Browncast Episode 99: Carl Zha on the new Cold War, and marrying a Hindu

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up with the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Since we started the Brown Pundits Browncast we’ve seen significant listener growth. This is really a hobby and labor of love, so I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. Though it’s by the Brown Pundits, the topic isn’t always “brown.” That being said, there is a significant number of listeners in India (especially with the topic is more Indocentric).

Due to the costs of both recording software and storage space, I would appreciate if you could also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. It also compensates me for my admittedly mediocre editing (I’m a data scientist/geneticist). If we get more patrons I have reached out to have someone professional edit…but really we don’t have the funds now.

If you can’t give (in these times may cannot!), I would appreciate more positive reviews!

In this episode, I talk to Carl Zha, repeat guest on the Browncast, and host of the Silk and Steel podcast.

Since we’ve been having Carl on he has kind of become “a thing.” His Twitter account has shot up in followers, and Carl has gotten himself into multiple controversies. One of the major ones is whether Carl is an agent of Chinese intelligence. I ask him about this accusation.

Additionally, we talk about his new life in Bali, and the fact that he’s basically left the United States indefinitely. Carl is now marrying a Balinese woman, and he mentions that his mother-in-law was worried about his religion (since his grandmother was Buddhist his mother-in-law was mollified).

Finally, we discuss extensively the new “Cold War” that has begun over the past few months. A fun and serious conversation.

28 thoughts on “Browncast Episode 99: Carl Zha on the new Cold War, and marrying a Hindu”

  1. i think i heard razib saying that indians were sort of jealous of china and now there is hostility because of covid19.
    i agree with the recent building up hostility, but majority of indians are not knowledgeable about china. the man on street thinks that chinese are a set of people who eat snakes and cockroaches.
    that said, almost every one has not forgotten the defeat of india in the 1962 war with china, and firmly believe that chinese are not trustworthy as they misused the indian’s (nehru’s) good intentions.

    1. According to an uncle on my family Whatsapp group, China has:

      1. Suppressed domestic Muslim separatism.
      2. Made Pakistan into a Vassal state.
      3. Become competitive with the West in technology.

      India don’t envy Chinese citizens. But there is certainly envy over what China has been able to accomplish.

    2. Nehru’s good intention? He did coin the fancy phrase Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai, but he also supported 1959 Tibetan uprising and later launched Forward Policy in 62, sending troops across the borders, which triggered the war despite repeated warnings from China. After the embarassing defeat, he sold the lie that China attacked us. Look up Indian Army’s Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report which GOI refused to declassify, it’s been leaked.

  2. @Razib Khan When are you going on Joe Rogan’s podcast to blow his mind?

  3. Interesting podcast. I’d argue there are two general public schools of thought in India. There are those that look to china as an example perhaps even admiration of what can be achieved in a country of its size without the constraints of democracy and a model that if they could they would adopt in india.

    Then there are those who look at china with suspicion and hostility because of the war, unresolved border issues which carl is well read on, and perhaps most importantly its patronage of Pakistan.

    Some of the first type can be parochial. Many, not all, also look at the third reich with similar admiration unaware of the havoc that was wrought or the holocaust and are the ones who continue to buy and read mein kampf which is a perennial best seller in India.

    there is a push for India to take sides by american think tank types and indian american emigres. They claim India and America are natural allies both being a democracies, (democratic peace theory is dubious at best) and china is a hostile authoritarian enemy responsible for covid SARS 2 and shut down. So there is hostility.

    The relationship between both states as is to be expected is complex. Surrendering Indian foreign policy independence at this stage of the game to either country particularly one where there are numerous unresolved issues that must be overcome when it’s not clear whether a new mutually beneficial arrangement between the united states and china where relative gains can be distributed evenly is to be polite unwise.

    Independence is the approach adopted by india at the state level. They framed it as non alignment 2.0 which was a bad choice because the first version really meant an intimate relationship with the soviet union and is universally detested.

    It has to be rebranded as strategic independence. Some people see this as weakness but everyone in the indian foreign policy establishment will have read mearsheimer have memories of the cold war and are acutely aware of how great power politics is played.

    India has to have a neutral stance and play both sides for the middle and put its interests first. Which is exactly the approach being followed by the government.

    1. “India has to have a neutral stance and play both sides for the middle and put its interests first. Which is exactly the approach being followed by the government.”

      Yes I agree.

      Currently the trend in our relationship with the Americans is a slow improvement in fits and starts. That will stop as soon as they elect a Democrat, and sooner or later they will.

      Once that happens, you’ll see the Americans take a combative and strident tone, attacking us on why our domestic views and policies don’t look like what cosmopolitan Acela Corridor elites think they should look like. The Democrats are beholden to an increasingly shrill anti-India contingent, and said contingent will irritate Indo-American ties to beyond any hope of recovery.

      Things won’t ever get as bad as they were during the Nixon-Kissinger times. But there is no future between us and the Americans. We should plan accordingly.

      1. I personally dont see that happening. If Washington grows more shrill then India will offer some concessions and the will they, wont they, dance will continue. The strategy is kick the can down the road until that is no longer possible.

        India is not a full participant in the quad for example. Hedging its bets by cozying up enough to the United States but stopping just short of conducting full military exercises with its partners and avoiding antagonizing China.

        This must be terribly frustrating for India’s American partners who have in my opinion quite literally bent over backwards since Bush Jr who paved the way for india to become a de facto bordering on de jure nuclear power and who dont seem to have gotten much reciprocity for their efforts.

        There may come a day when India is explicitly told it must choose. Many states including those that have formal alliances with the United States have a dilemma. They cannot be 100 per cent sure that the US is completely committed to east asia or whether it will withdraw. The consequences of choosing incorrectly will be sharply felt.

        Hopefully a new deal between the chinese and Americans can be arrived at. There are reasons to be optimistic and perhaps more reasons to be pessimistic, nevertheless strategic competition is the sign of our times.

        1. “There may come a day when India is explicitly told it must choose.”

          I agree, we are quickly reaching that stage. Any other country would have already committed to an alliance with the US. The reason it has not is India’s bureaucracy and overall culture is still beholden to the older communist/socialist/ anti american-ism.

          1. I think strategic autonomy is policy. That is what has been communicated by jaishankar several times. He is a realist and no country wishes to subordinate their foreign policy to another state. Western Europe has through NATO where security and peace on the continent for now is underwritten by the Americans. But there are substantial policy differences between america and the EU on iran and Huawei for example.

            The game is most interesting in Asia. If you look at Vietnam for example it too has a similar strategy to India playing both sides for the middle and a deep mistrust of both the US and China after war with both. Indonesia is also fascinating. There the game is being played economically between Japan and China. I have no idea whether jokowi is also being courted by the Americans.

            The Philippines has already ceded its territorial sovereignty to china after Duterte gave up on enforcing its fishing rights in its own waters citing a powerful China with whom it could not compete militarily.

            South korea and Japan remain under the US security umbrella which Trump rather unwisely has questioned the value of and Japan has even begun to question its pacifist constitution worried by the threat of a more powerful China.

            Singapore and Malaysia also have to look at making hard choices.

            I’m surprised Carl said nothing about Indonesia but what other countries are doing was beyond the scope of an almost already 2 hour long discussion.

            I’m not a big fan of the cold war description because I don’t believe war will be waged through proxies and a hot war is out of the question. Also contrary to what some china hands whom I hold in high regard say. I dont think China is bent on exporting its system internationally in the same way the Soviets were despite public comments that argue for just that by government officials.

            In some ways you are quite right to point out that India has long been suspicious of the US and that’s why following the fall of the wall india did not leap at rapprochement with the Americans. Bureaucratic inertia and mistrust.

            But we are in a new phase internationally. The US traditionally plays the role of offshore balancer as it does in Europe, west and for now east asia. But as I said earlier, how committed it is to east Asia is being questioned. Some argue the US is totally committed others claim it lacks the commitment. I wouldn’t bet on either and in the absence of certainty autonomy in my opinion is the best strategy.

        2. /*India is not a full participant in the quad for example.*/

          I had to giggle for this one. India is the only Asian power that has engaged in military confrontations with the PLA over the last 3 decades. It is the only power that has grabbed land along the Indo-China border via military and diplomatic exercises (Sumdorong Chu incident – Op Chequerboard). Doklam was the most recent major brigade level engagement where India stared down the Chinese.

          I am sure Australia and Japan make a lot of strategy ppts and cruise around the SCS in their shiny Aegis vessels and stare at the Chinese from 300 kms away. Well done,mate!!

          Bush Jr. knew this, Obama knew this and began the famous “Pivot to India” overruling several boffins in the State Department. The Wassenaar agreement, nuke deal, MTCR are all just cherries. The cake has to be delivered. It will come and I know the babus in South Block are doing a damn fine job.

          1. I think you rather miss the point. India is charting its own policy and responses regarding its relationship with a more powerful and assertive China. Where its territorial sovereignty is challenged it can will and does respond. Its just not going to participate fully in the Quad which would signal to China it too is part of a containment strategy when it has multiple outstanding unresolved issues, particularly around sensitive border regions.


  4. “People think I’m an agent of the Chinese state but really I’m a shitposter with too much time on his hands.”


    I’m less amused by his claim that America is the aggressor in this nascent Cold War. I am myself mildly pro-CPC and mildly anti-America, but it is abundantly clear that China is a revisionist power and America is the status-quo’s defender in the West Pacific.

  5. Another cold war is coming with China, it is inevitable. The media-military-industrial complex wants it badly.

    “China is being presented as the new existential enemy, just as Islam was 20 years ago. And by the very same people. The same newspaper columnists, the same think tanks, the same political parties and the same intelligence agencies.

    After Huntington’s famous essay that led the charge against Muslims – or what they often call radical Islam – now they have turned their attention to the Far East.”

  6. “There are those that look to china as an example perhaps even admiration of what can be achieved in a country of its size without the constraints of democracy and a model that if they could they would adopt in india.”

    Why is this perception so common? You would think more would realise having a highly bureaucratic form of government which loves regulation would be a more obvious target for criticism. Less democracy would mean more authoritiarian concentration of power which has poor results. Doesn’t look like enough Indians have seriously studied the causes of China’s rise to prosperity.

    1. I think its just general frustration with India’s growth relative to China and a desire to see order in what is quite a chaotic country. The folks that have expressed this view to me personally are from across the spectrum.

    2. The ones who are in awe of China style system will change in mind in jiffy if that were to affect them personally even in marginal way.

      That’s just grass is green on other side syndrome!

    1. It will take a lot for a serious dent to be made in the China-Pak relationship. The financial strains will likely mean the military will push for the 18th amendment to the constitution being repealed and perhaps even abolishing provinces for One Unit rule. That will mean more centralisation and more funds for the center. Chinese debt will be repaid by mortgaging what they can of the country.

      1. Looking at all this as a person from Indian subcontinent (leaving aside the India Pak hostilities) its a shame if such mortgaging of Pakistan occurs.
        Its like Porus bartering pieces of his kingdom to greeks instead of fighting back, all due to hatred for Nandas.

        ‘Cutting off nose to spite the face’ is a reality unfortunately!

        1. Its weird. On one hand Pakistanis are proud Aryans/Persians/Arabs descendants inheritors of the IVC, Aryans and Islamic empires yet they have no shame in selling out their country.

        2. The Congress, Manmohan Singh govt. (along with NSA Shivshankar Menon) went totally out of its way to make peace with Pakistan. They tried to convince them that if India and Pakistan resolve their differences, the whole region could take off economically and not be beholden to big power politics of either the USA or China. India and Pakistan would then both get to concentrate better on economic issues since the ruinous cost of maintaining large military formations at the border on a hair trigger alert would be removed. Also Indians (and Pakistanis) would stop dying in terrorist incidents perpetrated by LeT, JeM, HM etc.

          The 4 point plan proposed which the Singh govt. was very keen on tried to address Pakistan’s Kashmir interests by granting great autonomy to Kashmir and making the border between Indian and Pakistani held Kashmirs irrelevant. Pakistan could NOT have hoped for a better outcome. India was altering the status quo at great cost to itself and potentially great benefit for the Pakistanis. India was also willing to overlook the many acts of terrorism that Pakistan had perpetrated on Indian soil for years.

          But it all ended when in 2008 Pakistan sent 10 gunmen to storm Mumbai and kill civilians. Pakistan does NOT want peace or economic betterment. They want war and killing and suffering so that the Pakistan army can continue to rule Pakistan.

          Modi’s removal of Article 370 has been a fitting denouement of Pakistan’s perfidy.

          BTW Pakistan is doing the same things in Afghanistan with much greater success. Anyone who might have been interested in economic prosperity would not have supported the Taliban in their murderous bid to control Afghanistan.

          1. The economic prosperity of Afghanistan is irrelevant to Pakistan’s military. The goal there has always been to have a pliant government in place which can be relied on to provide strategic depth. That is less upsetting than it should be as it is largely due to the years of in-fighting and incompetence of the current Afghan government that the Taliban are still around.

            I reckon if Modi granted Pakistan’s military land to develop high-end housing estates in Indian Kashmir, the confrontation would be over tomorrow. The brass is not much good at fighting wars, they are more interested in keeping the wheels turning on Pakistan’s sole industry of building fancy real estate for the well-off and expats.

          2. But why are they supporting Taliban? Despite what anyone says India is not capable of winning or capturing/holding large amounts of land in war. There is no need for strategic depth, that’s just some random buzzword these military types come up with to justify their madness. I read that even though Indian cavalry is overwhelmingly superior it will not be able to logistically/operationally sustain any deep thrust or eventually hold territory against a determined anti-tank infantry.

            All this unnecessary bloodshed, terrorism and destabilization of foreign governments and Pakistanis like Gen. Asad Durrani think they can get away with it. I saw the lunatic’s interview with the not so closeted islamist Mehdi Hassan where he shamelessly describes Pakistani plans in Afghanistan. These guys (including PISS fame Mazari, Gen Hamid Gul and Co.) think of themselves as so clever even after loosing so many wagers. They will live to see the fruits of Taliban comeback.

          3. “The Congress, Manmohan Singh govt. (along with NSA Shivshankar Menon) went totally out of its way to make peace with Pakistan”

            BTW Neither Congress nor Manmohan Singh ever accepted the 4 point plan publicly. Pakistan can be blamed for lot of things, but i am not sure even without Mumbai the 4 point formula would have passed, considering that there was more “give” on the Indian side and Congress being a left-centered Govt could have passed it though Parliament. It had a hard time passing even the Nuclear deal which was even less controversial.

            @Ali Choudhury

            LOL. Is Malik Riaz , the Ambani of Pakistan?

          4. @Saurav
            I once saw a clip of Riaz describing a plan for developing an island off the coast of Balochistan into super secure Dubai or something. Laughed my heart out at the idiot. I can guarantee he doesn’t have triple digit IQ and all of his wealth is ill-gotten. Good thing he seems to have made enemies in the judiciary.

            I also saw his other interview where the anchors got a phone call mid interview to tone down the questions. Surely the idiot has power. Also he exeplifies my old observation that Pakistanis grossly under report their wealth and land assets.

  7. The Taliban is supported because Pakistan’s military and the ISI have much stronger links with the Taliban compared to other players. This goes back to when they were first formed in the mid-90s. Asking the military to try to not make disastrous decisions is like trying to convince a lemming to maybe not throw itself off a cliff. The amount of hubris and delusion is hard to convey.

  8. “…BTW Neither Congress nor Manmohan Singh ever accepted the 4 point plan publicly….”

    Saurav, I think you misunderstand.
    Manmohan Singh and his govt. totally wanted to improve relations with Pakistan as they thought it was in India’s long term interests. They argued that with Pakistan relations normalized India would
    a) get access to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian markets making the whole region a prosperous trade zone eventually
    b) India would be able to concentrate its military on China
    c) China or USA would not be able to play India/Pak off one another
    d) The costly military buildup on the LOC, resultant loss of life as well as the extensive security grid in Kashmir will end allowing India to focus its attention on more important things.

    Singh’s govt dangled the carrot of a ‘free movement across LOC’ for Kashmiris and other ways of making the LOC irrelevant while officially letting the borders remain where they are. This was to be an eventual outcome of years of negotiations and confidence building measures which would have given the time to generate support across a broad section of society in both India and Pakistan. Its not as if Manmohan was going to pass all this into law in one parliament session.

    BTW I hope you remember how much friendlier the relations between India and Pakistan were before 2008 attacks. Pakistani players in IPL, Pakistani movie stars and musicians in Bollywood, talk about India selling electricity, railway locomotives to Pakistan, increasing tourism and people to people contact etc.
    2008 attacks were a watershed event for Indo-Pak relations, as they should be. It finally proved to Indians that nothing can reform the bloodlust of the Pakistani army.

    1. I dont disagree on the contours of the 4 point formula, which you have described in your post. What i disagree is the political capital required to sell it to the Indian audience by the Congress Govt. Manmohan Singh was no Modi, Congress a left centrist Govt (always seen as weaker the BJP on national security) and it was a coalition govt. Ultimately all “normalization” would have been hunky dory, till the time it would have come to really pass the bill (and a bill had to pass to have the changes) , and that where the rubber would have met the road and Congress would have seen the real shrill BJP (and Modi in opposition) tomtoming this act as the ultimate sell out. The BJP was able to do exactly the same with the Nuclear deal, keeping silent and encouraging while the bill was in negotiation, and once it was introduced in the Parliament , Boom!

      On the whole deal falling apart , just a small correction that Kasturi (the ex Fm of Musharaff, the link man of the deal) , says that the deal was already losing steam much before 2008 attacks, as Musharaff had been facing internal opposition, while it dawned on Manmohan that all these 4 point and normalization talks are fine but now he was at the crunch moment and he has to do something legislatively, and that’s where he got cold feet. Also b/w 2004-2009 there were Samjhauta blast, Mumbai train bombings, and Delhi Bombings, which atleast at that point of time was seen to be done by Pakistan, so it was not all “normalization” though, but yes both things were happening.

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