Though I have written about this many times, it was more of an incoherent set of comments in response to something else.
Every country has got it’s own philosophy of governance. An older civilization which has stood the test of time and which has been ruled always in the same way for ages is not going to change that easily. Even if there is a blip, it is but natural, with passage of time, these countries will tend to move towards their natural state. The question is, is there any such natural state in the modern world?
Let’s take the two main points of focus in Asia – China and India. China traditionally follows something called a Mandala System. Mandala in Sanskrit means a circle. The system works like this. China is the big circle. There are some neighbouring entities for China like Korea, Tibet, Mongolia, Vietnam, Manchuria and others. Then, there is another level of smaller circles for these second level circles – Ladakh, Bhutan, Sikkim etc. Anything lesser than that, though possible(like Zanskar), is not that practical enough.
The second level circles are such placed geographically that they can’t interact with any other country. Same goes for the third. Now, how does this model work? China, by being the bigger circle, linking all the smaller circle offers it free access to all the second level circles. A Tibetian can go and work/trade in Korea, a Korean can serve as a part of Chinese imperial Army in Vietnam. But, China will never interfere in the internal policies of any of these smaller circles. In case, say, Tibet is facing an invasion, China doesn’t send an army. It’s Tibet which will fight the war. Only if Tibet says I need help, China will pitch in. For a war in Tibet, China doesn’t order Korea or Mongolia to send troops. Tibet can ask, but China doesn’t. Once the war is won, China will simply go back – it won’t stay and dictate policies. In return, China asks paper vassalage. So, what benefit China has got? Markets for it’s produce and extra military depth. What has the vassals got? A free market and a master who doesn’t bother about the internal independence. The vassals are more advantaged than the master and they will be in eternal gratitude for that – they voluntarily accept the position of a vassal. Take, for example, Japanese invasion of Korea in 1500s. Korea tried to beat back the invasion. It failed and China had to come to correct the situation. And, China simply went back. The story changed after 1750 where Qing China decided to directly annex these vassals. This went on and off – when the centre was weak, the vassal got independent. The situation is this. Qing doesn’t know the way of life of Tibet. It doesn’t know how to rule the people and what endears them to the Tibetians. This bondage, in return, resulted in rebellion against China. For something which China is voluntarily getting, it is expending tremendous energy to enforce it through the use of force – there are popular rebellions, there is army highhandedness, there are policies which people didn’t like. But, when China withdrew from Tibet, the status quo was reestablished.
This is the situation China is in today. It is forcibly attempting to control entities which voluntarily follow China. And to maintain this façade, China needs a strong centre. It needs to project itself as a street bully whom everyone prefers not to approach. It is the same reason why China is acting such belligerent. It needs to project that it is strong and can never afford a war which can impact this status quo.
What is Indian model, then? India is not a single country – there are always small kingdoms which are out of reach of a strong centre which theoretically represented India. This centre, as time progresses, will absorb some independent kingdoms which flexed it’s muscles after the last round of chaos which gave this new centre to form(to make more sense, take it something like, Lodhis came strong, they wilted and were taken down by the Mughals. There were rebellions, which the Mughals gradually suppressed) – some of these were absorbed into the royal lands and the rest, allowed to govern on their own, but all of them are governors, not vassals. He may be a governor appointed by the ruler in the centre or a hereditary king, but he is just a governor. He has to maintain an army according to his stature and will be summoned to fight a war anywhere. Note that it’s not his army, but the central army garrisoned at a location. There is no Jaipur Army, there is no Orchcha army, it’s always Mughal Army. It’s that Mughal army which fights for everyone.
It is interesting to note that India is still following this model of governance – only that, there are no hereditary governors.
The most important point of this model is, both the countries ruled the world as economic superpowers when they were in their traditional model of governance. China is not following it’s model while India is, to some extent. What is the problem with China? It’s wasting it’s energy trying to control entities which it need not to. And going by the fact that China is a sea oriented economy and with wealth concentration solely on the coast and the gap increasing by the day, if spending too much money on military posturing, which will increase with India’s belligerence is going to widen the gap, eventually ripping the country apart. What’s the problem with India? By frequent change in policy decisions, there is no stability in approach. I don’t say democracy is wrong. But, decoupling economic policy making and populism will reduce the fickleness in finalizing the minutiae of the long term policy decision.
What is the natural state of things?
1. The realization that there is no need of any market outside India-China-Iran historic belt – they themselves hold two thirds of the world population.
2. The acceptance of the fact that the independence of entities like Tibet or Chinese Turkestan is inconsequential
3. Open borders and an East Asian Free Trade Zone.
One of the greatest challenges for this to happen, which will happen for sure, is the nuisance of Pakistan. Where does Pakistan stand in this? Pakistan cannot survive on it’s own and needs life support. First it was America, now, it’s China. But, is it such a serious problem is what we need to look into.