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  1. 1. BURDEN OF HISTORY IN AN ASIAN CENTURY KESHAV PRASAD BHATTARAIMany writers have referred Elie Kretty - one of the captains of Napoleon Bonaparte during hismilitary adventure to Egypt (1798-1801). Kretty in his book - Souvenir Historiques, have quotedNapoleon that says - “Europe is too small; great reputations can only be made in the orient.” And theoriental countries from Japan and South Korea to China and India with their massive economicsuccess have confirmed Napoleon - in making such reputations in modern history.The first such oriental reputation had begun with Japan‟s victory over the Great Russian Empire onMay 1905. During that time, the country of the Rising Sun under the command of Admiral TōgōHeihachirō destroyed almost all Russian naval power that was led by Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvenskyin the Battle of Tsushima strait between Southern Japan and Korean peninsula.In the Battle of Tsushima Admiral Rozhestvensky had reached by steaming over some 29,000kilometers with 11 battle ships, 8 cruisers and 9 destroyers manned by more than 10,000 armedpersonnel and sailors. The historic battle in Tsushima to some historians and European statesmenhas remained the greatest and most important naval battle since the Battle of Trafalgar – a warfought one hundred years ago that ultimately wiped out the greatest threat to British security for200 years and proved the invincibility of British navy over Napoleons Franco-Spanish fleet.According to Pankaj Mishra “. . . for the first time since the middle ages, a non - European countryhad vanquished a European power in a major war” and people from Turkey to China were stirred atthe news. Mishra has further mentioned the imagination caught by the Japanese victory that thenewly born child in India were named after Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō and even the great Indianlitterateur Rabindranath Tagore who later won Nobel Prize “led his students in an impromptuvictory march” in a school run by him. A flurry of excitement was also felt by from the great peoplelike Gandhi, Mao, Sun Yat -sen and Kemel Ataturk.But it is Europe that made greater reputations. Within a period of 20 years, Europe went to GreatWars two times – the wars known as the First and Second World War. But after World War II –Western Europe abandoned all its centuries‟ long animosities and returned to the longest andgreatest period of peace in human history. The unprecedented achievement they attained was thesuccess in building trusts in their relations and build institutions to expand and ensure trusts amongthem. After the end of Cold War it was extended up to its Eastern flank. They have challenges,they may have found themselves at the cross roads over some of the challenges, but militarily theyare not threat to each others. They do not float fear among them. Wars among them are nowunthinkable and indubitably, it is their greatest contribution to humanity.
  2. 2. In Europe, with regional bodies they constituted – they are working fine and have succeeded inmanaging their problems with each others in an inspiring way. The institutions they have createdhave worked as most effective shock absorber among and between them. But Europe ended warsbut unfortunately Asia carried the war inheritance.1. COLLIDING COURSE IN EAST ASIA AND ASIAN CENTURYIronically, the countries that have built enormous power to control the global economy andcharacterize it as an Asian Century are living under the burden of history. They are yet to createsome bilateral or multilateral forums to discuss on issues that are churning their relations since thebeginning of the last Century and manage them amicably. For their inheritance to unpleasant history– they lacked trusts, do have no strong institutions to manage them and hoist flag of hopes andcourage in their relations. They are managing their relations under the forces of globalization – butfear and distrusts have ruled them.Take note of China and Japan. Japan‟s Liberal Democratic Party head Shinzo Abe – who afterwinning a land slide victory over the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has clearly outlined themajor priorities of his incoming government as follows: first to recover the health of nationaleconomy, second: strengthen relations with United States and upgrade Japans Self-DefenseForces (SDF) to a national military so that it can operate beyond its border under the rules ofengagement. It is a matter to note that constitutionally Japan cannot engage in any wars beyond its territoryand posses offensive weapons. Abe has hinted that his government is willing to amend the Article 9of its constitution that renounces war as a means of resolving international conflicts.According to international media sources Abe‟s strategic announcement is intended to provide itsmilitary more assertive role that is visible in its waters and discourage China from extending itsreach into waters that Japan claims its own. Obviously Japan has one of the most advanced andeffective military in the world - together, it wants to play some larger strategic roles as an allianceof U.S. and NATO forces.And third priority of the Abe government will be to try to improve its relations with China, but withtwo geo-political considerations one: rebuilding and re-strengthening the alliance with the UnitedStates. And the other: the unfailingly strong national determination to protect its territoryincluding the ownership over Senkaku/ Diaoyu islands.According to Asahi Shimbun – Japan‟s most reputed daily newspaper, Abe in a speech last monthsaid "Let us assume Japanese and U.S. naval ships are defending the Senkaku Islands and the U.S.ships come under attack. Whether or not the Self-Defense Forces can come to the help of the U.S.military will depend on whether the right of collective self-defense can be exercised. If it did nothelp, that would mean the end of the Japan-U.S. alliance."Some days before Abe made this statement, Japan‟s defense minister Satoshi Morimoto hadexpressed his country‟s willingness to revise his country‟s security alliance with the United Statesand build more spaces for Japan in addressing the growing threat from China especially to the
  3. 3. islands that were at the center of a territorial dispute. Japan‟s defense white paper – Defense ofJapan 2012 has given list of intensified Chinese naval and aerial activities surrounding Japaneseterritorial waters.The US Strategic Defense Guidance 2012, announced earlier this year by President Barrack Obamaand Japan‟s Defense Whitepaper have endorsed each other‟s position on strategic import of China‟smilitary rise and its impact on their security in variety of ways mainly in East Asia and in Asia-Pacific. Both countries, in unequivocal terms, have spelt out their strategic policy in expanding theirnetworks of cooperation to ensure collective capability and capacity for securing common interests.Obviously Asia is big enough to make great history but much bigger are its challenges - whencompared with any other continent. They may any day cause biggest danger to human society. In noother region such divisions - within the countries, among the countries and among the major globalpowers on Asian security, exists. It does have no any common political and defense framework tolook after their common cause. Asia in all areas of major concerns - cultural, political, economic andstrategic, is weak and have exhibited that it will remain weak for long.2. DREAMING OF WAR AND WORKING ON WARIt seems when Asia sleeps it dreams war and when it awakes it works on war – war among countriesand wars among peoples is Asia‟s lovely game. Relations among Asian countries are more complicatedthan in any other region - whether it is East Asia, South Asia or Middle East.South Asia has been a typical example of this. According to American National IntelligenceCouncils (NIC) recent report released on December 10 : Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds“South Asia faces a series of internal and external shocks in the next 15-20 years” and is likely totrigger broader instability in the region and the Asian continent as whole.South Asia - where the potential course of conflict is rising and going intense, if goes to war infuture - most probably involving China or India and Pakistan, they are most likely to involve multipleforms of warfare including the use of nuclear weapons, the NIC in its report appallingly anticipates.It has also shockingly disclosed that among the 15 countries that are at high risks of state failures– three are in South Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The report concludes that thesituation will not improve until 2030.The report further claims that although the pressures exerted by China and United States, havepersuaded both India and Pakistan to “increase their strategic dialogue and to begin open tradeflows”, Pakistan‟s envy over India‟s rapid economic growth has further fueled distrust andsuspicions and that has motivated Pakistan to continue its nuclear modernization programs.South Asian neighborhood “has always had a profound influence on internal developments in all thecountries”- that somehow has been the source of major sense of insecurity in the region-contributing to shored up military expenditures , it stated.In way in finding some kind of deterrence and balance against India‟s conventional militaryadvantages – “If a Mumbai – style terrorist attack from Pakistan backed Islamic militants isrepeated with many casualties followed by „Pakistani fingerprints‟ would put a weakened Indian
  4. 4. government under tremendous pressure to respond with force, with the attendant risk of nuclearmiscalculation”, the report has made a clear warning.To a large extent, post U.S. led NATO forces withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 is likely to makeconflicting Indo-Pak strategic competition over Kabul desperately dangerous and “hedgingstrategies of other Afghanistan‟s neighbors will “make it difficult to develop a strong regionalsecurity frame work.”Identifying the region‟s most tricky aspects of bilateral and multilateral relations the reportasserts that water may become a more significant source of contention than energy or minerals outto 2030 at both the intrastate and interstate levels. Obviously South Asia – that mainly belongs tothe world‟s major belt of water stress with its ever increasing population pressures, has attainedlimited capacity in managing with its mounting water stresses.While China, for long, has played a pivotal role in almost all regional strategic profile of South Asia -from sharing of water resources to nuclear weapons and India for obvious reasons, on the otherhand, has developed a threat perception vis-à-vis China - for its role mainly in supporting Pakistanand gaining critical strategic advantages over the region.On this background, the report has further suggested that a crisis-prone global economy has beenbringing rapid and vast geo- strategic changes in and around South Asia. And this when coupledwith a governance gap in the countries of the region - potential for increased conflict, wider scopeof regional instability, impact of new technologies, and the ability of the United States and China tomanage their relationship and the nature and intensity of their relations with India, will by andlarge define the stability of the global system.3. A RISING AND A RISKIER ASIAWhat China achieved in eliminating poverty and bringing prosperity for its people within a period ofthree decades is unparallel in human history. However, what China‟s leadership and its statecontrolled media display at times says that the enormous economic and military power it enjoyed -is yet to be translated into level of confidence and trust in its behavior with other major regionaland global power. As quoted by Joseph S. Nye Jr. in the New York Times President Hu Jintao in the beginning of thisyear said “We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plotof Westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of theirlong-term infiltration.” Hu further said “the international culture of the West is strong while weare weak.”Similar is the case with India. In a book - South Asia‟s Weak States (OUP, 2011), T.V. Paul, anIndian Scholar working in Canada has identified four types of weak states in the region: “failedstates, very weak states, weak states and strong weak states”. According to Paul while Afghanistancomes close to failed states category, Nepal falls under the second grouping. Rests of the countriesexcept India come close to the „weak states‟ type and the most powerful country of the region and
  5. 5. an acclaimed economic giant of the 21st Century world – India typifies itself as a “strong weakstate” of South Asia.This way, including India all South Asian states on varied degree are weak states and have oftenfailed to meet the core need of their national security, face the threats to their internal securityeffectively and build minimum institutional capacity to tackle the complexity of multidimensionalsecurity challenges they face. When even the major global powers like China and India – right at the vanguard of an AsianCentury, exhibit dire inefficiency in building institutions in enhancing trust with countries in theirneighborhood and fail in taking effective actions against the situations that threaten theirsecurity, ensure stability and sustain economic growth, the buzz word of Asian Century may end intoan odd joke of history.What drives politicians is still a great puzzle in Asia. It seems they are yet to learn that - historycan always be corrected but the geography is always to be respected and realized with greatestfaith, trust and hope. Refraining from nurturing its enthusiasm in advancing its strategic edge over India in other SouthAsian countries and assuring its neighbors against its territorial ambition in East and South EastAsian waters, China can build a great moral political force that becomes fair to the size of itseconomy and its sustenance.Similarly if India succeeds in maintaining internal peace and stability - effectively and boldly inaddressing the concerns of its small neighbors in South Asia; undoubtedly, with the great reserveof moral strengths it generates - India confidently can lead the Asian century.However Herculean task it may be until India and China including countries like Japan, SouthKorea, Indonesia and Pakistan gain ability in structuring an institutional framework to consulteach-other in all areas of bilateral and multilateral relations, their massive geo-political edge andeconomic clout cannot be realized at the regional and global level. Eurasia Review December 20, 2012 www.eurasiareview.com/author/keshav-prasad-bhattarai/