The US, which is fighting a minor trade tariff war with India, has begun sending positive signals on other fronts. Yesterday (28 March), it made a renewed bid to declare Jaish-e-Mohammad boss, Masood Azhar, a terrorist by the UN Security Council. It also gave an unusually mild reaction to Narendra Modi’s announcement two days ago that India had successfully demonstrated its ability to destroy a satellite with missiles. India is now only the fourth country in the world with this capability.
A US Embassy spokesman, while noting India’s anti-satellite test, reaffirmed that “As part of our strong strategic partnership with India, we will continue to pursue shared interests in space and scientific and technical cooperation, including collaboration on safety and security in space. The issue of space debris is an important concern for the US government. We took note of Indian government statements that the test was designed to address space debris issues.”
Ten years ago, the US would have gone ballistic about India’s temerity in conducting such a test.
At another level, the US seems ready to take on China – at least occasionally – when it suits its politics. On Thursday, the US not only urged China to remove its “technical hold” on declaring Azhar a terrorist, but also criticised it for its treatment of its minorities.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo linked China’s stand on Azhar and its treatment of internal minorities in a way that can only embarrass it with the Muslim world. Pompeo needled China by pointing out its “shameful hypocrisy toward Muslims. On the one hand, China abuses more than a million Muslims at home, but on the other it protects violent Islamic terrorist groups from sanctions at the UN.” He asked China to “release all those arbitrarily detained and end its repression.”
This, of course, is not going to happen, for China’s treatment of its minorities (whether Tibetans or Uighurs) has always been based on strongarm tactics and use of full state power to subjugate them. It does not believe in kid-glove treatment or respect for human rights. The dragon growled back at Pompeo, asking the US to avoid forcing a draft resolution at the Security Council on Azhar.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said, “This is not in line with resolution of the issue through dialogue and negotiations. This has reduced the authority of the committee as an anti-terrorism body of the UNSC and this is not conducive to solidarity and only complicates the issue.”
In short, if the US again tries to push a draft resolution on Azhar along with Britain and France, it will be vetoed by China.
India, for its part must not get its hopes up, for even if China were to relent, it would make no difference to its support for Pakistan, or the latter’s ability to generate more jihadi killers to target us.
The US is targeting China aggressively as part of President Donald Trump’s moves to get the trade war resolved more in the US’s favour, and it may not suit the US to push this antagonism further. As of now, State Department bureaucrats are more focused on continuing the cold war with Russia, even though it is a pale shadow of its former self, and not any threat whatsoever to the US globally. By this foolish attitude, the US has actually pushed Russia into Chinese orbit, even though Vladimir Putin may be quietly gnashing his teeth at this forced subservience to old enemy China.
Geopolitically, the US needs India to counter China, as neither Japan nor Australia (the other two members of the proposed Quad), have the kind of population depth and military potential India is capable of. But the US will not push the world’s new No 2 superpower into a corner where it becomes a bigger threat to global stability at a time when its own appetite to project power outwards is reducing.
India’s interests at this stage are probably best served by quiet diplomacy rather than open alignment with the US against China, which will make China even more willing to back Pakistani terrorists to target India (and North Korea to target Japan). The rogue nature of China and Pakistan is apparent, but India’s interests do not lie in converting China from a frenemy to a complete enemy. We need another decade to grow our economy to a size where China cannot afford to play bully with us.
Rather, our focus should be to use China’s massive trade surplus to extract both trade and political concessions from that country. Naming Masood Azhar as a terrorist by pleading with China to withdraw its UN veto may give us a moral victory, but in the process, China will extract more from us.
We should tell China to do what it wants with Azhar. This also holds good for India’s entry to the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, which China will veto even more vehemently than it did Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist.
What we need from China is a drastic reduction in the trade surplus, which hit $63 billion in 2017-18, not to speak of a resolution of the boundary dispute without us conceding anything of substance. After 10 years, we can deal with China as an equal.
For now, we should watch how the US-China eyeball-to-eyeball plays out, and check who blinks first. It is by no means certain that China will do so. In any case, Donald Trump is a deal-maker, and if he gets a reasonable trade deal, he may declare victory and forget about what Pompeo said on China.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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