Can Pakistan Understand China?

By Khaled Ahmed for the South Asian News Agency

We look at South Asia as a region where we will hold India accountable for its injustices and force it to cede Kashmir to us. We have jihad as our guiding doctrine. Justice demands that we be the agents of instability. We are the revisionists determined to change the status quo.

India is too big, so we think China should do the job of cutting India down to size. India believes this strange figment of our imagination and criticises China for partly giving Pakistan its military muscle, the sort of thing the US used to do in the past. But was the US able to make Pakistan win against India? Was Kashmir ceded to Pakistan by an India felled and writhing on the ground?

Some in the US think of China as a global rival, but eight American presidents one after the other have resisted the old instinct of looking at the world through military goggles and have treated China instead as a ‘strangely behaving’ trading partner. And one person who doesn’t want America to think in terms of military equations is Henry Kissinger.

Henry Kissinger, in his latest book On China (The Penguin Press 2011), tells us things about China that we have ignored in our decades of ‘all-weather’ friendship. He says the Chinese mind hates policies of instability and disharmony. It did not grab Hong Kong but waited for the British lease on it to run out. Seeing Portugal in decline, India didn’t wait in the case of Goa; China waited in the case of Macao.

The presiding philosopher in China is Confucius who, unlike Machiavelli, was concerned more with the cultivation of social harmony than with the machinations of power (p.15). For him, mankind’s central spiritual task was to recreate proper order, already on the verge of being lost. Spiritual fulfilment was a task not so much of revelation as patient recovery of forgotten principles of self-restraint (p.14).

China doesn’t want victory, therefore it doesn’t go to war. The philosopher of China’s realpolitik is Sun Tzu who has written Art of War. According to Kissinger, “A turbulent history has taught Chinese leaders that not every problem has a solution and that too great an emphasis on total mastery over specific events could upset the harmony of the universe. There were too many potential enemies for the empire ever to live in total security. If China’s fate was relative security, it also implied relative insecurity — the need to learn the grammar of over a dozen neighbouring states with significantly different histories and aspirations” (p.23).

On the other hand, the western tradition prizes the decisive clash of forces emphasising feats of heroism. The Chinese ideal stresses subtlety, indirection and the patient accumulation of relative advantage. Writes Kissinger: “Chinese thinkers developed strategic thought that placed a premium on victory through psychological advantage and preached the avoidance of direct conflict” (p.35).

Kissinger gives us another contrast: “Chinese diplomacy has learned from millennia of experience that, in international issues, each apparent solution is generally an admission ticket to a new set of related problems. Hence Chinese diplomats consider continuity of relationships an important task and perhaps more important than formal documents. By comparison, American diplomacy tends to segment issues into self-contained units to be dealt with on their own merits” (p.245).

India is intellectually better placed to understand China than jihad-obsessed, warlike Pakistan. After India lost Aksai Chin to China in 1962, it could have become revisionist like Pakistan and fought losing wars to regain the territory, but it decided that Aksai Chin was strategically ‘unimportant’. Today, it hopes to take its bilateral trade with China to $200 billion while Pakistan languishes at $9 billion.

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  1. July 18th, 2011

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