A NEW LINE-UP AGAINST CHINA

Donald Trump’s tweet about a “much better relationship” with Pakistan was a blip which India can ignore. It was the result of the role which the Pakistan army played to rescue an American-Canadian family from the clutches of the Haqqani terror network.

The army probably knew that if it did not act, then the American Seals may intervene as they did in Osama bin Laden’s case. That would have been another blow to Pakistani prestige.

Pakistan will not be pleased, however, that following the episode, Indian-American ties have entered a higher trajectory with the promise of a century of partnership between the two democracies.

China, too, is not happy because the India-US bonhomie is now directly aimed at China in the context of the latter’s provocative acts in the South China Sea.

There is little doubt that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s emergence as the world’s most powerful man, as The Economist has said, has persuaded New Delhi and Washington to lay a stronger base for their relations.

Even if the British magazine’s characterization of Xi Jinping is hyperbolic, there is little doubt that China’s rise and rise have worrying consequences for the rest of the world, much like Hitler’s ascent once did.

Like the Nazi dictator, the Chinese President is an autocrat, running a one-party state where the ordinary people have no voice. He is also so proud of his authoritarian rule which has no time for human right that he has urged the other countries to follow the stifling Chinese model.

As the successor of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping with his own version of Thoughts for the nation such as those encapsulated the Great Helmsman’s Little Red Book, Xi Jinping is obviously looking forward to a long stint at the top during which he expects to mould the world – or at least China’s immediate neighbourhood – to his own liking with the help of China’s economic and military clout.

For the rest of the world, the scene is a menacing one, made all the more frightening than in Hitler’s time because of China’s nuclear prowess. But, just as the democracies came together in the 1940s to checkmate Germany with the help of Stalin’s Soviet Union, the democracies are again putting up a united front against China.

As before, America is playing a key role and, because the scene is in Asia, India is also a vital part of the front. What is more, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has unambiguously spelt out its objective, which is to confront China’s challenge to the “rules-based order” and to the “sovereignty of neighbouring countries”.

Rarely before has America’s position vis-à-vis China been so clearly articulated. There are no doubts now about the impending line-up – like that of the Allies against Hitler.

As Tillerson has said, India and the US are now “in the business of equipping other countries to defend their sovereignty, build greater connectivity, and have a louder voice in a regional architecture that promotes their interests and develops their economies”.

Which countries will be part of this “regional architecture” ? Apart from India, Japan – a longstanding ally of the US – will be there perhaps along with Australia, another old US ally.

There is every likelihood of countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, which have felt the heat of the Dragon’s breath, will be formal or informal partners of the new line-up along with Afghanistan, a victim of Pakistan-based terrorists like India.

Then, there are the smaller countries – Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives – which are being wooed by both India and China and are unwilling to antagonize either. For the moment, they may not be part of the “architecture” but will wait and see how the scene unfolds.

China, naturally, is displeased with the latest turn of events and has ascribed them to America’s “bias”. It is also unlikely to take kindly to America’s wish to “dramatically deepen” its ties with India.

What form this deepening will take is as yet unclear, but China will be concerned about it because the improved Indo-American relations will make it all the more difficult for Beijing to throw its weight about along the border, as it did during the standoff with India in Doklam, because the Indian forces are likely to become progressively better equipped with US assistance.

While America’s concerns will probably be about China’s island-building in the South China Sea, India’s focus will be on ways to curb China’s aggrandizing tendencies along the border by building up its own strength.

New Delhi is also aware that if it can keep China at bay, Pakistan will be partially dissuaded from sponsoring terrorism in India and Afghanistan because of the realization that its goal of weakening India with a thousand cuts, as General Zia-ul-Haq said, is unlikely to be attained in the near future.

The new line-up, therefore, will introduce a balance of power in South and East Asia. It may be a delicate equilibrium and incorporate the sense of a hostile truce. But it will avert to a considerable extent the possibility of a shooting war.