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China & Pakistan in United States Crosshairs in 2018

Paper No. 6419                          Dated 2-Sept-2018

By Dr Subhash Kapila

China and Pakistan in 2018 find themselves in United States strategic crosshairs in relation to their policies perceived as adversarial to US interests in East Asia and South Asia and in the context of the China-Pakistan Axis posing as a ‘threat-in-the making’ in terms of the Indo Pacific security template that the United States has in mind. China and Pakistan as nations adversarial to Indian national security contextually so targeted raise implications for India.

Short of war and armed conflict, the United States in mid-2018 seems to be engrossed in employing all components of its political, military and economic power to put China and Pakistan under intense pressure with the ultimate aim of bringing about China and Pakistan to modulate their policies and shift away from impacting adversely on United States National Security interests and also not to endanger the security of US allies and strategic partners in the Indo Pacific. China shows no positive signs in this regard and Pakistan would not be allowed by China to deviate from the China-Pakistan Axis.

The United Sates has launched a trade war against China by imposing heavy tariffs on Chinese imports into USA putting the Chinese economy already slowing down into further strains. The United States has increased its FONOP US Navy patrols in the South China Sea. France, UK and Australian participation has also taken place in South China Sea naval presence. President Trump pressurised China’s nuclear weapons protégé to open talks with USA on its nuclear denuclearisation. Combined together with other economic sanctions in play China is being placed under intense political and military pressures. The United States can be expected to intensify its trade war against China conscious that China despite its trillion dollars reserves is economically vulnerable due to its sluggish economy having adverse domestic implications.

Pakistan stood severely castigated soon after US President Trump’s inauguration. It was followed up by even more scathing criticisms at the beginning of 2018 for not doing enough both in relation to the Taliban and not reining-in Islamic Jihadi protégés of Pakistan Army operating against Afghanistan and India. The United Sates has cut off military aid to Pakistan and closed the doors of US military institutions for training of Pakistan Amy officers.

More significantly, the United States has declared that Pakistan would not be able to get bailout loans for its failing economy from the IMF and other financial institutions as these are likely to be diverted by Pakistan to pay-off China’s debts for the CPEC. It is evident that like India, the United States has not taken kindly to Pakistan Army facilitating the CPEC through which China gets military access to the North Arabian Sea. Coupled with this, China has handed over lease of Gwadar Port.  Pakistan has thus invited China for a naval base in the North Arabian Sea endangering US security interests in The Gulf.

United States intentions in zeroing-in on China and Pakistan in mid-2018 more pointedly may not be determined directly to control India’s confirmed military threats from these two countries but also is undeniable that even marginal US pressures on China and Pakistan ease military pressures on India.

To that extent India must factor-in this significant initiative by the United States as it sits down in New Delhi for the US-India 2+2 Dialogue to discuss the Asian and Indian security environments and the future course of the US-India Strategic Partnership.

Undeniably, Asian security environment in terms of security and stability would greatly depend on the value that India and Japan attach to United States’ will and determination not to allow that Indo Pacific security and stability are allowed to be disturbed by China and Pakistan acting individually and in concert with each other.

Japan stands fully committed to the United States strategic blueprint but India though giving full weightage to its Strategic Partnership with the United States is hesitant to get into a military alliance like relationship. India has to study and adapt to the strategic culture that pervades in the US policy establishment.

 But then the Indian policy establishment needs to recognise that even mighty China with pretentions to be a Superpower is compelled by contemporary geopolitical imperatives to enlist Russia on its side as a quasi-strategic ally. So why the diffidence in India not to heed to geopolitical imperatives to add United States strategic ballast to tip the scales against the undoubted China Threat hovering over India constantly.

India should note that the United States has not only China and Pakistan in its strategic crosshairs but also China’s other nuclear weapons protégé North Korea.  North Korea seemingly agreed for talks with US President Trump at Singapore but lately seems to have been reclaimed by China once again. North Korea has been targeted by the United States in relation to its acting as proxy nuclear threat for China against United States enduring military ally that is Japan.

Pakistan however is a different kettle of fish for the United States. Its geographical contiguity to Afghanistan where US Forces stand embedded for nearly two decades has in the past recklessly gambled on this advantage, much to the chagrin of the United States. Pakistan has not delivered on its pledges to the United States to stop Islamic Jihadi terrorists groups using its soil against Afghanistan and India. Pakistan is likely to continue on this reckless course unless the United States initiates stern actions against Pakistan Army which has over the decades determined Pakistan’s foreign policy as well as using Islamic Jihadi militia protégés in its proxy wars against its neighbours.

United States denouement with both China and Pakistan has been in the making for a decade or so. But past US Presidents with their China Hedging Strategy and Risk Aversion policy held their hand back from strong actions against China. In case of Pakistan, the United States was permissive merely because of its military operations in Afghanistan in whose logistics support Pakistan played a part. This emboldened both China and Pakistan to exploit United States’ hesitations to further their own agendas which by 2018 had started impinging on US National Security interests in the regions stated and also globally.

US President Trump well into office in his first year clearly reflected in his first National Security Strategy Document that China was adversarial to United States national security interest and US influence around the globe. The United States was more than unhappy of China not prevailing over North Korea to denuclearise its nuclear weapons arsenal. US President Trump has the other day only once again asserted that China is not doing much to nudge North Korea towards nuclear denuclearisation.

China is also conspicuous in challenging the United States and the global community as a whole over its illegal military occupation of the South China Sea and with its ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ militarily via military fortifications on artificially created islands is in a position to impede maritime commercial traffic and move of US Navy ships across this vital maritime expanse. China’s intentions are clear in this regard in that it is in a position to challenge US military predominance in the Western Pacific and also impact on United States influence and interest in South East Asia,

 Similarly, US President Trump in harsh warnings to Pakistan criticised it for its duplicitous policies and actions in Afghanistan which the United States considered inimical. Pakistan was warned to deliver more in terms of restraining terrorism emanating from its soil against its neighbours.

But more than the above, it is the emergence of the China-Pakistan Axis which carries more implications for the Indo Pacific Security and Stability Template in which the United States is engaged with active assistance from Japan and United States similar expectations of India.

Obviously and logically, the major question that now arises is as to what are the United States expectations from India as it zeroes-in on China and Pakistan?  Admittedly, United States bringing China and Pakistan in US strategic crosshairs serves US National Security interest by checkmating their adversarial postures but perceptionaly the United States can be expected to maintain that India must make substantial contributions in the overall checkmating of China and Pakistan, as both of them figure top-most as Threat in Indian Threat Perceptions.

The analysis in my last SAAG Paper on China’s political reach out to India and prompting India’s China Reset Policy 2018 was a pre-emptive step by China to sow confusion and introduce strategic dilemmas in the Indian policy establishment in terms of responding substantially to US expectations. Simply, because India responding substantially to further US expectations from India as a major Asian power could tilt the balance against China and Pakistan.

As an aside, in this context, attention needs to be drawn to the Chinese Ambassador in India, obviously at the behest of the Chinese Government, asserting in the public domain that China is willing to assist as a ‘Mediator’ in Pakistan’s disputes with India. China is also hedging its bets on the Indian political scene by taking more than active interest in the Indian National Congress President Rahul Gandhi with pretentions to be India’s next Prime Minister in 2019.

The Indian Foreign Minister and the Indian Defence Minister as they sit down with their American counterparts in New Delhi on September 05 2018 for the much delayed US-India 2+2 Dialogue in New Delhi , would be faced with the challenge as to what  credible strategic template India can offer to the United States in terms of substantially meeting  US geopolitical and strategic expectations considering India as a pivot in the evolving Indo Pacific Security template on which hinges peace and stability in Asia against China’s ‘not so peaceful rise’.

Concluding, one would like to emphasise strongly that India should NOT IGNORE THE LESSONS OF HISTORY OF CHINA-INDIA RELATIONS of the last seven decades as India decides at the strategic crossroads as to which fork in the road it chooses to traverse----short term transactional options or long- term strategic options well into the latter half of the 21st Century.