Asia Pacific – The Great Game and India

Discussion in 'Subcontinent & Central Asia' started by Raj30, May 7, 2013.

  1. Raj30

    Raj30 Senior Member Senior Member

    May 24, 2012
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    What the Pivot Means
    Before the heat of US elections and Chinese transition of power cooled off, the well times East Asia Summit and the ASEAN meet at Phnom Phen has focused world attention on SE Asia. With President Obama, Prime Minister Wen Zia Bao and Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh participating in the conference, the great game in Asia-Pacific is entering an interesting stage of global geopolitics, especially in view of America’s ‘Pivot’ to the East. Combined with India’s “Look East” Policy the three major players in this game US, China and India are jostling for influence in the region. What happens now?
    As per security analysts, this Obama initiative is a part of US strategy of containing China in Asia-Pacific while China is keen to exert its influence in its soft under belly by retaining its strategic hold over ASEAN countries. India, which has great stakes in both expanding ASEAN and using its geographical leverage in Indo – Pacific (Indian and Pacific Oceans) to contain China’s hagemonistic rise in the region is being wooed strongly by the US to become its strategic partner. As per Chidanand Rajghatta, in an opinion piece in the Times of India of Nov 17, titled “With one eye on Beijing, US signals “ full embrace of Delhi”, leaving little doubt that the US sees India as a counter weight to China regardless of what China, India itself and the rest of the world thinks of the idea and their response to it. President Obama’s visits to Myanmar (also called Burma) Thailand and Cambodia are part of this larger game to make new allies in the region. Monika Chansoria of CLAWS, quotes US State Department official, William Burns as stating that “A healthy US – China relationship is central to the future of the Asia-Pacific region and the global economy”. As per her, the sentiment notwithstanding the conflict and cooperation between their relations cannot be considered as mutually exclusive. Chinese state media has for some time now viewed ‘security rebalancing’ as inimical to Chinese interests in the region and have opined that “China has become a firm strategic target of the US”. Chinese media is also weary of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a new economic and trade model in Asia pacific marginalising China. As per Kaplan, “Unquestionably, there is deep strategic mistrust between the two countries. China’s rapid economic growth, steady military modernization, and relentless nationalistic propaganda at home are shaping Chinese public expectations and limiting possibilities for compromise with other powers”.
    US Military Maneuver
    An analysis of the Pivot, reveals “credible military rebalancing” by the US - something akin to its positioning to contain USSR during the cold war days. A new realigned NATO appears to be taking shape in Asia-Pacific. Pentagon, which despite pruning has over 1000 “lily ponds” (bases) across the globe has moved into bases in nations bordering China that include Mongolia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and others in Australia, Philippines and Singapore. The presidential visits to Burma, Cambodia and Thailand and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s simultaneous visits to Australia, Cambodia and Thailand are pointers in this direction.
    The ‘Pivot’ entails deployment of 60 percent of total American naval assets, qualitatively and quantitatively to the Asia-Pacific. The US has eleven of the world’s twelve nuclear aircraft carriers and all eleven super carriers. With US Pacific and Central Commands area of responsibilities converging in this region, there is every possibility of US attempting a cold war type encirclement and containment of China militarily. When seen in perspective US attempts to create a new global interceptor missile grid which targets China, as the European version does Russia, include to date Japan, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan. Philippines is reported to be joining this bandwagon, as home to US interception sites akin to Turkey.
    China, which is the key member of two global grouping (BRICS and SCO) is no push over . As explained earlier by South Asian Idea, alliances in the emerging 21st century world order would be formed with or against the US. We are now witnessing the jostling Phase of these alliances as argued in our article “West Versus Rest“ and “US-China Cold War“. While the conditions between the two giants are nowhere near “The Cold War” of yester years . The current trajectory of US-China relations is indicative of a path towards such dispensation in future. This Foreign Policy article though explains Chinese efforts to engage South East Asia with its soft power – a new initiative by China to maintain the lead among countries of the Asia Pacific.
    “After investing tens of billions of dollars in Southeast Asia, China has now decided that its vaunted economic power, which has bought it significant influence with regional governments, is not enough. Beijing now wants to be loved, too”.
    India – Can it balance Look East with the Pivot?
    Where does India fit into this new great game? As opined earlier “India as a strategic partner” is the bipartisan call of Democrats and Republicans alike. Obama would use his second term to fructify this alliance even if it has to agree to some economic & political trade offs viz outsourcing , end-user agreements and India’s quest for retaining its strategic autonomy. Geographically speaking, India can prove to be the bulwark in US pivot, counter balancing China on land and at sea .But such a heft would inextricably involve India’s in a direct confrontation with Beijing , which would be counterproductive to India’s peaceful economic rise and upset the regional geopolitical equation with no major gains accruing out of the proposed alliance .
    India’s options are complicated and are largely based on India’s quest to balance China with or without overt US support – military, economic and political. However, is the Indian-political environment capable of surviving the “alliance storm” or should it remain a swing state balancing the two by having better relations with the two then they have with each other?
    India’s contentions through the “Look East” policy to establish strong economic, political and military ties with the members of ASEAN are noble as it only finds trouble to its West. However, its delivery model speaks of a very poor track record. Burma, with which it established diplomatic relations for the last twenty years, despite the Junta rule, is a living example of India being long on rhetoric and short on delivery. This has hurt Indian credibility globally and regionally as a country capable of delivering on its promises. However, winds of change seem to be blowing in the right directions and with some commitment India should be able to retain its “strategic autonomy” while dealing with members of ASEAN as also with US and China. This though requires a long-term policy perspective with a strong will to deliver on its promises.
    Then, as usual, Pakistan remains the elephant in the room which would play truant to any Sino-Indian dialogue for peaceful co-existence. Not withstanding this irritant, India would have to engage US, China and the ASEAN nations including Japan and Australia to meet its strategic interests in the region.
    The elephant would thus have to dance deftly in this grey zone and retain adequate leverages to deal with this new great game unfolding in the region .
  3. Raj30

    Raj30 Senior Member Senior Member

    May 24, 2012
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    US & Chinese Pivots and India : South Asian Idea

    China does not see itself as a rising, but a returning power . . . It does not view the prospect of a strong China exercising influence in economic, cultural, political, and military affairs as an unnatural challenge to world order—but rather as a return to a normal state of affairs. — HENRY KISSINGER, 2012
    It is China’s intention to be the greatest power in the world. — LEE KUAN YEW, 2011
    The United States welcomes China’s rise as a strong, prosperous and suc- cessful member of the community of nations. — PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, 2011
    As a region South Asia has increasingly been refocused at the centre of geopolitical calculations globally. The US Pivot to the Asia-Pacific, while still inextricably being involved in AF Pak and West Asia where fatigue seems to have set in, has bad ripple effects in Asia. Not to be undone, Beijing is debating a pivot of its own. In an insightful paper tiled ‘Westward Ho’, Yun sen writing in foreign Policy Magazine has presented views of Chinese think tanks and PLA in forging new alliances in regions that lie to China’s West by investing in Central Asian Republics(CAR), West Asia and South Asia – territories where US dominance only resides in Saudi Arabia and Israel. As US gets more self-reliant in its energy security at home, there would be a case for it reducing its footprint from the bleeding ulcer that is West Asia. China is significantly increasing its involvement through infrastructure development in these areas midst intense economic activity.
    The Centre of Gravity of both these strategies unfortunately traverse South Asia and more specifically India. It was discussed at length in our post “Why Indo US relations pass through Beijing”.
    If 21st century has to be an Asian century, it has to roll on the twin wheels provided by China and India. China on its part is Marching West while containing the East and South to pursue a firm policy of cooperation through sound economics and by adding muscle to PLA. The belligerence of PLA in shaping Chinese foreign policy over the last five years, as evident in South China Sea and Senkaku Islands or its new-found love for engaging in finding a security solution to post 2014 Af Pak, go beyond Chinese mantra of ‘Peaceful Rise’. After becoming CMC chair, Xi has used a new formulation of building a “strong army” (and PAP) that “obeys the party’s commands, is capable of winning wars, and has a good work style.”
    Lee Kuan Yew, the most revered statesman in Asia, opines that China would do well to balance its relationship in the neighbourhood through economic activity and positive engagement in a political environment where the current breed of political leaders may seek belligerence due to hubris arising out of China’s growing economic and military status. Apparently, the Chinese believe in developing political, economic and military leverages to conduct their foreign policy on their terms or norms.
    US today is weary of unintentional consequences of the ‘Pivot’ – that of India and China coming together purely based on their geographic proximity despite irritants such as Pakistan or LAC. President Xi Jinping’s 5 Point formula’ is effusive on this aspect. Western Analysts argue that if France and Germany the two dreaded enemies of World Wars could come together, so could India and China. At this point, it world be pertinent to look at the question of China and India … And or Versus” once again and define a global role for India in this now brewing rivalry where it has better relations with the two than they have with each other.
    Multilateralism and economic cooperation are the common India and Chinese mantras against US unipolarity. Can they endure without upsetting a declining US? Peaceful peripheries apply equally to both to ensure their peaceful rise. China, however, is content with playing this game while keeping India tied to the pole in its neighborhood by supporting proxy states such as Pakistan, and other neighbor such as Nepal, Bangladesh, Srilanka and Myanmar. Simultaneously, its moves to keep India out of NSG citing Pak parity or UNSC are leverages to keep Indian global aspirations in check. There are also differences over Tibet and rivers flowing from there and over how India deals with Pakistan — China’s important ally.
    India and China have huge problems ranging across Pakistan, Tibet, water and India’s role in SE Asia but there are far more compelling reasons for the two to cooperate purely due to their geographical affinity. As China underplays India’s rise it is averse to a growing Indo US alliance anytime in Afghanistan or Asia-Pacific. While competition is inevitable between the two, conflict is not. Vikram Sood sums it rather well:-
    China’s big game is not against India but primarily the US. China has been making fervent efforts to increase its power projection capabilities through military modernisation, cyber capabilities and use of its deep pockets to extend influence through investment and infrastructure development in the countries on its periphery. It seeks to keep the US out of the Western Pacific. Chinese actions from the Sea of Japan to the South China Sea are designed to test US resolve and warn the neighbours about the resident power as against the distant power. It would want to send a similar message to India….
    …“All in all, .. India and the US will neither enter into an embrace nor disengage; they will continue to shake friendly hands as Obama’s second term unfolds.”
    With this in the pocket, China can continue to nurture its 2005 Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity and “now on now off” charade of joint military exercises. China is convinced that America’s ‘pivot’ to Asia is meant to contain China. It therefore is doing all it can to strengthen its stand in this West versus Rest game panning out globally.
    Can India find viable solutions to this vexed sandwich?
    It throws open immense security challenges as also imposes pressures on India’s foreign policy. However, Indian policy making, torn apart by inefficiency of coalition politics is seen floundering in the neighbourhood. Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are live examples of how vacillation and flip fops have embarrassed the country in developing a sound neighbourhood policy. Nitin Pai, in his widely appreciated opinion, has exhorted for a neighbourhood policy based on economic reform and backing of pro India parties regionally. PB Mehta’s timely piece ‘A Region without Norms’, has argued that sheer erosion of state power, (brought about by fragmentation of politics) has ensured that India is neither feared nor loved. Both these stories highlight the lack of structured long-term strategic vision to formulate its foreign policy in concert with its core national interests (if any). As a result, there is no normative articulation which defines India’s foreign policy to manage an effective periphery of peace or serve its global interests.
    This is easier said. Regionally and globally India finds it extremely difficult to navigate this tight rope walk because of domestic discord, pressures of coalition politics and economic slowdown.
    But the larger problem lies else where …
    India today is struggling on many counts – political, economic and military. It’s ability to establish strong credibility is gravely eroded by its lack or weakening of institutions. Institutions for public policy formulation and execution that need to cut across domains/parties/personalities and weather the storms of fickle coalition dharma. Sacrificing national interests to “serve the nation” needs to structurally change in favour of strong democratic institutions, held together by a coherent strategic vision, to ensure India’s national interests are protected and promoted. Simultaneously India’s delivery mechanism, as evident in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Srilanka need to improve vastly to ensure credibility in the neighbourhood and globally. In fact a recent Heritage Foundation report underscores this weakness in Indian foreign policy and argues that “U.S.-India strategic convergence is, indeed, a long-term, exploratory endeavor”. Samundra Manthan of of C Raja Mohan offers many solutions provided they are objectively analysed and heeded to.

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