Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR-Nov-02.11.2011 Contents Asia Pacific Defence Reporter | 31
CHINA AND INDIA
Asia Pacific Defence Reporter | 31
China and India: An Ancient
Strategic Structure Re-emerges
or m any centuries before 1700, the
defining global strategic relationship
was between the two great civilisations
of Asia, the Chinese and Indian
Empires. Trade and strategic rivalry
between them was an enduring feature of life
for South-East Asia in particular. The smaller
civilisations there, from ancient Funan and
Srivijaya to Mataram and the various kingdoms
of the Philippines archipelago all responded to
the influences of these great powers as their
strength relative to each other waxed and
waned. After 1700, the intrusion of something
new fundamentally upset this ancient dynamic.
The Europeans had invented blue-water capable
ships and methods of oceanic navigation. Their
eruption into the Indian Ocean Basin had
occurred earlier; after about 1700, their ships
and industry started to advance in ways not
seen in history before. Simultaneously, the great
Indian and Chinese Empires were in decline.
Within another 150 years the Europeans were
dominating the Indian Ocean basin, South East
Asia, and China itself.
Those days are over. From about 1820 another
new factor emerged, the processes of globalisation.
This grew within the fabric of the British Empire
and did something unprecedented in human
history. Despite the population explosion
European medicine and public sanitation caused
all over the world, it started to lift the vast mass
of humanity out of the poverty, which affected
95% of them from ancient times. Despite the
wars and economic disasters of 1914-1945 period,
that process has never stopped. When the world
began its second stage of globalisation from
about 1960 the trend accelerated. Since then it
has started to lift the greatest mass of humanity
on the planet out of poverty, as South Asia and
Asia industrialised. This is one of the greatest
achievements of the human race. Now, only one
vast human poverty pool – Africa – remains.
One of the implications of Asian and South
Asian industrialisation is that ancient regional
power structures have started to re-emerge. South
East Asian nations now feel the similar pressures
and opportunities of Srivijaya and Mataram.
They are between the two regional great powers.
Both compete against each other for regional
economic, trade and strategic dominance.
How do South East Asian nations respond?
Much can be gleaned from their responses in past
centuries. Currently, the key small regional player
is Vietnam, where China has held the upper
hand since the first Vietnam war. Yet Vietnam
has resisted Chinese domination for centuries,
often with great cost. Since unification in 1975,
Vietnam has strongly resisted China’s efforts to
reduce Hanoi’s dominant status in Indochina and
the country’s holdings in the South China Sea.
They fought a major border war in 1979 and have
clashed repeatedly over high-handed Chinese
actions in the Spratly archipelago. China is
extremely sensitive in regard to Vietnam involving
itself with any other major power. Recent tensions
over Chinese actions in the South China Sea saw
harsh anti-Chinese reporting in Vietnamese state
media, with large anti-Beijing protests in Hanoi
and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) which were at
least informally approved by authorities.
During 2009-2011, a long festering diplomatic
difference between India and China regarding
oil and mineral exploration activities in both the
Indian Ocean and South China Sea started to
One of the implications of Asian and South Asian
industrialisation is that ancient regional power structures have
started to re-emerge.
:Indian Navy frigates, INS Godavari (F20),
INS Brahmaputra (F31) and INS Beas (F39)
Credit: USN / Joshua Scott
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