Keeping a Sense of Balance b/w USA and China

by June 13, 2019 0 comments

As Modi meets China’s Xi Jinping at SCO, he will have to calibrate his moves to avoid upsetting the US

By now it is a given that China, despite its perceived forked-tongue approach to India, has at least begun to acknowledge our primacy in developing its own strategic depth in the region and create a duality in the so far unipolar world presided over by the US. While Russia has revived its weight post the Cold War slump under Vladimir Putin, the fact of the matter is China, by virtue of its economic heft and intricacy of trade ties with the US, can be the only counter magnet, particularly in the rabid triumphalism and impositions of the Trump era. And in that attempt, China is seeking support from both India and Russia by developing one-on-one closeness devoid of the competitive contexts of global geopolitics. Undoubtedly, China has never engaged with India the way it has with the Narendra Modi government since 2014. Part of it has to do with India’s growing assertiveness and its refusal to yield to Chinese territorial pressure, such as the standoff at Doklam, its denial of economic overlordship couched as the Belt and Road Initiative, which implies colonising infrastructure corridors of the neighbourhood, or its intransigence on China’s monolithic role in BRICS’ New Development Bank. This is why Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi met at Wuhan to forge a separate dialogue module between themselves. And given the US’ aggressive stance on “trade protectionism,” China is already looking at the second Wuhan style meeting between Xi and Modi as a way of working out a global counter-strategy. While announcing the meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit at the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister said they would discuss their respective trade frictions with the US and the two “good friends” could reach a consensus on opposing the US. By emphasising that the Wuhan summit had provided strategic guidance for the development of India-China ties, China is playing down its adversarial and heaving image to make India its wilful ally in its economic war with the US. After Wuhan, both countries have indeed stepped up efforts to improve bilateral relations in different spheres and this operational matrix suits Xi most at this point of time. While the Trump administration has more than doubled tariffs on Chinese imports worth $200 billion, threatened additional duties and demanded China reduce its trade deficit and allow US goods in, the question is whether India shares these anxieties in equal measure. Besides, China’s motive is to offset the US losses by penetrating the Indian market even deeper.

In his internationalist role, a second-term emboldened Modi needs to tread cautiously. Yes, the US has terminated India’s designation as a “beneficiary developing country” under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) but the rap is much milder than that of China. Besides, diplomatically the US has stood by India’s side, beginning with swaying international opinion in our favour after the Balakot airstrikes and taking the lead in forcing China’s hand on declaring Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. Even while bringing India under the purview of sanctions on Iran, the US has spared our interests in the Chabahar port. India cannot afford to rile up the US, not merely out of a sense of a quid pro quo but simply because it has demonstrably been more trustworthy. For all of China’s invocation of the Wuhan spirit, the endorsement of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in PoK is definitely not accommodative of India’s sensitivities. Still, the two nations have mapped out areas of cooperation and Modi’s challenge at Bishkek will be to expand their scope without upsetting the US, undercutting India’s gains and more importantly not letting Beijing assume a comfort zone. The only reason China is keen on wooing India is because it knows we are part of every strategic group in the region surrounding it, be it the Quad (with the US, Japan and Australia) and BIMSTEC with littoral States along the Bay of Bengal, including Thailand and Myanmar, the two nations where the  BRI has taken off successfully. Besides, China finds India’s closeness to Japan deeply unsettling in the Indian Ocean region. The navies of both countries conduct joint missions and share intelligence on Chinese vessels. So China’s so-called multi-polarity to counter the unipolar US is as much self-serving as signalling mutual cooperation. Modi must remember that China would want to engage with India only till it is relevant to its design. And that relevance comes from its strategic value in the region. That is why Modi must further reinvigorate fora like the BIMSTEC; the potential trade opportunity of its constituent nations is projected to be as high as $250 billion. India needs to diversify its own export markets in the protectionist era and work on its trade deficit with China.

Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer

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