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Not China’s Choice but Ours

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen”]

China’s Blue Water “Coast Guard”

T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage has an outstanding post on the strategic reality of China and American foreign policy. It is a must read:

“China Does Not Want Your Rules Based Order”

…..McCain’s words echo those spoken by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter last week to the graduating midshipman at Annapolis. Read them both. Compare what they say. Behold the quickly crystallizing American narrative on China. This is a bipartisan message. It will be the starting point of a President Clinton’s policy. Whether a President Trump will endorse it is hard to say. In either case, it is a narrative whose momentum is building.

There is much that is good in this narrative. McCain proclaims that “no nation has done as much to contribute to what China calls its “peaceful rise” as the United States of America.” He is right to do so. No nation has done more to enable China’s rise than America has. No country’s citizens have done more for the general prosperity of the Chinese people than the Americans have. This is true in ways that are not widely known or immediately obvious. For example, the role American financiers and investment banks played in creating the architecture of modern Chinese financial markets and corporate structures is little realized, despite the size and importance of their interventions. Behind every great titan of Chinese industryChina Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone operator, China State Construction Engineering, whose IPO was valued at $7.3 billion, PetroChina, the most profitable company in Asia (well, before last year), to name a few of hundreds–lies an American investment banker. I do not exaggerate when I say Goldman Sachs created modern China. [2] China has much to thank America for.

However, I cannot endorse all that is included in this emerging narrative, for part of it is deeply flawed. The flaw may be by design; if the purpose is to stir cold hearts and gain moral admiration of others, such flaws can be excused–that is how politics works. But this sort of things can only be excused if those delivering the speeches do not take the implications of their own words seriously when it is time to make policy. 

I speak of  China’s “choice.” The thread that runs through all of these talks is that the Chinese have yet to choose whether they aim for order or disruption, the existing regime or the chaos beyond it. The truth is that the Chinese have already chosen their path and no number of speeches on our part will convince them to abandon it. They do not want our rules based order. They have rejected it. They will continue to reject it unless compelled by overwhelming crisis to sleep on sticks and swallow gall and accept the rules we force upon them. 

China has made its choice. The real decision that will determine the contours of the 21st century will not be made in Beijing, but in Washington.

T. Greer, in my opinion is correct but this is not a message Beltway insiders are wont to harken – making strategic choices is for lesser nations. America is so rich, powerful, unipolar, indispensable, exceptional that we can pursue all objectives, in every corner of the globe, without choosing between the vital and the trivial. We can do this even if our goals are contradictory and ill-considered or serve manly as a prop for domestic political disputes, the business interests of political donors or career advancement of apparatchiks and politicians. We can safely delay and indulge in fantasy.

If this was true once, it is less so today and will be still less twenty years hence.

Greer sharpens his argument:

….Last spring it finally sunk in. Chinese illiberalism not only can endure, it is enduring. The old consensus cracked apart. No new consensus on how to deal with China has yet formed to take its place.

But old habits die hard. We see this at the highest levels of policy, as in the McCain speech, where American policy is justified in terms of giving China a chance to choose the right. The same spirit is invoked further down the line. Ash Carter, for example, recently described American tactics in the South China Sea as a “long campaign of firmness, and gentle but strong pushback… [until] The internal logic of China and its society will eventually dictate a change.” [3] In other words, American policy is a holding action until China sees the light.

What if they never do?

The Chinese believe that our international order is a rigged system set up by the imperial victors of the last round of bloodshed to perpetuate the power of its winners. They use the system, quite cynically, but at its base they find it and its symbols hypocritical, embarrassing, outrageous, and (according to the most strident among them), evil. In their minds it is a system of lies and half-truths. In some cases they have a point. Most of their actions in the East or South China Seas are designed to show just how large a gap exists between the grim realities of great power politics and soaring rhetoric Americans use to describe our role in the region

….In simpler terms, the Chinese equate “rising within a rules based order” with “halting China’s rise to power.” To live by Washington’s rules is to live under its power, and the Chinese have been telling themselves for three decades now that—after two centuries of hardship—they will not live by the dictates of outsiders ever again.

The Chinese will never choose our rules based order. That does not necessarily mean they want to dethrone America and throw down all that she has built. The Chinese do not have global ambitions. What they want is a seat at the table—and they want this seat to be recognized, not earned. That’s the gist of it. Beijing is not willing to accept an order it did not have a hand in creating. Thus all that G-2 talk we heard a few years back. The Chinese would love to found a new order balancing their honor and their interests with the Americans. It is a flattering idea. What they do not want is for the Americans to give them a list of hoops to jump through to gain entry into some pre-determined good-boys club. They feel like their power, wealth, and heritage should be more than enough to qualify for  automatic entrance to any club.

Read the rest here.

Richard Nixon, who was the external strategic architect of China’s rise in order to use China as a counterweight against an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union, faced a similar situation that Greer described above with the Soviets. Nixon’s détente summits with the Russians were diplomatic triumphs where LBJ’s summit at Glassboro with Kosygin had been a failure because Nixon shrewdly understood Soviet psychological insecurity, a deep sense of paranoid inferiority and the hunger for respect as a superpower equal of the United States. Leonid Brezhnev, Kosygin’s ascendant rival was desperate for this American political recognition and Nixon and Kissinger played this card (along with the geostrategic shock of the China opening) to wrest concessions in arms control and restraint (for a time) in Soviet behavior from Brezhnev.

Playing this card is not possible with China.

While there seems some emergent rivalry between China’s prime minister Li Keqiang and China’s President Xi Jinping that loosely mirrors the Kosygin-Brezhnev dynamic, the analogy is otherwise a poor one. Despite sharing Marxist-Leninist DNA in their institutional structure, China is not at all like the Soviet Union in terms of culture, history or ambitions. The Chinese not only lack the national inferiority complex that drives the Russian psyche, they suffer from the opposite condition of a superiority complex that outstrips their actual capacity to project military or even economic power. This has given rise to popular frustration and manic nationalism in China, with bitter recriminations about “small countries” and “hegemonic powers”. It also has created a strategic lacunae where China has in a short span of time gone from enjoying good relations with most of the world to a state of habitually irritating almost all of its neighbors and periodically threatening two great powers – rising India and Japan – and one superpower, the United States.

In short, China already is as T. Greer argued, a committed revisionist power.

We cannot buy off or bribe China. Unlike Brezhnev who needed American credits for his domestic economic program to cement his place as supreme leader, Xi Jinping has carried out a ruthless purge of the party and government under the pretext of an anti-corruption drive. Xi does not need or want our help in his domestic squabbles. Nor would he or another Chinese leader be content with symbolic gestures of Beijing’s “parity” with Washington. “Parity” will not satisfy Chinese leaders unless it comes with attendant symbolic humiliations for America and an American retreat from Asia. Forever.

If American leaders do not wake up to this reality and do so quickly then it is time for a new leadership class with less sentimentality and clearer vision.

Namagiri and Ramanujan

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — in which we glimpse the (female) divinity hidden behind infinity ]
.

Ramanujan and Namagiri

**

It is one of the curiosities of mathematics that the great Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan claimed to have received many, if not all, of his equations from the goddess Namagiri in dreams — and that this idea is all too often quietly omitted from discussions of his uncanny brilliance.

Now that The Man Who Knew Infinity is out in theaters, it might be wise to explore the connection between Namagiri and Ramanujan a little more closely.

Dream and waking, darshan and mathematics, inspiration and intuition, intuition and proof, quality and quantity — these polarities are all involved..

To its credit, the film contains the line:

You want to know how I get my ideas? God speaks to me.

However, the idea that “God” might be a goddess seems a reach too far for the screenwriters and director.

Viewing:

  • Matt Brown, The Man Who Knew Infinity
  • Here’s one version of the trailer:

    **

    Stephen Wolfram posted a fine article on his blog last week, Who Was Ramanujan?. He was willing to mention that Ramanujan’s friend and collaborator, GH Hardy, “could be very nerdy — whether about cricket scores, proving the non-existence of God, or writing down rules for his collaboration with Littlewood” — but fails in 31 pages to mention Ramanujan’s own belief that he received his equations from a goddess.

    All of which caused me to pose a question to Wolfram’s own algorithmic genie, Wolfram Alpha:

    Did Namagiri reveal equations to Ramanujan?

    WolframAlpha skipped the words “Did Namagiri reveal” and “to” and concentrated on responding to “equations” and “Ramanujan” — not quite up to par with AlphaGo, I’m afraid, let alone Ramanujan himself, or better, Namagiri.

    Below’s the DoubleQuote I made to by way of comment — note that I’ve only had space for the first line of WolframApha’s extended response:

    Tablet DQ ramanujan namagiri wolfram 1

    **

    Readings:

  • Stephen Wolfram, Who Was Ramanujan?
  • Hinduism Today, Computing the Mathematical Face of God
  • Huffington Post, Ramanujan’s Mock Modular Forms
  • The Hindu, American mathematicians solve Ramanujan’s “deathbed” puzzle
  • Sadhguru, Doorway to the Beyond
  • Paul Chika Emekwulu, Mathematical Encounters: For the inquisitive mind
  • The Hindu, The Man Who Knew Infinity: A misunderstood mind
  • Animal sacrifice here and there

    Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — thinking of human, animal and symbolic sacrifice — also of “the lamb that was slain” ]
    .

    In Nepal:

    Nepal temple bans mass animal slaughter at festival

    Nepal buffalo

    In a victory for activists, Nepalese temple authorities have announced they will end a centuries-old Hindu tradition of mass animal slaughter that attracts hundreds of thousands of worshippers.

    The festival, held once every five years, sees hordes of devotees from Nepal and India flock to a temple in the Himalayan nation’s southern plains to sacrifice thousands of animals in the hope of appeasing the Hindu goddess of power, Gadhimai.

    **

    From Brooklyn to Tel Aviv:

    Jewish chicken-slaughter ritual gets OK from judge

    All’s fair when it comes to slaughtering fowl on the streets of Brooklyn, a judge ruled Monday, clearing the way for thousands of chickens to be killed next week in a 2,000-year-old ritual.

    Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Debra James ruled that the Orthodox practice of Kaporos, during which chickens are slaughtered before the high holy day of Yom Kippur to atone for sins, can proceed, knocking down a challenge by a Brooklyn animal-rights group.

    **

    Sacrifice may be one of the most profound values that we are losing in our rush to reductionism — and by this I wish to imply also that we are not sacrificing it, but simply forgetting it, permitting it to fade..

    And yet I would be hard-pressed to define it.

    Krishna, meet Radha

    Sunday, September 13th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Muslims in India celebrate Krishna and his beloved ]
    .

    Amicable coexistence.

    Here we see a Muslim father in India, with his daughter arrayed as Radha, the beloved, lover, and companion of the Hindu deity Krishna:

    Radha and father 602

    I’m posting it here because it beautifully complements another photo which you may have seen before, since I’ve posted it here at least once:

    Krishna and mother 602

    Here a Muslim mother is walking with her son dressed in the costume of Krishna.

    **

    Krishna is a manifestation of the divine as playful, beautiful, musical, seductive. He steals the hearts of his devotees, both male and female, with the entrancing music of his flute — but it is Radha who is his beloved.

    For a full appreciation of the love between Radha and Krishna, the Bengali poet-saints have composed numerous songs. In this one, it is Radha who speaks:

    How can I describe his relentless flute,
    which pulls virtuous women from their homes
    and drags them by their hair to Shyam
    as thirst and hunger pull the doe to the snare?
    Chaste ladies forget their wisdom,
    and clinging vines shakes loose from their trees,
    hearing that music.
    Then how shall a simple dairymaid withstands its call?

    Chandidasa says,
    Kala the puppet master leads the dance.

    I can recommend two books on the topic, the first exploring the theology of Radha and Krishna as sung by the wandering saints of Bengal, the second offering a selection of poems which might be sung of an evening to recount the story of their love, and from which the example above was taken:

  • Edward Dimock, The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya Cult of Bengal
  • Edward Dimock and Denise Levertov, In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali
  • We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

    Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]
    .

    chautauqua haqqani daveed

    **

    From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

    I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:
    **

    Amb. Haqqani:

    None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

    You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

    And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

    Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..

    **

    If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

    Daveed G-R:

    In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

    Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.

    **

    The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

    a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

    — down to our own times.

    Amb. Haqqani:

    What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

    The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

    Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

    Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.

    **

    Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

    Daveed G-R:

    The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

    And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.

    **

    Amb. Haqqani:

    The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

    This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

    Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.

    **

    Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

    Daveed G-R:

    Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

    He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

    Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

    — and had the final, pointed word:

    We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.

    **

    Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:


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