It was quite late in the afternoon. November can be a little cold at this time in Delhi, however today was actually quite pleasant. So the server was not surprised when these two gentlemen announced that they will take their coffee outside, on the deserted terrace of this little upscale Barista in South Delhi. Little did he know that basking in the sun was least of their concerns!
The tall lanky guy covered his face rather too well with his sunglasses, a nice Cashmere wool muffler and a golf cap. Other guy was also similarly attired in black glasses and a cap, but was shorter and had a stocky built, the muffler was also missing. If you could see beneath his deeply tanned skin and the dark glasses, you would have noticed his deep grey eyes. Since he did not speak a word till their server seated them and left after taking an order, he would not know that he had a deep Texan accent too.
Since both came walking, although entered the crowded Barista’s main door a couple of minutes apart, so we do not have any idea how they arrived or if somebody dropped them some distance away. The Barista was full of mostly young people but nobody seemed to pay any attention to these two well dressed middle aged men who looked like golf buddies. They nodded with quite warmth though once the server was out of the earshot.
The tall gentleman checked what looked like his mobile phone before saying anything. There was a brief text message from somebody. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, he smiled as he noticed that the other person was also checking a device of his own.
“It seems all ok to the boys”, the stocky gentleman smiled for the first time.
“So how are you John, long time no see”. Tall man said quite warmly.
“Good to see you too, Singh”, apparently person named Singh was as much a real Singh as John was. But these are the names they go by, so they both enjoyed this little ritual.
“So you were in the ASEAN meeting, partying with your friends from DC,” Singh teased John, who looked a little tired.
“Yeah, yeah, did not sleep much over last four days”, John was also playing around.
“The Chinese food had given me frequent heart burn before but now it is giving me positive ulcers” John continued as he settled deep in his chair.
“Yes, I saw the reports, it was quite a meeting, looks like you all tried to bell the big cat” Singh was still smiling but without mirth.
“Yes we are all trying hard, but now I am getting a little nervous. This fire is hard to contain. Our friends from across the Himalayas were quite belligerent and with their strong position right now, I do not see how we can deal with it. And by we, I mean not only US and India but the rest of the world as well. The issue of Southern Chinese Sea may be the start of the endgame. My serious fear is that we are inching towards a point of no return.
Singh, who in a very small select circle was also known as Chankya, paused for a moment, took a deep breath and asked John, “What is the graphic most commonly used when we talk of china?”
John was quick to answer, “A mighty fire spewing Dragon”.
‘Yes of course, nine out of ten people will give the same answer, including myself”, Singh said with a twinkle in his eyes and continued. “And although dragon motif is deeply embedded in most cultures, is Dragon a real entity? Has anybody ever seen one”?
“No”, John seemed a little perplexed.
“Also, although nobody has seen a dragon, but I can recall several legends, old paintings, folklores etc dating from ancient times, talking about how a knight or some other hero either slayed the dragon or tamed it, don’t you agree?”
“Yes,” John was slowly nodding his head. Singh waited as server was approaching with their order and did not speak till the terrace was clear again.
“So taking that argument farther, in my view, this Chinese dragon is half myth and other half is our doing. First we create this image and then we feed it, consciously or subconsciously”. Singh was now sitting at the edge of his chair. His eyes were shining and his excitement was palpable. He continued, “The way to contain this dragon is to show him a mirror, if he postures, we counter posture. If we succeed in making him look inwards, his own fire, flames from his own mouth will take care of him”.
“What do you mean,” John seemed perplexed.
Singh took a sip from his coffee and continued,” All I am saying is that its people are not happy. It makes a very good show of what it can accomplish, great cities, magnificent roads, best facilities for sports, education, you name it, it has them. But nobody sees that it is all make believe. Talk to a Chinese person who is not biased. Majority of its people, especially in the vast rural areas, have no rights, make very little and are exploited to the extreme. They cannot even move freely from one province to other. It is the biggest privately held conglomerate which has taken over an entire country, with an army of its own, with a captive workforce and of course best public relations in the whole world.” Singh stopped for a brief second to take a deep breath and then continued, “The real problem is that rest of the world overestimates their capability but underestimates their ambition. We all are in this strange denial mode. And there are forces who are taking advantage of this schizophrenic thinking. Now you probably have seen the recent op-ed in New York Times which talks about giving up on Taiwan from American side. For a newspaper of this stature to publish such a thought shows that the level of desperation in some circles is quite high.”
John said in a resigned voice. “Yes, I saw that article; the idea is basically to let China occupy Taiwan for a consideration of 1.5 trillion dollars”.
Singh was visibly upset now.“ This is the most ridiculous idea I have ever heard”. He continued in the same indignant tone,“ for one thing, China may not want to spend that much money for a deal which it thinks is inevitably coming its way. Secondly China may not be ready for this acquisition on a political level right now”.
Singh was in his best now, his eyes twinkling which they do whenever he finds a parable to illustrate his point, “There is a saying in Hindi ‘saanp ke muh me chachunder’, which roughly translates as ‘Mouse getting stuck in the snake’s throat, snake is in a predicament now as it can neither swallow the mouse, as it is stuck, but also finds it impossible to regurgitate it either. The prime reasons being
a) it is physically impossible as you know snakes fangs are curved inwards,
b) its greed has overcome its senses and
c) If he has to let this one go, everybody in the jungle will know of its weakness. So the snake would rather choke to death than to let it go.
Similarly if China takes Taiwan either forcefully or in exchange for monetary considerations, then there are only two options.
A) It keeps Taiwanese system totally separate so that its economy works separately and does not turn the apple cart of PLA owned businesses in the mainland China. But to keep the system running it would have to create special concessions and make special deals with the Taiwanese political bosses. If it does so, rest of the China eventually would want the same deals and those special concessions.
B) On the other hand if it lets Taiwanese people assimilate freely with rest of China, they may catalyze the whole of Chinese society with ideas of Democracy and freedom from the yoke of PLA. At that time China would be like that proverbial snake”.
“So what do you suggest,” John was fascinated by this new perspective.
“I think the only way out right now for us is to go back to the basics. We need to strengthen our core values which are freedom and equality, and let me tell you these values do not thrive in a vacuum. We all have to work hard for them. You need to provide these thoughts a firm democratic foundation, which in turn requires financial stability and true democracy. And all of this needs political commitment, real action at grass root level and most importantly time” Singh answered.
“I agree to a large extent”, John was lost in deep thoughts with his eyes half closed. “In my view, the financial situation will eventually take care of itself. If China let its currency evaluate normally their manufacturing cost will not be competitive anymore in the long run. On the other hand if they keep it artificially low, their options are even more limited. They have to keep on buying US securities, if they pull the plug, their vast foreign exchange reserves will be worthless. It may harm US immensely but for China it will be catastrophic”. John let a thin smile out, but his eyes were very serious.
“The question is whether current Chinese leadership thinks that way. Their history is replete with imperialistic designs and I am afraid they may be swayed by this almighty picture of themselves, which they have painted for themselves and unfortunately rest of the world is actually helping them in this delusion of grandeur.” Singh said softly.
“I think rest of the world needs to understand that there is an underlying dualism in Chinese system. On one hand there are political forces which might be in tune with ground reality, but on the other hand we have all powerful PLA, which I think is the dominant force now”, John said very emphatically.
“I agree completely”, Singh was nodding his head, “ But the problem is we do not know where the boundary is, one day we see a statement which makes perfect sense, only to see that the ground situation is totally different. We see it all the time happening, especially in relation to border issues between India and China.” Singh was somewhat agitated.
“Yes, the problem is how to find out who thinks what and how much control that person or faction has” John was tapping his forehead in deep thought”.
“Perhaps best policy presently is to watch their internal politics very closely and keep full engagement with all the channels, whether it is business or political. Also equally important is that all its neighbors should strive hard to keep its imperialistic designs under control.” Singh leaned back in his chair.
“Well, I think close cooperation with ASEAN, Pacific Rim nations is crucial. Other player which needs to be fully engaged in this process is Russia”, John said reflectively.
“Yes, of course. I think our core strategy can be defined in one sentence, full engagement with all the players, so that world peace can be maintained. The idea is not only to save everybody else from China, but also to save Chinese people from China” Singh seemed to be concluding as he took the last sip of his coffee.
John also glanced at his watch and quickly rising to his feet said, “It was quite a discussion, we need to meet again soon, see you then friend”. He made his exit quickly.
Singh however lingered for sometime more till he got an all clear message from his team in and outside the shop. When he left, he was still in deep thought, but we wouldn’t know his thoughts until we meet him again, hopefully soon.