Saleem Qamar Butt
The rising China has been the number one challenge to US hegemony on the global scene for over a decade. To take care of that emerging strategic threat, successive American governments have been putting in place a number of economic and military safeguards in place. Declaring India as a US strategic ally in Asia-Pacific region and renaming American Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific command was one such major step that alarmed China as well as Russia due to its multiple political, economic and military implications. The thinning out of US forces from mainland Europe/ NATO to substantially reinforce Indo-Pacific Command, which covers more than 36 countries, 14 time zones and over 50% of global population and made responsible for keeping the strategic Sea lines of communication(SLOC) secure, besides radiating great military strike potential cannot be ignored by US strategic rivals.
The oceans occupy 70 percent of the earth's surface, and the Pacific Ocean occupies 50 percent of the world’s ocean surface. World countries have depended on the free passage of goods across the seas, and the majority of Asian Pacific countries, with their export-oriented economic structure, have even more depended on maritime transportation. An uninterrupted flow of shipping is critical to regional countries' survival and prosperity. Southeast Asia has a vast span of water with the South China Sea, extending over 1800 miles from Sumatra to Taiwan, as the principal maritime component linking the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. The shores of Northeast Asian countries are washed by the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, and in a broad sense by the Pacific Ocean. Through the South China Sea pass more than 41,000 ships a year, more than double the number that pass through the Suez Canal and nearly treble the total for the Panama Canal. There are several straits of strategic importance in the region, such as the Straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok and Makassar in Southeast Asia, and the Straits of Tsushima, Tsugaru, Osumi, and Soya (La Perouse) in Northeast Asia. Major shipping routes in the Asia Pacific are through these key straits. Due to their potential for closure, these straits are known as chokepoints. The volume of major sea-trade commodities in the Asia Pacific has surpassed 1.5 billion tons, comprising over one-third of the world's maritime trade volume. About 15 % of the total volume of world trade transits the Southeast Asian SLOCs. Regional countries using the major East Asian SLOCs for international trade amounted to US$ 949.5 billion in 1994, with 54.5% being Northeast Asian trade and 45.4 % being Southeast Asian trade. Among them, Japan's and China's total trade via Southeast Asian lines was US$ 260.4 billion and US$ 65.6 billion respectively, 39 % and 27 % respectively of their total trade. For South Korea, the shipping routes connecting the Strait of Hormuz, Malacca-Singapore straits and Southeast Asian waters form the most important ocean routes used to import strategic commodities.
Thus, the geo-economic and geo-strategic importance of the region compelled the US to come out with execution of Asia-Pacific Rebalancing policy to challenge Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) worth US $ 1.3 trillion, involving 60 plus countries and touching almost 130 countries providing global economic connectivity. In 2007, the Quad Group was formed in the Asia Pacific region involving US, Japan, Australia and India and held its second foreign minister level meeting at Tokyo on 6th October 2020, with potential to become Quad plus involving South Korea, Vietnam and New Zealand and Britain and France prone to hop in. The Quad group recent meeting and US Secretary of State Pompeo’s statement was indicative of American haste and anxiety to form a potent military alliance to contest and contain China, which had been termed as a mini NATO in the region and resented by both Russia and China. Nevertheless, despite US over assertive statements, other member countries still prefer to keep it camouflaged under the blanket of addressing global issues like collective response to Tsunami, COVID, humanitarian crises, counter terrorism, cyber and maritime security etc. Russia and China both see this formation as a threat to Greater Eurasian Economic Union and SCO/ ASEAN respectively and view India’s duplicitous ride in two boasts moving in different directions.
Despite that, India like US was hopeful of extracting military leverage from the Quad group especially in the backdrop of China giving her a tactical bloody nose in Galwan Valley Ladakh during June 2020, which had been declared unilaterally as integral part of India in August 2019 illegally occupied including Jammu and Kashmir by revoking article 35 A and 370 of Indian constitution. Further alarmed by provocative statements by Indian politicians and generals, China obviously saw it as a threat to the CPEC route passing through the northern part of Pakistan and quickly occupied strategic heights in the disputed Ladakh region along the Line of Actual Control. As of now, China has rapidly consolidated territorial gains along the border to take the upper hand in negotiations, leaving Indian Prime Minister Modi’s government with some hard choices to make in the middle of a raging pandemic and as the Indian economy dwindles under Modi rule. The border crisis has soared to an unyielding political, diplomatic, and economic challenge for Modi. He can’t accept Beijing’s aggression in the region without denting his own nationalist strongman credentials, but he can’t stand up to China militarily without making massive investments in his military, which are unattainable in the middle of the looming economic crisis. Therefore, Modi and his extremist and hawkish Hindutva elite are now facing a moment of reckoning.
On the contrary, Beijing has good reasons to be more assertive now, having grown economically and militarily and emerged as an undisputed global power. In a very well deliberated and cautious manner, China has now displayed that potency. China has been able to effectively checkmate India merely by a small tactical move and showed the real difference between the two Asian neighbors. The Chinese economy is five times the size of the Indian economy, while its military spending is four times that of India’s. According to an Indian analyst, India’s economic growth rate, which had already started to slow under Modi’s government, has posted the worst performance among big economies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment is at an all-time high, industrial production has declined, and investment has dried up. Once touted as possibly the fastest-growing economy in the world, India under Modi is staring at its worst economic crisis in many decades. New Delhi is in no position to build the military strength it desperately needs not only to fend off China but to handle a potential war on two fronts against both China and longtime rival Pakistan.
To add insult to Indian badly bruised ego, American most credible Foreign Policy magazine has laid bare Indian role in spread of global terrorism. As per the magazine, “As white nationalists across the world have gained prominence through racist, Islamophobia and anti-Semitic acts, the world’s focus on terrorism seems to have shifted. Many experts on extremism now focus heavily on the far-right in its many incarnations as an important driver of terrorist threat. But this myopic approach ignores the dynamism that the Islamic State injected into the international jihadist movement, and the long-term repercussions of the networks it built. In particular, the Indian and Central Asian linkages that the group fostered are already having repercussions beyond the region. Indians and Central Asians Are the New Face of the Islamic State. Terrorists from India, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan were never at the ... that the Islamic State injected into the international jihadist movement, and the ... Modi has advanced a series of policies promoting a Hindu nationalist narrative”. Pakistan has been highlighting Indian policy of state terrorism in the region for a long time. As a matter of fact it commenced with training of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman’s Mukti Bahni by Indian RAW at Agartala in India, which resulted in East Pakistan's emergence as Bangladesh. As role of Indian citizens in regional and extra regional terrorism activities (obviously with support from RAW) now stands exposed by American magazine, therefore Indian atrocities in IOJK, subversive role in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other SAARC countries need to be consistently highlighted with full vigour at the UNO and all other international forums by all the affected countries, who suffer from unabated Indian state terrorism. Besides, China and Russia must take the lead role in consolidating existing regional economic and military alliances to effectively thwart the intimidating threats.
15 October 2020