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Fear of the dragon and pragmatism
IFP Bureau | First Published: January 24, 2020 01:07:48 am
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In the foreword to his book ‘Dealing with China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower’, former US treasury secretary Henry M Paulson, Jr notes that the tremendous changes China has undergone over the years have made the Americans wonder how the “world got turned upside down so fast”. He is right in observing that the phenomenon is a “source of concern as well as a source of awe”.

Keeping aside the political churnings that made what China is today, Paulson says Americans still wonder whether the Chinese are friends or foes. Stating that there are no easy answers on how they must deal with China, Paulson observes that the Chinese used all their brains and muscles and combined it with knowledge, innovation and best practices from what they have “begged, borrowed and stolen from the west”.

Besides the fascinating account of the red dragon’s struggle to become an unmistakable world power, Paulson’s observation becomes all the more relevant today in the context of how China has been able to please and displease its neighbours. Against this backdrop, the Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his visit to Myanmar on Saturday after signing multibillion-dollar infrastructure deals.

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The new development has been hailed as new era in bilateral relationship between China and Myanmar.  Myanmar is likely to boost its image after encountering isolation from the West over its treatment of the Rohingya Muslims.

During his visit, Xi met President Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi, the effective head of the government, as well as military chief General Min Aung Hlaing. The Chinese president is also reported to have met politicians from parts of Myanmar affected by ethnic strife as these regions come under planned Chinese infrastructure projects. In a move that could further strengthen Beijing’s economic and political influence, the two sides agreed to push forward plans to develop the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, most notably the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone along the coast of the Bay of Bengal.

It is said that once completed, the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone facility will provide China with a direct link to oil supplies from West Asia, as Kyaukpyu is at one end of a massive oil and natural gas pipeline network that runs all the way to Kunming in southwest China’s Yunnan province.

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Observer had stated that the direct link will provide an alternative route for China’s energy imports avoiding the Malacca Strait, which links the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea but has become a flashpoint for India-China maritime rivalry.

However, the competitive nature of Sino-Indian rivalry should not be taken as a stumbling block to all hopes of larger regional cooperation and development. There is no need to overplay the ‘fear of the dragon’.  Indian foreign policy makers should note Henry M Paulson’s take and allay fears about China’s increasing militaristic tone. Though his expressed views centre on US-China relation, he is correct in observing that the “key to avoiding a hostile relationship is to get tangible things done that benefit both”.

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