The US Congress has come up with a fresh report saying that China is intent on using Pakistan to thwart India at every turn. This is to obtain a unhindered path in the world, especially in the Asian context, adds the report. The report has come at a time when a new American president is taking over — one who will have a nononsense policy towards China and has pledged to assert American leadership globally. Donald Trump has said that the very first day he assumes office as the 45th President of the United States (on January 20), he will scrap the American membership of the Trans Pacific Partnership. TPP was signed in February in view of protecting America’s interests in global trade.
The deal also proposed to work with China in cooperation with countries in the Pacific rim, in the backdrop of the South China Sea divide. But those very countries including Japan, Philippines, Vietnam etc. were apprehensive of China’s ambitions as it sought to assert its claims on the Pacific islands. These islands are claimed by as many as seven other countries in Asia. Not many in the US were happy with TPP either. Trump during his election campaign itself had pledged that the US would leave the partnership. China had even proposed a partnership with America, but President Obama rejected it. In his eight years in office, Obama sought to limit China’s ambitions by working with it. He strengthened US ties with the countries in Pacific and Indian oceans. Obama struck an alliance with Japan, India and Australia to keep the maritime trade corridors free, even as China was pursuing the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Thus the Congress report on US-China relations comes at a time when Trump is setting up a team to take over the US administration.
The report has warned that in the last ten years, Chinese influence has spread in and around South Asia — traditionally seen as India’s sphere of influence. Beijing has also sought to build a secure push for itself in the Indian Ocean and block India’s play in that region. This is why it is using a ‘wholly willing’ Pakistan to thwart India’s rise as a challenger to China’s ambitions. It wants to cement its place as the sole leader of Asia. The report, however, also points out that the rise of terrorism is a major threat to China’s security, thus prompting a shift in the country’s strategic calculations. In China’s southern provinces, there has been a significant rise in radicalisation of Muslim minorities. For decades, authoritarian regimes in several Muslim majority states bordering China in Central Asia have kept restive regions under control.
The US report terms, “checking India’s rise, primarily exploiting India-Pakistan rivalry” as an important agenda for China. New Delhi clearly sees that Beijing supports Pakistan on all major regional issues. “The overall balance of power between China and India currently is in China’s favour, and Beijing intends to keep it that way. China’s primary mechanism in this regard is its support for Pakistan.” For India, it is no news. New Delhi has seen Beijing backing Pakistan on crucial issues like declaring Masood Azhar as a globally designated terrorist and blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It has harassed Indian businessmen seeking to expand Indian exports to China and has been showing evident hostility to Indian diplomacy in Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. In addition, China is pushing a $51 billion investment in Pakistan. The Chinese Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an initiative to build a rail, road and industrial corridor from its southern provinces through Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
It creates a corridor between the new port that China is building at Gwadar in Balochistan and Kashgar in Xinjiang. China is also seeking to oust regimes in Nepal, Maldives, Myanmar and Sri Lanka — governments it thinks could be friendly to India. No doubt, the US Congressional report seeks to show that the threat of terrorism to China is forcing certain changes in Beijing’s South Asian policy that is centred on favouring Pakistan to thwart India. “Counter terrorism has become an increasingly important facet of Beijing’s engagement with South Asia,” the US report claims. The response from India to these developments would be watched keenly. But the Modi government, with its numerous initiatives, has already built strong bonds with all the Southeast Asian nations. Under Prime Minister Modi, India now has a friendly regime in Nepal and Sri Lanka, close relations with Bangladesh and a partnership with Bhutan and Afghanistan.
As a counter to CPEC, India is building a port in Iran. Chabahar is being built by India linking Afghanistan, central Asian nations with rich oil and gas fields. The port has a huge deve l opment potential. Whether the Trump administration will join India in all these ventures is to be watched. Right now, the expected protectionist trade moves by the incoming Trump administration could further weaken China which has built a huge fortune by exporting globally, mainly to the US. This is also a time when the growth rate of China has sunk to six per cent. The country’s devalued currency has threatened economic growth thus forcing its migrant population to return to rural areas amidst growing distress. Xi Jinping is certainly not riding the silk road without any challenges.
Balbir Punj is former Rajya Sabha member and a Delhi-based commentator on social and political issues,
Courtesy: The New Indian Express