Review of Shyam Saran's new book: Where does Indian stand in Chinese perceptions? - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Wednesday 10 August 2022

Review of Shyam Saran's new book: Where does Indian stand in Chinese perceptions?

How China Sees India and the World

By Shyam Saran

Juggernaut Books, 2022

286 pages

Rs 799/-


After his first well-received publication in 2018, How India Sees the World: Kautilya to the 21st Century, Shyam Saran has scored another success with his second book, How China Sees India and the World. This is a succinct, pithy reader for the China novice to bring herself up to speed, while also presenting more experienced China hands with a concise compilation of facts. In 18 short chapters (the longest of which is just 24 pages), Saran covers a great deal of ground, dividing the chapters into diverse subjects such as: “A Chinese Narrative of its History”, “The Emergence of China as a Maritime Power” and “India as a Teacher by Negative Example.” There are both problems and solutions in such a methodology. On the one hand, the book lends itself to being used as a reference text, with the reader going straight, via the contents page,  to the chapter she would like to reference. On the other hand, while the broad subjects are easy to access, the limited length of the chapters prevents the author from going too deep into individual subjects.


Mr Saran’s credentials for authoring a book on China are exceptional, perhaps even unique. He has served in the Indian embassy in China after learning how to speak and read Mandarin fluently. Over the course of a distinguished diplomatic career, he has represented India in numerous vital negotiations, such as those that led up to the US-India nuclear deal. At the apex of his career, Mr Saran has served as India’s Foreign Secretary, as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Nuclear Affairs and Climate Change and as Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board. Unlike so many diplomats, administrators and even spies, Mr Saran trekked on foot practically every significant inch of the border that he – as one of India’s most trusted ambassadors – was responsible for safeguarding on crucial negotiating tables.


Mr Saran begins this riveting book by describing the geo-political underpinnings of the Chinese civilisation, the heartland of which lies in the middle reaches of the Huang He (Yellow River) and the Yangzi Jiang (Yangzi River). Anthropologists have already observed that whichever political authority has controlled this homeland of 400 million Han Chinese, has almost inexorably extended their writ beyond it.


Mr Saran, almost by implication, extends this phenomenon. It would appear that the existence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a geopolitical entity is shaped by the tussle between the unifying force of central government in the North; and the expanding, potentially fragmentary, economic prosperity of the South. Thus, the periodic internal tensions that we witness between the government in Beijing and the coastal regions of the southern seaboard can be traced back for the last 2,000 years.


The author forcefully rebuts Beijing’s carefully constructed modern narrative that its ambitous trade initiatives, such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), date far back in history in the form of the various Silk Routes, which had Beijing as the hub. He says:                                                “An imagined history is being put forward to seek legitimacy for China’s claim to Asian hegemony”… with the Western, and even Indian elite, subscribing to this view. But Mr Saran correctly points out that little in history supports the proposition that China was ever the centre of the Asian universe and its economic hub.


The ambivalent Chinese attitude towards soldiering is evident from the proverb that you can conquer the empire on horseback, but you cannot rule it from there. However, notwithstanding the occasional denigration of the soldier’s trade in the Chinese tradition, the country’s literature betrays as much admiration for physical and military prowess as that of any other. Chinese classics and histories frequently describe wars and the ancient concept of the Mandate of Heaven, which assumes that a righteous ruler will win power through triumph in combat. As a China expert from Australian National University, Rafe de Crispigny, pithily observes: “Regardless of rituals and claims to moral virtue, each emperor held power because he was the recognised descendent of the man who won the last civil war, and each kept his throne for just so long as the most powerful army in the empire continued to obey him. Whether he sought merely to hold his position, to expand his territory, or just to deal with enemies on the border, force was the ultimate argument of each Chinese ruler.”


Mr Saran, who has dealt extensively as foreign secretary with the Tibet question in the Sino-India territorial dispute, unsurprisingly rebuts Beijing’s continuing claim over Tibet on the grounds that, at several points in history, the Chinese emperor ruled from Beijing or Changan over the entire Tibet plateau. He points out that, in the 7th century, Tibet too became a powerful empire under its king, Srongtsen Gampo. Under the fifth Dalai Lama, Tibet attacked Ladakh, an outbreak of hostilities that ended only with the signing of the Tingmosgang Treaty in 1684. This drew a boundary between the two sides, which incorporated familiar names: The border bisected Pangong Lake and further south was set at Demchok River. Mr Saran concludes that the 2020-21 clashes in Ladakh might have arisen from Beijing misinterpreting the customary boundary, which was never attached to the treaty document.


Mr Saran’s book will be widely read amongst South Asia scholars. It would be extremely useful if a second, expanded, edition be published with greater detailing.

1 comment:

  1. Real-world examples provided in the post are particularly useful in understanding the discussed concepts. gold IRA reviews


Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last