China: hegemony or legitimate global outreach? | Sunday Observer
India hosts G20 Summit:

China: hegemony or legitimate global outreach?

10 September, 2023
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the G20 Summit,  with “Bharat” country name tag.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the G20 Summit, with “Bharat” country name tag.

Fresh from the successful 15th Summit meeting last month of BRICS, the geopolitical bloc in which it is the leading power, China has now pushed itself again into the global limelight with brash claims of regional dominance at sea and on its mountain borderlands with rival power, India.

New Delhi, currently hosting the prestigious 18th annual summit of the Group of 20 biggest national economies (G20) this weekend, is naturally outraged that a newly published map of China includes some strategically crucial Indian territory within Chinese borders. That same map has similarly angered states like The Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia that border the South China Sea, a sea now shown as a Chinese maritime zone.

Meanwhile, yet another military coup has dethroned yet another dictator, this time in mineral-rich but socially impoverished Gabon. But is this forcible change in Government leadership genuine or a quick shuffling of faces to ensure that the currently dominant social elite can continue with its plunder of that central African nation? And does not this military coup in a fourth former French African colony further expose Paris’ continuing neocolonial grip on its past empire?

And, in Israel-Palestine, more killing - this time of an Israeli occupying force soldier by a Palestinian who mowed him down with his car. Also, continued heartbreak as more Palestinian homes were forcibly taken over to be replaced by illegal Israeli settlements.

Many UN agencies are labelling Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ just as these same agencies in the past formally sanctioned self-labelled Apartheid South Africa for its white supremacist political and social system.

Anti-apartheid campaigning was official in the UN system in that era. Only the veto of the United States and possibly other Western Permanent Members of the UN Security Council prevents the UN system from similarly acting against Israel’s ‘Zionist’ supremacism in accordance with the will of the vast majority of UN Members.


In Ukraine, NATO’s proxy war against Russia grinds on as beefed up Ukrainian deep penetration drone bombings caught Moscow by surprise even as Russian invading forces struggled to retain their grip on a part of eastern Ukraine.

According to reports, the so-called ‘counter-offensive’ by Kyiv now drags on to its second month with little to show in regained territory. Most analysts now conclude that the much-touted Ukrainian counter offensive has failed.

Moscow continues to suffer a steady attrition in casualties and military hardware losses even as global pressure prevents a full deployment of its military might on a truly devastating scale.

It is such restraint by Moscow from the start of its military operations against NATO-backed Ukraine that has enabled Russia to retain its legitimacy as a regional power reacting to persistent NATO encirclement since the fall of the Soviet Union.

At the time of writing, the actual attendance at the G20 Summit in Delhi by all top national leaders was not clear. There was expectation that some great power heads would send their deputies to avoid personality confrontations and dramatic posturing for the cameras over various on-going bilateral spats, such as the Ukraine War and China’s territorial claims.

Ancient political sage Kautilya would certainly advise a suave approach for Delhi keeping in mind the immense value of Chinese trade with India. Kautilya, the master of the Mandala Theory of inter-state relations, will surely point out that, right now, while India is certainly the rightful major power in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), China is not only economically and militarily more powerful but has the geographical advantage.

In comparison with India, especially according to Kautilya’s geospatially-based theory of interactive concentric circles of states (the Mandala Matrix), China has a critical geographical double advantage. On the one hand, Beijing’s rule straddles a vast expanse of territory in the heartland of the Eurasian mega-continent. On the other, Beijing has a long coastline commanding that same mega-continent’s access to the Pacific Ocean.

But two millennia ago, the world’s first theorist of geopolitics was not aware of the geographically transcending scope of airpower and space power. Nor of the epochal transformation of human affairs brought about by digitised information and communications technology. India’s potent intellectual community has yet to take Kautilya’s great theory to the next level accommodating these new factors.

Air power

Certainly, air and space power partially counter-balances China’s geographical advantage over India. ‘Deep penetration’ is the name of the game of air and space warfare.

Geographical distancing can be nullified by a two-fold aerial deep penetration capacity: that is, the capacity for overhead surveillance and, super-fast conveyance across long distances (‘intercontinental’) of destructive explosive material, nuclear and non-nuclear.

Such aerial warfare began on a significant scale in the First World War with those early biplanes and balloons and really took off in World War II with long range bombers and devastating ‘thousand bomber’ raids. Air power became quite horrific in the Vietnam War with ‘carpet bombing’ by the US Air Force.

Opposing global alliances soon had awesome military capabilities that can only result in ‘MAD’ (Mutually Assured Destruction). Humanity lives in the scary shadow of this ‘MAD’-ness today: thousands of intercontinental range and medium range nuclear-tipped missiles launched from underground silos, from submarines and aircraft and, tens of thousands of nuclear explosives in the form of bombs and artillery shells. India has deep penetration capacity as much as China.

The most alarming factor at present, however, is that the current sole ‘superpower’, the United States, is the biggest, richest, nuclear power which is the only nuclear power that has not hesitated to actually use nuclear destruction not once but twice and that, too, directly targeting civilian centres –Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Right now, there are reports of the US supplying Ukraine with toxic, ‘depleted uranium’ artillery shells. Uranium (along with Plutonium) is the core radioactive substance that will remain on the ground, after the blast, contaminating humans and plants literally for centuries to come.

In all this madness, with intense wars dragging on, a context ripe for use of this weaponry, it is most reasonable for the world community to seek new coalitions that cut across existing inter-state military alliances that threaten the world with resort to such military ventures.

China’s ‘rightful’ aim, by that same yardstick, is not regional or global hegemony but global deterrence. Since China does not yet have the global economic punch of the USA nor its military punch in qualitative terms (i.e. sheer destructive power), Beijing is, clearly, not looking to replace Washington as the ‘sole superpower’.

All signals made so far in China’s geostrategic moves, indicate that Beijing simply wants to match the US as well as other great powers in both economic as well as geostrategic military capability in order that it is not subject to diktats by anyone.

Beijing sensibly seeks to be part of a larger global balance of power in which no single power (USA) or power bloc (NATO-EU) can continue to blunder along attempting to impose its will across Earth irrespective of larger world community interests.

It is such a balance of power and, not any purely institutional arrangements like the G20 or even the UN that can ensure proper inter-state negotiation and mutually beneficial collective agreement and collaboration. At the same time, the institutions operated globally or regionally, need to be ones that function in an egalitarian manner with all stakeholders equally having a say in a well organised deliberative process of diplomacy.

The balancing of power is what ensures that no one can either be ‘No.1’ or ‘the Leader’.

Unlike the USA or neo-colonial Europe, China does not attempt to impose political control over any territory far from its borders, but only in neighbouring regions – like the South China Sea or Aksai Chin – that is obviously of strategic importance to its immediate needs.

Here, too, it is possible to argue that China’s interests in ensuring control over the South China Sea are legitimate just as much as the EU and NATO are concerned about their regional security in the north Atlantic. However, the Himalayan borderlands are another matter. Even Beijing must concede that watershed of the Himalayan ranges is crucial to South Asia’s water security, and, thereby, food security. The Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra river systems all flow from the Himalayas.

It is logical, therefore, that Beijing must follow the brilliant example of the Indo-Pakistan water management accord over the Indus River system that has, so far, been sustained even as Pakistan and India have militarily clashed several times in the decades since freedom from colonial rule.

It is highly significant that India and China have been happy to become major economic partners despite current political rivalries as well as immoderate nationalist posturing by Indian political parties for domestic electoral advantage. Fortunately, for India, Beijing’s rulers, being part of a non-competitive political system, do not have to engage in such jingoistic posturing for domestic electoral purposes.

It is precisely this contingency that has restrained President Xi Jinping from personally attending this weekend’s Group of 20 Summit being hosted by New Delhi. He has no desire to be fielding any barbs by his eloquent counterpart in India. This has saved Modi from having to indulge in any antics to please his ultra-nationalistic domestic audience.

But an invitation to G20 Heads of State from the “President of Bharat” has prompted rumours that Modi could be trying to officially change India’s name to the more domestically used “Bharat” to please that very audience. This has since been denied, but the question still hangs in the air.

Meanwhile, Delhi’s very capable diplomatic technocrats have their hands full in finalising the draft Delhi Declaration for the G20 Summit in the face of Western attempts to put geopolitics before urgent global economic (including food and eco-security) needs. Apparently both the European Union and the US want stronger condemnation of Russia over the Ukraine war.

The G20 Summit ends today and will show the world how far the West is going against its own original economic rationale in setting up the Group of 20 in the first place.