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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rivalry in Asia upsets the balance of power


RIVALS: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade, by Bill Emmott. London: Allen Lane, 2008, 314 pp., £20 (cloth)

The United States and Europe are coming to understand that the rise of China and India means that there will be increasingly less scope for the status quo powers to dominate the world in ways they have grown accustomed to. Global strategies are being reassessed in light of this reshaping of Asia's geopolitical landscape. For Japan, there are growing anxieties about its role and future in Asia's 21st century drama.

Emmott points out that Asia's political divisions will deepen as a consequence of rapid economic development. He writes, "The rise of Asia is not just, or even mainly, going to pit Asia against the West — it is going to pit Asians against Asians. This is the first time in history when there have been three powerful countries in Asia, all at the same time: China, India and Japan. That might not matter if they liked each other, or were somehow naturally compatible. But they do not, and are not."

The rivalry within Asia means that it is becoming an arena for balance-of-power politics. Emmott argues that the Bush administration's 2005 agreement to collaborate with India over civilian nuclear energy and sideline nuclear proliferation concerns is part of a grand strategy aimed at balancing the rising power of China. Cozier ties with India are aimed at boosting its economic and military strength at the cost of gutting the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Emmott sees this as a price worth paying given that in many key respects the NPT has been overtaken by events. He recommends that Bush's successor renegotiate a more robust NPT that binds the nuclear powers to make significant reductions in their nuclear arsenals. Much is at stake in Asia, home to four of the world's eight declared nuclear- weapons powers.

While the recent visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to Japan was dominated by smile diplomacy, Tokyo has been supporting the U.S. balancing strategy by making India its largest recipient of foreign aid since 2004. In Emmott's view, "Like America, Japan wants to strengthen India in order to make Asia more comfortable for Japan's own interests." The need to balance China's growing power explains why Japan lobbied vigorously in 2005 to include India in the East Asia Summit (EAS).

Emmott stresses that economic growth is a disruptive process. The rapid growth of China and India will generate domestic political tensions and challenge the international status quo. These new pressures will also strain relations among the rivals and generate new risks involving some of Asia's hottest spots: the Korean Peninsula, Kashmir and Taiwan among others.

Asia is a risky neighborhood but unlike in Europe there is a lack of unifying institutions to help manage disputes, create common rules, nurture mutual trust, coordinate policies and strengthen security cooperation. Critically examining the alphabet soup of such organizations as do exist in Asia, Emmott finds little reassurance and opines that the EAS is perhaps the leading contender for managing rivalries and spurring integration. Rectifying the poor level of communication between China, Japan, India and the U.S. has to be a priority to lessen chances for misunderstanding and miscalculations in a crisis.

The risk in China is that rapid growth is generating undesired political pressures while the probability of slowing growth will generate considerable discontent among the newly privileged and those who see their aspirations thwarted. Emmott suggests that the Communist Party can best manage internal upheaval by embracing democracy and can find much to its liking in emulating Japan's prolonged one-party rule. Whether that will be good for China's people is another matter.

In explaining the sources of and constraints on growth in China and India, Emmott reminds us that much depends on bolstering the rule of law. Turning to climate change, he is plausibly optimistic that China and India will cut a deal, but that depends on the U.S. taking the lead and agreeing to much steeper emission cuts in a tighter time frame. Japan is tasked with facilitating India's participation by providing financial and technological assistance.

"Rivals" is a well-written, cogently argued analysis of the momentous transformations that are reverberating in Asia and beyond and is an excellent guide to the historical enmities, territorial disputes and flash points that abound in Asia. Emmott proffers sensible advice on how to manage these risks and reshape the international order in ways that reflect the shifting power balance.

Problematically he calls on political leaders to demonstrate leadership, such as booting Italy and Canada out of the G8 in favor of India and China, and expanding the U.N. Security Council to include India and Japan. He calls on the three rivals to address their greatest weaknesses: transparency in China, taking responsibility for history in Japan and relations with neighbors in India. Given his astute forecast of unrest in Tibet led by monks, leaders ignore him at our collective peril.



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