Thucydides Trap in Asia: The Sino-Indian conflict

At the battle of Pylos (Seventh year of the Peloponnesian War, ), the Athenians won a major victory over Sparta. In consequence of their loss, Sparta sent envoys to Athens to offer a peace treaty. The Spartan envoys enjoined the Athenians to “treat their gains as precarious,” and advised that “if great enmities are ever to be really settled, we think it will be, not by the system of revenge and military success… but when the more fortunate combatant waives his privileges and, guided by gentler feelings, conquers his rival in generosity and accords peace on more moderate conditions than expected.”Unfortunately this age old wisdom pervades the Chinese in Asia.

The Greek historian Thucydides theorised that when an established power encountered a rising power, a conflict between them was inevitable. Today China, Asia’s established power and India, a rising power are heading towards this very own Thucydides trap.

China today perceives India as an adversary. Its very actions are geared towards this objective. One-third of Chinese naval power is being deployed to the Indian Ocean Region. The Chinese are building a ring of alliances under the “String of Pearls” doctrine with countries around India’s periphery: from Myanmar to Pakistan. It has interposed itself in India’s land disputes in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan; accused India of propagating the Tibetan movement, covert attacks and espionage and human rights violations; excluded India from the China-sponsored Maritime Silk Road and the Quadrilateral Dialogue with US on Afghanistan, blocked India’s NSG bid and openly supported terrorist Masood Azhar in the Security Council.

Chinese military moves to contain India has become more robust and overt in recent months.

These include: support for Pakistan’s militarization; the constant irritant stationing of Chinese naval forces in the Sri Lanka & Gwadar In Pakistan Occupied Balochistan; aggressive naval patrolling in the Indian Ocean Region; ever closer defense cooperation with and supplies to Pakistan, Bangladesh; joint naval and military exercises with Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh; an agreement with most Indian neighbours for Billions of Dollars worth of soft loans.

The recent ex-parte award against China on the South China Sea islands dispute by The Hague Arbitration Tribunal ,could bring the growing Sino-Indian tensions to a climax. China vehemently opposes any assistance given to Vietnam in any form whatsoever, contests Indian drilling of Offshore Oil reserves by ONGC in legitimate Vietnamese waters and holds maritime naval exercises on South China to reassert its territorial Claims.

The invidious actions of China are likely to result in more heartburn in Indian diplomatic circles.

Beijing’s stance towards India-Japanese co-operation is also likely to harden. The US-Japan-India military exercises could be countered by joint China-Russia naval operations in the North China Sea.

The escalating Sino-US rivalry will compel Pakistan to align itself even more closely with China. Consequently, Pakistan will face even greater US pressure and coercion, including on Afghanistan, terrorism, nuclear and missile issues.

The impact of a Sino-Indian confrontation would be global. Russia-China defense and economic cooperation would intensify which is most likely to include hue fundings for the ailing Russian oil Sector. The One Belt, One Road project will link China with Europe through Russia, greatly hampering the choke points in the Straits of Malacca. Africa could divide between Western, Indian and Chinese blocs. In Latin America, some other states may be open to closer relations with China to counter India’s growing reputation. The Sino-Indian economic relationship which currently is geared vehemently favorably towards China, would decline sharply, slowing growth in both countries and the world economy and possibly igniting another global economic crisis.

Of the nearly 15 historical cases reviewed by Dr Kissinger of established powers encountering rising rivals, 10 resulted in conflict. Both China and India could yet back away from the Thucydides trap. The onus for doing so rests with Beijing. Unfortunately, the anti-India populism reflected in the current Chinese diplomatic moves does not augur well for the triumph of restraint and reason.