Rex Tillerson’s positive words on US-India bonhomie seems to have rattled Beijing as much as the US Secretary of State’s strong message against China’s foreign policy. With Tillerson scheduled to arrive in India on Tuesday, several strategy and diplomatic experts in China are terming the visit as a ‘divide and conquer’ startegy of the Americans.
Tillerson last week had said that American President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are committed towards building a lasting friendship. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Tillerson then went on to chide China. “We’ll never have the same relationship with China, a nondemocratic society, that we can have with India,” he was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.
His statements, obviously, have not gone down too well with the Chinese.
In a report in the state-run Global Times, US has been accused of trying to undermine Asian solidarity. “Although over the past decade the US has been trying to make India quasi-ally to balance against China, this “divide and conquer” method is not clever enough to outsmart the eastern wisdoms of China and India,” read the report. “Although Beijing and New Delhi hold different opinions on border issues, Indian strategists of vision are still eager for independent diplomacy and strategic autonomy instead of opposing China.”
In the past week, several reports in the state-controlled Chinese media have underlined why India needs to focus on its neighbours ‘rather than ally with Americans.’ Some of these reports have even ‘advised’ India on how it should deal with terrorism emanating from Pakistan – telling New Delhi to recognise Islamabad as a victim of terror rather than its propagator. India though has maintained that its foreign policy – much like its sovereignty – won’t be affected by any other country or external elements.
Tillerson’s visit to India, therefore, assumes a lot of significance as he has already communicated to Pakistan – now a budding ally of China – to clamp down on terrorism. Closer US-India ties can be in the greater interest of both countries with economic and defence ties set to strengthen.
For China though, it may well be a catch-22 situation as it gets ready to host Trump in Beijing next month. Here, it is mostly agreed upon that the US President pays a lot of attention to ties with India. Some even go to the extent of saying Trump and Modi are similar and hence share a bond. “They are both acknowledged as center-right wing politicians who enjoy anti-establishment posturing,” wrote Zhao Minghao, a senior research fellow with The Charhar Institute, for the Global Times. “Over the past few months, Trump and Modi have tightened interactions via phone calls and other means.”
While the similarities – if any- between Trump and Modi are open to interpretations, US-India ties – it is clear – has China on tenterhooks.