From Washington’s point of view, it will be a matter of joining forces in this region – together with allies Australia, New Zealand, Japan and India – to keep China’s ambitions in check. From Beijing’s point of view, the new alliance may accordingly be viewed with great suspicion, also in view of the recent disputes in the border region in the Himalayas.
India and Australia yesterday announced enhanced bilateral cooperation that will result in a full-fledged strategic partnership. Among many other (mainly economic) areas, this also includes closer cooperation in the military field.
Needless to say, this new agreement is very much in line with changing conditions in the Asia-Pacific region. From both the Indian and Australian perspectives, relations with the People’s Republic of China have deteriorated significantly since the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic.
India is counting on being able to diplomatically signal to the People’s Republic of China that it has wide-ranging options to keep its Chinese neighbor at bay, while army units from both nations are currently hostile to each other in the Himalayan Mountains.
India and China are currently eyeing each other in the remote Ladakh region of the western Himalayas. High-altitude mountain ridges have become a new staging area where once again contentious issues over the border between India and China have flared up and just won’t settle down.
India, meanwhile, has deployed specially trained mountain troops to the region after Chinese soldiers encroached on sovereign territory of their own country, according to India’s Defense Ministry.
According to India’s government, “China’s aggression will be met with all available means.” China is particularly offended by the continued construction of transport and road infrastructure in the Daulat Beg Oldie sector by the Indians not far from the Sino-Indian border.
This is because these activities are perceived as a threat to the existing highway between Lhasa and Kashgar. This highway runs from Tibet to the southwestern province of Sinkiang, from where the so-called Karakoram Highway – the northern part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – runs from Kashgar to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for direct access to the strategically important port of Gwadar.
The troops sent to the region by India are familiar with the conditions in the autonomous region of Tibet, according to India’s army leadership. Two brigades of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army are said to be already stationed in the disputed region, which suggests that Beijing has recently strengthened its troops in the border region.
The Indian government accuses China of having crossed the line of control currently running in the region with its own army units – and thus of having penetrated Indian territory. These Chinese troops are said to be intent on disrupting the construction of road and transport infrastructure on the Indian side of the common border.
From the point of view of the Ladakh region, geographically speaking, this is an extension of the Tibetan plateau. One-third of this is controlled by India, the rest by China. A recent Times of India report said that senior military officials from both sides had continued talks to de-escalate the tense situation.
India is currently constructing a strategically important road on its own side of the border, which will connect that border with a runway for aircraft called Daulat Beg Oldie. China is watching these activities with great suspicion, which is why bilateral tensions between India and China have escalated once again.
Both India and China have gained massive influence on the Asian continent over the past few years, which may be one reason why old and resolved tensions between the two countries are now boiling up again. Unlike the U.S., the government in New Delhi has neither the military nor the economic capacity to mount an anti-China campaign.
But India has other options. Not only has it recently forged much closer ties with the United States. It has also announced the strategic military and economic agreement now agreed with Australia. India insists that the People’s Republic of China would be well advised not to escalate tensions in the border area between the two countries.
The Middle Kingdom is not only flexing its muscles in the India-China border area. From a geopolitical point of view, the situation in Hong Kong (probably also in direct reaction to the decisions taken in Washington), with regard to Taiwan as well as in the South China Sea, is also intensifying. Geopolitical observers warn that India now risks being drawn into these tensions.
On the one hand, the Chinese leadership wants to distract its domestic population from current events at home (new lockdowns in Heilongjiang province), a struggling economy and high unemployment, it is said. For this reason, criticism of China from abroad is being rejected with increasing vehemence.
India counts – like also Australia – to meanwhile more than one hundred nations of this earth, which urge an independent investigation of the origin of the new Coronavirus. China apparently feels backed into a corner by this. On the other hand, the global pandemic is also seen in China as an opportunity to play a leading role on a global level in the future.
From this perspective, the Beijing government has no choice but to try to show strength on all fronts (including its own homeland). An economic punitive action was recently taken against Australia after Beijing imposed high special tariffs on certain categories of imports from Down Under.
As busy as the U.S. seems to be with itself at the moment, certainly no one in Washington is losing sight of the big picture. And the main focus of this big picture has been concentrated on the Asia-Pacific region for years now. U.S. President Barack Obama once gave this development a formal touch with his “Pivot to Asia.
From Washington’s point of view, it will be a matter of joining forces in this region – together with allies Australia, New Zealand, Japan and India – to keep China’s ambitions in check. The fact that Australia and India have now formally allied must seem like an affront from Beijing’s mandarins’ point of view, given current developments in the China-India border area.
So let us by no means lose sight of developments in the Asia-Pacific region, where there could be a new trial of strength between the powers.