Big power rivalries and games have come to stay in the Asian region. The main players in the game now are the US, China and India. Pakistan, which has for long remained a frontline state for the US, has now been relegated to a secondary perhaps innocuous position. The great game is now poised to be played in the Asia pacific region. The US has recently taken a decision to deploy some of its forces in the Philippines; this has raised China’s hackles to a considerable degree and it has threatened sanctions against the Philippines.“At the international level, the Philippines knows that the US has definitely returned to Asia – refocusing its military and security deployment in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, targeting China and Iran as the primary security concern,” says ¬Dr. Pak-Nung Wong of the City University of Hong Kong while adding that the Philippines is merely cashing in on America’s interests to create a reliable ally.
This surprising move by the US has come close in the wake of a shift in its policy towards Myanmar from one of isolation to engagement. Having decided upon this policy shift, no doubt at India’s behest, the US has gone whole hog as is evident by a visit to the country by none less than the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in December 2011. On its part, Myanmar has welcomed the US with a decision to suspend the Chinese-supported Myitsone hydroelectric dam project. Citing widespread public concern over the dam’s environmental effects and consequences for local communities Myanmar’s President, Thein Sein, halted work on the dam in late September. According to the Chinese English newspaper, Global Times, this suspension “brought massive losses” to China Power Investment Corporation that was responsible for construction of the dam. The Chinese have shown no hesitation in declaring that these happenings exemplify the US bid to contain its rise in the region.
That the US is showing more than usual interest in India is quite evident. It is taking India on board for all critical policy decision in the Asian region while openly sidelining long term ally – Pakistan. The US seems to have in place a long term strategy for the Asia Pacific region in which India and Japan have been identified as the key allies. The entire game plan is targeted towards the containment of China. China, of course is visibly incensed and its anger burst out when India initiated a project to carry out oil exploration in partnership with Vietnam in the South China Sea. The Global Times warned that prospecting for oil in China-claimed waters would “push China to the limits”. The relatively more moderate People’s Daily also did not mince words: “… China should denounce this agreement as illegal. Once India and Vietnam initiate their exploration, China can send non-military forces to disturb their work, and cause dispute or friction to halt the two countries’ exploration.”
China has been working towards political isolation of India through its infamous string of pearls policy for a long time now. With this virtual reverse string of pearls now getting in place, it is haranguing like a spoilt child. Its threats are no longer cloaked in diplomatic finesse and its utterances are the language of small time hoodlums. Here the question arises – does India have a reason to be worried about Chinas political, economic and military might. Politically, both India and China are well placed to play a dominant regional role, only time will tell whether one of the two will emerge as a clear winner or both will occupy a well established space. Economically, China may not be as strong as it is being made out to be. Undoubtedly, it holds Trillions worth of US and European treasury bonds but these do not give it much diplomatic leverage. If US and Europe go down, so does China. Where will it get the market for its mindless industrial production? China is also facing problems of middle class dissent being on the rise, an ageing population, secessionist tendencies amongst its Muslim in Xingjian province, dissension in Tibet and above all a falling growth rate. Come January 2012, China will considerably taper the freedom of media and Internet-usage by imposing severe restrictive measures, senior Party officials have been pressing hard for more and more stringent censorship of what they term as “unapproved opinions”. This does not speak highly of the level of freedom that the State is prepared to give to the citizens of the country. All is not well with the dragon and the world may witness a change in its political landscape sooner than later.
Militarily, of course, China is much stronger than India; a weakness further augmented by critical and avoidable delays in defence acquisition and modernisation. All that the army is looking for in terms of force accretion and infrastructure development needs to be provided without delay failing which India may well be staring in the face of a repeat of 1962.
As an overall assessment it can be fairly stated that China is on the defensive, it has a belligerent US staring at it in the Asia pacific region with a resurgent India in toe. It is also losing its grip on the neighbouring Nations. However, India needs to be very careful while laying its cards on the table, it may not be wise to back the US all the way and by so doing create an enduring and vicious enemy in the neighbourhood. It should never be forgotten that the two countries have coexisted peacefully for millenniums and a similar status is beneficial for both countries. It may be more opportune for India and China to set aside all inhibitions and find a common ground for an enduring relationship.