China: Bipolar Asia

New bipolarity in Asia:
  • S. President Donald Trump makes no secret of the fact that he believes in a world governed by self-interest, with little room for shared responsibility
  • In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping is projecting himself as a firm believer in globalisation and free trade
  • It is against this backdrop that there are signs of a new bipolarity taking shape in Asia
  • It possibly seeks to replace similar attempts by the U.S. previously — such as the pivot to Asia — to counter China and its aggressive designs in the region
  • Implicitly, though not as yet explicitly, it seeks to create a coalition of all those willing to align with the U.S. against China’s expanding ambitions and its inexorable march towards dominance in Asia
  • Talks held recently at the level of officials between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India (the Quadrilateral) are seen as an indication of this
  • As China’s expansionist attitudes intensify, more countries in East and Southeast Asia are expected to align with the Quadrilateral group of countries
  • Vietnam could be one such country, but quite a few other countries in the region could follow suit
Attitudinal changes
  • The recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings provided a further glimpse of attitudinal changes that are in the making
  • Trump and PM Modi made use of this occasion to announce that the two countries were prepared to work together for the future of Asia
  • It is a euphemism for what many see as keeping a check on China’s aggressive designs in the region
  • It is, perhaps, for the first time that India has indicated a resolve to align openly with the U.S. to tackle broader issues in the Indo-Pacific region
China’s acceptance:      
  • The recent 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress placed special emphasis on a strong military “capable of winning wars”
  • The deliberations left little room for any adjustment or compromise to accommodate the concerns of other countries of Asia, or for that matter the U.S.
  • The deliberations of the Party Congress have further emboldened China to pursue its preferred course of action
Advantage that China possesses
  • Apart from its massive military build-up, China is positioned most advantageously as far as economic aspects are concerned
  • It is today the most important trading partner for over 90 countries
  • Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has caught the imagination of the world, including that of Europe
  • Most countries of Asia and Europe, including many of India’s neighbours, do not seem to have a problem with the BRI
Sustaining bipolarity not going to be easy
  • Latent concerns about Chinese expansionism have not prevented several Asian nations from endorsing and backing the BRI
  • Most Asian nations also show no inclination or desire to blame China for siding with Pakistan, which continues to shelter high-ranking global terrorists, including Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar
  • Even Mr. Trump, during his recent visit to China, seemed to have softened his criticism of China, after China produced some attractive mega deals
  • All this only exposes the vulnerabilities of bipolarity in the extant situation today
India emerging as a leader
  • In Asia, India, Japan and, to an extent, Vietnam appear willing to endorse the U.S. initiative to build up opposition to China’s designs
  • India has lately taken up issues well beyond South Asia, such as North Korea and China’s actions in the South China Sea
  • Currently, India is emerging as one of the countries in the region firmly committed to freedom of navigation and over-flight
  • Also, for unimpeded commerce based on the principles of international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
  • This puts it in direct confrontation with China, as also in opposing China’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific
Way Forward
  • As the outlines of a new bipolarity in Asia become clearer, and with the formal setting up of the Quadrilateral, China is certain to regard all this as an attempt to encircle it
  • This will pave the way for a new round of turmoil as China might use both force and inducements to win more and more Asian countries to its side
  • The consequences of this could be quite significant for peace and stability in the Asian region

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