How grand strategy goals and geostrategic plans are being executed by great power rivalry during the pandemic will lay the course for possible pandemonium influencing the future global order. US President Trump has been criticized on the handling of the COVID-19 though his administration has been praising his efforts in saving lives and furthermore by the People’s Republic of China and the World Body.The US is time and again telling China to hold responsible for the spreading, delaying the information of the outbreak and World Health Organization (WHO) becoming accomplice by hiding the fact for so long and even praising China for its action on Coronavirus. The US is less supportive to the world body the WHO. The Director General, WHO has expressed the lack of usual support as ‘unfortunate’. At the same time the US is gearing up for the upcoming election in November just more than 100 days. China has been out of its way in disparaging the US response and rejecting the lab theory and other political charges accusing Trump administration of striving to deflect from its own quandary tackling the pandemic. The National Security Law of Hong Kong has been authorized by President Xi when the US Department of State imposed visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Partyofficials for undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and restricting Human Rights. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China-US relations are facing their most serious challenge since the establishment of diplomatic ties. The UK announced visa relaxation to three million people.China and India skirmishes in Ladakh Area have added another episode at the Himalayan Region directly influencing South and Central Asia.New Delhi debarred 59 Chinese mobile apps due to security apprehension and a cast a shadow on Chinese companies in India’s telecommunications and infrastructure sectors in its stout budge aiming China in the online space since a border contest. The status of Taiwan has sharp disagreements. China asserts that there is only “one China” policy while both Beijing and Taipei disagree on which entity is China’s legitimate governing body.
The focus will be on how the functioning of the geopolitical diplomacy will affect the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) and South Asia.
The Reshaping of the Indo-Pacific Region
Countries in the IPR and South Asia including Nepal are entering what we can refer to as an economically led cold-trade war. The “Cold War 2.0 has begun and yet again it is democracy versus Communism. The June 2019 “Indo-Pacific Strategy”, a key contemporary policy document is described as “an ironclad and enduring commitment to a region that spans from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian subcontinent, which is led by the US.” In 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “The American people and the whole world have a stake in the Indo-Pacific’s peace and stability”. This resonances the interests to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with resultant modification in the Asia-Pacific power structure and a expansion as well as exodus of Obama’s “Asia-Pacific rebalancing” strategy. The purpose is to enclose Communist China’s rise and safeguard democratic values with US leadership in the region with Allies and Partners. The policy document asserted that “Inter-state strategic competition, defined by geopolitical rivalry between free and repressive world order visions, is the primary concern for US national security”. This was followed by the US State Department document ‘A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a shared Vision’, issued in November 2019 that states “Authoritarian revisionist powers seek to advance their parochial interests at others’ expense,” and therefore “the United States is strengthening and deepening partnerships with countries that share our values.”
The G7 that epitomize 58% of the global net wealth ($317 trillion) and more than 46% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) based on nominal values and more than 32% of the global GDP based on purchasing power parity summit to be held in September has been postponed with Trump’s remarks as not properly represented and outdated expressing to include Australia, India and South Korea and invited Russia to rejoin as part of an alliance and in addition to discuss the future of China. The other members of the G7 have not approved Russia to be part of the group which was suspended in 2014 after annexing Crimea from Ukraine though the host the US that holds Presidency is acceptable to invite whoever as guest, the way it was before it formally joined in the mid 1990s. The European Union is an invitee to G7.
The United Kingdom, despite ‘Brexit’ can in spite of everything be the link between democracies of the trans-Atlantic and the trans-Pacific. London’s role is not yet over by engaging the G-7 members on the D-10 (nations of ten democratic allies) scheme bringing in Australia, India and South Korea. Hastings Ismay’s 1949 strategic truism on NATO was to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” When the world is moving with 5G communications, new or a susceptible delicate supply chains with US as the only global power challenging China; a need for a grand strategy for the democracies is visible “to keep China in check, India close and the US steady in the years to come”.
UK has reversed January decision and banned on Huawei from its 5G telecom network expressing security concerns has gravely dented legitimate interests of Chinese enterprises and severely impacted the basis of shared trust in China-UK cooperation. Huawei has operated in Britain for the last 20 years as a key market in Europe accounting for 24% of sales last year. The determination is a huge success for the Trump administration, which has been approaching allies to exclude Huawei from the 5G networks arguing threat to national security. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated last month that “the tide is turning against Huawei as citizens around the world are waking up to the danger of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state.” Huawei has consistently denied that it would help the Chinese government to spy, and says it is “100% owned by employees” though Washington had cautioned that US-UK intelligence sharing and military collaboration possibly will situate at risk if Britain went ahead with its plan as Chinese companies can be ordered to act under the direction of Beijing under Chinese law. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has said that UK has fabricated the risk and used it as excuse to collaborate with the US to discriminate against and exclude Chinese firms repeatedly, blatantly violating market economic principles and free trade rules, “China strongly opposes it.”
This connotes US and other major Asian democracies mainly Australia, India and Japan, the Quad concept will collectively curb China in the new scaffold of emergent “Cold War 2.0” persuasion. Japan has been praising India’s “Act East policy” and the need to strengthen cooperation. The US imposes Global Magnitsky sanctions on senior Chinese officials serving in Xinjiang, Xinjiang Public Security Bureau and Tibet that were ‘substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas’ for right abuses. In retaliation, for the first time China banned US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brown back, Congressman Chris Smit and US Senator Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. China from time and again stresses on “One China Policy”, determination to protect its sovereignty and crackdown against terrorism, separatism and religious forces are within China are entirely the internal affairs of China and the US has no right to interfere. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that visa ban has “severely damaged China-US relations”. Thoughts from China believe that Indo-Pacific strategy is intended to hedge against China’s foreign and security policy behavior, which is bringing about geopolitical changes in the region with China’s rise. The US has approved a possible $620 million upgrade package for Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Taiwan. Beijing and Washington continue to disagree on the issue of Human Rights recently blaming US migration policy as “xenophobic” and racial prejudices. With all this, Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi said “China never intends to challenge or replace the US, or have full confrontation with the US” and “Aggression and expansion are never in the genes of Chinese nation throughout its 5,000 years of history. China does not replicate any model of other countries, nor does it export its own to others”.
The liberal European order emerged after World War II with the foundation of the United Nations for global stability. When the US priorities is changing from both Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Middle East to the IPR, important global actor the European Union (EU) and other countries over the past few years half heartedly twisting with China’s conduct. EU’s 27 heads of governments are currently meeting in Brussels. Regardless of American pressure, though the Europeans are greatly apprehensive by Trump’s precedence, when China appears to be self-assured to take benefit of this competent diplomacy to wane the trans-Atlantic acquaintance. EU invests in Europe infrastructure and is becoming ever more conscious and concerned by China’s capacity to question and shape the continent. China policy of denial to ending practices of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, its obstruction to enhance market candidness for European companies, its make use of coercive economic tools and political persuasion in Europe and its illiberal activities on the world stage is limiting China’s influence in Europe for strategic and security reasons. EU finds Washington’s approach towards China forceful, though its members engage China on a state to state level, but in 2019 the EU collectively acknowledged China as a “systemic rival”.
Turkey that sits at the crossroads to Europe and Asia is most vibrant for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The slowly growing economic relations between the two countries are crammed with suspicion and mistrust. President Erdogan has expressed concerns of human rights over China’s treatment of the Uighurs, a Muslim and Turkic minority group. Turkey’s conduct across the Black Sea will and remain a strategic space as China-US competition unfolds.
Russia is a known adversary of the US. Though interests interconnect between China and Russia while competing the US, Russia fear of the possibilities of Chinese naval intentions in the Arctic, which for long has been seen as Russia’s domain. China-Russia policy convergence premeditated to take benefit of the West’s limitation can be a divergence for official alliance.
Germany has deep economic ties with China and political and economic ties with the US so both China and the US sees Germany as a pivot to engage in geopolitical strategies. Germany’s strategies towards dealing with China are developing so is its relationship with Central Asian, pursuing close bond with India and the Indo-Pacific strategies.
China will fight to defend its core interests in Australia to the end, while Australian education, mining and agriculture desire improved ties with China so the possibilities of a comprehensive confrontation is low. Australia hopes the US will build a more objective understanding and a rationale policy towards China.
South Asia Missing the Old Normal
It is more involving resource politics of water, potential land for military viability and geopolitical discourse with China Pakistan Economic Corridor construct.
South of the Himalayas geographically is South Asia with India as the traditional regional players for decades and has sustained a geopolitical order to bring about stability now in reservation. China and its policies has been a factor in world politics and South Asia is all together important with two particular instances one, ‘Resource Political Power’ and two South Asia as a bridge to the IOR. The border dispute in the Ladakh region in the western Himalayas between China and India is a case in point. A 72 days skirmishes in Doklam in 2017 to prevent China from building road up to the Jhampheri ridge and 2020 border disagreement in Nathu-La pass, Chinese road construction along Torsa/Amo Chu aiming for the Siliguri Corridor. Though Bhutan got the funds, China objected to Bhutan’s application to get grant from the Global Environment Facility Council for the Sackteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Trashigang Province saying it is ‘disputed territory’. This is the first case in point of Chinese making border claims in eastern Bhutan. Bhutan totally rejected the claims saying that Sackteng Wildlife Sanctuary is an integral and sovereign territory of Bhutan. Mike Pompeo reacted on China claiming Bhutanese territory; says can’t allow bullying. These are yet other illustrations in the central Himalayas. The border claims tensions both by China and India in Arunanchal Pradesh in the eastern Himalayas though have temporary settlement mechanism in place but can erupt anytime.
Much has happened with strategic benefits to India as Modi 2.0 administration faces foreign policy challenges besides Nepal, Pakistan and Sri-Lanka, together with regional competitor for influence with China. Even if China-India celebrate the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic ties this year, the June sequence of unarmed scuffle along their disputed border in the western Himalayas in a fatal clash marks the first casualties put up with after 45 years. Though both sides do not desire armed confrontation deescalating of the volatile situation is prevalent after Modi’s visit prompting in the region exemplating seriousness to the nationalist domestic base and the likely impact in China-India economic, diplomatic and strategic/military relations. Modi surpassed four messages one, called the second decade of the 21st century an ‘era of development (Vikasbaad)’ and not an ‘era of colonial expansion (Vistaarvaad)’, two, diplomatic efforts would be exhausted before any actions third, signified government’s determination to face the challenge at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and focus on national priorities of infrastructure and economic development and finally praised the soldiers of their valor and the sacrifice that would not be emaciated. Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor’s telephonic call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has supplemented that both sides strictly respect and observe the LAC and not take any unilateral action to alter the status quo with earliest complete disengagement. This stresses the important consensus reached by leaders of the two countries during the informal summits as well as realizing loss on mutual strategic interests. Though China-India relationship was founded on 2Cs cooperation and competition the 3rd C confrontations has been tabled.
The conflict in the Galwan Valley is hundreds of kilometres from Pakistan but strategic interests are much more than territorial dividing lines. It is more involving resource politics of water, potential land for military viability and geopolitical discourse with China Pakistan Economic Corridor construct.Building up military capabilities in the western Himalayas by China, India and Pakistan is being prioritized. China military built up with more than 10,000 troops with heavy artillery, armored regiments, air defense batteries and strategic bombers and fighter aircrafts at its air bases in Hotan and Gar Gunsa. India sent three army divisions across the contested LAC accounting to 30,000 well trained soldiers as well as air force assets.
Pakistan moved more or less 20,000 additional soldiers more than what it did after the Balakot air strikes to Giljit-Baltistan Line of Control in northern Ladakh to match Chinese deployments on the LAC in the east.
On June 29, Minister for electronics and information technology and law and justice Ravi Shankar Prasad twitted “For safety, security, defense, sovereignty and integrity of India and to protect data and privacy of people of India the government has banned 59 mobile apps.” Secretary of State Pompeo quickly supported India move on the ban of certain mobile apps and said that the move would ‘boost India’s integrity and national security”. Three thoughts look influential for long-term India’s response. First, not to be a cause to the accomplishment, production and performance of digital weapons with China’s technology. Second, to remain away from an unfair trade relationship that makes it dependent on a country that seek out to harm it and lastly, to step out from the vicinity that harms its own economic growth, shrinks its political power and restricts its digital ambitions.
China has been strengthening its economic and military ties with India’s neighborhood in South Asia posing challenge to traditional security architecture. When India is contending China in the western Himalayas Nepal’s PM Oli has charged India of coming up with a conspiracy to oust him for the change of constitution to induct the Kalapani Region in the country’s new map that depicts disputed territory as part of Nepal.
China has been actively involved in South Asia and replaced India as the major trading partner of several South Asian countries through investment, loans and grants. $100 billion has been committed by China to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka as per the American Enterprise Institute’s China Global Investment Tracker. China’s total trade with Maldives exceeded compared to 3.4 times that of China in 2008. China’s trade with Bangladesh is now about twice of India. China’s trade with Nepal and Sri Lanka still holdup India’s trade but the gaps have reduced. Chinese investment is on hard infrastructure: power, roads, railways, bridges, ports and airports with 80% investment in energy and transport sectors. China is the leading overseas investor in Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In the financial system Beijing has obtained share in the Dhaka and Karachi stock exchanges and foster trade in Yuan with Pakistan.
China’s interests in the region go beyond economics to active military diplomacy. Bangladesh and Pakistan receives the biggest share on China’s arms export as per Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)Arms Transfer Database from 2008-2018in Asia. Chinese arms sales all through South and Southeast Asia expanded from US $386 million in 2008 to US $1.3 billion in 2016 before declining to US $759 million in 2018.China is the main arms supplier to Bangladesh and Pakistan with US $ 1953 million and US $ 6576 million respectively. Myanmar received US $ 1259 million and US $ 2310 million to the rest of Asia. The political theory of the “String of Pearls” cannot be ruled out to contain India with military and commercial facilities network in India’s immediate neighbourhood. .
The new world order will be shaped on who is controlling the global resources. Sec Pompeo said “The CCP recently filed a boundary dispute with Bhutan at the meeting of the Global Environment Facility from the mountains ranges of the Himalayas to the waters of Vietnam’s (EEZ), to the Senkaku islands beyond Beijing has a pattern of instigating territorial disputes. The world shouldn’t allow this bullying to take place nor should it permit to it continue”.
A hydro politics test is well observed. Ten river sources come out of Tibet of China, a strategically placed region and its water resources, one of the rationales why it was annexed by China in 1950. Forty six percent of the world’s population depends upon rivers that have their headwaters in Tibet including the Ganges where the river systems of Nepal connect. Population growth in China and South Asia, industrialization, urbanization and climate change threaten water, food and environment security. An arid China looks upon water security as an imperative national security issue. The dispute between the People’s Liberation Army and the India’s Border Security Force in Galwan Valley is a case. Of the 8.8 billion people in 2100, two billion fewer than current UN projection, India’s population will reach 1.1 billion the largest. China with (1.3 billion) 20 percent of the world population is channelizing fresh water from the Plateau to convene its own food and water necessities by building dams, irrigation system and creating water diversion projects for assuring internal political stability.Alteration to China’s control of sources of water in Tibet possibly will modify the sharing of power between China and the countries downstream as well as cause sensitive in-house tensions, an impression that Beijing will be unenthusiastic to tolerate. As per the bleak prediction of the Intergovernmental Panel on climate change, more than 1 billion people will face water stress in Central, South, East and Southeast Asia by 2050. To transact with challenges and demands creative and mutual beneficial method to supply constraint and to climate change adaptation and mitigation is required.
With China-US rivalry countries in South Asia including Nepal are toward the inside of cooperation, competition and confrontation with economic and military domination, governance and strategic co-operation. The disorder in the global south will help maintain the normal world order status quo.
A questions rises on how nations of South Asia and Nepal attempt to deal with, survive and outline the rivalry and to what degree is harmony or discord of strategy on key areas of geopolitical competition including technology, infrastructure development, trade, and sea power across issues that needs to be handled with China-India and the US strategic relationship?
Impression on International Institution: The efficiency and usefulness of the international institutions like the WHO and the fear of financial support to the UN is weakening public confidence. The two top economies and competitor in economic, energy consumption, carbon emissions, military spending and technology China, US and world’s major powers are ever more careful in balancing their behavior above all at the present when response for COVID-19 is consecutively equivalent. There is extensive and rising breach amid the top two powers and how the rivalry will unfold in India (disengaging from the border tragedy), Japan, UK and EU as well as othermiddle powers and the consequences for taking sides if they may have to regarding their current and future relations with both powers.
South Asia disorder will favour the status quo global order:China has been one of the primary strategic challenges for India since 1950 and China-US (G2) rivalry will strategically place India in the right position with benefits, while cold competitive would force India to choose between democracy and communism. With this narrative, the fears of instability with China’s persistent and unrelenting deepening entry into South Asia would be prominent. The Non-Alignment movement diplomacy that had enthusiasm during the Cold War will fade without India’s persuasion.
Consistent US policies, opening up with Russia and India’s greater role:The US strategies and policy towards IPR will not change what so ever may be the outcome of the US November election. India will play a crucial role in South Asia as a democracy. The US may rethink its Russian policy with new approaches to further improve US-Russia relationship-both in denial to Russian belligerence with an opportunity for cooperation. President Nixon did build respectable relationship with China to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.Strategically placed India and other middle powers are liable to have the benefit of greater bargaining capabilities with both China and the US. Smaller powers are likely to fall in line with any side that provides them the required capital. The rise of India and India-US cooperation will give more opposition by China in South Asia. Post pandemic, India may not contribute to the digital and economic rise of the same power that harms it.
Expectations for US leadership for stability:When the world is entering the 21st century with great power competition and delicate international order, the international institution and aspiring nations like Nepal will more and more will be wedged in a blind. The Future of US alliances and partnerships in long-term with the swift alteration of balance of power and importunate security threats will necessitate expectations for American leadership with more strategic role and understand ally and partner calculations on interests, threats and opportunities in provisioning public goods and maintaining regional stability. US Strategic outlook for Alliance and Partnership and economic as the tools of state power will be central to US foreign Policy to countering Beijing’s rising role even after the election as Trump’s democratic opponent Joe Biden is equally vocal on Beijing.
Expansion of Quad concept:Australia and India have signed a deal to use each other’s military bases as part of security cooperation. The US active involvement with the recent positioning of two warships in South China Sea and the call on China to stop ‘bullying behavior’ does provide ample suggestions of democracies oldest, largest and others, the US, India, Australia, France, Japan, South Korea and the UK have the potent to ally with a singular purpose of countering China and China’s expansionist behavior.
Contentions of Resources Politics:South Sudan obtained independence after two civil wars from 1955-1972 and from 1983-2005, in which 2.5 million people were killed and more than five million externally displaced linked to oil resource. Oil wars were planned specifically to secure oil resources. Access to control from and use of resources such as land, water, food and energy are at the heart of resource politics as is the harm from disasters such as floods and droughts. Resource wars are violent conflicts that are largely driven by competition and control over vital or valuable natural materials, water, and land.
Tibet also known as the “Third Pole” is the third largest source of fresh water in the world and headwaters of ten of the largest rivers of Asia. The likelihood of conflict and boundary disputes will increase as there is complexity to accomplish a political consensus on governing Asia’s trans-boundary rivers when downstream countries do not have equal power over the control of common water sources or the South China Sea argument regarding both island and maritime assertion among states in South and East Asia. Projected US $ 3.37 trillion value, third of the global maritime trade, 80 percent of China’s energy imports and 39 percent of China’s total trade surpass from South China Sea per annum. Resource scarcity calamity is emerging as a significant pivot of Asian politics and security, with possible consequences stretching from domestic sustainability, food security, energy security, environment security and above all inter-riparian relations. The probability of conflict within the region will intensify if arrangements are not determined.
Importance of India’s role with political ideology: China is a force to reckon with as it is able to influence the international rules of the game with its capital, technology capabilities in strategic areas like 5G and Artificial Intelligence with its wider influence fostered through a single minded effort to develop trade ties, financial relationships and so on. But India’s relative power vis-à-vis China and US improves, India can become a swing power for both China and the US led groupings. If India’s relative power declines, India will be forced to ally on less favourable terms more closely with US with ideological values against communism.
In the power rivalry and geopolitics opposition the IPR is captivating a new political and security formula and the engagement of South Asia is fundamental in influencing the new normal both in the IPR and South Asia. The intimidation of China’s peaceful rise arrives with an argument of Thucydides trap for a new world order or the upholding of the existing world order.
Basnyat is a strategic analyst and a Maj. Gen. (retd) of the Nepali Army