President Donald Trump’s current voyage to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines has importance for many reasons.
It comes in the wake of his administration’s clearer embrace of India as a strategic partner in the Indo-Pacific region against China’s expansionist moves there. The triangular US-India-Japan security relationship is being given more fillip, and expanding it into a quadrilateral grouping is being proposed more overtly by the Trump administration.
Beijing is allergic to such a grouping, seeing it as a move to contain China. While Australia has exhibited its keenness to join the triangular US-India-Japan Malabar exercise and would favour a quadrilateral format to maintain security in the Indo-Pacific area, India still prefers to move bilaterally with Australia on security issues. This has been interpreted even by the Chinese as deferring to its sensitivities about the creation of any security architecture in Asia that is implicitly directed against it.
After Doklam, India has little reason to defer to Chinese sensitivities, more so as China has made short shrift of India’s concerns by including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the constitution of the Chinese communist party (CPC), a bizarre move that implies that the CPC now has a constitutional obligation to pursue Xi’s pet project and foreign policy considerations vis-a-vis individual countries like India which are opposed to the BRI for sovereignty reasons are to be ignored.
With Japan and the US too calling into question its political and financial basis, Xi Jinping, in a show of defiance, has inscribed his project in the CPC’s constitution, which means that it is now above any debate internally. Other than this, by blocking Masood Azhar’s designation as an international terrorist by the UN, China has once again showed contempt for India’s Pakistan-related terrorism concerns. We have no reason to respect China’s sensitivities except on a reciprocal basis.
With Shinzo Abe’s strong win in the recently-called parliamentary elections, he can pursue his goal to expand Japan’s defence role in the Indo-Pacific, which is compatible with our interests. The outcome of Trump’s visit to Vietnam –another country that is victim to Chinese expansionism — would have significance for us. South Korea’s close economic ties with China and opposition to any military action against North Korea makes Trump’s diplomatic task difficult.
Philippines remains unpredictable under president Duterte as he has shown receptivity to Chinese blandishments.
Trump’s own hand visa-vis China has been weakened by the North Korean crisis. So long as he hopes China can assist him in dealing with it, and China emulates Pakistan’s game of cooperation and complicity in a different context, Trump has no clear choices.
His visit to China is the centre-piece of his East Asian foray, and given the manifold economic and financial interests that tie the two countries, it is not unlikely that his China visit will yield unclear results.
Indeed, after the consolidation of Xi Jinping’s dictatorship at the 19th CPC Congress, China is displaying greater confidence in achieving its geopolitical ambitions to occupy a more centrestage in international relations, believing that the global scenario is evolving in its favour by US power in retreat, incoherence in Washington’s policies that have created uncertainties in the minds of its allies and friends about the firmness of US security commitments, as contrasted with the emergence of a commanding leader in Beijing who has clear plans about where China should be in 2021 and in 2049, the 100th anniversary, respectively, of the founding of the CPC and the Chinese People’s Republic.
By Kanwal Sibal Economic Times