Dragon Falls in Eagle Trap

Trump talking to president Xi Jin-ping and cooling down the tension is seen as blow hot and blow cold strategy of the US to keep China guessing about America’s next move

By Shankar Kumar

After a series of flip-flops in his engagement with China, America’s 45th President Donald Trump wrote a letter to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, stating he looked forward to working with him to develop relations. The newly elected US President, known for his mercurial temperament also took a U-turn and said that his country adhered to the one-China policy and this happened after his telephonic conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in early December. It was the first telephonic talks between the two leaders since the ties between America and Taiwan were severed in 1979, at China’s behest. 

While it is seen as typical blow hot and blow cold strategy of the US to keep China guessing about America’s next move, yet what has created ripple in the power corridors of influential international community members is Beijing’s attempt to touch a raw nerve of the US.  In January, for the first time, taking a leaf out of India’s concern, the US, the UK and France jointly moved a proposal in the Security Council on declaring Azhar Masood as an international terrorist. The proposal was backed by Russia and 10 other non-permanent members of the Security Council, but China refused to back it.

In consonance with its ill-conceived formulations, Beijing recognizes Azhar Masood as a subject of bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan.  As such, according to it, the Jaish-e-Mohammad does not fit into the Security Council’s agenda of being declared as an international terrorist. Upset over China’s repeated move to block naming of Azhar as an international terrorist, India called on China’s New Delhi-based ambassador to South Block and issued him demarche. As usual, China gave a response to it on the expected lines; while stating that it never betrayed its international responsibility, it sang an old tune, stating that Azhar Masood is more of a bilateral than an international issue. That means China which is Pakistan’s all-weather friend would not do anything that could harm its South Asian ally’s interest. In fact, India is seen by China as its competitor and sometimes even a threat. By keeping India needling in this way, Beijing wants New Delhi to remain confined to its problem in South Asia, giving it almost no leeway to think and focus beyond its immediate neighbourhood. 

There is another reason for China to keep India on the boil; sheltering of the Dalai Lama by India has been a source of constant irritation for China. It considers him “subversive” and “separatist,” figure. Under an asylum in India since 1959, the Tibetan spiritual leader’s activities in India have often led China to criticize New Delhi.  This apart, China is head to toe involved in the operationalization of $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which connects China’s Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s Gwdar port after crisscrossing Gilgit-Baltistan, parts of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. Part of One Belt One Road plan, the CPEC project is very important for China as it provides the country a direct reach to it up to the Arabian Sea.

Therefore, protecting interest of Pakistan, China’s strategic partner is a compulsion for Beijing. Also, China has always found support from Pakistan in groupings like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.  Thanks to Pakistan, the 57-member OIC which is recognized as a collective voice of Muslim countries, has not been able to pass any stinging remark against China despite its brutal crackdowns on its Uyghur community in Xinjiang province. Pakistan has also protected China from the use of sharp language by forums like the SAARC and the NAM on its conduct in the South China Sea. Yet there is one more plausible reason for China to push India on the mat while playing undue game with its interest and this is because of New Delhi’s growing proximity to the US, which China sees as a major challenge.

Right from Indo-US civil nuclear agreement to increased defense cooperation, including recent signing of Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), a tweaked version of the Logistics Support Agreement-have fuelled Chinese suspicions about India. As such Azhar Masood case gives China a sharp cleaver to cut India’s interest into pieces. Now that the US has plunged headlong into the South Asian affairs to protect India from Pakistan sponsored terrorism, China considers it as a bounden duty to come to the rescue of its all-weather friend.

Although, there is no chance of direct confrontation between the two major powers of the world, but blocking of US-led move against Azhar Masood by China has given the former a chance to build up an atmosphere against China on the terrorism front. It would jeopardize China’s reputation. Already under international pressure following its fierce resistance to observe international tribunal’s order on the South China Sea, Beijing may head towards the US-led sanction, a buzz being made in the diplomatic corridors of the world. Despite being leading oil producer and possessing quality nuclear and defence technology, Russian economy is under huge stress due to US-led international sanctions on Moscow after its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In comparison to Russia, China is economically sound with large manufacturing base. Yet its shrinking growth and low demand of its products across the world, has made it walk on the tight economic rope for the past three years. It was the largest holder of US Treasury securities till 2015, but now it has slipped down to the second position after Japan. While China’s holdings stood at $1.12 trillion, which fell $41.3 billion from September 2016 to October 2016, Japan topped the chart with $1.13 trillion US Treasury securities bond in its possession. Financial experts say that China’s holdings in the US are declining because it is selling Treasuries to support its currency, which is under pressure due to capital flight from the country. In that situation, how long China could lock horns with the US would be keenly watched by international observers.

Yet in the fast changing global scenario, what worries India the most is the gradual tilt of Russia towards Pakistan. Even as it backed India and also the joint proposal of the US, the UK and France on Azhar Masood issue, Moscow has not been able to withstand the temptation of playing a tricky game in India’s backyard. In September last year, while India was bubbling with anger following Pakistan-based terrorist’s attack on army base camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, Russia, which is India’s closest friend, was busy in joint military exercise with Pakistan army’s soldiers in Pakistan. In February, Russian Navy joined Pakistan-led 35 countries’ naval exercise, AMAN-17 in the Arabian Sea. Although this has not alarmed India’s strategic and defense experts, but New Delhi seems to have no patience to let Russia further tilt towards Pakistan. Perhaps, this is the reason New Delhi has accepted the invitation from Moscow to participate in the Afghanistan-centric conclave. On June 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be landing in Russia to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Invariably, in the whirlwind of international politics, India will have to play smartly. To shatter growing nexus between Pakistan, China and Russia, it will have to use skills and economic power to win away Moscow, which experts say, is a doable.