Dr. Ramachandra Byrappa, Department of Contemporary World History, Faculty of Humanities, Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) – Budapest
The art of Tango is about creating order out of chaos, it is about coordinating individuality and coexistence, about movement and balance. Tango in short is about occupying space and territory without stepping on a partners feet, moving cooperation to a higher level of art and symbiosis. These are the very capacities and qualities that India and China will need to put Asia at the very centre of the New World Order in the coming years and decades. Both have to learn from the past to build the future. Before the European incursions into Asia, China managed a big part of eastern Eurasia and India for its part managed the rim lands and the southern system. Together they produced balance, harmony and prosperity, and made Asia the envy of the world. The time has come, it seems, for them to re-unite and create a peaceful world order based on openness, mutual respect for creeds and cultures and an equitable access to the resources of our world. But although history can serve as a lesson it cannot be a standard for the future. India and China have to use extreme caution and responsibility to bring about a peaceful transition to the hoped for New World Order. There are a lot of positive things about the Western World Order but it has created misery and false hope on an unprecedented scale, brought the humanity to an irrecoverable environmental calamity. The West was not able to wholeheartedly engage itself to building cultural and racial bridges, on the contrary, there is a rise in hatred of all kinds. The white communities all over the world are increasingly feeling that their status in the world and their privilege to the world’s resources is in danger. A New world order in this perspective means a radical change in perceptions and attitudes. Cooperation between India and China could be the first and foremost change that could act as a catalyser for a New World Order.
Keywords: Tango, Movement, Mobility, Fluidity, New World Order, Southern System, Northern System, Civilizational Edge, Multipolar Specialisation, Deep Heritage, Alphabet of Humanity, Turkic-Tatar Belt
A true order of things is when one allows the elements, in their natural propensity, to fall into place without compulsion, tension and violence of any kind. An order where there is no hierarchy in the way we think and live. The New World Order will become optimal and efficient when each one can do what he or she is best at. Like this, a crippling dysfunctionality and dislocation of the world order could be avoided. Ideally, in a multipolar world led by a consensus of major powers there will be more cohesion but I feel that this should not be an ultimate goal in itself. A multipolar system could and should mean a distribution of specialisation, there will be centres of specialisation. “I do what I am good at and you do what you are good at and we will weave things in” method of doing things. In many respects the world’s elites are unified more than one can imagine. And although these elites are unified and interconnected, the sheer complexity of their conflicting interests and affinities needs to be managed on an unparalleled level, here great experience in non-conflictual consensus building is needed backed up with economic clout and money power, a tailor made opportunity for Indian and China.
Foreshadowing this phenomenon is the other factor that needs to be taken into account, the world’s masses are increasingly unified by globalisation in many aspects of their everyday life, especially the fear of the future and the fear of each other. This means new ways of governance will be needed and new forms of world order need to be created, in comparison to the current one, where the lack of legitimacy seems to be one of the biggest issues. Combined, what we realise is that we need overarching systems of integration of diverse elites, and the integration of pluralistic minded individuals and groups. Empires, like the Ottoman Empire or the Russian empire were very good at maintaining an integrative system for brief periods, but as their successive collapse proved their ability was limited, although the Russian Empire was more substantive in its cultural prevalence. To be more appropriate and encompassing, the present situation probably requires the return of civilisations; especially the return of the Indian and Chinese civilisations to regulate world order for the benefit of everyone.
1. Return to the Civilizational Edge
At this juncture the Asiatic model of civilisation comes into play. Indeed both the Indian and Chinese civilisations, in their own respective spheres, were able to build and maintain systems of order, built upon confidence and mutual respect, giving priorities to those mechanisms that eliminated conflict by focusing on cooperation. Currently however, India and China are not exactly in a strong position to undertake this civilizational mission. And quite rightly not all believe in such a peaceful settlement, there are regular reminders to the opposite: “The decline of the west is juxtaposed with the rise of the east, notably China. (It is hard to tell whether Russia is rising or falling; either way, it is disturbing.) Fitting a rising power into a decaying international system has rarely occurred peacefully. Perhaps superior Western and Chinese statesmanship will avert a major war; but this, in historical terms, would be a bonus.” Unfortunately there are solid reasons to believe in such an eventuality because the modus operandi of the major Asian powers is not Asian but works by borrowed concepts from the West. And according to these scales, China has made strides of progress and seems to be in the scope of preparedness but I think this is only hypothetical; it is one thing when the tide is high and another when it is low. As for India, it is under current polarizing political atmosphere and might take more adjusting and tough reforms to be planned and implemented, all of which will take time. When one digs deeper, one gets the impression that by all this what these two countries are doing is entrenching the structural violence of the Western system and not at all preparing their countries for a period fundamental change in the nature of how things are done domestically and internationally. The energies of almost three billion people are wasted because the elites of both countries refuse to take a step back and put their actions into context. If they had done and do this in the future, they will realise that they are doing exactly what the West wants them to do: play a petty game of nationalist divisions and destruction. As Jerry H. Bentley once wrote: “The power of myths to promote tendentious or distorted understandings of the past and even to inspire the production of historical fabrications is all too evident in both popular and professional historical accounts of all lands and peoples without exception. Yet the production of parallel mythistories that stroke the collective psyches of national, ethnic, racial, religious, and other groups, while also nourishing their memories of supposed past injustices and encouraging hatred of their perceived oppressors, is a formula for disaster in a world oversupplied with appallingly effective technologies of destruction.”
Modern Asian nationalism, is the result of western educated or western oriented elite like Nehru, Gandhi, the Kuomintang and even the Communist Party of China. The idea was that the west managed to pull down Asia because they were strong nation-states and therefore let Asia become like them to beat them at their own game – a growing mountain of false assumptions and equally false conclusions. It is not only about sizing down great civilisations to the pettiness of nationalism, it is about expressing one set of particularistic values out of a rich mosaic of shared values; civilisation does not put people against people, to divide and rule. The great tragedy of today’s Asia and that of the world order (world balance) is that one gets the view that both India and China, rather than revitalise civilisations, are forcefully forging ahead with particularistic agendas. While China is enhancing with Han Chinese domination inside China, in India the Fringe Mesopotamians (North-western Indians) are openly questioning and turning upside the very principles of toleration that formed the bedrock of the Chinese and Indian civilisations. This leads us inevitably to two things: domestically, no one will feel safe because the particularistic nature of decision-making and the socio-economic consequence of these decisions. Worldwide, this intolerance at the domestic level shows the world population that this Asian twins can be a danger to their own socio-economically (relatively) harmonised systems. The rise of China and Asia would be thus interpreted as an imminent danger.
In this way the two countries are not only destroying or levelling down their civilisations, they are also incessantly destroying the only alternatives that there may be for the yearning masses of our planet. India and China should stop this mission of ‘self-destruction’ not for some glorious motives of reviving thousand-year-old civilisations, they have to do it because the imperatives of survival of the whole world system dictates so. Han Chinese nationalism in China and the Fringe Mesopotamian nationalism in India are forces of friction, division, discrimination, arbitrary application of government and tyrannical violence. The world of today has enough of these dangerous commodities, the result of the Western order. In haphazard of climate-change and in an increasingly resource-restricted situation, what the world needs is the comfort of healing and sharing above anything else – if India and China continue in their current path they will be unable to provide the world with a legitimate alternative. Under these circumstances the best way forward for India and China, and for everyone else, would be to learn from history and put forward models that have worked very well in the past. Of course, times and contexts have changed but parts of this civilizational heritage are still viable.
When we talk about a model for the new world order we are of course not talking about economic development or material prosperity. This is the whole point of it, although economic prosperity is very important, structurally it should not have a direct impact on the way we conduct relations with each other. In material terms Asia is nowhere. As one expert put it: “Even at current torrid rates of growth, it will take the average Asian 77 years to reach the income of the average American. The Chinese need 47 years. For Indians, the figure is 123 years. And Asia’s combined military budget won’t equal that of the United States for 72 years.” I do not in any way mean that Asia has to grab the reins of power because it has such a level of material wealth that it can somehow buy itself the cockpit of the world governance. What I mean is that the West, with its unidirectional model of world order, has sucked the world of all its vital resources by establishing a world order of privileges, a sort of racial entitlements. As one well attuned observer put it in a nutshell: “The white people of South Africa regard themselves as the upholders Western civilisation but the truth is that no civilisation had ever been established in the land. Instead, a way of life evolved, dominated by patterns of greed and opportunism, so brutal in their effects, so lacking in basic human courtesies, that long after their demise as a dominant power in South Africa, they will be remembered like a nightmare.” This statement may be considered provocative by some but it describes well the actual condition of many parts of the world. And this process has left behind a tired planet, unable to replenish itself to give stable livelihood to its inhabitants. My argument therefore is that Asia has to legitimise its claim to world leadership not because of its material success but because of the efficacy and salience of its civilizational model. In no way should either China or India strengthen ‘nationalist’ outlays for Asia and work to reinforce a non-civilizational model.
Building your future on borrowed concepts is never the right thing to do because this means someone else is designating how you think and live. As explained earlier, the root of Western ethics and rise to power has been banditry followed by newer forms of elaborated banditry in all its disguises. The answer cannot be the democratisation of banditry and neither is the normalisation of it. What is necessary and appropriate is that the leaders of India and China take a step back from the precipice and sweep the dust, the western narratives, off their civilisations and take inspiration from the ‘deep heritage’. As Walter D. Mignolo correctly described: “Today, through visiting monuments as tourists, through archaeological and anthropological work, by researching contemporary codices and reports by European conquistadores and missionaries, and by observing modern international relations and the inequality of world order, we can imagine how the world was before 1500. And above all, the living memories of non-Western people who have begun to assert that their own histories, civilizations, ways of life, and structures of thought are not as bad, demonic, traditional, mythic, false, or strange as the non-European world appears in Western narratives. We have to unlearn what is taught from canonized narratives, sacred or secular. Exploring the meaning, today, of “Global South” is part of this process.” There is a clear call and need to going back to the roots, back to the basics, going back to the alphabet of humanity, in short back to civilisation.
When the dust is cleared, the world of today is in reality a choice between three or possibly four civilizational options: the Indian civilisation, the Chinese civilisation, the Slavo-Tatar civilisation and the Christian-Humanist civilisation. This vision of things might look incompatible with a Universalist vision of the world order, but it is not. The whole idea of the new world order is the reflection of this civilizational mosaic and its inter-play. Up to now everyone was under the illusion of the West bringing about a Universalist world revolution in the world order. Everyone realised that it was nothing else than the “British-Museum” syndrome or logic: “we pillaged the world over so we are a world civilisation”, where stealing the Greek marbles is seen as a quick way to having access to the Greek civilisation. This narrative no longer has legitimacy except in a few renegade circles of ‘white supremacists’. The new narrative is that of genuine cooperation between genuine civilisations. First among this has to be the cooperation between the Chinese and the Slavo-Tatar civilisations, more preciously between China and Russia who constitute the Northern System along with the Turkic-Tatar belt of countries.
2. China-Russia and the Northern System
The paradox of today’s context is that everyone is startled or moved by the hypothetical possibility that China will become the dominant power, and equally hypothetical suggestion that it will impose its own order. The question that comes to one’s mind is: Why would China want to change a system that offered it the current status on a golden plate? What is the leitmotif for it to pull the rug from under its feet? Is it because it is an order that is contested? In all this, the underlying question is how is China going to integrate the world order, in step-by-step formula or by a sudden systemic change? Some see the arrival of President Trump at the helm of the United States as a sudden collapse of the American power, paving the way for an impatient Mr. Xi to flex his muscle in a world in limbo. However, overconfidence should not lead to self-deception, China would be wise to heed to its own historic perspective.
Currently China thinks it’s throwing a loose steel net (OBOR) over the globe that it can progressively tighten to its own advantage. Maybe China can leverage its position in a disoriented world but at the same time certain geopolitical structures of ‘longue durée’ could hinder the process of Chinese hegemonic positioning. Two of the major such risks are that China is overlooking the structural dynamics of the Northern System and the Southern System, it is underestimating the dangers that are disturbing these two systems. Although some fear the rise of China, the author of this essay is more fearful of China’s failure and a total dysfunctionality that might result from this. There is a clear need to pause and ponder on the reality of the situation.
Mobility was always the key component of the “Eurasian” world order. If through OBOR China proposes to enhance mobility then there are chances that the order it creates in the process will be enduring. However, if it tries to pave or canalise mobility then the proposed order of things would be rejected or would lead to upheaval: “As the Asian states drew lines across the steppe, they also controlled the movement of populations: refugees, nomads, tribes, traders, soldiers, and other highly mobile groups. Not only did the states need to constrain movement, but they also needed new classification systems to define who lived inside and who outside the new borders. Vaguely defined frontier zones gave way to clearly marked lines; fluid ethnic identities were sharpened into more rigid definitions. Ethnographic atlases, like their later counterparts the cadastral survey, the census, and the imperial atlas, fixed peoples, lands, and identities in new ways. In seventeenth and eighteenth-century central Eurasia, boundaries and maps combined to restrict mobility.” The Northern System like the Southern System are comparable to a living organic systems where movement and mobility are two essential elements to almost everything. As Peter C. Perdue explains: “The closure of the steppe frontier meant the end of an age of fluidity…” Any curtailments will entail disorder, the whole system gets clogged and crumbles.
The Northern System was quite often a harmonica system, marked by expansive and contracting motions and movements. At various periods in its history it was controlled by Chinese kingdoms, Mongol hordes and imperial Russia but the flow and movement never really changed in terms of geopolitical structure. The Northern System is a system of constant shifts and adjustments in power. Without being misinterpreted or misjudged one could say that it was almost a natural phenomenon, it was almost a process of civilizational affinity and adjustment. This does not mean that the members of the geostrategic ‘musical chairs’ all have the same method, the same results or the same socio-economic and cultural impact. Among these contenders only the perimeters of their action varies. Genghis Khan pushed the limits up to the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, and from here Turkey took the queue and pushed the limits across North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. Both retracted, progressively giving way to Russian Expansion. The Soviets maintained the Russian empire more or less intact. The Russian Federation under Yeltsin threw away many of its geo-strategic positions, and President Putin spent the best part of his tenure up to now in regaining a modicum of past influence. For how long will the harmonica remain in the current position is the main question? Even if Russia allows China to chip away at its perimeters, will Turkey the other key member of the Northern quartet allow China to stamper on the Turkic turf? But China seems to have out manoeuvred both by throwing the net as far as Central and Eastern Europe, the traditional playground for both Turkish and Russian interests. The big question is: Is the combination of OBOR and 16+1 construct the beginning of the harmonica in motion again? And to whose advantage will it work?
The impression one gets is that the vacuum progressively ceded by the western order is filled in, seamlessly, by the Chinese order; and if possible without conflict. The idea is to leave India out of any future arrangement between the West and China, and make Russia believe that its sphere will be kept unviolated. On the other hand it could also be interpreted as the Northern System, cooperation between China and Russia, being fully established and working in full swing. But at the same time it could be seen as China jumping on a historic opportunity to create a position for itself as never before. For this extent China has developed a wide variety of institutional structures to interfere without notice. For example the 16+1 forum was, it seems, invented to erode power from both the Slavic civilisation and the Western sphere in one go. This could be a turning point and a historic moment in the evolution of world order. Which proves beyond doubt that President Putin saw it long before.
When Putin became the President of the Russian Federation in 2000, he saw the need to reinforce the Slavo-Tatar civilisation. Being one of the biggest realists of our times, in the literary sense of the word, he saw that Eastern Europe and the Balkans had been virtually disconnected from the civilizational orbit of Russia and were progressively being aligned economically to Germany and in a wider sense to the orbit of the European Union and NATO. Given the negative Soviet experience of the cold-war period and the evident economic weakness of the Russian Federation that followed, it was almost impossible for President Putin to imagine a positive and peaceful reunification of the Slavic section with that of the Tatar. On top of this, for the Tatar section, there were two traditional contenders – Turkey and China. In the late 19th century a great deal of ink was spilt on the Anglo-Russian competition in Central Asia. But this was only temporary because the real contenders, Turkey and China, were both temporarily undergoing structural turmoil. After almost one hundred years of absence, these regionally rooted players are back and increasingly flexing their muscles. Put it simply, the President of the Russian Federation had three serious and ambitious contenders on his doorstep, all waiting to dig deep into Russia’s sphere of influence: Turkey, EU-NATO and China.
President Putin’s reply to these threats of erosion of influence was both domestic and global in nature. On the domestic front he tried to stabilise the economy that had spiralled down during the 1997-98 financial crisis. And once the economy had stabilised he tried to give a coherent patriotic orientation to it. The success of these policies can be measured in the almost doubling of the Russian middle-classes, and the giving of a realistic backbone to the Russian democratic system. The negative portrayals in the Western media of the domestic situation is no doubt politically motivated, but even the most critical of these will accept that Russia has made huge strides of progress since the collapse of the Soviet system. Having made this progress on the domestic front the Russian President tried his uttermost to build a civilizational bridge between the Russian Sphere on the one side and the West and Turkey on the other. On the far eastern front he made a rational assessment of China’s economic rise and went about defusing all potential contentions and conflicts. Applying the same rationality, and wanting to woo the Russian Bear before making its move into Central Asia, China was ready to agree upon a status quo in Sino-Russian relations. On top of this, Russia made serious overtures of friendship to both the United States and reinforced its long-time friendship with the Indian Subcontinent. Between the 2000 and 2009 one really got the view that, although a waning super power, Russia had successfully converted itself to the status of the wise-man of the world, offering help of mediation here and cooperation there. From academics to ordinary citizen around the world, felt a relief to see a mature world power step into the world arena in contrast to the west’s impulsive and invasive tendencies. Russia was a stabiliser and equaliser.
In a wide contrast, the West grossly miscalculated, it thought Russia’s soft and selective approach as a sign of weakness. The West, especially the European-NATO twin construction, adopted new policy instruments like the Eastern Neighbourhood policy which structurally meant a territorial expansion of the West and its influence. Similar policy structures were adopted for countries sitting on the southern and eastern rim of the Mediterranean. None of these envisaged a role for Russia and it was not even consulted. What was worse, at the height of the subprime crisis of 2009-2010, which hit Russia exceptionally hard, the West was airing the possibility of including the Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. A move that sent alarm bells ringing in the power corridors of Moscow, where this was considered as a gross violation of confidence. Russia swallowed its anger and went as far as proposing to be a member of NATO itself, but this request was squarely rejected. The fact was that, the West had eaten-up Eastern Europe and was now on the verge of taking a bite that would hurt Russia in more than one way; paving the way forward for the Ukraine to become a full member of the European Union. Russia felt cheated and its efforts to build confidence and stable relations with the West had come to nothing, it felt that the sacrifices made had been one sided. The Brits had a lot to answer for the fractious relations with Russia since Thatcher pushed for a rapid expansion of the EU into Eastern Europe.
So it was that Russia decided to take back control of its core sphere but at the same time President Putin was very realistic in his approach and strived to build coherence and realised that a peaceful and rule-based Eurasia was the solution. This was probably one of the most honest and open-minded proposal that a world leader has put forward in the whole of the 20th century. He always accompanied his words with deeds. In a very revealing interview with the BBC’s David Frost, President Putin had the follow vision of things:
The BBC’s David Frost’s interview with Vladimir Putin:
Tell me about your views on NATO if you would. Do you see NATO as a
potential partner, or a rival or an enemy?
Russia is part of the European culture. And I cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and what we often call the civilised world. So it is hard for me to visualise NATO as an enemy. I think even posing the question this way will not do any good to Russia or the world. The very question is capable of causing damage. Russia strives for equitable and candid relations with its partners. The main problem here lies in attempts to discard previously agreed common instruments – mainly in resolving issues of international security. We are open to equitable co-operation, to partnership. We believe we can talk about more profound integration with NATO but only if Russia is regarded an equal partner. You are aware we have been constantly voicing our opposition to NATO’s eastward expansion.
Is it possible Russia could join NATO?
I don’t see why not. I would not rule out such a possibility – but I repeat – if and when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner. I want to stress this again and again.
The above extract of the interview shows several things about the situation he was confronted with and his solution to the realities on the ground – Russia alone could no longer operate the Northern System. Ideally, he thought, no other power should dominate the system, it was preferable to establish a structure where by a rule-based system would be operated to avoid the risk of conflict associated with structural adjustments. Russia always had to balance its two halves, the Slavic half and the Tatar half. President Putin felt, after assessing economic and cultural affinities, that it was his priority to start the process on his western neighbourhood and progressively spread it to the east, including Japan. If he had started the process in the East the Western countries would have accused him of building an anti-West alliance. And given the fact there was a wide consensus and genuine friendship between him and President Chirac and Chancellor Schroder, President Putin thought it appropriate to complete the integration with West before taking the process to an ever powerful China in the east. With the initiation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and much later the pre-negotiation on the creation of the BRICS organisation/forum, President Putin seemed, on parallel, to prepare the second part of the plan for a peaceful Eurasian transition. But the process was disrupted by an Anglo-American diabolic campaign against Russia and President Putin in particular for obvious reasons – a continental consolidation that involves Russia was deemed dangerous to their interests, because it would seriously dent one of the main pillars of the Western strength – confusion, chaos and disorientation in Eurasia. As a result successful attempts were made to create chaos on the perimeter of the Russian Federation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
This led to a very disappointed Russia to change gear and speed up the second section of the Eurasian strategy, a reaction to the realisation that friendship with the West had become a minefield of false promises, deceptions and imminent security threat. Between 2010 and 2015 Russia built a solid partnership with China who was only longing and willing for such a vital geopolitical asset. It too was in need of a peaceful and pacified front because developments in its Pacific rim were not all to its advantage, it was not only the USA but also, Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam to take care of. It was in need of a stable and accommodating North System in its backyard. Russia could be of immeasurable help in more than one way to China in its quest for global recognition and acceptance. The first one would be a Slavo-Tatar civilizational grammar that China does not understand but is very much in need of, a difference between a closed and open systems. China talks of Roads and Belts criss-crossing the globe and of free trade but none can deny that China itself is a very closed and insulated system that is activated or closed at want. If every country on earth would be as closed and selective as China is, all would grind to a halt. The Northern System under Russia’s influence is an open system, despite the negative media coverage and political statements to this effect in the West. Russia and the Northern System could bridge that towards the Turkic domain and the Slavic civilizational sphere. The danger is that China might stifle this flexibility and openness by wanting to turn everything to its advantage. As President Putin laid out in his interview with the BBC’s David Frost: “…if and when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner. I want to stress this again and again.” This means that Putin would want to maintain equality in relations with NATO backed Western countries but also with China. China will fail in its ambitions if it misinterprets the Russian civilizational calculus as the West did.
Due to the tragedy brought upon Russia by the Trotskyists and Bolsheviks, many get the false impression that Russia and the Northern System are a closed system. The reality is quite different, as Marlene Laruelle rightly points out in her (chapter) Russia as an anti-liberal European civilisation: “Moreover, Putin has continued his strong advocacy for a Eurasian Union with free movement of member-state citizens (and therefore of labour migrants), despite clear expressions of xenophobia in the Russian population.” What is more interesting in Marlene Laruelle’s proposition is that there exists what she calls “Russia’s triple civilizational grammar: Europe, the West, and the rest.” Measured in terms of western concepts and terminology Russian identity is deemed fluid, as Laruelle explains: “In the Russian view, there is a triple choice of identity: being a European country that follows the Western path of development; being a European country that follows a non-Western path of development; or being a non-European country. Defining Russia as belonging to a ‘civilisation’ is always made in relation to Europe as the yardstick, never to Asia.” Affinity to Asia and Eurasianism do not come naturally to the Russian elite but as the European Union and NATO encroach into the Slavic part of the Russian sphere and demands exclusivity, the Russian elite was faced with a predominantly Asian Identity. Unwilling to accept any partial expression of this identity, President Putin is in the process of making the Northern System increasing open by calling it the Eurasian Union. Rather than display the exuberance of Western type of nationalism, President Putin has returned to what was always at the heart of Russia – Patriotism. By definition patriotism has no borders and can never be confused with the heresy of a xenophobic nationalism. This could make Chinese penetration into Central Asia and a step from there into Europe much easier, anti-Chinese sentiment will not be on the Russian agenda. On the other hand, if China were to collude with the West to maintain the current dysfunctional system or enhance its ways by using Western “choreography” of world resources extraction, Russia will not hesitate to reassert its civilizational pre-eminence over much of Eurasia, whatever its economic state might be and whatever it might cost, as it has shown many times in the past.
China should not forget, however attractive places like Britain might be for her, that structurally it cannot build a solid partnership with these countries. British foreign policy was always riddled with duplicity and backpeddling. An European diplomat said the following to the Independent Newspaper: ‘There is also a degree of scepticism about the British Foreign Secretary’s pronouncements. The ambassador of one West European state said: “Just one example: this is a man who led a Brexit campaign which claimed, falsely, that 100 million Turks can come to Britain if Britain stays in the EU. Then after Brexit he went to Turkey and said that Britain will do its best to ensure that Turkey joins the EU.’ Boris Johnson, in all honesty, is not doing anything different from most of his predecessors. What China forgets is that civilisation came late to the West compared India and China. And at various periods of its history, the West went through points of no return, as it looked death and horror in the throat. Same bouts of death and villainy can return, and it would be inappropriate to underestimate the civilizational risks when one is dealing with the West. It would be wise not to forget the fact that the West purchased eminence and respectability through pillage and organised banditry right up to the end of the 19th, and China, along with India was one of the biggest victim of it. The system of international order is fortuitous to the West because it was meant to be. Under the cloak of extreme material development, the West has put into place a highly intricate and elaborate “system of world’s resource appropriation”. Nothing, in reality, distinguishes this from the confederacy of noble gentlemen that pillaged Rome and burnt it down in the 5th century. The West always tries to reach civilisation but it always slips back into barbarism. As a civilisation with a capital “C” the primary function of a civilisation is about building bridges between different cultures and communities. Deception and pillage of one form or the other cannot be equated to civilisation. China should invest more into building the Northern System with more open focus and less distraction in the outlay of its foreign policy, in this way it would strengthen the civilisational linkages inside the Northern System.
For example one such distraction was China’s foray into the Southern System. The Belt and Road project for many looked harmless on the drawing table. But as it comes to the ground there is a sharp contrast between the promised land of hope and friendship, and the cruelty of a realisation that it was a one-way strategy, benefiting China only. Not long ago the South China Morning Post ran a detailed article of how it turned out to be a nightmare for Pakistan, one of the first countries on whom the ‘One Belt, One Road’ was administered: “The similarities are growing more apparent by the day. In Pakistan, for example, politicians are increasingly critical of the exploitative nature of the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which obliges Islamabad to borrow heavily from China to fund Chinese state companies to buy Chinese materials to build infrastructure that mostly benefits China, while loading Pakistan with debts that threaten to crush local economic activity.” Those of who pay close attention to how things work in Pakistan know how all this will end up as the South China Morning Post reminds us: “Inevitably, if Beijing attempts to pursue projects at a pace and in a number sufficient to make a dent in its excess capacity, it will end up building white elephants, wasting money, and encouraging corruption on a scale never before seen.” As for the cost-benefit analysis, the Asia Times online has this to say: “The US$56 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” vision – has yet to translate into the game-changer envisioned by its sponsors. Worse than that, the unparalleled tax breaks and mounting security costs involved have already saddled Islamabad’s exchequer with a hole in its finances of more than US$2.5 billion.” The situation in Pakistan is turning ugly by the day and the end of this downward spiral is not yet in sight. Within the last few months Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar have all openly rejected further Chinese OBOR projects as the Voice of America reported: “In the short space of just a few weeks, Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar have cancelled or side-lined three major hydroelectricity projects planned by Chinese companies. The rejection of the three projects, worth nearly $20 billion, comes as a serious jolt to China’s ambitious trade-linking project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).” All these statistics pale as one reads the statement made by Muzammil Hussain, chairman of Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) in Pakistan told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC): “Chinese conditions for financing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were not doable and against our interests.” This is a big blow to China’s prestige and credibility as a foreign investor in a country that is supposedly the first and best friend of China the world over. The problems do not curtail themselves to the economics of the OBOR project. Indeed, due to the level of corruption directly or indirectly provoked by this project, political communities here and there are sucked into the same turbulence. Not so long ago the Australian Prime Minister accused China of ‘covert’ operations on the Australian soil: “Media reports have suggested that the Chinese Communist Party has been working to covertly interfere with our media, our universities and even the decisions of elected representatives right here in this building (Parliament). We take these reports very seriously.” There is a sense of exasperation from politicians to people, from Australia to Africa, that wanting to impose its will on the world in a very short period, China is forgetting the key element: the interest of the local people.
Of course China is not alone in facing such criticism or situations but given the ambition of the OBOR project and China’s wish to stride the globe like a colossus, a failure in implementation could have long lasting effects on the geostrategic position of Asia, and its ability to regaining its strength. If for some reason China blunts its appetite for international venture, as it did several times in its history, then consolidation of order within and the emergence of Asia as the leading continent in global politics will be postponed for several decades. To avoid such an eventuality, China should revert to the teachings of its civilisation and not espouse Western instruments of domination with “Chinese characteristics”. The epitomy of Chinese civilisation was under the Ming Dynasty and the pillars of its success were ‘openness’ and ‘harmony’ with other Asian powers. It did not build and operate an Asian order (at that time the world order) by itself. It engaged where it was opportune and let other do the same when the situation asked for. Today the time has come for Asian powers, including Russia, to cooperate. In short, the lessons from history are clear, help Russia re-establish its pre-eminence in the Northern System and let India assert its pre-eminence over the Southern System and Southernization, otherwise it will be ‘barbarians at the gates’ again.
3. India and the Southern System (Southernisation)
The inefficiency of the current system is in great measure to do with inequity of the flow of economic resources. The flows are controlled so that resources appropriated can be shared by only designated countries or primary actors in the system. The liberal order was never liberal and never an order. It was a highway system of resources control and selective application of liberality. Creating a few liberal zones here and there does not create a world system but a system of disequilibrium and impending disorder, if not a permanent chaos. Thus it is that the Western system would never bring the world order to an equilibrium. Today China wants to build physical highways across continents where it can control the flows and selectively apply liberalism where it deems appropriate and communism where it deems necessary. As soon as movement becomes selective, world order becomes partial or even ceases to exist. China is building super structures for its goods to reach every corner of the planet. The question is whether China will be willing to use these super structures to take in those people who have lost their jobs because of its economic intrusion? It is no secret that China will literally need tens of millions people because of the Chinese demographic deficit. Last autumn the China Daily online reported: “The working-age population of between 15 to 59 years old peaked at 925 million in 2011 and has fallen every year since then, with 3.45 million fall in 2012, 2.44 million in 2013, 3.71 million in 2014 and 4.87 million drop in 2015.” And this number will keep rising. To counter balance this trend, has China allowed more immigrants? According to the International Organisation for Migration (a United Nations agency) China allows only several thousands and most of them North Korean or ethnic Chinese from South East Asia. Isn’t it a historical fact that at regular intervals millions emigrated from China to other regions of the world, escaping one hardship or the other? Those systems that opened their arms to impoverished Chinese migrants were open systems. Of course there were cultural differences but coexistence was possible. Why does China worry so much about cultural integration as a nation-state does? Can a real civilisation be fearful of mothering diverse cultures and customs? The CPEC is up and running in Pakistan, will China accept millions of young Pakistanis to go to China to man its factories? Or does the friendship with the Pakistani elite not descend down and reach out to the people of Pakistan?
There is a legitimate fear in many corners of the globe that China’s super structures will only enhance the world resource appropriation in China’s favour. Leaving others to pick up the bill for the devastation caused as a consequence, both economic and environmental. On top of this there is a rightful suspicion that China is encouraging closed systems in client countries, wanting to preserve its economic primacy in these countries. The fear is that this attitude will cajole local regimes into more oppressive and arbitrary methods of governance. The new Chinese order boils down to closed systems, open only to itself and governed by oppressive regimes ready to obey its commands in the likes of Sudan and Zimbabwe, to mention a couple. If this were true it would be worse than the dysfunctional Western order. The world, especially the younger generation are tired of the current state of affairs and are desperately in search of a fairer and freer system of coexistence. A system that existed and still exists in bits and pieces; a bit rusty and neglected but the core remains strong to this day.
The first and the most efficient world system was created and operated by South Asia, especially by the Southern Peninsula. The system probably started taking shape before 500 CE. The socio-economic system along with the political system was largely influenced by then reigning religion of South Asia – Shaivism. It was a religion that did not believe in forceful and collectivist religious masses, rather it believed in individual attainment of spiritual salvation, a community of thinkers that were ready to use peaceful dialogue than use a sword to attain the all-encompassing order. Conflict at all levels was instantly dissipated, unlike the feudal system that plagued the West for centuries. In the same manner no overbearing political ‘leviathan’ was needed. The whole system was organised into small independent and interconnected communities and yet self-contained. “Economic conditions of rural prosperity, urban growth, political consolidation, and expanding trade networks contributed to the institutional organization of the Buddhist sangha (community/assembly), which emerged in an environment of material prosperity rather than hardship.” The system was so harmonised and peaceful that Emperor Ashoka planted some 80000 pillars and Stupas enunciating basic laws of coexistence and self-government; precipitately abdicating his throne and dissolving all central (hegemonic) authority. Further analysis of the edicts of Ashoka show us that the valiant Emperor was only, with his actions, trying to re-establish order that was disturbed by the influx of organised bands or groups from Mesopotamian confines – a new breed of Brahmins. As one expert in Ashoka’s edicts puts it “… these new special administrators were empowered and directed to readjust the innumerable group dhammas to the needs of society as a whole in order to reduce the state’s drastic use of force and punishment in the Arthasastra’s system of administration…” Brahmins had taken to the ‘business’ of government in a tyrannical and parasitical manner, and their power had to be quartered. The State had too much power over the individual and was the biggest infringement to the good function of the society and the advancement of economic well-being. It was rightly deemed that individual freedoms were the best guarantor of everything, since blind belief was playing into the dark schemes of the Mesopotamian Brahmins. Emperor Ashoka, with the inscription on the pillars, was asking his people to think and not be entrapped to Brahmin charlatanism. Ashoka and Buddhism had managed to re-establish ethical order that a wounded Shaivism could no longer give in the northern parts of South Asia. The auto-regulation of the socio-economic system was re-adorned and tyranny of all kinds kept at a distance.
From this perspective, South Asia was a fertile soil where the grains of a perfect world society could be sown, where peaceful coexistence was the name of the game. Nerses Kopalyan, of the University of Nevada gives a concise description of what he calls the Indic-system: “A system primarily refers to the political interactions, inter and intra civilizational relations, and competition for system-wide hegemonic status between political units/entities/actors within the region that the given world political system encompasses. This fundamentally presupposes a group of political units/entities/actors having relations that are, to a strong degree, permanent or continuous with one another. Spatial-territorially, a system covers a specific geographical area, but to specify set regional and territorial boundaries in absolute terms in the conceptualization of a world political system will obscure the reality of the political realm. The regional boundaries tend to be flexible, with political entities at the periphery at times being incorporated in the system, and at times being absent from the system. System’s classification, then, does not specifically rely on establishing absolute regional boundaries, but rather considering the political contacts, interactions, and power configurations of system-wide hegemons that function within the region that the given system encompasses.” In essence the post Ashokan period was a dynamic and flexible system of pan-regional integration where mobility was continuous and unhindered. There were no physical boundaries or limits, rather there was a juxta positioning of …“socio-cultural region composed of smaller units of villages, towns, and cities.” This way people, products and prosperity could spread without blocking or creating systemic disturbances. Jason Neelis decribes the efficiency of system through its trade routes: “The designations applied to routes used by merchants and religious travellers refer not only to their itineraries, but also to geographical regions with flexible boundaries and polyvalent socio-religious connotations. Encounters, contacts, and exchanges along these overland and maritime routes contributed to changing definitions of insiders and outsiders, demarcating norms of purity and pollution, and contrasting Buddhist and orthodox Brahminical xenologies. Patterns of religious mobility can be retraced by mapping trade networks and surveying commercial nodes.” The centre of all attention therefore was mobility.
The responsibility of the state therefore was not the protection of the borders as in the modern Nation-State, rather it was the maintenance of the arteries of mobility. As Neelis describes: “The epigraphic evidence of Aśoka’s inscriptions clearly indicates that roads were maintained in order to facilitate long-distance travel, both by his administrative agents and armies, but also probably by merchants and Buddhist monks who circulated between urban centers and religious sites associated with the Buddha’s life and significant early monasteries.” The maintenance did not involve only the physical condition of the trade routes but also the ethical upholding of principles of fairness and the weeding out of corrupt officials or ad hoc Mesopotamian Brahmins that constantly filtered through the system. From the 7th century the system came under attack and occupation in North India by the Arab invaders but the Peninsula, which constituted the heart of the system, was almost untouched until the 16th century when European fortune seekers started to enter the Southern System. Even then everything worked unharmed because everyone saw the salience of the system.
The Portuguese, when they conquered a few, strategically placed Indian Ocean islands thought that they were conquering the Indian System and accordingly called their new conquest ‘Estado da India’. As Leonard Y. Andaya says: “Much has been written of the heyday in the sixteenth century of the Estado da India, or the ‘State of India’, an all-embracing administrative term for the Portuguese empire east of the Cape of Good Hope.” This further goes to showing that the then unbeatable Portuguese maritime power was into expanding and deepening the structures of the Indic System at another level. They physically controlled a minuscule part of the Indic-System but gloriously believed, boasted abroad and at home, that they controlled the whole system. But what did it mean that they were in control of the system? As Sar Desai explains that anyone could designate himself as a potentate but in reality everyone had to build consensus at several levels: “…an examination of early Portuguese contacts with Muslim potentates in Africa and South and Southeast Asia would bear out a generalization that the Portuguese sought alliances among indigenous rulers, irrespective of their religious persuasion. Thus, Diogo Lopes de Sequeira, who was sent by the Portuguese King to Malacca, was specifically instructed to make the establishment of mutual trust with the native rulers, so as to ensure a profitable and reciprocal trade, the “mainspring of all your action”.” None could survive if controls on the whole state apparatus was imposed. As a noted scholar reminds us: …”the state was deeply enmeshed in the local social forces, and that the ‘office’ itself was quite incapable of serving as an earnest instrument of the imposition of imperial will on local customs and practices”. Mobility and common interest were the two guiding principles: “Most contemporary accounts allude to Malacca as the richest city in the world. This may be wrong; but it was undoubtedly the most convenient meeting place for traders from Arabia, Persia, India, Pegu, Java and China. Since the founding of the Kingdom of Malacca in 1403 the Malaccan rulers had striven to maintain the cosmopolitan character of Malacca’s trade and population.” This goes to show that race, nationalism and any other discrimination for that matter was promptly weeded out, something pertaining to the anti-systemic domain, and therefore avoided at all costs and by everyone.
Whoever came into the Indic System was forced to convert to its cultural, economic and socio-political set-up. Whenever this principle was abandoned the system became “unfaithful” to the pretender because it somehow turned him into a predator. “…without actually using the word, the method for surviving in the tropics, or anywhere else, was adaptation to local air, local plants, local customs, and local languages. This is, in fact, what the Portuguese had already been doing, in fits and starts, partially and un-self-consciously both in Asia and in Brazil.” It was probably this insight that made the Portuguese hate all the other European incursions into the Southern System, polluting by prejudices brought from particularistic European background: “In the diplomatic and military sphere, peace was (correctly) seen as essential. In Europe, Pedro refused to join France in an alliance against Holland, while in the Indian Ocean the Estado strove to avoid alienating the various Indian states on its borders.” The system was so well integrated that none could be neglected, neither the foreign trader nor the local producer or intermediary: “The Mughal foreign trade was the product of a larger economic environment and its fortunes were tied to the system of production and exchange in the rural hinterlands, local markets and urban entrepots.” The same system of mosaic integration extended from the hinterlands of the southern peninsula of South Asia to the shores of Africa and to the straits of Malacca and beyond: “The Bania high-seas merchants of Surat even maintained an extensive network of agents and correspondents (mostly again Banias) all over the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea region who lived in the region for extended periods of time. But perhaps an even more critical role the Bania merchants played in Indian maritime trade was as facilitators per forming the role of being suppliers of export goods to ship owners and other merchants actively engaged in coastal and overseas trade and generally acting as their agents and brokers.” The system was open and with complex layers of checks and balances, and a well interwoven fabric of socio-economic interests. In this way, it still represents the ideal model for world integration and order. China should take note and understand the essence of this system.
China has taken the wrong Road. With the OBOR and its affiliate programs China is paving the way for a domination of the system in the same manner as the United States did after the Second World War, namely through the billions of debt that other countries had contracted with it. It was a huge leverage to twist arms and impose the United Nations and a US dollar denominated system. China, with the OBOR project, is proposing to use its surplus trillions to do exactly the same. When we read the strategy between the lines and look deeper into the experience of Sri Lanka and Pakistan with the OBOR project, we realise that the primary objective of the whole process is the creation of “indebtedness” at many levels of the term. And then follow this up to appropriate sovereignty of a local country in exchange for the debt. One hundred years lease on ports and facilities does not only mean the control of infrastructures but the future financial, and thus the economic and the political process in a given country. In this sense China is not original and is not likely to create a new world order that the population of the world is desperately looking for, China is strengthening the Western system of domination with a made in China tag – New World Order with Chinese Characteristics, meaning that there will be even less transparency than before. Creating order means confronting the chaotic nature of the world, not circumventing it. With all its deficiencies and short comings, India has deeper knowledge of how to operate in a system in a chaotic environment. It is true that even India is moving away from the civilizational model of order but there is still time for reorientation. Both India and China have to recognise that they are civilisations and not nation-states. Civilisations by nature are mothers to nations, nurtured under the guiding principle of openness. For this reason, China should not rush, it should help to consolidate the Northern and Southern systems before further world integration. Build roads by all means but do not forget to add brides; retract from destroying the green fields around otherwise you risk making everything barren. China was a great civilisation and no one can stop it becoming one again, for the benefit of the whole world.
 Ben Judah: Donald Trump’s greatest weapon is white Americans’ fear that they’re quickly becoming a minority – because they are, The Independent (newspaper) online, Monday 7 November 2016 11:00 GMT
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 The conference was held and this essay was written during the time of the 6th 16+1 Summit, 29-Dec-2017
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 British Broadcasting Corporation: “BBC Breakfast with Frost” interview with Vladimir Putin, March 5th 2000.
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 Arthasastra is supposed to be a treatise on the art of government by a Mesopotamian Brahmin called Kautilya, the South Asian version of Machiavelli. Those who would like to read more about this treatise should read the following- Patrick Olivelle and Mark McClish: The Arthasastra: Selections from the Classic Indian Work on Statecraft, Hackett Publishing Company, London, 2012, 256 pages.
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