The temperature on Sino-American relations continues to rise, much to the dismay of South Asian countries. In a world emerging from the COVID-19 crisis, a possible cold war between the two great economies of the world is hardly an optimistic prospect. However, if the economic recession following the pandemic has brought any hopeful scenario, it is that the two great nations will be reluctant to engage in any conflict which further deteriorates the financial circumstances of either. However, the South Asian countries cannot yet sigh in relief, since both US and China seem to have an affinity for proxy wars in Asia when they cannot engage in direct conflict.
Such conflict will likely result in a divided Asia, with three players on the field. Those who side with the West, those who associate with China, and those who play in the middle. An assessment of the foreign relations of countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, and Korea in recent years can provide a good estimate of who these countries will favor. However, a direct conflict between the US and China is still not completely off the table, as discussed in the previous article, the US has undertaken steps to initiate an economic withdrawal from China.
Does this indicate the preparation of a long-term plan for direct confrontation between the US and China? It is too soon to say. Many businesses in the US will lose cheap Chinese labor and might have to shut down if a trade war happens. It seems that this might in fact already be happening as companies like Huawei wind up operations in the US.
How will the Eurasian countries react to the crisis? It can be fairly noted that countries such as Australia, Japan and Korea do not need infrastructure projects as much as other developing Asian countries. In fact, these three countries are provided with the military, intelligence and communication aid by the US and considered core US allies. Whereas, Indonesia relies heavily on infrastructure development provided by Chinese investments in order to boost their economic potential and even though they might have other reservations about Chinese policies, in the short to medium term, allying with China will be more fruitful.
On the other hand, Pakistan has continued its efforts to nourish the Pakistan-China friendship. There has been massive Chinese investment in Pakistan as part of a developmental project initiated in 2016 called CPEC. This includes the development of Pakistan’s deep seaport at Gwadar. In reality, the developmental project is part of a much greater plan, the Belt-Road Initiative in which China has invested a staggering sum of $1 trillion across 138 Asian countries. Surely, strong economic ties created due to the BRI will win China the loyalty it needs during any conflict with its western counterpart, while simultaneously creating export markets in Asia.
The US has leaned towards the sale of military equipment to its friends in Asia. It has provided $20 billion worth of military equipment to its Asian allies since 2011 along with intelligence and communication. Surprisingly, the US picks up its developmental narrative only to counter the efforts of its global rival. Initiated in 2019, is an infrastructure project countering the BRI known as the Blue Dot Network (BDN) which extends the same offer of investments in Eurasia as the BRI. It has garnered the help of Australia and Japan and is awaiting the favor of India as its fourth member. The prospect of which looks increasingly more promising.
India has signed several joint defense deals with the US including a $1 billion deal to obtain naval guns and other equipment to safeguard the country against regional threats. Other deals with the US include an India-US Guardian Drones deal, an Air Force One Deal and an India-US Apache Contract to provide helicopters on the Rajasthan-Pakistan border. India has continued to walk the middle ground between the US and Russia when obtaining military equipment from either country, but this might change as India takes a more clear position due to rising global tensions.
Furthermore, Indian-Australian correspondence is underway securing two key Australian islands which are strategically important in the area concerning defense. Simultaneously, India-China relations continue to be strained due to geopolitical conflicts in Ladakh. India has been increasing military forces and building infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) bordering China in the Himalayan ranges and skirmishes between the two military forces remain common.
Even amidst a pandemic, the two global rivals remain tense. China has ordered the US Navy to withdraw from the South China sea resulting in the region being completely off-limits to the US. China has also launched a high-resolution mapping satellite into space, symbolic of the fact that it does not lag behind the US in terms of intelligence. What remains to be seen is how things will turn out for Asia when the pot boils over?
Nausheen Samad is a student of Social Entreprenuership at Institute of Business Management and has interests in International Relations, Philosophy and Political Sociology.