By Dr Subhash Kapila
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s main thrust in 2018 of resetting China’s relations with India and Japan arises not from some heavenly divinations but stand laced with crucial geopolitically and strategically calibrated end-aims to create a breach in China’s hemming-in by US-led Indo Pacific security template
China stands encouraged to attempt this breach with US President Trump’s opening moves towards a “trade war” with China and with similar apprehensions in India and Japan that US trade policies towards India and Japan though not bordering on a ‘trade war’ may lead to US restrictive trade practises. China with massive financial reserves available for the asking with geopolitical quid –pro- quos becomes an attractive option.
China is further prompted in attempting a breach preying on the fears in India and Japan arising from the uncertainty of President Trump’s geopolitical priorities arising from changes at the top in US State Department and CIA.
China’s main thrust therefore is to drive wedges in India’s and Japan’s relationships with the United States and between India and Japan to dilute the evolving security linkages between USA, India and Japan which in its orientation is decidedly to manage the China Threat in Indo Pacific Region.
That “Reset” has become the buzz-word in the lexicon of Chinese foreign policy approaches in 2018 towards India and Japan. Analytically this is suggestive of the fact that China’s relations with both its Asian Power contenders were tense and adversarial in the run-up to 2018. China recognising this reality has changed tack, which looks temporary, to ease China’s current conflictual security environment.
The above was a reality and continues to be so even in 2018 when China is in the process of attempting a “Reset” of its relations with India and Japan and whose end-outcome is uncertain. It is for Indian and Japanese policy-makers to recognise the limits of China’s so-called “Reset of Relations” with India and Japan. Is it China’s long term strategy or a tactical expediency driven by China’s current uncertain geopolitical and geoeconomics environment? The latter seems more plausible.
In 2018 the China-India Military Confrontation on India’s borders with China Occupied Tibet is unlikely to abate for some decades to come. Similarly, China’s brinkmanship against Japan over the Senkaku Islands sovereignty and Chinese submarines prowling in Japanese waters continue to add explosive contours to Chinese moves in East Asia.
Asia and Indo Pacific security will continue to be impacted by China’s burgeoning ambitions for geopolitical dominance of Asia and the Indo Pacific more pointedly. China’s real geopolitical and military target is the United States and prompting exit of United States from this vast region
The most significant impediments to China’s realisation of its Asian geopolitical dominance are the United States, India and Japan. The US-India Strategic Partnership has in the last two decades matured into a substantive security-centric partnership with potential to grow further.
The US-Japan Mutual Security Treaty has been the sheet-anchor of Japan’s security against the Former Soviet Union till its disintegration and against the China Threat to Japan thereafter.
Japan and India under the overarching spread of the above have in their own right forged a meaningful Global Special Strategic Partnership driven by mutual convergences of the China Threat that both nations face individually.
China in the run-up to 2018 subjected both India and Japan to political and military coercion and aggressive military brinkmanship. The most explosive, prolonged and serious one was the Dokalam Standoff in second half of 2017. Japan was similarly subjected by China in the Senkaku Islands making Japan force the United States to commit that Article V of their Security Treaty entails US coming to aid of Japan in case of Chinese aggression in these Island possessions.
Both India and Japan have not blinked against Chinese military provocations and brinkmanship much disconcerting China especially in terms of the ‘perceptions battle’ of China in Asian capitals.
Adding and complicating China’s geopolitical challenges as 2018 dawned was US President’s threats of a ‘trade war’ against China’s reluctance to reduce its trade imbalance with the United States. If this ‘trade war’ acquires more pronounced contours then China’s economy will be seriously impacted with domestic political complications.
Fortuitously for China, due to the US President’s trade pressures against India and Japan, a “Window of Opportunity” opened for China to attempt weaning away India and Japan from their established security-centric relationships with the United States.
China hopes that geo-economic imperatives of India and Japan would prevail over their geopolitical and security imperatives for a proximate relationship with the United States.
Further, China’s geopolitical dominance end-aims in Asia could only be achieved by removing the India-prop and the Japan-prop of United States security template for Indo Pacific Asia.
Since China despite its exponential military expansion is in no position to humble the United States militarily for many decades to come, the military option to force a US-exit from Indo Pacific was a non-starter. Similarly, the military humbling of India and Japan is also not an easy option for China. The only way to wean away India and Japan away from the United States was the economic option.
China has made some headway with India in this direction with its initiative towards holding the Wuhan Summit last month billed as an ‘Informal Summit’ between President Xi Jinping and Indian PM Modi.
Similar political outreaches by China are underway towards Japan. But Japan seems to be more circumspect than India in its responses to China’s “Reset Drive”.
In the overall analysis, it is too early to predict notable successes of China’s ‘Reset of Relations” policy thrust in 2018, simply because it will be a Himalayan task for China to generate perceptional strategic trust of China in India and Japan after years of military brinkmanship bordering on limited wars fears. Further, since China’s “Reset Relations” in 2018 aimed at India and China is heavily dependent on India’s and Japan’s fears of US geopolitical policies uncertainties, it is quite possible that the United States too carries out mid-course corrections to allay India’s and Japan’s fears and pre-empt China’s policy attempts to effect a breach in the US-led Indo Pacific security template.