The China India Stand-off: Implications for Regional Geopolitics
By Professor Ijaz Khan via GEOPoliticalMatters.com
Former Chairman, Department of International Relations
University of Peshawar
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Just when some signs of cooling down appeared, the stand-off between China and India saw the bloodiest conflict since 1962 War between the two. While many expected a de-escalation, this sudden violent escalation has put the regional geo politics on hold. De-escalation having become more difficult; it is bound to leave an impression on regional and by extension global geo politics. This brief write-up, focuses on the probable shape of that impact.
To what level it escalates, or it stays where it is without any let down, will have variation in intensity of impacts. Return to normalization (normalization here means return the pre initial face off about a month back, not friendship between the two) seems unlikely in the near future if ever.
Taking a panoramic view of the regional geo political environment on the eve of the current stand-off, one notes a continuation of Cold War relations with some adjustments/ changes in the relationships of the non-regional powers with regional states. China–India discord continued, with a difference in Indian relations with US becoming much better/ closer, while India and Russia both trying to maintain their Cold War era relations as much as possible.
However, the India Russia relations had become not very sustainable due to US India relations as well as Russia China improved relations. Though Russia tried to become a bridge between India and China through initiation of yearly trilateral consultative meetings between the three on regional issues. India, also went along to try to maintain some of its cold war era non alignment and to maintain a better bargaining position vis a vis USA-Pak-China relations had gained momentum through the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, while US Pakistan relations after continuous ups and downs, had shown some signs of improvement in the wake of Afghan peace process.
Pakistan India relations continuing from very bad to not very bad, had taken a nose dive since last year’s Indian action of making Indian held Kashmir and Ladakh two new union territories, ending their special status.
The current China India stand off will more clarify the emerging regional fault lines along with straining some older, rather starting new alignments. Any process, including the trilateral (Russia, China and India) that may have brought China and India closer, was never a very determining process and will either die or further weaken, becoming irrelevant, with their bilateral relations getting worse. The growing US India strategic relations will get a strengthening push. How far it goes will depend on how much and how soon US comes to the aid of India by providing modern weapons (opinion of Ayesha Saddiqua, a London based Pakistani academic/ commentator expressed in twitter comment).
The downgrading or probably end of the Russia, China and India trilateral process will also negatively impact Russian relations with India. Russia will be forced to choose between China and India. As much as Russia may want to continue its cordial relations with India, being forced by the emerging situation to choose between China and India, it’s more likely choice will be China.
Pakistan will be pushed more towards China as US India gets closer, resulting in at least partial reversal of the relatively improvement in Pakistan US relations due to Afghanistan. Pakistan India relations already at a very low ebb, will get even worse. Both sides suspect each other of possibility of taking advantage of the situation. Indians suspect Pakistan seeing Indian focus on its China border, may try to push for its case in Kashmir. Pakistani decision makers, on the other side apparently fear India may try some adventure to assuage the domestic pressure for action against China. These mutual fears, true or not are further increasing their already tense borders.
More than Kashmir, Pakistan may see in the Indian pre occupation with China and US pre occupation with India an opportunity to push for a more favorable deal in Afghanistan. Such possibility along with dampening Pak US relations due to the above-mentioned US India relations, may negatively impact the peace process in Afghanistan, already in difficulty.
The above analysis based on decisions being taken on political basis only may be a close approximate of the emerging regional environment. However, economic considerations may dictate a different behaviour for these states. However, economic considerations, keeping in mind the huge China India trade should have kept the dispute between the two in check. At least the new flare up would not have happened. Many also argue, economics demand a much better relationship between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, this is not the case.
The emerging geo political environment should give everyone, especially all states and people of the region shudders. Whether India is under pressure or humiliated, Pakistan is put under pressure or Afghan peace suffers, the whole region will suffer with no winner. In a region with three nuclear states, such a tense situation cannot be a matter of satisfaction or something not to be overly worried about. A small miscalculation can mean a disaster for all.
About Professor Ijaz Khan
Prof. Ijaz Khan is a former Chairman of Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar, Pakistan and freelance consultant. He is the author of a book titled “Pakistan’s Strategic Culture and Foreign Policy Making: A Study of Pakistan’s Post 9/11 Afghan Policy Change”. He specializes in Foreign Policy Decision Making, Public International Law, Human Rights, Conflict Resolution, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Pashtuns, Former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Professor Khan can be contacted via his Blog at: https://ijazk.blogspot.com