Vulnerability Of US-China Competition In South Asian Strategic Theater – OpEd


The geostrategic competition between the U.S. and China underscores the fact that the world is moving from uni-polarity to a multi-polar order, thereby it creates friction in the international system and regional orders. While this destabilizes the status-quo powers, it also offers opportunities and challenges for middle powers. 

In contemporary great power competition, South Asia, referred to as Southern Asia by India and which is a geographical blasphemy, is fast emerging as the second most specific arena in their global competition. In this region India and Pakistan are significant stats in this regard. South Asian region is of interest to the U.S. and China, hence their balance of power strategy divides the region into three competitive and two cooperative dyads operating simultaneous. The China-U.S. dyad, the China-India dyad, and the Pakistan-India dyad are the competitive ones. While the cooperative dyads include India-U.S. dyad, and the Pakistan-China dyad. These dyads have been witnessing competition and cooperation taking place at the same time. These cooperative partnerships in a competitive geo-strategic environment produce a complex set of consequences for the regional states of Pakistan and India. 

As a consequence of this strategic competition, the U.S. has been relying on India to contain China as it did on Pakistan to contain the Communists in the region. Pakistan did prove to be a reliable partner as assessed from the Capitalism takeover of the world order in 1990s. 

The U.S. – India partnership has three primary features: first, transfer of high-end advanced technology; second, the increased India-U.S. nuclear cooperation; and third, the geo-political clout benefitting India with the U.S. designation of India as the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region. This partnership has resulted in India’s greater economic potential. The size of India’s GDP is growing at an average rate of 6-7% every year. And this is why the U.S. finds India as the only meaningful competitor to China in the Region. 

Second and most importantly, India’s well- placed diaspora caused India’s soft power influence in the U.S. and West, that presents India as the most effective economic and strategic counterweight to China in the Asia-Pacific Region. 

China’s offensives in the maritime domain are challenging the status quo in world order in the Asia-Pacific. Therefore, the US correlated with India to share the burden of policing in the Indian Ocean. The designation of India as the net security provider by the U.S. is because the Indian navy offers a counter-force to the PLA navy. therefore, India is the key member of the QUAD partnership against China. In 2016, the U.S. designated India as a major defense partner, putting India at par with the closest U.S. defense allies. Since 2008, India has purchased 21 billion dollars of military technology.

As a counterweight to China, India-U.S. nuclear deal provided India with an NSG waiver and a de-facto recognition of India’s nuclear programme as a nuclear weapon state outside the NPT with none of the obligations of the NPT signatories. 

Consequently, now-onwards, India has been concentrating more on its nuclear capability, as witnessed in the change in India’s language regarding its nuclear doctrine.

Notably, writings by Ashley Tellis and Vipin Narang, the prominent proponents of India’s policy, highlight India’s campaign to resume its nuclear testing, specifically the theormonuclear testing. Ashley Tellis and Bharat Karnad – both can be analyzed as manipulating American support for resumption of nuclear testing by India. The Trump Administration seems to have been cognizant of India’s belligerence in nuclear domains as evident during the National Security meeting wherein the Trump’s national security advisors ruled out further testing by the U.S out of the realization that it might serve as precedent for other revisionist states in line. 

Consequently, West is now hopeful for what India can deliver, especially in the context of a two-front war scenario. Despite India’s huge gains from the U.S in terms of technology, it now has limited scope of managing its position in the U.S-China competition, similar to Pakistan’s liabilities as a Non-NATO ally amid U.S-Communist competition for world order. 2 possibilities exist: Based on India’s history of non-alignment and independent foreign policy in terms of Military intervention on behalf of foreign powers, it is more likely to be America’s bad bet on India. This may be assessed by India’s performance in QUAD and the formation of another QUAD in the region which is a minus India partnership restricted to America’s most reliable allies. However, if Modi administration revises its policy of non-alignment in this strategic competition, it might turn as India’s bad bet on the Americans since Russia was definitely a more reliable time-tested ally to India than the United States. 

In the context of South Asian security, the two-front war scenario is a challenge for Pakistan, as in the India-China cometition, any capability India builds against China can be used against Pakistan. This creates convention asymmetry in South Asia military capabilities and builds the case for an arms race.  Therefore, Pakistan’s deterrence requirements have been sensitive to and cognizant of maintaining the level of deterrence. It pressures Pakistan to respond to the dynamics of military buildup in the region. An arms race is not an option; however, maintaining a reasonable level of deterrence is required. Here, Pakistan’s strategic partnership with china is an opportunity, regardless of Pakistan’s economic instability. At present, Pakistan’s naval modernization, with the support of China and Turkey, is unprecedented in history and doubles the surface fleets and submarine technology.

As compared to India and learnt from the history, Pakistan has kept its options open for a successful hedging between the competing states of U.S. and China; however, that is a challenge as well as an opportunity only if Pakistan can achieve political stability and put its economy back on track. 

Komal Khan

Komal Khan is a Research Officer at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI)

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