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Reclaiming Asia

The high-profile India-China and North-South Korea meets reflect how the axis of power is shifting from the Anglo-Saxon world to Asian shores

Reclaiming Asia
Two marquee events played out in North East Asia last week – the Sino-Indian 'informal' summit and the North-South Korean summiteering – have clearly shown that the locus of global power is decidedly shifting from the arena of the Anglo-Saxon world to the Asian shores. There was an important indicator that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping's long tete-a-tete spread over two days was not just carefully choreographed, but also the result of a stupendous amount of staff work, which had held up the brass-tacks that goes into international relations and foreign policy successes.
The first result of the latter effort is the announcement that for the first time, Pakistan and Indian armies will be exercising together in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) joint exercise. Though the low key announcement shows a sense of 'aspiration management', it is hugely path-breaking considering both the armies are each other's sworn enemies.
Professor Henry Kissinger, the statesman with a larger than life image had recently talked about 'engaging China on a philosophical plane'. This was an acknowledgement that today's Chinese history did not begin in 1949 but a few thousand years ago. It is only befitting that the 'philosophical engagement' of the 'centre of the world' power was undertaken by an equally old civilisation, India, with as long a history as that of China's.
Without repeating the obvious about the two countries constituting 50 per cent of the global GDP till only a few hundred years ago, it can be said that both the Indian PM and the Chinese President were the right people to engage in this dialogue, steeped as they are in the cultural history of two nation-states. Thus, while the media tried to find some material substance growing out of the two-day talk, it was a tough effort.
But the medium- to long-term fallout of these talks would be evident in how the two countries deal with their growth pangs – evident from the border question to the management of their status as regional hegemons. The only global example that one can think of as a parallel to this meeting is possibly the 1945 Yalta conference of then potential victors of the still ongoing but about to end WWII's Pacific Ocean Theatre. That was the beginning of the process of reordering the world in the form of the building of post-War institutions, the division of areas of influence and issues of high finance etc.
Is the Modi-Xi meeting a harbinger of such reordering that could come into force when they reach their respective goals by 2050?
A word must be spoken about the hugely understaffed but intellectually rich Ministry of External Affairs mandarins who made this leap of faith possible by hanging by a shared civilisational thread. The inputs that have gone in the background of this meeting were huge and required spunk, dedication and exercising the mind.
On another plane, seemingly unrelated but actually bound in some way by an umbilical cord, is the inter-Korean summit. The credit for setting the agenda of that meeting must go to the man in Seoul, Moon Jae-in. His charm offensive with Kim Jung-un, added with common grounds, struck as mentioned in the joint communiqué. This reflects a desire that the Korean Peninsula, indeed the whole of the Asian continent, can forge their own institutions for conflict resolution extending up to issues of regional development.
On a wider scale, thus, an observer can safely say that some of the processes of institution-building that are alternative to the Bretton Woods and even the United Nations that often seem like an extension of the US State Department, have already been seeded and are being nurtured carefully. For example, BRICS has spawned the New Development Bank and the G-20, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank etc.
It will be interesting to see whether Beijing, which is the second largest contributor to the UN, would push the case of UN reform that could lead to the expansion of the UN Security Council. India is a stronger contender for the UNSC permanent membership. But, till now, China had been chary in smoothening the path for New Delhi. The Chinese have continuously hedged against the inclusion of India.
The terms of the Belt and Road Initiative and China Pacific Economic Corridor raise the issue of India's sovereign right to the whole of Kashmir – parts of which are still administered by Pakistan and, thus, are parts gifted to China so they could build the Karakoram Highway and the now CPEC. While this raised the hackles of the Indian leadership earlier, they are slowly coming around to the view that BRI and CPEC have more than a symbolic value in terms of Chinese power projection. Thus, instead of opposing it outright, they are ready to be a party to the right quid-pro-quo: this can be the route of the CPEC running parallel to the Line of Control between India and Pakistan that could be the de facto international boundary between the two. Of course, the initiative has to come from Islamabad as, after all, it was Pakistan's former Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who had promised it during the Shimla Agreement of 1972.
The next few months are crucial, thus, both for China, India and the other East and South East Asian nations to take the ball and run with it to reclaim Asia for Asians.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

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