You are here

Eminent Persons' Lecture Series - India, China and the United States: The Triangle that isn't

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • March 08, 2010
    Speeches and Lectures

    Venue: IDSA Auditorium
    Speaker: Prof. V. P. Dutt, Distinguished Fellow, IDSA and former pro-VC, University of Delhi

    In the series of IDSA-organized eminent persons’ lectures, Professor V.P. Dutt delivered his lecture on India, China and the United States: The Triangle that isn't on March 8, 2010.

    Shri N.S. Sisodia, The Director General of IDSA, chaired the session. He invited Professor V.P. Dutt to deliver his lecture saying that the given topic covers the relations of three countries. In the matrix of relations of these countries, a triangle could mean either two countries uniting against one country or one country could be exploiting the mutual fears of the other two. Shri Sisodia pointed out that while some argue that a China-India-United States triangle exists, Professor Dutt would however be arguing that this triangle does not exist.

    Professor V.P. Dutt began by elaborating upon two overarching and continued features of Chinese understanding of statecraft, which trace their genesis to ancient Confucian thought. He said that the Confucian thought on statecraft is marked by concern for absolute power and welfare of the public. Both are interlinked as sustenance and continuance of the absolute power or rule is contingent upon public welfare. According to this thesis, a ruler must look after the public well; otherwise the public has the right to overthrow him. Professor Dutt argued that this remains the most enduring precept in the history of Chinese philosophy. Chinese rulers have always taken note of this principle to the best of their abilities and capabilities. Mao’s China constitutes no exception in this precept. The guiding philosophy of the present day rulers is development, more development, and continuous development. In their view, only continued emphasis on development can sustain the CCP’s rule over China.

    Having laid down this philosophical backdrop, Professor Dutt argued that China would remain a benign dictatorship for a long time contrary to what many Western thinkers have predicted about development leading China towards liberal democracy. He further argued that the CCP came to power riding the crest of nationalism. Nationalism was a modern injection in the traditional framework of Confucian ideology. Thus, today, development and nationalism are the two guiding principles of CCP rule. And these two principles leave an imprint on China’s foreign relations also.

    Professor Dutt argued, “History evolves, so do the relations of nations.” China declared the Soviet Union, its ideological ally, ‘the principal contradiction’ during the Cultural Revolution and later began to look for a rapprochement with the United States. Since then, their economic interdependence has uninterruptedly increased. China’s attack on Vietnam in 1979 made only a minor dent in their relations. But after the 1989 Tiananmen Square episode, the United States looked around for allies perhaps thinking that it could not rely on China beyond a point. However, neither of these two incidents could choke off the pace of growing interdependence, nor would any other incident do in the future. Today, the state of economic interdependence is such that neither can hurt the other without hurting itself. In a nutshell, their bilateral relations are under the shadow of ‘financial terror’. Both countries are committed to take care of each other’s core interests but the ‘new nationalism’ in China is unhappy with the leadership for China’s overdependence on the United States. These nationalistic sentiments are accusing the Chinese leadership of being too harsh on their own people, while being too soft with outsiders.

    He characterized the Sino-US bilateral relations as one of two people sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams. While America wants to hold on to its present position, many Chinese dream of their country becoming a superpower. There are differences between them and some may become even sharper. The Taiwan problem may aggravate, so may some other economic problems. But at the same time, we should not blind ourselves to the fundamental nature of their relationship of economic interdependence.

    Professor Dutt cautioned that India should not overestimate the influence of the shared ideas of democracy on its bilateral relations with the United States. Pakistan continues to remain important to the United States. America’s close cooperation with Pakistan hurts India, even if the United States does not intend to do so. China also plays an important role in the affairs of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the Chinese speaking the same language on the Taliban as the Americans do. He argued that the United States is not likely to make India the mainstay of its presence even in Asia, not to speak of the world. This illusion should not cloud our understanding.

    Professor Dutt summed up his lecture wondering whether China will become as intoxicated by power as the United States did. The larger philosophical question he raised at the end was why every great power forgets the lessons of the past.

    Report prepared by Prashant Kumar Singh, Research Assistant, IDSA