Will Post-Trump US Back India Against China Due to ‘Real Threat’?

Today, the threat perception (from China) is so clear that the new US prez can’t afford to go back on its allies.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.
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In the summer of 1945, as the world war drew to a close in Berlin, Germany resembled a scramble to the finish line: Americans and their allies swept in from the western flanks while Soviet tanks rolled into the eastern half of the country. Ironically, the two victorious forces would split the spoils into ideological halves. Europe, the cause, battleground and outcome of the war – would epitomise a new world order dominated by the two superpowers.

Like WWII, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 is this century’s gamechanger. When the fog eventually lifts and the haze clears, the world will find itself on a playground whose time has finally come: Asia. Aside from the Middle East, it’s the Eastern, South and Southeast parts of Asia that have inherited a new ‘Cold War’. This piece focuses on this part of Asia.

Image of Probal DasGupta’s new book’s cover, published by Juggernaut.
Image of Probal DasGupta’s new book’s cover, published by Juggernaut.
(Photo: Juggernaut)

Chinese Adventurism & Why It Needs Closer Scrutiny

The trigger, like WWII and the Cold War that followed, began with the adventurism of an ambitious power. During this decade, China bullied littoral states on the South China Sea, coerced India over boundary standoffs, manipulated multilateral bodies, disregarded the International Court of Justice. Then came the virus as the proverbial tipping point.

Believing it could cower its opponents, China bared its predatory fangs and spoke with greater fury, ready to invoke military aggression across multiple fronts. What was the impact?

Like the Soviet Union that colonised eastern Europe, China’s bellicosity split Asia into pro and anti-China camps. But unlike the USSR, China is deeply integrated into the global economic system, and hence, commands closer scrutiny.

The umbrella nations of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) – autocrat rulers or beneficiaries of Chinese largesse such as Pakistan, North Korea and Sri Lanka (or Maldives earlier) – benefit from staying in the Dragon’s orbit.

On the other hand, states such as Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia – who were tolerant of China’s belligerence earlier but believed that trade and commerce could find a resolution – are now much more wary.

In 2019, Malaysia lodged 6 protests to China against 89 incursions by Chinese naval ships into their economic zones. China’s hostile nationalism during COVID threw out any pretence of reluctance that nations such as India and Japan had towards the Communist power. A brazen and intolerant China birthed a slew of opponents who are ready to embrace an alliance run by the US in the region.

Why The Future Could See A Return To Traditional Military Posturing – Against China

As India and China look set to endure an acrimonious winter military standoff in the Himalayas, their recent skirmishes and domestic pressures make it difficult for governments in Delhi or Beijing to exit the imbroglio. The presence of three armed, nuclear states make South Asia potentially the world’s most explosive place. In such a scenario, the role of the US becomes crucial over the next few years. For the last two decades, the US has been fighting terrorism and small wars.

The future could see a scenario of returning to traditional military posturing – this time against China in Asia.

Unlike the neatly curated earlier alliances such as NATO and the Warsaw Pact, Asia in Cold War II exists in a complex web of relationships. Yet, semi-comatose groupings such as the QUAD – with India, Australia, Japan, the US – have now shown signs of spurring to life, with Australia recently declaring its intent to join the Malabar naval exercise in November. Author Robert Kaplan says that in the Indian Ocean, the rivalry between the US and China in the Pacific interlocks with the regional rivalry between China and India.

The US’s Indo-Pacific strategy is being reset to counter the challenge from China by shifting its assets from NATO to the INDOPAC Command.

India recently signed a 2+2 deal with the US on sharing sensitive information, beefed-up its air force fleet and plans to ramp a fledgling navy, despite its traditional lethargy.

Why New US Prez Can’t Afford To Ignore China Threat & Go Back On Its Allies

A few years ago, a debate about how differently US presidents might approach China wasn’t unusual. Now, the threat perception – much like the days of the Cold War – is so clear that the new US president cannot afford to go back on its allies and risk losing America’s credibility as a superpower.

Strategic balancing in the region will acquire the shape and form of a Cold War. The smaller nations, strung on the BRI loan line, could form China’s eastern Europe equivalent – economically weaker, politically dependent and dictator-led.

Southeast Asian countries, Taiwan, India and Australia form the western Europe equivalent –democratic, free, market-led American allies. The region sees itself as capable of being self-funded for growth. Apart from strategic balancing, the coming years could diversify the growth of supply chain economies into other countries and reduce the Chinese stranglehold over global trade. Japan’s decision to pull out firms from China is an opportunity to stimulate a diversified growth of the region and boost lending from banks.

A McKinsey report says that “by 2040, Asia is expected to represent 40 percent of global consumption and 52 percent of GDP.”

It isn’t surprising that a competition to garner economic and military supremacy is a natural outcome in such a continent. Asia, in the foreseeable future, is where world has found a new centre.

(Probal DasGupta is a historian, strategic analyst and the author of 'Watershed 1967- India's victory over China' (Juggernaut). He tweets @iProbal. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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