The meeting between Indian Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping on April 27 at Wuhan may have alarmed many Pakistanis. In India, the media has touted it as a Chinese drift towards India, leaving Pakistan in the cold. Apparently, this informal summit took place on the request of the Indian government. Its purpose was to discuss the unusual geo-political circumstances in and around the region.
Therefore, it is safe to assume that the Xi-Modi meeting might represent a gradual Indian attempt to strike a balance between the need for smooth economic relations with its powerful next door neighbour and its geo-strategic partnership with the United States on the other.
Secondly, following a couple of years of visibly warm relations with Trump, perhaps PM Modi is more focused on deescalating tensions in the neighbourhood — including with China, which too has anchored all external initiatives in trade and economy.
Apart from this, Modi is probably gearing up for the general elections next year, and the best course would be to project exemplary partnerships with the countries surrounding India.
Moreover, both India and China as well as Pakistan are about to participate in a multi-nation counter-terror exercise in Russia in September 2018 under the SCO banner for the first time. India’s participation has been confirmed by Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during a SCO Defence Ministers’ meeting held in Beijing in April 2018.
Faced with aggressive geopolitical moves from Moscow and Beijing along with the BRI, the US may be forced ‘to accept exclusionary regional spheres of influence’
This possibly explains the contours of the emerging geo-economic-centric engagement among all SCO members in the region, including cooperation on all land and sea-routes as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
SCO, therefore provides a good forum, with the potential of becoming even bigger and more effective, if it embraces the economic ideals of BRI, including connectivity through international maritime routes.
This also suggests, all members need to attend to their growing economic needs rather than military contests and arms races, which work only to the disadvantage of the regions poorest individuals. Nearly 400 million people are living below the poverty line in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan together.
In light of the US’ shrinking foreign influence — though Seoul, Washington, Beijing and Tokyo are on the same page to combat security threats in Northeast Asia — doubts have been cast over their continued long term working relationship owing to American militarism.
Faced with aggressive geopolitical moves from Moscow and Beijing along with the BRI, the US may be forced “to accept exclusionary regional spheres of influence.”(Global Security Review) Steinberg. (1999 Pg. 403) in “The maritime mystique” rightly argues that the sea is no longer separate from land and now understood as a “resource-rich but fragile space requiring rational, cooperative management for sustainable development”.
The biggest manifestation of this thesis is Afghanistan, an intricate and intractable part of the regional security calculus. It too defines the undeclared rules of engagement among major stakeholders; with the Indo-US-Japan alliance on one hand; and China, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives on the other. The competing interests of these countries are being played out everywhere at multiple levels — on land, offshore, the oceans and air. One policy disagreement, and the politically stronger countries can use multiple international forums to mount pressure on the target countries or regions.
Decisions on Pakistan at the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in February at Paris was another example of this ongoing interplay. Both the US and India joined hands to enforce the grey listing of Pakistan as far as counter-terrorism is concerned.
The support Pakistan has gotten from China through CPEC is a huge bailout, but it has also placed massive responsibilities on its shoulders. It now has to match its words with demonstrable actions on both the economic and security front.
A commentary by Luo Zhaohui, the Chinese Ambassador to India in the Tribune India (May 6) on the rationale of the meeting is quite instructive and also reflects the wisdom behind such diplomacy.
From the global perspective, China and India are largely relevant to the evolving international structure of “rise of the east and decline of the west” and against the headwinds of anti-globalisation and protectionism. From the respective developments, we should share the developmental strategies and experiences as our combined population and GDP account for 40 percent and 20 percent of the world’s total. From the bilateral perspective, how to coexist with each other, how to look at respective development and how to judge intentions, are key issues that urgently call for the strategic guidance from the leaders.
“…Equally important is to implement the consensus, transmit personal friendship between the two leaders down to the common people, and take more concrete actions. Wuhan Summit is not a talk shop and we have a lot of work to do in the future such as trade deficit mitigation, acceleration of BCIM process, cooperation in Afghanistan and establishment of high-level people-to-people exchange mechanism.”
It is a contest between a tardy model of governance here and the expectation of neighbours driven by the need for swift actions to cope with the pressing demands of geo-economics. This country needs smart solutions and smart strategies to cope with the demands of these testing times. Merely pointing fingers at outsiders and indulging in pointless debates on who is confronting whom in the Indian Ocean and beyond, won’t help.
The government and the military shall have to prioritise economic and human development as well as translate promises made at international and bilateral forums into actions. This is the only means to survival as a self-respecting nation, instead of always looking beyond borders for bailouts and sustenance.
The writer is Editor, Strategic Affairs, and also heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbu Tahrir’s Global Caliphate. Can be reached at Imtiaz@crss.pk
Published in Daily Times, May 9th 2018.