Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CHINA AND INDIA: COMPETITION OF CIVILISATIONS

In the last decade of the 20th Century, political scientist Samuel P. Huntington propounded the much debated theory of the Clash of Civilisations, according to which the fault lines between cultures and religions will be the battle lines of the future. Huntington believed that the fact that both Christianity and Islam are missionary religions that seek conversions, and hold the belief that only their faith is the correct one, contributed to this conflict. He also argued that civilisational conflicts were "particularly prevalent between Muslims and non-Muslims", and identified the "bloody borders" between Islamic and non-Islamic civilizations.

Huntington also foresaw a major shift in political, economic and military power from the West, primarily to two 'challenger civilisations', Sinic (Chinese) and Islam, and also viewed them as potential allies against the West. Significantly, he did not see any such rise of the 'Hindu' civilisation of India, and classified it as a 'swing civilisation' that may favour either side.

China's explosive rise at a never-before pace, coupled with the sharp decline in America's economic dominance, has signalled the beginning of the return of the balance of economic power from the West to the East after a few hundred years. Whether the politically fragmented Islamic world will also achieve something similar remains an open question still, because it is radical Islam which represents conflict and regression, and not conciliation and progress, that is on the rise.

On the other hand, India's rapid economic growth, signs of which were not visible when Huntington proposed his theory, is not only likely to hasten the process of the shift of power from the West to the East, but may also set in motion a civilisational dynamic that is quite different from the one that Huntington propounded.

China is a great and ancient civilisation, as is India. But, for thousands of years, it is China that has been culturally influenced, even dominated by India; the reverse has never happened. Chinese philosopher Hu Shi was only stating a plain truth when he said: "India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border." That is the deep impact the message and teachings of Gautam Buddha, and many other Indian influences, have made on China for over two thousand years.

How and why did that happen? No one could have said it better than Swami Vivekanand: "Civilizations have arisen in other parts of the world. In ancient and modern times, wonderful ideas have been carried forward from one race to another...But mark you, my friends, it has been always with the blast of war trumpets and the march of embattled cohorts. Each idea had to be soaked in a deluge of blood..... Each word of power had to be followed by the groans of millions, by the wails of orphans, by the tears of widows. This, many other nations have taught; but India for thousands of years peacefully existed. Here activity prevailed when even Greece did not exist... Even earlier, when history has no record, and tradition dares not peer into the gloom of that intense past, even from until now, ideas after ideas have marched out from her, but every word has been spoken with a blessing behind it and peace before it. We, of all nations of the world, have never been a conquering race, and that blessing is on our head, and therefore we live....!"

The Chinese, like the Indians, have historically not been a conquering race; they too have been invaded and conquered; they too have survived the onslaughts. And, like the Phoenix, they have risen again. But this time, they are apprehensive. They are alive to the fact that religion-generated clashes of civilisations and cultures demand dumping of traditional tools of response. They have also learnt from the West that, in the changed global scenario, a nation cannot protect itself and its interests by looking within and fighting its potential enemies on its soil. Wars must be fought and won on enemy territory or the high seas. That is why they are furiously arming themselves to the teeth and seeking to dominate areas and countries well beyond their real borders; the more the padding, the safer the mainland.

Above all, the Chinese can see that, for the first time in history, they have a real chance of becoming the greatest ever power on earth. And they are going full blast to achieve that objective.

That is where India comes in as a painful thorn. They know that India is still not interested in conquering any lands. They are aware that India will never impose its culture on them or anyone else in an offensive, exclusivist manner. They can also see that the India of the present is an underachiever only because it is trying hard to disown its own cultural genius and blindly ape the West.

We Indians have not seen it yet, but the Chinese know that whenever India wakes up and actuates its own potential fully, it can better China not just culturally but also economically and militarily. That is something that they don’t want to see happen. That explains why they are trying everything possible to keep India shackled, even if it means temporarily befriending a culturally incompatible Pakistan, or teaching India a lesson, like they did in 1962.

But, despite all this, there will never be a Clash of Civilisations between India and China. That theory has never applied, and will not apply in future too, to cultures of the East because there has never been, and never will be, coercive imposition or obliteration of any belief.

When India awakens and rises, therefore, there will be a real Competition of Civilisations between India and China. To some extent, a similar phenomenon will also be take place between India, China and other cultures of the East. But, there will be no battle lines between these civilisations and no clash. Why only the East? The US too is undergoing rapid changes culturally, Obama being the most visible symbol so far. How long it will take for the metamorphosis to be completed is anyone's guess, but if it does happen, it will become a very different nation.

Competition of Civilisations may conceptually not be destructive and violent. But that does not mean that there will no armed conflicts in this competitive space. When a Chinese scholar says in the context of India and China that there cannot be two suns (yang) in the sky, what he is trying to say is that China does not want to be the moon (ying), again; it is time for India to accept that role or China will use the power that it has built up to push it into that orbit.

China wants to be the Yang and compel India to limit itself to being the Ying. As far as China is concerned, as long as India accepts that role, there will be a perfect and complimentary union between these two great nations. But should India try and convert itself into Yang, the Dragon will react. India, on the other hand, may not want to be the aggressive yang, but it will soon discover that continuing to play ying is only going to make it more vulnerable, even on its own soil.

The Competition of Civilisations is, thus, going to mirror the everlasting yin-yang play. It may get very dirty and even violent from time to time. But, unlike in the Clash of Civilisations, it will never degenerate into a terminal gladiatorial fight. That is one lesson that India has taught China well, one that the rest of the world will learn at some stage.

Related reading: Focused China powers ahead of shackled India
'