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Talk delivered by Maj. Gen (rtd) Vinod Saighal* at HANOI 0n 26 November 2009

Quand la Chine séveillera, le monde tremblera"

   The famous saying in French, attributed to Napoleon reads: Quand la Chine séveillera, le monde tremblera": when China will wake up, the world will tremble. In the decade plus since the models for China ’s growth, reproduced below, were first unveiled the giant strides that China has made has evoked not only the admiration of the world, it has caused considerable anxiety as well in China ’s immediate neighbourhood. 

Introductory Remarks

Toward the end of the last century, around the turn of the millennium, this writer had delivered two talks, which were futuristic in nature. One of them was the 'Resurgence of Russia in the 21st Century'. It was a time when Russia was nearly on its knees after the Yeltsin years. The national debt of Russia was $175 billion. The scientists were leaving the country in droves; many of them were grabbed by China . There was talk of default in the payments due.
The military was demoralized and Chechnya was in flames. Mr. Putin had just taken over. Oil was at 13 dollars a barrel. So when the talk on the ‘Resurgence of Russia’ was delivered, it evoked a lot of interest about the extent of the resurgence that could take place. The talk was repeated in a university in the United States .

   The second talk was on 'Dealing with China in the 21st Century'. At the start of the talk three terms were borrowed from astronomy and astrophysics to define the three models for the growth of China in the 21st century. The first model was the 'steady state expansion model'. The second was the 'dynamic expansion or the explosive expansion model'. The third was the 'implosion model'. The prognosis relating to India was slightly off the mark when comparing the two countries to the extent that the economic condition of India is now much better than what had been projected at that time.      

    Being the first presentation in the first session of the conclave it becomes a conscious decision to concentrate on China; as the country being the most significant regional power, its policy towards its neighbours in the resolution of the South China Sea Dispute would set the tone for future developments in the South China Sea as well as for  peace and prosperity in the region for the coming decades.    

Models of China 's Pursuit for Power

(Excerpted from the chapter on China from the book “Restructuring South Asian Security”, published in New Delhi in 2000. The talk had been delivered several years earlier. Hence many of the formulations have been overtaken by events not anticipated when the talk was delivered).

     For the purposes of this discussion three models have been taken to examine China 's probable development in the new century: to whit, Steady State Expansion Model; Explosive Expansion Model; and Implosion Model. Diagrammatically these are represented in the following manner:


     An explanation for each of the models is given below.

Figure – 1: Steady State Expansion Model

    According to this model - denoted by concentric circles - China expands its influence in the next century in ever expanding circles. Going outwards from the core, the first circle denotes the spread of Chinese influence to regions contiguous to China i.e. the Asia-Pacific region, North and South Korea , Taiwan , Japan , the Islands under dispute (notably Spratley Islands ), Mongolia , Russia , South East Asia, South Asia and West Asia . The second circle denotes the spread of China 's geo-political power to the whole of Asia and Australia . The outer and last circle represents the spread of Chinese geo-political influence to include the whole world minus North and South America .

     The words ‘influence’ and ‘power’ have been put in parenthesis. The difference between the two needs to be understood in the context in which they are used here. Influence means that China 's sensibilities would weigh heavily in any major foreign policy decision taken by its neighbours in Asia; whereas power implies that China would have developed the military capability to project that power in the region regardless of any intimidation on that score by USA . Russia would, in all probability, remain outside the ambit of such projections because of its retaliatory nuclear might.

India may not be able to challenge China , even in South Asia, if India 's military disparity with its bigger neighbour in the conventional as well as the nuclear field remains vastly inferior, as at present. The tragic part, however, is that the military disparity, if not checked, will continue to grow to a level where India becomes marginalised in its own region as well. In the years ahead China 's military might would be in a position to challenge that of the USA , while Indian defence planners will continue to defend their inadequacy by maintaining - as they have been doing religiously since the 1970s - that China remains ten years away from becoming a real military threat to this country.

 Figure-2: Dynamic Expansion (Explosion) Model

This model depicts uncontrolled or runaway growth as distinct from the steady state expansion depicted in the previous model. It could in some ways be compared to what happened in Indonesia . The point at which the country explodes, in the Indonesian fashion, would be difficult to determine. It could happen in twenty years or after fifty years. There are several factors, which could propel the country in the direction indicated in the model. Some of the factors are tabulated below:

The extent of consolidation of power by Jiang Zemin; and his longevity.

Flowing from the first point the smoothness, or otherwise, of the succession to President Jiang Zemin when he leaves the world stage. It would be worth recalling here that had Deng Xiaoping not succeeded the great leader Mao and the so-called Gang of Four gained ascendancy in the post-Mao struggle the history of China, and just possibly the world, would have been different. It would also not be out of place to recall here the manner of fall of Mikhail Gorbatchev and the break up of USSR .

American attempts to force the pace of change of modernization and democratization in China ; a pace that prevents the Chinese leaders from being able to control the fallout from such rapid change. It would arguably be the quest of American geo-political strategy to engineer the breakup of China (and India as well) so that no credible challenge would remain to American dominance of the globe in the 21st Century, and beyond. And should America succeed in its endeavour then the turn of the European Union would assuredly come thereafter.

The great economic disparity that already exists between China 's provinces on the South Western coast (and now Hong Kong) and remainder China , notably the interior regions.

Incomes disparities and growing unemployment due to the rapid changes in economic policy.  

The emergence of 'sleaze' as an increasingly effective weapon of war - both internally and externally.  (Grand reversal of economic warfare patterns by China . China now uses this weapon subtly, and not so subtly, to influence economic policies towards China in the West, especially USA .  

Figure – 3: Implosion Model

The Implosion Model differs from the earlier model in Fig.2 in that under this model China collapses under the weight of its own size. Such a collapse, in the case of China , would be built up from growing internal unrest as well as pressure from outside tending to compress the nation from all directions. At this juncture, it is difficult to visualize such compression - the other term for it being containment - taking place with the collapse of the old USSR and the relative military insignificance of India . Additionally, China has reached a stage of military and economic growth that allows it to be capable of resisting American pressure. (Ambivalent attitude of Hong Kong 's population should be kept in mind. Only surface integration of distinctly pro-Chinese elements has taken place. It is not inconceivable that in the run up to the handing back of the Crown Colony the British would have created a strong anti-Chinese bureaucracy that would resist change after the departure of the colonial power i.e. the pattern perfected on the subcontinent).

China as the Region’s Colossus

The Nature of Colossi. After slumber and subjugation of several centuries China is again becoming the great country that it was throughout most of its history. It already looms large on the horizon of its Asian neighbours. In the coming decades it will assume the shape of a colossus, especially if it pursues the Dynamic Expansion Model as it seems to be doing by present indications. When that happens it will begin to exhibit the 'nature' of a colossus. What exactly is the nature of a colossus? The nature of a colossus is that it begins to develop an appetite for aggrandizement. By making this statement it is not the intention here to attribute any malign intent to China 's leadership. The discussion is on historical phenomenon. They closely resemble natural phenomenon. Throughout history its colossi have, almost without exception, manifested this urge. Kingdoms that became large grew into empires. Empires, after consolidation, started becoming larger and larger through a process of conquest till they assumed gigantic proportions i.e. they had become fit enough to burst. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were no exception. The British Empire grew so large that ultimately it had to give way. The Soviet Empire is a more recent case from our century. The lone superpower is already showing strains; the bursting point may not be that far off unless the USA takes stock of where it is headed and follows up with urgent – and drastic - remedial measures. This time around, the difference would be that when the explosion occurs it could possibly destroy much of the world as well. It is the reality of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

China no doubt is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto rights. In the second half of the 20th Century when the country was in the process of growing to its natural size it needed the veto right to protect its vital interests against the two superpowers of that time as it could have been thwarted by either of them in its quest for occupying its rightful place in the world. This is no longer the case. One of the erstwhile superpowers is now itself in a vulnerable state. The remaining superpower is no longer in a position to dictate terms to China . China has come a long way, a very long way indeed. It is an unquestioned global power at the close of the opening decade of the new century.

After this brief recapitulation of facts that would generally be well known, a simple question is addressed: "As a world power is China going to play a benign role or will it flex its muscles as it goes along"? It could take the latter course going by its past history. Why should that be the case?

Several millennia ago Chanakya in his Arthashastra had written: "It is the nature of power to assert itself". The United States of America has been the world power for less than half a century; the degree of assertion that it is exercising on the globe is self-evident. China has been a great power for thousands of
years. There is hardly any parallel to it in the entire world. The assertion of power comes to it naturally. It is almost programmed into its psyche.

Military Asymmetry

China's expanding military capabilities would automatically be a matter of growing concern to its neighbours in Asia , if not the world in general. A few unmistakable indicators are tabulated below:

China's military expenditure is growing at over ten percent per year as per some Western estimates.

China's official defence budget excludes nuclear weapons development, R&D and soldiers pensions. Nor does it include sale proceeds from armaments. These other expenditures were estimated at five billion dollars between 1991 and 1995. They would have increased substantially since then.

China's rapid reaction force which stood at fifteen thousand in 1988 has since expanded to more than two hundred thousand.

The naval expansion under way is fairly awesome from a regional and Asian standpoint.

The acquisition of SU-27s and other aerial platforms has been well documented and is not being listed.

In addition to what has been tabulated above note has to be taken of the aspects enumerated below:

Without any conceivable threat to its territory - now, or in the foreseeable future, China 's military expenditure is increasing exponentially. It goes beyond the needs of a military operation across its borders by another country or for any confrontation with its southern neighbours - individually, or collectively.

China will soon project power by its sheer size well beyond the Continent of Asia. ( USA , Russia , the European Union, the Koreas , Japan , South East Asia, West Asia and even Australia are learning to take into account Chinese sensibilities in their foreign policy projections).

The Chinese often go to great lengths to underplay their capabilities. They keep saying at every opportunity, "we will never seek hegemony". This has to be seen in the light of Sun Tzu's famous saying "never let out your real intentions. Lull your adversaries by all possible means. Hide your capabilities".  

China was not powerful militarily in the 1970s. Yet, it did not hesitate to launch a massive invasion of its (then) fraternal comrade Vietnam . "Just to teach it a lesson", it was said in some circles.   

Seizure of "Mischief Reef" from a friendly South East Asian country in 1995 has given it a forward perch in that region.

Myanmar and a few other countries are firmly under Chinese influence. China has exploitation rights over sixty percent of Kazakhstan 's oil reserves, edging out US oil companies, Amoco and Texaco.

China has made known its intent to commit a sizeable naval presence in the Indian Ocean . It is constructing ports capable of berthing Chinese submarines and warships in several South Asian countries.

The tabulation above is hardly exhaustive. It is nevertheless fairly indicative of the direction in which China is headed. The military build up has started causing concern to countries at one remove from the South China Sea (SCS), namely Australia and India among others. The anxiety that the build up could cause to its immediate neighbours in the SCS would be far greater.

A fair portion of the geopolitical space in the 21st century could be occupied by India and China . Their relations are characterized by alternating dialectics of rivalry and cooperation, the current status resting largely on the pace of their economic growth. The rapidly expanding economies of China and India could sustain world demand well into the future. An arms race between these two Asian neighbours as well as the increase in armaments that might be forced on its SCS neighbours owing to the alarming asymmetry would be devastating in the long-term for the stability of the region and Asia, if not the world. Therefore, the onus is fairly on China as the strongest Asian power to cut back on its massive militarization programme to reassure its immediate neighbours, in the first instance; because should the asymmetry remain, the imbalance would hardly be conducive to a status quo that might be the first step to settling the SCS disputes.

The Environmental Imperative

"The dangers that we face from eco-destruction dwarf the mere problems of national security". The statement was made long ago by someone who is an unknown quantity outside India . Since then global warming, extinction of species, depletion of fisheries stocks, melting of polar ice caps and the receding of glaciers in Tibet, the roof of the world, leave no scope for doubting that the world of tomorrow might not bear very much resemblance to that of today, especially in the coastal regions and archipelagoes around the world. Well before 2050, perhaps by 2020, the futility of military structures and naval presence on the Paracels and the Spratleys might come home to all the disputants.

Since there would hardly be any disagreement among the SCS countries that global warming and ecological decline around the world might become greater threats to survival than minor territorial disputes between neighbours it would be in the fitness of things to take urgent measures to resolve the SCS dispute at the earliest, before the madness of militarizing barren pieces of rock goes any further.

Resolution Modes
Elementary first steps that might help in the resolution of the contentious SCS issues are listed below:

Declaration of the Paracel and Spratley group of islands in the South China Sea as a marine ecology park;

Pledge to halt further occupation, construction activity, militarization or stationing of naval ships in the Spratleys as well as the Paracels;

Gradual dismantling of existing military structures by a given date (say 31 December 2012) and further declaration of the SCS as a Zone of Peace.

A common approach to exploitation of natural resources in the areas under dispute. A Resource Exploitation Commission of countries contiguous to the disputed islands should be empowered to undertake exploitation on behalf of all parties and proceeds to be shared on a pro rata or any other basis decided by the Commission and ratified by the concerned countries;

All further exploitation to cease till the Commission has completed its work and obtained ratification. 

Concluding Remarks

In the closing decade of the last century many analysts had started writing about the shift away of the center of gravity from Europe to Asia . It did not take long for the change to take place. Today, nobody doubts that Asia is the economic giant of the world. This situation is likely to continue for the best part of the 21st century, if not beyond. Moreover, Asia is also the playground – more appropriately, battleground – for the geopolitical sweepstakes of the coming decades. Japan and the Tiger economies were the forerunners of wealth creation in Asia . The emphasis here is on wealth creation through industrialization, globalization and market competition. Wealth has also been created in some parts of the Middle East and now Central Asia due to the hydrocarbon reserves located in those countries. Whether these run out in a few years, or a few decades, or last longer than presently anticipated, is a question of considerable debate. What is not being debated, however, is the near-certain rise of China and India as the new economic giants of the century.   In concert with the two biggest countries, ASEAN, Japan , South Korea , Taiwan and hopefully at some stage North Korea as well can become the harbingers of the decades or even the century of prosperity for the enlarged East Asia region. A beginning toward this end can be made with the settlement of the South China Sea disputes.  

In the end it remains for the speaker to thank the Vietnamese hosts for planning and holding such an ambitious conclave.


*Major General Vinod Saighal retired from the Indian Army in 1995 from the post of Director General Military Training. Before that he had several active command assignments, including the command of an independent armoured formation and mountain and desert divisions. An officer from the cavalry he has held assignments with UN peacekeeping forces as well as tenures in the Middle East . He had served as the country's Military Attache in France and BENELUX . He has a wide range of interests and speaks several languages including French and Persian. Currently he is the Executive Director of Eco Monitors Society (EMS), a non-governmental organization concerned with demography and ecology. After retirement, he founded the Movement for Restoration of Good Government (MRGG). He has published articles on a vast range of subjects in some of the leading national dailies and periodicals. He has lectured extensively in India and abroad on several burning issues of the day. Vinod Saighal was invited to join the 'Institutional Advisory Board' of USFSS (US Federation of Scientists and Scholars) in 2000. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed book 'Third Millennium Equipoise'. Additionally, he has authored Restructuring South Asian Security, Restructuring Pakistan and Dealing with Global Terrorism: The Way Forward. His latest book is Global Security Paradoxes – 2000-2020.


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