India must kick China out of Sri Lanka: William Avery

A former US diplomat foresees India as the next global power, and reasons that it must defend its turf in its neighbourhood by keeping China out.

Uttara Choudhury January 16, 2012 06:33:35 IST
India must kick China out of Sri Lanka: William Avery

New York: There are few more knowledgeable observers of US-India relations than William H Avery, a former US diplomat, who  served at the US Consulate in Chennai in the 1990s, a time when India’s relations with the US soured after New Delhi’s nuclear tests. In his new book, China’s Nightmare, America’s Dream: India as the Next Global Power, Avery offers a detailed anatomy of the growing ties between the world’s largest and wealthiest democracies.

Avery’s book also delivers a broadside against China and says India must respond to how China has advanced its influence in the region, with allies like Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. China has established itself as a growing, and sometimes bullying, power in India’s neighbourhood.

India must kick China out of Sri Lanka William Avery

India's economic growth since 1991 hasn't translated into global political clout, reasons William Avery. Reuters

India and most of the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have festering territorial disputes with China. Avery says India must respond to the Chinese challenge by spending even more on defence and using economic persuasion to influence its neighbours.

“India must now concentrate on the Finlandization of Sri Lanka,” Avery writes, while referring to Finland’s subjugation by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. “In the short term this will mean preventing any further non-Indian involvement in Sri Lanka’s affairs.”

Avery described how China invested millions to turn the sleepy fishing hamlet of Hambantota in Sri Lanka into a booming new port, just off India’s southeast coast, furthering an ambitious trading strategy in South Asia that is reshaping the region and forcing India to rethink relations with its neighbours.

China has been developing port facilities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and it is planning to build railroad lines in Nepal. These projects, analysts like Avery argue, are irksome to India; there are worries that China is expanding its sphere of regional influence by surrounding India with a “string of pearls” that could eventually undermine India’s pre-eminence and potentially rise to an economic and security threat.

Avery worries that India’s economic growth since 1991 has not been matched by an appropriate increase in its global political clout. It is now, however, beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Obama administration, like the previous Bush administration, is investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India, and has identified China as a threat while declaring Asia as a priority to the US.

India is no budding UK, and any US policymaker who believes New Delhi will act as a lieutenant for US interests has been smoking something herbal. But Avery suggests that New Delhi must build on recent economic successes to make India a truly global power. He suggests that where India sees common interests with the US — a wide and growing field — it should be more than willing to cooperate.

“India possesses the same core values that underpinned the Anglo-American relationship: democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the free market,” Avery writes in his book.

Despite rooting for a stronger India-US partnership, Avery compares India’s reliance on IT outsourcing, or supplying low-cost brains over the Internet to largely US companies, as a kind of “colonial servitude.” He implies that Indian firms are boosting efficiency for US companies with factory-like business processes. “Today,” he writes, “India is falling in to the colonial trap all over again, except this time it is doing so willingly.”

The Wall Street Journal felt that Avery’s book, while “thought-provoking,” sort of missed the plot when it panned outsourcing which was a huge business opportunity.

“It’s a fair point that IT outsourcing is draining India’s brightest minds from pursuing innovation. But to compare the industry to India’s plight under the British Empire, when the country exported raw materials and imported goods manufactured from those materials, is a step too far. (India, for instance, runs a large trade surplus with the US),” wrote Tom Wright in The Wall Street Journal.

Avery will warm the hearts of the folks opposing Wal-Mart’s march into India by arguing that India should think about “more protection” for its nascent industries at a time when its markets are growing and the West is stagnant.

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