June 30, 2017
Having given up on creating a new Sino-Russian split, the United States now seeks to use India’s historic geo-political position to exploit latent tensions between New Delhi and Beijing while also trying to sour India’s historically warm relationship with Moscow.
The America’s vainglorious and ultimately foolhardy attempt to create a divide between China and Russia has failed spectacularly.
Any remaining hopes that the US could cause a rift between Moscow and Beijing ultimately failed to understand that whereas the Nixon administration exploited an existing, substantial split between the two communist super-powers, Russia and China are now allies and no amount of sweet-talking (however patronising) from Washington could create a new Sino-Russian split in 2017.
The proximate timing of America’s sale of weapons to Chinese Taipei (aka Taiwan) and Chinese President Xi’s visit to Moscow is of course the final blow in any attempt by Washington to seriously ‘restart’ relations with China. Of course, America’s economic dependence on China will continue into the foreseeable future and Beijing is well aware of this.
Of equal importance to America’s distancing itself from China was India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States. The visit was filled with positive platitudes about the healthy state of US-Indian relations. Trump and Modi of course have something in common as two major world leaders with an almost visceral dislike of Islam, an inconvenient truth that far too many in the press have ignored. However, a common hatred of a major world religion may not be enough to create a meaningful alliance, not least because ultimately the US and India have a very different idea of what a war on “radical Islamic terror” would look like. India and specially Modi’s war with Islam is an internal matter, NATO’s war with various Islamic powers is all about geo-politics and global economics–just ask the leaders in Doha and Riyadh.
Ever since India achieved independence from Britain in the 1947 (with full republican independence arriving in 1950), China and India’s relationship has been fraught to say the least.
After initially hopeful signs in the 1950s, things deteriorated so badly by the 1960s that in 1962, China and India countries fought a short but worrying war over a border dispute centred around Aksai Chin.
India’s support of Tibetan separatists throughout this period served to exacerbate these tensions.
As the Sino-Soviet split became ever more pronounced, the USSR became ever closer to India. As a result, China began cultivating a closer relationship with Pakistan. To this end, China actively backed Pakistan in the war against India in 1965 and was also generally supportive of Pakistan in the war between the two Asian powers in 1971.
Things began to slowly improve in the 1980s although China and India nearly went to war again over border disputes in 1987. Both sides eventually stood down before any fighting could commence.
Continued border disputes, particularly over Aksai Chin continued to create conflict as recently as 2013. However, in more recent years China and India have been drawn closer together through the joint membership of important international bodies.
Since 2009, both China and India have been a member of the BRICS, a group of nations committed to increased economic and commercial cooperation. Other founding members include Russia and Brazil, while South Africa added the ‘S’ to the original BRIC in 2010.
Even more importantly, in 2017 both Pakistan and India joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO), an international body which works towards enhanced security, economic and political cooperation across Asia and Eurasia. The fact that India and Pakistan are both now in the SCO is an achievement in itself, not least due to the fact that the British authored Partition of India continued to haunt relations between Islamabad, New Delhi and Dhaka for much of the 20th century.
In the wider sphere of geo-politics, the fact that India and China are now in the same international organisation is even more important.
Russia’s historically good relationship with India and its recent incredibly important alliance with China means that Russia can now act as a mediator in lingering ill-will between India and China.
Whereas during the 1960s, 70s and 80s India was a more important partner to the Soviet Union than almost any large Asian country, this role has largely been supplanted by China. Indeed, China which always exercised a fully-independent foreign policy is now a more important ally to Russia in a new multi-polar world than India which in spite of its good relationship with Russia, was always part of the non-aligned movement and continued to enjoy open relations and occasionally quite good relations with the US throughout the Cold War. This is even more true of non-aligned Pakistan which was generally a close US ally in spite of broadly good Sino-Pakistan relations.
The economic future of China, India and Pakistan is now inexorably linked, whether the leaders of these countries like it or not. China is clearly the powerhouse although India’s economy continues to grow at a rate which is alarming to the west which once dominated India. China by contrast is far less worried about India’s growth than many western analysts would imply.
While some worry that traditional border disputes between India and China could be re-made into disputes over industrial output, the sensible thing to do would be for India and China to combine their unique strengths as part of the One Belt–One Road trade initiative. India is after all a major stop on this new silk road which China is working to create. Russia realises that it is in Moscow’s interest to help bring India and China into a more respectful and cooperative relationship. Incidentally, China and India’s relationship would be good for over-all world peace and stability in Asia, Russian President Vladimir Putin is all too aware of this.
America will almost certainly try to exploit latent tensions between China and India, this is now overtly apparent based on America giving up on the hopeless desire to drive a wedge between China and Russia. Donald Trump and Narendra Modi’s generally warm visit is a further symptom of this not so secret ambition of the United States.
But other than an export market for Indian goods, what else can the US offer India? It cannot offer India anything that Russia and China cannot. This is true in respect of military technology, the IT sector and educational/cultural relations. The difference is that Russia and China can offer India all of it for less money. Trump even joked about trying to up the price on the sale of American goods to India during his recent press conference with the Indian Prime Minsiter. America however won’t be laughing when increased Asian and Eurasian cooperation means that India will be able to buy important items from both China and Russia for a fraction of the price of equivalent American goods.
There remains a possibility that the United States could develop a tariff war, pinning Chinese and Indian exports against each other. This too will ultimately backfire as in such trade wars, it behoves mutual producers to unite against an avaricious buyer. This could of course cause short term tension but in the long term it will not likely amount to very much.
In attempting to drive a wedge between China and Russia, the US has if anything, only pushed Moscow and Beijing closer to one another. India’s historically non-aligned position gives New Delhi more wiggle room than either China or Russia have in this respect, but ultimately, if America plays India and China against one another, the long term effect will be the same and both China and India will have the last laugh even as some disputes will of course continue to linger into the near future.