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NEW COLD WAR WITH THE IMPLICATIONS FOR INDO – PACIFIC, A report of the Joint USI of India-CAPS Taiwan Webinar, 28 Aug 2020

Report prepared by Mr. Gaurav, Kumar, Editorial Assistant, edited by Dr Roshan Khanijo, ADR CS3.

The United Service Institution of India (USI) and Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies (CAPS), Taiwan, jointly organized the Webinar on the topic ‘New Cold War with the Implications for the Indo-Pacific’, on 28 Aug 2020. This event was Chaired by Maj Gen BK Sharma, AVSM, SM & Bar (Retd), Director, USI and Mr. Andrew ND Yang, Secretary General, CAPS. The panelists were:

  • Major Gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, SM (Retd), Head, CS3, USI
  • Amb Yogendra Kumar, IFS (Retd)
  • Arthur S F Ding, Chairman, CAPS
  • Andrew ND Yang, Secretary General, CAPS

The highlights of the discussions are as follows: –

Dynamics of New Cold War: Assessment of the Emerging Geo-Political Scenario and China’s perceived Intent in the Indo-Pacific Region.

  • The years 2012 onwards were extremely crucial for China, due to its outreach towards the world through its grand geostrategic project – the BRI. The root of this, lay in 2008-09 global financial crisis, and there was a hope and expectation, that the crisis will bring down the hegemony of the US and Europe and provide space for China to occupy, especially in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Currently, China is facing major weaknesses – then global anti-China backlash due to Covid, the fissures within the CPC, ethnic problems in Xinjiang and Tibet, disinformation, pushback against Huawei 5G, internal fissures, Wuhan pandemic etc. Because of all this President Xi Jinping appears to be on the backfoot, hence, he is trying to divert attention from internal problems by adopting a more aggressive external policy.
  • The US on the other hand has adopted a hard-anti-China policy, through various measures, including economic sanctions, increasing its presence in Indo-Pacific, decoupling from China, etc. This began with the trade war that started in Jun 2018.
  • The current comprehensive push back against China is led by the US President Donald Trump. Yet, there does seem to be a view that China might still recover and be able to manage economic growth, the key to its rise.
  • The new Cold War is about the competition between the US and the rising China in the Indo-Pacific. In this region, China has been able to strengthen its relationship with Nepal and Iran. China follows the gaming strategy of Wei Qi (Go). China wants to secure its core neighbourhood, that is the Eastern Seaboard, South Western and Western Continental boundaries. This is the region where the new Cold War will emerge, as ipso facto, China would try to protect its interests.  Currently, China is contesting with the US in the Western Pacific, and this will happen in the Indian Ocean Region with India and in continental Asia too, at a later date, when China is able to secure its presence in the ports and land corridors.
  • The implication of this contestation is the emergence of bipolarity. China is trying to obstruct the multilateral partnership amongst nations, since it defeats its War Zone Campaign Doctrine, which will not succeed in case of any alliance or partnership. The window for nations to ‘sit on the fence’ and strategic autonomy is closing very fast. Considering that China is the main driver in the region’s geo-politics, many possible scenarios for China discussed, included, status-quo, rising China, the imploding of CPC and democratisation of China. It was opined that there was a likelihood of civil war in China in the last two cases, and that the PLA would be the main arbiter of China’s destiny.

The BRI Strategy and its Prognosis in the Indo-Pacific

  • A diagnostic look at the BRI and its implication as far as benefitting the host countries is concerned, suggest a disappointing outcome, as it is creating a debt trap, mismanagement, corruption, unwarranted geopolitical competition etc.
  • In 2012-13, Xi Jinping took the initiative and announced, ‘Made in China 2025’, and launched the BRI, in 2013. The BRI is seen a tool to squeeze the host countries economically and use geo-economic coercion to gain control of geostrategic assets. BRI projects is also associated with the deployment of PLA to guard its assets, as visible in Gilgit Baltistan, Gwadar and Djibouti.
  • The aim of BRI is to strengthen the PLA’s forward defence strategy, which is to fight beyond frontiers. BRI was compared to an Octopus and its eight tentacles (7 continental and one Maritime corridors) both, in terms of deception and leverages.
  • Wuhan pandemic has created an economic crisis worldwide, which will have implications on the BRI too. However, once things become normal, and due to lack of an alternative economic plan, to Chinese economic power and investment capabilities, countries may be forced to look back to China. There was consensus amongst the panellists on the need for higher European and the US investment in Asia to counterbalance China.

Balancing China in the Indo-Pacific: Need for Comity of Nations

  • China, under Xi Jinping, is becoming more and more aggressive and showing no respect to international law. It is implementing unilateral projects without any consultation or collaboration with the host nations, under its flagship BRI. It is therefore, exporting economic inefficiencies overseas, which in turn is making host countries poorer and unstable. China is intentionally following such a strategic ambiguity to further create global uncertainty and instability, thereby enabling its greater influence in the region.
  • The Indian Maritime trilateral (India, USA, Japan) Malabar exercise has the potential to be the tool to balance China in East China Sea and Bay of Bengal. Further, the QUAD vision for the region should be presented as an alternative to the Chinese policy. The aim is to change the power equilibrium, which will result in set of events, that may help to balance China. A new trend emerging is the economic pushback from maritime middle powers like Malaysia, India, Japan and Australia.
  • Therefore, there is strong reason for the likeminded countries should come together. The foremost reason is to counter the Chinese values and interests. The second reason is to counter China’s attempt to export its own developmental model of unilateralism. The old view that if China gets integrated into the global order, it will become more responsible seems to have failed, since the very opposite is happening. It is quite evident now that China is not a responsible stakeholder and is trying to impose a ‘New World Order’, a ‘Chinese World Order’ – establishment of its Middle Kingdom, or a Tianxia. This does not augur well for a transparent ‘Rules based International System’.

Report prepared by Mr. Gaurav, Kumar, Editorial Assistant, edited by Dr Roshan Khanijo, ADR CS3.

Report uploaded on 17-09-2020

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