The Pitfalls of the Emerging Anti-China Axis
There is no second opinion that China's emerging clout in the world economic and strategic spectrum is a cause of concern to the free world and some may even characterise it as the damning threat to world peace! Over the Horizon: The Pitfalls of the Emerging Anti-China Axis[
Robert Farley 15 Dec 2010
Concern about China's emerging economic and military capabilities now drives the U.S. strategic debate. The development of anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) by the PRC has even led some to argue that the balance of power in the Western Pacific has now shifted in China's direction. At the very least, ASBMs give China another tool with which to threaten U.S. naval predominance in Asia. In response to the perceived growth of Chinese military power, analysts at the Center for New American Security and elsewhere have suggested (.pdf) closer alignment with Japan and India, two of China's regional rivals.
On the surface, this strategy appears similar to that employed by Washington during the Cold War, when the U.S. created circles of regional allies to attempt to hem in the Soviet Union. However, the dynamics of a potential India-U.S.-Japan relationship differ greatly from those that allowed the emergence of NATO. Whereas the United States played the lead military and political role in NATO, it will act more as the connective tissue in the relationship with India and Japan. Also in contrast to the Cold War, the United States might face great difficulty in managing and restraining its regional partners.
On the northern flank of this notional alliance is Japan, which is pursuing an increasingly assertive set of national security policies. Japan's grievances with China include Beijing's continued support for North Korea, as well as territorial disputes over several island chains. The most recent indication of Japan's shifting defense priorities are reports this week that Tokyo will refocus its attention in a southerly direction, developing new mobile units capable of defeating a Chinese incursion onto the disputed islands. Japan's large navy now specializes in missile defense, in part to defend the archipelago from North Korea, but also from China's arsenal of conventional ballistic missiles. Japan is also building several small aircraft carriers -- officially designated "helicopter-carrying destroyers" -- that could become potent force-projection platforms with the addition of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. Japan trails China militarily only in the size of its ground forces, in nuclear weapons, and in ballistic missiles. A close relationship with the United States helps to alleviate all of these vulnerabilities.
The other pillar of this notional axis is India. Two successive American presidential administrations have now made improving relations with India a U.S. foreign policy priority. China and India have ample cause for conflict beyond their rivalry for regional geostrategic predominance, including China's longstanding support for Pakistan, two border disputes, and Chinese naval overtures into the Indian Ocean. India's huge population, fast-growing economy, and dynamic democratic system of governance make it an attractive partner for American foreign policy analysts across the political spectrum. India also has a powerful military. By 2020, the Indian navy plans to operate three aircraft carriers, including two of new domestic construction and one purchased from Russia. Rumors of an Indian purchase of HMS Queen Elizabeth -- a carrier still under construction in the United Kingdom -- persist, but it's uncertain whether or not the British will even sell the ship. India is also participating with Russia in the development of the PAK-FA, a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Despite the fact that Beijing spends between three to five times as much as New Delhi does on defense, India will continue to possess modern, capable naval and air forces competitive with those of the PRC for the foreseeable future. Moreover, India's air force has a good reputation for quality, as demonstrated by its performance in successive "Cope India" exercises with the United States. Like Japan, India's strategic capabilities lag substantially behind those of China in terms of overall warhead levels and sophistication of delivery systems, which could provide additional incentive for India to hew closer to the United States.
U.S. strategic policymaking circles have begun to devote considerable attention to India. For example, a recent report (.pdf) from the Center for New American Security detailed the areas in which the U.S. and India could profitably collaborate. The report, written by Richard Armitage, Nicholas Burns, and Richard Fontaine, called for U.S. support for a permanent Indian seat on the U.N. Security Council, as well as several other measures designed to resolve points of dispute. The report's most important statement, however, may have been the authors' contention that "India's rise to global power is . . . in America's strategic interest," indicating that the authors view India as a key part of America's global strategic architecture. Unfortunately, the report treads lightly on such divisive issues as India's nonproliferation policy, its disputes with Pakistan, and differences between Washington and New Delhi on the structure of international trade.
Any deepening of the U.S. relationship with India will need to tackle such issues, because the desire to balance China only goes so far toward cementing a strategic partnership. Neither India nor Japan think of themselves as clients of the United States. Both have interests on some issues that run counter to U.S. preferences -- sometimes strongly so. The U.S.-India leg in particular involves states with dramatically different security and economic interests. India will not be content to serve as the U.S. proxy in South Asia. Even during the Cold War, the United States and its alliance partners in Europe and Asia suffered tensions based on different interpretations of interest. An India-Japan-U.S. axis against China will likely suffer even greater tensions, because the imbalance of power within the alliance will be smaller, and the margin of its combined advantage over China greater.
Moreover, the United States may find its position as the cartilage of a Japan-India-U.S. relationship uncomfortable. Both India and Japan have intrinsic, direct disputes with China, while U.S. concerns -- apart from Taiwan and North Korea -- are largely strategic. During the Cold War, the United States could generally rely on its alliance partners to stay out of direct conflicts with the Soviet Union. Because of the intrinsic conflicts between China, India and Japan, and because the bilateral power imbalance between China and either India or Japan will be smaller than that between the Soviet Union and Washington's Cold War allies, the U.S. risks being drawn into conflicts started by one of its partners.
In short, a developing security relationship between the United States, India, and Japan holds great promise as an effort to balance and contain China. The dynamics of such an alliance will play out much differently than Cold War style containment, however. Whereas the U.S. played a leading role in NATO and the other regional organs of containment in the Cold War, its place in an India-Japan axis will at best be first among equals. Perhaps more importantly, the axis might serve to draw the United States into a conflict with China that it most desperately wants to avoid. These dangers mean that the best scenario for the United States remains the integration of China into a regional security framework, rather than its exclusion.
Dr. Robert Farley is an assistant professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His interests include national security, military doctrine, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination. His weekly WPR column, Over the Horizon, appears every Wednesday. Pitfall?
However, it is too premature to conclude that the balance has shifted to China.
From the US perspective, it is following the correct policy of attempting an alliance with China's regional adversaries i.e. Japan and India. What the article misses out is the assiduous overtures being made to Vietnam, which has outstanding issues with China and its hegemonic pursuits. Or for that matter, overtures to Indonesia amongst others.
Japan's problems with China is not of recent history, be it support to North Korea or the Chinese attempts to grab Japanese islands. It is steeped in history and has hardly been erased from memory on either side. The fact that Japan is slowly giving teeth to its Self Defence Force and converting it into a conventional defence force is a statement in itself of resurgent Japan. And that is the fear of China irrespective of it size and strength that it may use to overawe tiny Japan. Japanese militarism is legend and China has many a time been brought to its knees by Japan and they cannot forget the same.
India, while pursuing a foreign policy, is still aware of the danger posed by China, notwithstanding China's pious platitudes and homilies. While she can take on China in all fields, it is pragmatic for her to have a loose alliance with the US and in concert block China's hegemonic approach to the Asia Pacific rim. In so far as the Pakistan factor is concerned, it is a mater of worry but can be taken in one's stride, more so if the Us limits its supply of weaponry that bolsters Pakistan's India centric defence infrastructure. A closer tie with the US would allow dual technology transfer which in turn would bolster India's pursuit in the strategic realm.
Indeed, India will not be anyone's proxy, but the congruence of strategic interests necessitates that both the US and India, along with all countries on the periphery of China and the Seas, gravitate towards a common aim so as to meet the strategic challenges posed in the Asia Pacific Rim.
Opportunity knocks on the door but only once.
This is not the time to be Pollyannaish and be taken in and be doused in the sweet tongued flattery that Chinese leaders gush when they have to disarm a country to meet its (China's) long time political, economic and strategic goals.
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