Yesterday’s decision by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to step down at the end of the September came as a shock even though it was widely expected. Suga’s handling of the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Japan has been seen as ineffective and his public support has plummeted. Suga’s own party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has lost confidence in him, a death knell for any prime minister. To be fair, Suga was never expected to become more than a placeholder. His time in office followed the tenure of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
The prospects of a Quad Partnership summit in Washington later this month are rapidly dimming now, owing to the return of Japanese political instability. Even though some sources claim there is still a possibility of a meeting happening, it doesn’t seem likely at this time. However, there are growing indications that India’s leader Narendra Modi will visit the United States this month. There has been no official confirmation, yet Today’s DIRT has learned from friends within the Indian government that preparations for the trip are underway.
A visit to Washington and subsequent meeting with President Biden could occur on September 23-24, followed by Modi traveling to New York City for the UN General Assembly.If the trip does happen, it will mark the first in-person meeting between Modi and Biden, coming on the heels of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as well as rising tensions in the Western Pacific.
It has been just over a year since the bloody clash between Indian and Chinese troops at the Galwan Valley. Since then, despite the partial disengagement between Indian and Chinese forces in the Galwan area and other parts of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as well as complete disengagement at Pangong Lake, tensions remain high. The risk of conflict, inadvertent or otherwise, continues to persist. On some levels that danger is even more pronounced at the present time. China’s current troop deployments and dispositions in the LAC area has increased Indian uncertainty about Beijing’s commitment to make troop reductions in the region. At the Qatar Economic Forum today, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that despite promises made, China’s “close-up deployment still continues, especially in Ladakh.”
China is improving its military and civilian infrastructure in Tibet and Xingjian, two border provinces along its border with India. China is upgrading five airbases in that region and building three new ones as well. Logistical facilities for the Chinese military are also being expanded at a hurried pace. Simultaneously, new civilian infrastructure links which would be invaluable to the military in times of crisis and war are being constructed. Highways and rail links in particular.
The purpose behind these preparations is clear: In the event of a future Sino-Indian conflict China intends to bring overwhelming force to bear in a minimal amount of time. What remains is determining if the nature China’s moves here are defensive-minded or offensive.
For India, the writing on the wall was made clear after the Galwan clash. China, not Pakistan is now the main enemy. This realization has caused India to increase its partnership in the Quad, an informal anti-China alliance of sorts that also includes the United States, Japan and Australia. Further, China’s new assertiveness has also turned Indian foreign policy and defense priorities upside down. Beijing is not going to ease the pressure and it will probably expand farther into the economic realm in coming months.
This is where India is facing its real predicament. Excluding Chinese companies from doing business in India is nearly impossible. A large part of this is because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increasing demand for pharmaceutical ingredients and India’s present dependence on China for antibiotics and painkillers means New Delhi will not be able to adopt stringent anti-China policies in the foreseeable future. This economic dependence runs the risk of becoming India’s Achilles’ heel in its growing competition with the People’s Republic of China.
On Friday the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Myanmar, as well as a condemnation of its military’s seizure of power in February. The resolution was not unanimous by any means with over thirty-five nation abstaining. Predictably, China and Russia were two of them. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, yet they do carry a considerable amount of political weight provided that a majority of world and regional powers support their passage. In this case aside from China, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand were the other Southeast Asian nations that abstained. Belarus was the only nation to oppose the resolution.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry rejected the UN resolution, calling it a document “based on one-sided sweeping allegations and false assumptions.” The government has also sent a letter of objection to the office of the UN General Secretary.
Despite the resolution, a growing number of nations in Asia are reluctant to apply financial pressure on the regime in Myanmar. Stringent measures such as these run the risk of increasing China’s regional influence. India and Japan in particular have factored this into their respective policies regarding Myanmar. For the United States, the positions some of its allies in Asia have taken on Myanmar undermines its broad policy of defending democracies. This policy has become a keynote of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. India and China have also avoided joining Western democracies applying sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human-rights abuses in Xinjiang.
It appears the United States will have to face the fact that a united front against the military regime is simply not possible in the current climate. In principle, there’s minimal opposition to the theme of defending democracies and ensuring the safety of democratically elected regimes. However, once economic and geopolitical realities enter the equation, lofty principles take a back seat for most nation-states. Preventing China’s regional influence from rising, for example, is considerably more significant to New Delhi and Tokyo then punishing the military regime in Myanmar.
Apparently, this is something the Biden administration has overlooked
The Senkaku Islands are once again emerging as a hotspot in the Western Pacific region. Indications of new tensions between China and Japan have risen to the surface since the beginning of 2021. In January, the National People’s Congress passed a law allowing Chinese coastguard vessels to use ‘all necessary means’ to stop foreign vessels from illegally entering Chinese waters, including the use of weapons. Since then, China’s coastguard has expanded its presence in the waters around the islands- known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, and Diaoyu Islands in China. Last year, Chinese coastguard vessels entered the contested waters an average of twice a month in 2020 to at least twice a week in February, 2021.
The new law, coupled with the rise in activity by Chinese ships, is causing concern in Tokyo. The Japanese government is presently, according to sources, considering a response. Japan is not looking to escalate the situation. The game plan for the moment appears to be to increase the diplomatic pressure on China, however, Japan has made it clear it will protect the islands, as well as Japanese fishing boats in the surrounding waters.
In late February, a pair of Chinese coastguard vessels entered Japanese territorial waters and approached a Japanese fishing boat near the Senkaku chain. A Japanese patrol vessel was called to provide escort for the Japanese boat and warn off the Chinese ships. Japan’s defense ministry also noted that around the same time there were two other Chinese vessels, one apparently armed with an autocannon, cruising nearby, right on the edge of Japan’s territorial waters.
In spite of the Japanese government’s to improve relations with China, public opinion in Japan has turned decidedly against China. The COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese posturing near the Senkaku Islands, and the crackdown on anti-government protesters in Hong Kong have combined to create an anti-China mood in Japan. That could become a factor which influences Tokyo’s future actions if Sino-Japanese tensions escalate in the near future.
With the prospect of a Biden presidency becoming increasingly likely after the US media projected him the winner of the 2020 US Presidential Election, it is time to begin examining how a Biden administration might approach US foreign policy and security matters. There is much on the table ranging from China and Russia, to Iran and North Korea. Tonight, we’ll take a glance at what the future could hold for US-India relations, and more specifically the security cooperation forged between the two nations in the last two years or so.
The Modi government and Trump administration have gotten along magnificently. US-India relations have been strengthened in nearly every sector. The two nations have been working closer since 2017. The 2018 pledge by President Trump to create a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ brought new life to the 2007-2008 Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Along with a new emphasis, the Quad also received a new label, now being referred to as the U.S.-Australia-India-Japan Consultations. Supporters of the Quad regard it as a growing ‘Asian NATO’ revolving around nucleus of the present four members and intended to contain China. Its detractors consider it a false start for Indo-Pacific cooperation and fated to do more harm than good. Beijing, of course, considers the Quad to be little more than an anti-China alliance, and the premise is not entirely false. China is regarded as an expanding threat to the security of region.
How a Biden administration will approach US-India relations and cooperation is unknown. The fact of the matter is that Biden has not revealed too much about his foreign policy designs. Given that he spent eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president, this could mean Biden’s own foreign policy will mirror Obama’s. His India policy will be inextricably tied to how his administration contends with an increasingly restless China. Given that India and China are embedded in their own stand-off in the Himalayas, a Biden administration might not want to appear as if it is favoring one over the other. Beijing can certainly point to the Sino-India standoff as a thorn in the side of its relations with the United States to gain concessions. The move did not work with the Trump administration but given the fact Biden will probably adopt a less confrontational stance with China, a move like that could be handsomely rewarded.