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Belligerent China & the Shrinking World: Complementarity & Competition


The U.S.-China-India triangular relationship
is a strategic Rubik’s Cube. All three need each other. China, with proud
aspirations that draw on 2200 years of rich civilization, & world’s largest
population & second largest armed forces, has displayed disconcerting
impatience in establishing its centricity to the world affairs & prominence
in Asia.  It is already beginning to act
like a major power with a heavy hand approach in disregarding international
norms in South China Sea & increasing assertiveness in handling border
disputes forcing countries to either accommodate its wishes and settles
disputes on China’s terms or seek alliances to resist Chinese rise.

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Beijing’s “New Type of Great Power
Relations” concept seeks U.S. recognition of China’s primacy in Asia that
limits Washington’s regional presence in Asia, and relegates its traditional
U.S. allies to the side lines1.
It sees the U.S. military alliances and forward presence as the biggest hurdle
in inducing Asians to accommodate and acquiesce to Chinese power.2
While it may propagate multi-polarity in global order, it consistently
preserves the position of prominence for itself in Asian power pedestal.


Aspirations notwithstanding, USA is and
likely to continue to be the single most powerful country in the world. Though
both may consider each other as principal competitor, for the foreseeable
future, the competition is likely to restrict itself more towards economic
dominance than military. For China, its economic relationship with the United
States is vitally important as its biggest export market.3
US policies tend to oscillate between reconciling to rise of China, to discreet
steps to contain China. Its Asia- Pacific theatre strategy is regarded as key
to maintain its pre-eminence globally.4
In this context, India holds special attraction for US, being the biggest among
the rising powers in Asia, as well as sharing complex, if not adversarial
relationship with China.


This perceptive transition of power in Asia
has only intensified the protracted rivalry between New Delhi and Beijing.
Buoyed by its recent growth, both economic & military, China has adopted a
more aggressive posture toward India. Indian foreign policy discourse, however,
remains deeply fractured on a viable strategy to manage China’s rise.
Normalizing relations with Beijing has been prioritized by New Delhi and
constitutes a pillar of India’s hedging strategy. However, given India’s modest
internal capabilities, the threat posed by China can only be managed through an
external balancing strategy, for which a closer partnership with US is both
desirable and indispensable.5



Shadow over Indo- US Relations; New Security Dynamics



At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first
century, The Economist issued a report that said, of China, ‘Friends, or else’
(2010b). However, the cover of the same issue stated, ‘The dangers of a rising
China’ (2010a). Many others in the Western media, the United States Congress
and academia increasingly contend that the verdict on China is out: that it is
on its way to becoming a threatening global force, an adversary, if not an
Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute holds that ‘If Beijing poses a threat; it is
to US domination of East Asia, not the country itself’ (2009).


The 2012 Defense Strategic Review recognized
that China’s rise would affect the US economy and security, and declared that
the US “will of necessity rebalance its military toward the Asia-Pacific
region.” While in the past the US had projected power into the Asia-Pacific
through colonization and occupation-notable examples being Guam and the
Philippines in 1898 and Japan after 1945-its new presence is based on creating
strong bilateral economic and military alliances with regional countries, and
efforts to organize the region into multilateral economic and security
institutions to balance China’s economic and military influence.


As the Sino-American security competition
increases, India slides into the geopolitical sweet spot of a
“swing state” earlier occupied by China during the old Cold
War when it joined the United States to balance against the USSR. For
India, its ties with the United States facilitate its rise as a major power and
augment its position in Asia. For its part, Washington does not want a single
power to dominate the Asian continent and its adjoining waters and supports the
rise of several powers, India chief among them, with the United States acting
as an “engaged offshore power balancer.” For China, the United States
is the principal strategic adversary; for India, it is China.


India’s deterrence capabilities are
China-centric, while those of China’s are U.S.-centric. Beijing fears India’s
participation in the U.S.-Japanese containment of China. Conversely, India
fears a Sino-U.S. alignment that would allow Beijing to curb the growth of
Indian power or lead to U.S. acknowledgment of the South Asia/ Indian Ocean
region as China’s sphere of influence.



Pivot to Asia & Indo- US Strat Congruence


 The US
National Security Strategy 2002 made it clear that India could aid it in
creating a “strategically stable Asia.” Vice presidential candidate
Joe Biden also called Washington’s ties with India as the “single most
important relationship that we have to get right for our own safety’s
sake.” India’s role in balancing China was most vividly
described later on in the Obama administration. President Barack Obama
described the U.S.-India relationship as the “indispensable
partnership of the 21st century”; while his Secretary of Defense called
“India the linchpin of the US re-balances strategy.”
President Obama’s talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his
2015 India visit revealed that American and Indian views
of China’s challenge to the global order are now “strikingly

The central U.S. security objectives in
Southeast Asia include

A stable, predictable, and rules-bound
political system, in which international conflicts are settled through
diplomatic channels rather than the threat or use of military force.


Freedom of navigation in all vital maritime
transit points, including the Strait of Malacca.




Prevention of common threats to the
international community, including terrorism, maritime piracy, and nuclear


Resolution of territorial
disputes—particularly the competing South China Sea claims of China, Vietnam,
the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia—by peaceful methods rather than
intimidation or military action.


the purpose of answering the question, “Why does India’s interest in Southeast
Asia matter to the United States?” one need only recognize three basic points.
First, the U.S. “Asian rebalancing” is fundamentally shaped by a desire to
support partner nations and maintain the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific
region—particularly in light of China’s growing presence and uncertainties
about China’s future intentions. Second, India—a traditional rival of China in
the economic, security, and cultural spheres—will be a major factor in U.S.
calculations. A better understanding of Indian interests is therefore essential
to the rebalance. As India’s Look East policy is implemented, the “Asia-
Pacific” region will increasingly become the “Indo-Pacific” region. Third,
India is already a military presence in Southeast Asia, through its
bases on its sovereign territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These
bases are closer to Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia than
they are to the Indian mainland, and India is actively expanding their
facilities for its navy, air force, and army.


Historically, the state of the Sino-U.S.
relationship has always heavily influenced India’s foreign policy


Chinese Push- Identifying Need for Alliances


 Addressing a security conference in India in
March 2016, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of US Pacific Command, called on
India to join the US, Japan, and Australia to deal with common security
challenges in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region via the Quadrilateral Security
Dialogue (or Quad) in ensuring that the Indo-Pacific region is not dominated by
China and the overall balance of power remains favourable to the liberal
democracies. Many believe that Beijing would have been far less aggressive in
its “island building” and the other challenges to the status quo in
the Pacific norms if the Quad had already been in place.


American sources discuss quite openly that
the United States should seek to balance China, especially by courting India
(Spillius, 2008). The threat of terrorism and the need to contain Chinese
regional muscularity, along with growing economic synergy in the high-tech
sector, transformed U.S. ties with India. Today, in one of those slow motion
realignments that enliven history, India’s traditional security concerns-
Pakistan (in the form of militant Islam) and China (irredentism and
revisionism)-have finally become Washington’s immediate and long term security
concerns as well.


Access to locations in Southeast Asia could
also play a major role in deterrence vis-à-vis China—and in operations,
should deterrence fail. The value of these locations will grow, as Chinese
conventionally armed ballistic and cruise missile ranges grow and as People’s
Liberation Army (PLA) power projection capabilities improve. More operating
locations in Southeast Asia could allow U.S. forces to disperse at the outset
of a conflict, and, depending on the specific locations, deploy outside the
range of most Chinese missiles. Both of these would improve U.S. operational
resiliency and buttress deterrence by denying China confidence in its ability
to inflict crippling losses early in a conflict.


If India chose to devote significant
economic, military, and diplomatic resources to the region, it could present
what China would consider to be a genuine threat to its southern flank. The
southernmost tip of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal is
just 90 nautical miles from Indonesia and the northernmost tip less than ten
nautical miles from Myanmar.” If Beijing’s foreign policy becomes more
aggressive in the future, India’s Andaman and Nicobar bases could complicate
Chinese power projection anywhere in the Indian Ocean region. As the United
States seeks to better define its own “Asian rebalancing,” the role of India
will have to shape the options—if only because that role will inevitably shape the
options and actions not only of China, but of all other Asian players.


Both India and China tend to play down their
competition, particularly in government pronouncements as opposed to media
headlines; while Indian officials are concerned about Beijing’s reaction, their
Chinese counterparts have little reason to stoke a peer-rivalry with a nation
they do not consider a geopolitical equal. Indian Prime Minister Singh and
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao stated during the latter’s visit to India in 2010
that India and China were not in competition. The joint communiqué drawn up by
the two countries asserted that “there is enough space in the world for the
development of both India and China,” and that they have “common interests and
similar concerns on major regional and international issues.”141


Nevertheless, since 2010, China has shown
increased assertiveness regarding its South China Sea claims, particularly
compared with its “charm offensive” of the early 2000s. India’s efforts to
exercise freedom of navigation in the South China Sea have drawn challenges
from the Chinese. In June 2012, the Indian naval squadron, led by INS Shivalik
on its way to South Korea from the Philippines, was joined by a Chinese frigate
that “sent a message ‘welcoming’ the contingent to the South China Sea and
sailed along for the next 12 hours.”


Though Indian strategists appear to place
extremely high stock in the potency of their diplomatic, cultural, and “soft
power” policy instruments, these tools may prove less effective than Delhi
expects. As a Western official who has served in both ambassadorial and
security roles noted, ‘China’s diplomatic corps “utterly dwarfs” that of India.
The staff of the Ministry of External Affairs is about the same size as that of
Singapore, a nation with less than one-half of 1 per cent of India’s
population; China’s diplomatic corps is eight times the size of India’s. Most
commentators agree that India may be a military heavyweight
in South Asia but its military power relative to China is quite weak.
Until recently, it spent a mere 1.56 per cent of GDP on defense.
Thus India’s military might is not considered to be source of
its rising international influence, although its regional power in South Asia
and its possible role as a bridging power in East and South East Asia are
increasingly recognized.


Identifying its critical need of external balancing
against increasing military disparities with China, India now seeks American
economic and technological assistance to give momentum to its rise as a major power
and its new role in maintaining maritime pre-eminence over the Indian Ocean
region. At a minimum, New Delhi wants to use its strategic ties with Washington
to bolster India’s position in its dealings with China and in mitigating the
dangers posed by its old adversary, Pakistan. India could, if it so chose,
greatly complicates China’s ambitions to assert economic, military, and “soft
power” predominance in East Asia.


Most of the $14 billion worth weapons and
technology (C-130Js, C-I7s, light howitzer artillery, UAVs (unmanned aerial
vehicles), P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft, jet engine, and aircraft carrier
technologies) that India has purchased from the United States over the last
decade directly augments its capabilities vis-à-vis China on the Himalayan
border and in the Indian Ocean. Two of the most potentially
valuable areas for increased cooperation between the United States and India in
Southeast Asia are in Myanmar, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These two
sites represent the low-hanging fruit, and should be the focus of increased
attention by U.S. policymakers.



Strategic Concerns in Perspective

Defence related agreements are considered as key
steeping stones and test bed for identifying the potential of a full-fledged
military alliance between the two nations. Indian planners have been skeptical
of committing itself even for minor defense agreements citing dangers of
compromising its strategic autonomy and against its key foreign policy edifice
of Non- Alignment often quoting the examples of other allied partners of the
US. Are these arguments applicable in Indian context? Do
the agreements compromise India’s strategic autonomy?


Two key defense related agreements between US and
India have been Defense Trade and Technology Initiative and the recently
concluded Logistics Support Agreement or LEMOA. However these agreements are
more towards capability building and not directly aimed at any country or
towards a military alliance. The Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI)
aims to transition the defense transactions from a buyer-seller operation to a
co-development and co-producer model. The conclusion of Logistics Support Agreement
would enhance operational capability and interoperability allowing aircraft and
ships to land and make port calls, for example, in the Andaman Islands in the


Oft quoted examples stem from perceptions
that erstwhile alliance partners of US have ceded sovereignty (Italy, Korea,
and the Philippines); are monopolizing important territories needed by local
populations (Japan and Germany); or are predisposing the host government to
support extra-regional military activities by the United States, to include
support for U.S. operations in connection with the global war on terrorism
(Italy and Turkey).  It is important to
understand here that Japan, Korea, Turkey, Italy, and the Philippines are the
recipients of legally binding security commitments and related considerations
which actually do apply in the case of India. There is no parallel between
India’s situation and those of allies such as the Philippines, Japan, or Korea
that have had disagreements with the United States over basing, foreign criminal
jurisdiction, or on-going operational issues.


Since joining the NAM in 1994 following the
end of apartheid, South Africa has signed 26 agreements with the United States,
of which seven related to defense. These included a GSOMIA in 1998, followed by
an ACSA in 2001 and a BECA in 2013. The United States has signed 72 agreements
with Indonesia since it joined the NAM in 1961, including seven defense
agreements. Among these were a “Memorandum of understanding concerning mapping,
charting, and geodesy cooperation” in 1977 and an ACSA in 2010. Among the 16
defense agreements Singapore has signed with the United States since joining
the NAM in 1970 are a GSOMIA in 1983, a “Memorandum of understanding concerning
configuration management of tactical command, control and communications
standards, with annexes” in 1991, and an ACSA in 2011. Since joining the NAM in
1970, Malaysia has signed five defense agreements. All these nations have been
founder members of the NAM making the theory of non-alignment itself questionable
in the present global order.


That most countries that gain access to those
data feeds contribute much less information than that which is supplied by the
United States.64

1 Malik
Mohan. World Affairs; Washington 179.1 
(Spring 2016).

2 Malik
Mohan, Sage Journals Volume: 179 issue: 1, page(s): 46-57.


3 Zhen
Bingxi, China Institute of International Studies, “China-U.S. Economic and
Trade Relations: A Win-Win Partnership”


4  Muni SD & Chadha Vivek, IDSA, Asian
Strategic Review 2014,”US Pivot and Asian Security”.


5 Sangit
S D. China: Dimensions of the Dragon’s Rise in International Influence and Its
Impact on Neighbors. Arch & Anthropol Open Acc. 1(2). AAOA.000507. 2017.

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