal with Saudi Arabia should give some economic respite to Washington but to say that all is well with the world economy is stretching things a bit. The Middle East imbroglio is another irritant that keeps Washington busy and hinders its reach in other parts of the world.

The importance that countries give to China can be gauged from the fact that even the European countries that are a part of the EU tend to build bridges with Beijing individually apart from what the EU as an entity does. Germany and France both have reached out to Beijing. They want trade and economic security and they know that one way of ensuring this is to have good relations with Beijing. When the Greek economy was in dire straits it is the Chinese who came up with a multi-billion dollar package which included building of airports and other infrastructure that will give jobs to a nation where there is an unemployment rate of more than 15%.

China is moving in wherever they find there is an opening. They are challenging the west like no one has done in recent memory. It is as much an economic battle as it is a political one. In a way this is good for the world. The West needs to be challenged, if only to keep them on their feet. I wish the Chinese had first got some basics in place within their own system before they embarked on such ambitious journey. They need better educated population, more research and better infrastructure in the whole of China and not just in their eastern provinces. But if one looks at it from their perspective, any such ‘development’ will take ages. This is a nation in hurry. They can wait no more. They want their place under the Sun. And they are determined to get there any which way.

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