India, China/Asia/Pacific
India China US Triangle  - Asia/Pacific

India China US Triangle

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

As nations we all are derivatives of our cultures and civilization, but if one wants to see a state wedged-in in pristine culture you could see the examples of India and China. Cultural preponderance and centuries-old civilizational heritage make the prism through with which these states will absorb modernity in the era of globalization.

This essay will question present day India-China-US geopolitics with appreciation of the fact that nations have characters and they assess their interests and policies within some of their inherent fundamentalisms. This national character and identity comes out as both the strength of the nation as well as its limitation.

China’s becoming an economic giant, potentially challenging the geo-economic interest of the United States around the globe, created the desperation for the US to pivot in Asia upon a country that could be relied on as a natural ally against China.

Present day US, China, India relations are a product of the fear depicted in the Thucydides’ Trap, whereby the rising power in Athens created fear of decline in Sparta, an already dominant power, causing war between the two in the 4th century BC.

The avarice for power therefore, can be said to be as primitive as human civilization itself. This avarice is not blotted with technological advances; rather the greater chunk of technological development is made to serve its purpose, in the billions of dollars. Nor does it get disannulled by replacing authoritarianism with democracy or theocracy with secularism – it just keeps becoming stronger. And power and fear are a bifolded binary that consume each other till they eventually destroy one another.

But just like the US; India and China have their own fears and apprehensions. They must act not just in defiance or alliance with the US, rather they will pre-ensure their own integrities. As two sovereign nations, with their own interest, ideologies and weighty cultures, the Hans Chinese will field the question posed by the US, differently as will the people of the Indo-Aryan-Dravidic complex. And they must ask, how US pivoting in India fits into the Thucydides’ Trap – why would the US facilitate the becoming of another economic giant, when it is already fearful of just one.

The cultural unity of the Hans may be attributed to their living in the eastern extreme of the world, barred by Taklimakan and Gobi deserts at their entire west and the unsociable Mongols and Manchurians at their north, to avert whom they had built the Great Wall of China, and the vast, cold Pacific at their east – practically isolating them from the rest of the world for a long period. The Folk Religion evolving in China was therefore a product of their close-culture of the agro east of the country that had not absorbed much from the outside world except for Buddhism from India, which too they converted into their own Chinese Buddhism.

India on the other hand, was a land distributed with fertility, with an enormous coastline of warm waters at its east and west. India therefore had to bear with many outsiders. The Aryans came first all the way from Mesopotamia to lay claim on the whole of northern India, the Medes seeped in on the west, the Arabs conquered the eastern coastline, the Afghan kings entered from the north and the Mongols after them. This did not only accumulate numerous ethnicities in India, but also opened the hearts of its people to a diversity of beliefs. 

Today, both China and India being agriculture-based are home to over 1.3billion people each. This also makes them home to the biggest number of poverty-stricken people of the world, deprived of food and education and also often trapped in modern day slaveries. Yet in spite of this heavy baggage, these countries have opted to dream for a bigger, greater future.

China’s past is marred by the Century of Humiliation, wherein the Qing Dynasty was practically enslaved to Western powers and Japan from 1839 to 1949. While communism was China’s way out of subjugation and towards state sovereignty, the great economic reforms that started in 1978 was a way out of rigid socialism by opening its markets to the outer free world. And the miracles of these reforms were China’s swift sway on mass production on all scales, from simple household accessories and cheap toys to aircrafts and satellite systems on the one hands, and an appetite for huge infrastructure projects on the other.

India opened up to western capitalism with Narsimha Rao’s 1991 economic liberalization policy, which is also seen as India’s departure from the Russian camp. But in contrast to China, India was not going to transform sections of its society into techno-evolved producers, rather for India the free-market would bring in foreign firms that would use India’s land, labor and resources for cheap, while keeping their own trade secrets intact. Even companies like Tata and Reliance, who bought many foreign projects putting an India-stamp on them, have kept progressing in the capitalist fashion. The difference in China then was perhaps its firm socialist base, which led it to distribute technology at all levels, making it a utilitarian project.

How does all this make India a natural ally to the US? This is because India and China have some similarities; both are agri-based, meaning that with appropriate planning they can be food self-sufficient. They both have vast territory of land, and both have the world’s largest populations, that can be seen as a workforce instead of a liability. Furthermore, for India workforce prospects are stronger as its population will age younger than that of China in the coming 2 decades. Both have benefited from opening to free-market, both are ambitious for their future, not only in economy but as regional or global players. So India being a natural contender in Asia, is seen by the US as a strong bidding ground against China and an ally against the growing resurgence of a Russia-China communist bloc. But how has this selection of friends fared for India?

While China’s ambitions have taken it from continent to continent; with its large infrastructure projects going on in over 40 African countries alone, India is trying to pull up its socks too and has stuck its claws in Mauritius and Mozambique with military assistance, intelligence training and listening posts. China has big trade projects in South America too - perhaps this should remind India of Nehru’s foreign policy consensus to make solidarity with the global South – a dream that India abandoned and China is achieving.

The Pivot to Asia, a failed Obama Policy, was an effort to ally Pacific states such as Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore in trade and security deal with the US. If this Policy would have succeeded, the US would have re-secured the complete maritime belt from Japan to South East Asia and to India, consolidating both the Pacific and the Indian oceans, potentially making China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) impossible. Obama’s failure has proven to be a double victory for China as this tug-of-war has resulted in China-skeptic states in its neighborhood falling in line with China. And the US is left with only India and Japan as reliable friends in Asia.

Allying with the US makes India short of friends too in Asia. Relations with Russia, a traditional partner in socialism, have been shelved since long. China has active border clashes with India. Indonesia and Malaysia, both Muslim majority states have been weary of India’s hegemonic potential and refrained. The Arab World has trade and diplomacy with India but at a distance. To counter such shortcoming in Asia, Indian PM Nerandra Modi, with his global vision, has set out to befriend India’s immediate neighbors in its east, whom have despised India for its Big Brother image in the South East Asia region. Since the beginning of his tenure, Modi, reviving India’s ‘Look East Policy’, has made visits to Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and has resolved a long-standing border dispute with Bangladesh.

Nepal’s case is another complex for India, India’s housing of the Dalia Lama since China forced him to exile from Nepal in 1959, after he potentially launched the Tibetan Revolution aimed at freeing Tibet from China’s rule – is seen by China a direct intervention in its sovereignty. If India wants to send a message of friendship to China, it cannot host the Lama, doing which sends a very strong negative message. This test-case shows a national character whereby India needs to be confrontal in its neighborhood, contrasting with China’s characteristics of not being confrontal and having much to offer in terms of economic projects for any return of loyalty. Perhaps these characteristics have trickled down from centuries’ old revering of Chanakya on the Indian side, who preached the principles of ‘saam, daam, dand, bhed and asana’ (persuade, purchase, punish, exploit weakness and deliberately sit on the fence) and that of Sun Tzu on the Chinese side who taught a somewhat passivity like, ‘know your enemy’ and ‘subdue the enemy without fighting’.

Closing in from this global backdrop, one can see the China-India-US triangle squeezing the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Kashmir sub-region in its stresses. From the US Invasion of Afghanistan, to using its soil to destabilize Pakistan and foremost allowing India to become a co-invader in Afghanistan, have all been seen by Pakistan as an existential threat – but inversely to US planning they have all added to the ripening of Pak-China allegiance in the passing decade. The US bid to build a command-post in Afghanistan with a parallel incision in the heart of the Middle East in Iraq, if successful would have tilted the whole of Asia to US’ will - but both the Afghan and the Iraq wars have been inconclusive as yet – blurring the US strongman image in the world.  

It seems like, US strategy of containment of China with India's and Japan’s help has proven an over-ambitious one and has caused threefold repugnance;  reversal of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, China’s aggressive pursuit of OBOR and Russia’s renewal of its Cold War with the US in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In the Middle East, Russian intervention has flipped the tables for the US and in Afghanistan China’s coming forth to embrace Pakistan has cleared a forward pathway for Pakistan, which it had been struggling for, for the past one and a half decade. CEPC, a sub-project to OBOR, is the economic corridor that is being built through and through Pakistan and has changed the geopolitics of the region.

If CPEC is a success, it will assure an irreversible constancy between China and Pakistan. CPEC being one of the first models in OBOR, China would not want its roll-back and to strengthen its first bulwark in Asia, China will have to play its part in ensuring a stable and strongly-defended Pakistan. But this is not as easy as said – Pakistan’s stability depends on peace and stability in both Afghanistan and Kashmir!

And that is what is frightening India more. India envisions CPEC as a relationship that will force China to back Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir vocally. Kashmir is a sour point for India. Not only giving up Kashmir with its unwilling Muslim majority - goes against India’s imperial lust, but such an event could be seen in India as a victory of the Two Nation Theory, initiating a drive for independence in the other Muslim majority states of Kerala, Assam and West Bengal, all of which are peripheral states. So China, who has already vetoed India’s entry in the Nuclear Suppliers Group may soon be obliging Pakistan on Kashmir too.

Likewise in Afghanistan, China who has previously posed to be neutral, has in the recent past, pledged to help the Taliban in fighting off the ISIS-K faction. China fears the rise of Uyghur Jihadist terror-group the Turkistan Islamic Party in the eastern Xinxiang province and sees it as one of the extension of AlQaeda, that have ran havoc in several Muslim states of the world. And there are good reasons to believe that this wave of terrorism has its roots in the US invasion of Afghanistan. Therefore to have Afghanistan stable, would mean to rid it of the menace of foreigners who brought the plague of terrorism with them – and that in effect would also serve to cut the lifeline of Uyghur terrorism. Moreover, the US’ way of conducting things in Afghanistan, as seen up till now, will only ensure a dysfunctional democracy, an absconding Afghan National Army, an unsatisfied Afghan majority that supports the Afghan Taliban and an ever dissatisfied Pakistan. This means that the stance of both Pakistan and China converge in the Afghan Issue too, making it another anti-India stance.

The way the people of a cultural heritage think and the way their ruling class reflect that thinking upon the outside world has profound effect on the course of that nation’s life. Our political fortune-tellers carve our future with policies that are inculcated today. Today’s alliances and enmities will bore their fruits in the laps of a coming generation. And the common people have no means to assess or guide the privileged elite that look down at the world from a pedestal so high that blurs reality with thier self-design – and the common man gets to know what had been written for their future only when that future has come to them.

US policies in Asia seem to have utterly failed for now, in the avarice of regaining hegemony on the maritime trade routes and in the effort of pitting China’s neighbors against it, US has isolated itself in Asia. As it happens the US can pack its bags and leave any time it wants - but India has to stay – it has to keep on living in the same neighborhood but one where it will be facing a more hostile China and an ever more skeptical Pakistan.