The China-Central Asia Summit, which took place recently in Xi’an on May 18-19 was every bit a geopolitical event as much as the G7 summit in Hiroshima that it overlapped. The symbolism was profound, notes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
China and Russia were the elephants in the room for both summits but the Xi’an summit distinguished itself as an inclusive affair, whereas, the G7 event was, regrettably, an exclusive gathering of wealthy countries of the Western World dripping with cold war-era animosities, and it didn’t hide its intentions even in its choice of “special invitees” — one ASEAN country; two BRICS countries; one tiny African state; a Pacific island etc. — borne out of the old colonial mindset of “divide and rule.”
The biggest difference was that the Xi’an summit was substantive and focused on a positive agenda that is quantifiable, while the Hiroshima summit was largely prescriptive and partly declarative and only marginally tangible. This was because the China-Central Asia summit took place on native soil while the G7 has no habitation and name in Asia except that one of the seven member countries is of Asian origin and the summit itself was a thinly-veiled attempt to insert the alien Western agenda into the Asian setting.
The China-Central Asia Summit was motivated by the growing realisation that the countries of the Eurasian region must play a proactive role in the common task of pushing back the United States, the driving force of the G7, which they perceive to be attempting to destabilise the common neighbourhood of Russia and China in Central Asia. Simply put, the Xi’an summit tacitly signalled that Russia and China are unitedly circling the wagons for a common purpose — to borrow an idiom which was employed by the Americans in the 19th century to describe a defensive manoeuvre.
From a historical perspective, it is for the first time ever that Russia and China are explicitly joining hands to stabilise the Central Asian region — a momentous happening by itself — with Beijing assuming a leadership role, given Russia’s preoccupations in Ukraine. This paradigm shift belies the western propaganda that Russian and Chinese interests collide in the Central Asian region. There is a strategic convergence between Moscow and Beijing that stability in Central Asian region, which is vital for both capitals in their own interests, is best achieved through ensuring security, boosting economic development or international political backing.
The Xi’an Declaration released after the summit includes 15 points, divided into several blocks of issues: security, logistics, trade and economic cooperation, humanitarian cooperation and ecology.
China’s thesis is that security is best strengthened through economic development and for that reason, therefore, the region is important from the point of view of economic cooperation and regional development — although in aggregate terms, Central Asian economic resources are nowhere near sufficient for meeting China’s needs.
Suffice to say, terrorist threats emanating from the region, posing threat to Xinjiang, are China’s main concern and Beijing is willing to openly invest its resources in the security of the region and take part in the training of the anti–terrorist forces of the Central Asian states. Geographically, three out of the five Central Asian countries, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, share borders with China. As for Russia, it has long regarded the region as its traditional sphere of influence and a strategic buffer zone, and thus prioritised the security of its southern border. Therefore, a safe and secure Central Asia aligns with China and Russia’s respective national interests.
In the context of the Ukraine crisis, Central Asia has emerged as a frontline for the US strategy to contain and weaken Russia. However, although Central Asian countries have adopted a neutral stance on the Ukraine situation, Russia’s influence in the region remains strong and is unlikely to be largely disrupted. Three key factors are at work here.
First, Russia is seen as the provider of security and Russia’s defence capabilities continue to play a crucial role in maintaining stability in the region.
Second, Central Asian states heavily depend on Russia in regard of labor migration, market access, transportation, and energy resources, and no other outside power foots the bill.
Third, do not underestimate that the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union continues to systematically build up regional economic integration.
The Xi’an Declaration talks about resisting religious extremism and attempts by external forces to impose their own rules on the region.
It stands to reason that China and the Central Asian states and Russia felt the need to create more effective mechanisms and plans in their common space so as to impart a new quality of cooperation, and supplement the SCO if need arises.
So far, Russia was engaged in strengthening political integration, while China systematically and powerfully interacted with the governments of Central Asian countries for the development of energy and infrastructure projects within the framework of a full-fledged economic expansion. That division of labour worked rather well, but then, the regional security environment changed dramatically of late.
For example, it has become vital for Moscow in the context of the rupture of Russia’s energy ties with Europe to divert its oil and gas exports to the Chinese market, and that requires Central Asian infrastructure in transit mode — a novel idea altogether.
Suffice to say, a high level of harmonisation and synchronisation of the national plans of the Central Asian countries is needed. Currently, there are no agreed common strategies in the Central Asian region, which has a population of 75 million, M.K. Bhadrakumar stresses.
The time is ripe for India and China to compromise and build an alliance
If China, India, and Russia forge an alliance of willing partners, a long-lasting growth period will emerge. The opposite scenario is only beneficial to colonizing forces who constantly seek new ways to destabilize the continent of Asia, stresses ‘The Times of India’.
With Sweden and Finland ever so keen to join the NATO alliance, the number of neutral states is decreasing. This will put additional pressure on India, as Washington is bent on getting Pakistan on its side, as well. After Imran Khan’s departure, the hurdle is removed for a better relationship between US and Pakistan. Washington did not listen to India’s objection to the sale of F-16 fighters to Pakistan and will continue with its sale ranging in millions of dollars.
India is busy aligning itself with as many countries as possible, including USA. But it is entirely in India’s and China’s interest to promote peace and stability in the region and explore the new possibility to increase mutual trade and ties when Europe seems to enter an era of constant destabilization.
With Pakistan flirting with USA, and its economy in dire straits, it is imperative for the leaders of India and China to create a new successful narrative of peaceful co-existence.
BBC’s recent focus on riots in Gujarat is another example of sinister attempts to plant discord between Hindu and Muslim communities of India. Freedom of media is utterly important in democracy, but if BBC was so keen on revealing the atrocities suffered by Indians, it could start by critizing the crucial role of Winston Churchill in causing famine in Bengal, India, when millions died. Or they could focus on the period of colonial subjugation that resulted in our present-day poverty and lack of self-reliance.
Similarly, regular attempts are made to conjure and construct military exercises and drills within India to irritate China. Provocations from both sides should stop, both countries are large enough and have enough territory in their possession. India and China should really start a multi-faceted dialogue, increase trade and co-operation to spread the benefit of technological prowess their young population is demonstrating.
The West will try to destabilize both India and China since they are in the middle of an insolvable war. It is incumbent on both Indian and Chinese leaders not to succumb to such flirtations. Let the Western countries realize that their constant provocation and NATO expansion was seen as a threat by Russia. No matter how hard they will try, this war is unwinnable for both sides.
Therefore, India and China should sit down and resolve their differences, and China being a stronger power, should stop encircling India. It sends an absolutely wrong signal to the Indian leaders. India, on the other hand, should get conscious of the incessant reversals of American foreign policy towards Pakistan, almost never taking into account the security needs of India.
If India, China and Russia stand together in their co-operation, the Europeans might gather courage to refuse overtures of false friendship from USA. America has been pressurizing Europe into getting more involved in a war which a growing number of people find unconvincing and not in their interest, writes ‘The Times if India’ observer Mrutyuanjai Mishra.
India’s relationship with Russia is non-negotiable. Modi government is also sequestering the troubled relationship with China from external third-party interference, taking care, presumably, to leave avenues open for normalising the ties through bilateral channels in a foreseeable future, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer. He notes:
“The sombre mood at the Council for Foreign Affairs in New York during External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s talk (photo) was only to be expected against the backdrop of the India-Canada diplomatic spat over the killing of a Sikh secessionist in Vancouver in June, which, reportedly, was “coordinated” on the Canadian side with Washington based on intelligence inputs from the Five Eyes.
However, the event’s main thrust took an overtly geopolitical overtone with the CFR hosts calling out the Indian minister to weigh in on India’s growing assertiveness on the global stage and its perspectives on the international situation involving Russia and China, and the “limits” to the US-Indian relationship.
It is no secret that the Canadian-Indian spat into which Washington has inserted itself has a deeper geopolitical agenda. The Financial Times, the western daily perceived as closest to the Biden administration, in fact, carried a report last week entitled The west’s Modi problem with a blurb that neatly caught its main theme — “The US and its allies are cultivating India as an economic and diplomatic partner. But its prime minister’s authoritarian streak is becoming harder to ignore.”
The article held out a warning: “India is becoming one of America’s most important foreign partners as a bulwark against China. The US has invested heavily in bolstering relations with New Delhi as part of its broader strategy of enhancing relationships in the Indo-Pacific region. The push has accelerated this year…
Evidently, Jaishankar, whose experience and expertise in navigating the US-Indian relationship through choppy waters as well as balmy autumn alike is second to none in the Indian establishment, has been tasked by Modi to contain the fallout of the spat with Canada on India’s relations with the US.
The West’s discontent about “Modi’s India” is at its core about the country’s independent foreign policies and resistance to becoming an ally in a traditional sense and accordingly tailor its performance on the global stage in accordance with the “rules based order” buttressing the US hegemony in world politics.
The US would have, in normal course, worked for a tradeoff with India but the times have changed and it is itself locked in an all-or-nothing contestation for global supremacy with China (and increasingly in the shadow of a Sino-Russian axis) which is of course a high stakes game where Washington would assign a role for India and have expectations out of Modi’s leadership.
Conceivably, Jaishankar’s mission is like an iceberg with only a tip that is visible — at least, as of now. Nonetheless, his statements at the CFR in New York provides some reasonable clues. Basically, Jaishankar assembled his thoughts in three interlinked clusters — the emerging world order and US-Indian relations; Russia’s place in the scheme of things; and, the challenge of China’s rise. It presents a rare peep into the architecture of India’s current world view and can be summarised as follows:
First. The world order is changing and the US is also “fundamentally readjusting to the world.” This is partly to be seen as the “long-term consequences” of the defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it principally stems out of the reality that the US’ dominance in the world and its relative power vis-s-vis other powers, has changed through the last decade. Put differently, the US is looking at a world where it is no longer possible for it to work solely with its allies.
Succinctly put, the US is already getting into a world order that has “much more fluid, much more dispersed centres of power” — very often much more regional, sometimes with different issues and different theatres producing their own combinations. That would mean that it is no longer realistic to seek clear-cut, black-and-white, solutions to problems.
Second. The US shouldn’t lost sight of the “enormous possibility” to work with India to enhance each other’s interests where the focus should be on technology, as the balance of power in the world is always a balance of technology. The US needs partners who can secure its interests more effectively and there are only a finite number of partners out there.
Fact is, today Global South is very distrustful of the Global North and it is useful for the US to have friends who think and speak well of America. And India is one of the few countries that have the ability to bridge the polarisation in world politics — East-West, North-South.
Third. Jaishankar subtly fortified the above persuasive argument with an unspoken caveat that the Biden Administration should not make unrealistic demands on India’s independent policies or challenge its core interests lest it is counterproductive.
The point was driven home by calling attention to a stunning geopolitical reality that Russia is turning its back on its three-centuries old search of an European identity and is making strenuous efforts to build new relationships in the Asian continent. Russia is a part of Asia but its pivot is about carving out a strong role as an Asian power. Indeed, this is consequential.
As for India, its relations with Russia have remained “extremely steady since the 1950s.” Notwithstanding the vicissitudes in world politics or current history, both sides took care to keep the relationship “very very steady.” And that is because Delhi and Moscow share an understanding that there is a “structural basis” to the two countries working together, and, therefore, both take “great care to maintain the relationship and ensure that it is working.”
Given the centrality of the Russian-Indian strategic partnership, it is well nigh impossible to isolate India. Jaishankar may have buttressed his point further by giving a lengthy account of India’s standoff with China on the border (in factual terms from an Indian perspective) but, significantly enough, without attributing motives to the Chinese behaviour or even rushing into characterisations of it in picturesque terms of self-aggrandisement.
The intriguing part came when Jaishankar was open-minded enough to rationalise the Chinese Navy’s presence in the Indian Ocean and point-blank refused to mix up India’s QUAD membership with it.
Jaishankar rejected the hackneyed notions propagated by American analysts of a Chinese “string of pearls” around India and instead noted calmly that the steady increase in the Chinese naval presence in the past 20-25 yrs is a reflection of the sharp increase in the size of the Chinese Navy.
India does not see QUAD as necessarily geared for a role to counter China, as it will be “a bit old-fashioned to point towards another country.”
Indeed, the shift in the tone of the Indian narrative following the brief exchanges between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the margins of the recent BRICS Summit has continued.
Jaishankar’s statements made it abundantly clear that India’s relationship with Russia is non-negotiable, whilst the surprising part is that Modi government is also sequestering the troubled relationship with China from external third-party interference, taking care, presumably, to leave avenues open for normalising the ties through bilateral channels in a foreseeable future.
The bottom line is, if the US-Canadian-Five Eyes agenda was to browbeat India’s strategic autonomy, Jaishankar rejected it. Curiously, at one point, he commented sarcastically that India is neither a member of the Five Eyes nor is answerable to the FBI,” M.K. Bhadrakumar stresses.
Israel should be wary of depending on US help. It has to defend itself
Israel should be wary of depending on US help. It has to defend itself, stresses Stephen Bryen, a former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and is a leading expert in security strategy and technology.
The well-respected Israeli think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) has proposed that Israel ask for a security treaty with the United States. The proposal is in an editorial form and has no signatures attached to it. Therefore it isn’t clear if the proposal comes from the INSS Director, Manuel Trajtenberg, or is the consensus of the organization’s research staff. Such a defense treaty has long been opposed by most of Israel’s security establishment on the grounds it would inhibit Israel’s freedom of action and tie Israel irrevocably to the United States.
According to the policy proposal, the reason for Israel to pursue a defense treaty is ostensibly because Saudi Arabia is pursuing such a treaty and that without Israel also applying for a defense treaty, the Saudi proposal won’t be accepted. It is quite true that there is serious opposition to Saudi Arabia in the US Congress, mainly on the basis of human rights complaints. A defense treaty would require a two thirds vote of approval in the US Senate. Saudi Arabia on its own would fail to get Senate approval and “bundling” an Israeli treaty with a Saudi one, is probably not possible, even though INSS somehow thinks it can be done.
It is by no means clear why Israel would want a defense treaty, given its strong need to have freedom of action toward Iran. Similarly it is hard to see how Saudi Arabia would benefit from a US defense treaty, since the US is unlikely to bomb Tehran.
There are other complications for Israel as well. Would a defense treaty apply to attacks by non-state actors such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or attacks originating from the Palestinian West Bank? The US would never agree to a text that obliged it to come to Israel’s aid under terrorist attack. In fact, the US response to terror attacks against Israel and Israeli citizens has always been subdued at best.
Presumably a defense treaty would protect Israel from a Russian attack, but a direct Russian attack is extremely unlikely. However, the Russians would see a defense treaty between the US and Israel as Israel taking sides in the bigger geostrategic struggle between Washington and Moscow. This could encourage the Russians to step up arms supplies to Syria and Iran, something that does not serve Israel’s interests. In practice Israel and Russia have found practical ways to cooperate and to try and avoid confrontation.
INSS makes the point that a defense treaty might facilitate defense technology cooperation with the United States. In many ways Israel is a brain trust already for the United States and is able to pioneer in many areas important to US security.
INSS says that “As an official ally, Israel’s access to advanced American weaponry and unique technologies would be guaranteed for the long term, thereby maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge over time.” Unfortunately defense treaties do not guarantee or assure access to US weapons or unique technologies. Technology sharing is always a matter of national interest that is defined by time and circumstances.
What isn’t clear is why INSS decided that Israel needs a defense treaty now?
If it was to help out Saudi Arabia there is no reason to believe it would do so. There is little evidence that favors a US-Israel defense treaty, unless the real idea is to make Israel depend on the US for its future security.
If that is the point, Israel should be wary of depending on US help. It has to defend itself, Stephen Bryen concludes.
Can Europe survive Trump 2.0?
Here’s something the European mind can’t fully comprehend: “Come November 2024, Donald Trump may be headed back into the White House,” states POLITICO.
It’s a nightmare scenario for Europeans who bore the brunt of the former U.S. president’s antagonism during his four years in office and hoped to never have to think about him again.
Back in early 2016, when a slightly less grizzled POLITICO journalist was asked to do the rounds of European embassies and think tanks to ask about Trump getting elected, several officials haughtily explained that the question wasn’t worth answering because he had no chance.
Not so in 2023. Europeans are wide awake to the possibility of a Trump redux, and most of the officials POLITICO spoke to for this article called for the bloc to prepare.
“Europe must be ready to face any situation linked to the results of the U.S. elections,” former French President François Hollande told POLITICO in response to emailed questions.
“In a democracy, there is always the risk that the worst candidate can be elected,” he added. “The people decide. Trump has been president. He can become president again, even if today he faces a lot of legal trouble. What we need to prepare for is the United States distancing itself from European affairs and the possible unraveling of the transatlantic alliance.”
Several European diplomats struck the same note of stoic realism. “It’s increasingly on people’s minds. We need to plan for every eventuality and avoid the situation in 2016, where we were unprepared for both Brexit and Trump,” said a second European diplomat who was granted anonymity to discuss politics in another country.
Asked whether a second Trump presidency would be different from the first, the second diplomat said Europe should brace for the worst. “Who will sign up to work with him given his record on how he treats people and how he betrays them? How can he have a strong team? With everyone he pretty much parted ways. And everyone wrote books bashing him. Even the nut jobs wrote books.”
Adding to the unease is a sense that a reelected Trump may feel invincible. The former president has been impeached twice and faces several criminal indictments, including one for denying the results of the 2020 election. If none of this prevents him from taking office, several European officials argued, why should he feel any constraints on his behavior at all?
The prospect of Trump’s return is particularly vexing for Germany, a frequent target of his attacks. Having been caught completely unprepared for his election in 2016, German politicians are eager not to repeat the same mistake — hence Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s recent trip to Texas, where she met with Republican Governor Greg Abbott.
Norbert Röttgen, the senior member of the German parliament, said: “To prepare for Trump’s return the German federal government should urgently collaborate with its European partners to develop an independent defense policy. Unfortunately, I see no signs of this initiative within the government.”
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a European lawmaker in Poland’s Law and Justice party, said his camp would welcome Trump’s reelection. “Our experience with Trump 1 was good,” he said. “Under Trump, we got progress on the physical presence of American troops in Poland, as well as the base which we have baptized Fort Trump.”
Meanwhile, several European officials underscored efforts already undertaken by EU governments to bolster the Continent’s strategic independence.
They argued that European powers have not only coordinated massive weapons deliveries to Ukraine, surpassing the U.S. in the total value of support delivered; European countries have also significantly ramped up production of ammunition on the Continent in an effort coordinated by France’s Thierry Breton, who’s the European commissioner in charge of industrial policy.
“The Europeans have already done a lot, more than most people could have imagined,” said Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president of Estonia. “Just look at the amount of European weaponry on the battlefield in Ukraine.”
But there’s a big difference between spending marginally more on defense and seriously preparing for what Trump could reap in Europe — not least if he tries to follow through with his promise to strike a deal with Putin to end the war in Ukraine.
Such a move would not only pull the rug out from under the Ukrainians, who might feel huge pressure to give up part of their territory, but also be humiliating for the European powers that have cast their lot in with Kyiv.
In such circumstances, it would be “difficult to imagine” Europeans staying united on Ukraine,” said François Heisbourg, senior adviser for Europe at the International Institute for Security Studies. “They could try to help Ukraine, but all of a sudden they would be against the United States because it’s a deal negotiated by Trump. It’s a very black scenario.”
In 2018, Trump raised the possibility of pulling Washington out of NATO and letting the Europeans fend for themselves.
The upshot is that a reelected Trump could do anything, including pulling out of NATO. That’s a terrifying prospect for Europeans who have relied on a U.S. security guarantee for the past 78 years — so much so that few diplomats and officials are willing to theorize about what it could mean for Europe’s future.
Security analysts who are willing to go there paint an alarming picture: Suddenly deprived of U.S. strategic leadership, European countries would face huge, daunting questions about how to reorganize the security alliance. Who would be in charge? Would NATO continue to exist? Would European countries make sacrifices to their social welfare model to accommodate much higher defense spending?
Then there is the question of leadership: Who would be in charge of a European security alliance? Paris? Berlin? Warsaw? A rotating selection of European capitals? And where would Europe’s military leadership be housed, given what Rasmus Hindren, a Finnish security expert, called a “lack of strategic culture” in the EU’s executive branch? A solution is difficult to imagine, he said, given hostility between European powers and the fact that some countries, like Poland, trust Washington more than they do Brussels.
In the event of a Trump-ocalypse in transatlantic relations, Speck sees an effective split emerging in Europe’s security architecture. Eastern European countries that share a border with Russia and others that feel immediately concerned by Moscow’s ambitions, such as the Nordics plus Turkey and Romania, would have a natural inclination to band together in a de facto security alliance. “You have the makings here of a kind of coalition to block Russia’s advance,” he said.
Such a group would add pressure on others in Europe to form their own blocs, pushing the Continent’s countries further apart. Put differently, one possibility for a post-U.S. security order in Europe could look a lot like what existed before World War I: a series of interlocking alliances at risk of tumbling into war with each other.
Scenarios like that remain, for now, distant possibilities, but it’s a sign of the times that they are no longer unthinkable. For Europe’s leaders, Trump’s potential return is turning out to be a waking nightmare: They see it approaching but can’t seem to do anything about it, concludes POLITICO.
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