US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week to discuss improving economic and strategic issues aimed at countering China's growing influence in South Asia.
Photo: Wikimedia commons, via US state department.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week to discuss improving economic and strategic issues aimed at countering China's growing influence in South Asia. Photo: Wikimedia commons, via US state department.

Relations between China and India have remained inconsistent. At times it seems as though both countries are getting along well and at other times not so much. The strategic uncertainty between both counties is exemplified by military standoffs in the Ladakh region of northern India in April 2013 and September 2014 and then the Doklam region of southwest China last June.

Delhi believes that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and China’s opposition to Indian entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group threaten India’s national security. Meanwhile, China claims that India is using Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, and the ongoing South China Sea issue as bargaining chips.

The strategic dialogue between the two Asian giants can change the regional and global environment to their mutual interest. But India is shifting her policies, openly involving the United States and trying to build a bloc against China.

The US pledges deeper strategic ties with India

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to India this month was part of this effort. Tillerson met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and promised to deepen strategic and economic ties in the face of China’s growing influence in the region.

The US is seeking support from other regional countries to build formal alliances against China. This effort includes India, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, countries which, until now, have not formed any formal alliance.

The US has maintained its military dominance in the Pacific since the end of the Second World War. It maintains military bases in Japan and South Korea, and military alliances with Australia and the Philippines. If these countries form an alliance against China, Japan can play a key role because it has traditional enmity and serious security and political problems with China.

Is India a pawn in US divide-and-rule strategy?

The US has long planned to use India as a proxy against China, hoping to use a divide-and-rule strategy. India agreed to become a part of this military strategic partnership in 2016 by signing a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with Washington.

India needs to understand the US double game. On one hand, the US claims that strong defence ties with India can challenge China’s rising regional influence. On the other hand, no one can deny the US-China interdependency which is a geopolitical reality. President Donald Trump’s first visit to Asia in early November will start with China, clearly demonstrating Beijing’s priority for the US.

Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy seems confusing. Delhi is just watching the US maneuvering vis-à-vis Pakistan and China. A State Department official said in Washington: “America’s relationship with India does not come at the expense of Pakistan or vice versa.”

India should not forget how the US courted China against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And now it has revived the strategy with India against China in the new cold war. At the moment this strategy seems to be successful because of Modi’s extreme nationalist strategy against Pakistan.

China warns of ‘cold-war’ mindset

China has frequently warned India and other Asian countries about forming alliances against it. It also asserts that Trump policies are confused and unreliable. During formal media briefings, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that an informal alliance of the US, India, Japan, Australia, and Vietnam, rumored during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June demonstrates a cold-war mindset and is a risk with the uncertain policies of the Trump administration.

China believes that India’s US-backed conspiracies against Beijing are needless because Beijing poses no national-security threat to New Delhi.

It’s clear that any alliance may pose a challenge to Beijing. But it may also reaffirm China’s sustainable and comprehensive security plans for developing win-win cooperation in changing world. This attitude may also help dispell a new cold-war mindset because containment and confrontation is not a way out.

Imran Ali Sandano

Dr Imran Ali Sandano is author of Sufism and Peace: A Counter Strategy of Extremism and Separatist Movement of Balochistan: A Nontraditional Security Threat. He holds a PhD in nontraditional security management, an MPhil in peace and conflict studies, and a master's degree in international relations. Dr Sandano is Assistant Professor at University of Sindh, Pakistan and visiting research fellow at the Center for Nontraditional Security and Peaceful Development, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China.

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