The recent confrontation between India and China has been noted around the world with concern. India’s decision to revoke Article 370 and its ongoing atrocities in Kashmir may not have led to serious consequences within the global community, but the implications of this move have created an unanticipated backlash in the form of its recent brutal skirmish with China.
Given its growing strategic partnership with India, the US administration is blaming China for an alleged incursion into Indian territory. President Trump also made an unsolicited offer to help mediate this dispute in the same manner that he had offered to mediate the Kashmir dispute, a statement which his administration had subsequently tried to walk back from. Such theatrics aside, however, many international relations experts are pointing out how New Delhi’s deepening alliance with Washington is at least partially responsible for intensified border tensions between Asia’s two major powers.
While there are certainly other factors at play here, the growing US-China rivalry is making its impact felt around the world. In our part of the world, China has long allied itself with Pakistan, in part due to its desire to keep India in check. India has subsequently turned to the US in the bid to become a counterbalancing power to China. With Pakistan’s growing reliance on CPEC due to its distancing by the US and increasing Indian cooperation with China’s traditional rivals in what is known as the strategic quadrilateral, the ground for escalating contestations in the region remain rife.
Writing for Foreign Policy, Michael Hirsh, recently made an interesting assertion by arguing that Kissinger’s approach to the US-China détente needs a revisit. Kissinger’s record is tainted by his push for a spike in violence near the end of the war in Vietnam, due to his reaction to the Chilean coup and even to West Pakistan’s brutality in what is now Bangladesh. Yet, his most astute decision was that the US and China could find means to accommodate each other. The US and China even used Pakistan’s help to communicate with each other during the early sensitive phase of negotiations.
Whether Kissinger’s suggestion for the US-China rapprochement was consciously timed or not is not known. Nonetheless, this diplomatic manoeuvre certainly occurred at just the right time. Kissinger orchestrated the Nixon-Moa/Zhou Enlai encounter around the time when the US was otherwise in disarray. The US was contending with the lingering war in Vietnam, experiencing unrest sparked by the civil rights movement and anti-war protesters, and domestic politics was in turmoil due to the Watergate scandal, as well as the economic stagflation of the 1970s.
Much of what is happening in the US today with the failure of interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Covid-induced economic shock, civil unrest unleashed by the Black Lives Matter protests, and domestic political divisiveness are analogous to the time when Kissinger convinced Nixon to break the ice with China. This may be a ripe time for Washington to try and turn great-power rivalry into a stable and peaceable modus vivendi.
Yet, diplomatic and trade tensions with China keep mounting under the Trump administration. Even presidential candidate, Joe Biden, is also not realising the evident opportunity here as he criticises Trump for his praise for Xi Jinping. Having cast Bernie Sanders aside as being too radical, the Democrats, perhaps in the bid to woo more voters are now also mimicking populist critiques of entities like the World Trade Organization, not because of the global inequalities in the world trade system but because of the prevailing sense of grievance that the WTO has been exploited by China to the disadvantage of blue collar and middle-class Americans.
One hopes that the Democrats will be able to transcend the maximalist stance towards China, especially if Biden manages to come to power. Otherwise, much of the world, especially our region, will continue to feel the escalating friction caused by the rivalry between the US and China.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2020.