Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

A chill in US-China relations and India as a collateral damage


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much.

Mains level: Paper 2- U.S.-China tensions and impact on India

Even before the covid pandemic we could sense the rising tension between the U.S. and China. However, pandemic proved to be the tipping point. This article explains the role the U.S. played in China’s rise. And its recent acceptance under Donald Trump of not so peaceful rise of China.

Let’s look into recent announcements on China by the US President

  •  On May 29, the Trump administration said it would revoke Hong Kong’s special trade status under U.S. law.
  • It passed an order limiting the entry of certain Chinese graduate students and researchers who may have ties to the People’s Liberation Army.
  • The U.S. President has also ordered financial regulators to closely examine Chinese firms listed in U.S. stock markets.
  • And warned those that do not comply with U.S. laws could be delisted.

So, what all these measures indicate?

  • These announcements are a clear indication that the competition between the U.S. and China is likely to sharpen in the post-COVID world.

U.S. is complicit in China’s rise, but how?

  •  After the Chinese communists seized power, the Americans hoped to cohabit with Mao Zedong in a world under U.S. hegemony.
  • The Chinese allowed them to believe this and extracted their price.
  • U.S. President Richard Nixon gave China the international acceptability it craved in return for being admitted to Mao’s presence in 1972.
  • President Jimmy Carter terminated diplomatic relations with Taiwan in order to normalise relations with China in 1978.
  • President George H.W. Bush washed away the sins of Tiananmen in 1989 for ephemeral geopolitical gain.
  • And Bill Clinton, who as a presidential candidate had criticised Bush for indulging the Chinese, proceeded as President to usher the country into the World Trade Organization at the expense of American business.
  • All American administrations since the 1960s have been complicit in China’s rise in the unrealised hope that it will become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ under Pax Americana.

China is creating its own universe

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union reinforced the view that the U.S. wants to keep its order and change China’s system.
  • This strengthened China’s resolve to resist by creating its own parallel universe.
  • China is building an alternate trading system: the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • A multilateral banking system under its control-Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, New Development Bank.
  • Its own global positioning system BeiDou.
  • Digital payment platforms like WeChat Pay and Alipay.
  • A world-class digital network-Huawei 5G.
  • Cutting-edge technological processes in sunrise industries.
  • And a modern military force.
  • It is doing this under the noses of the Americans and some of it with the financial and technological resources of the West.

U.S. accepting the uneasy fact that China’s rise has not been peaceful

  • It is only under Mr. Trump that the Americans are finally acknowledging the uneasy fact that the Chinese are not graven in their image.
  • He has called China out on trade practices.
  • He has called China out on 5G.
  • It was Mr. Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy document that, perhaps for the first time, clubbed China along with Russia as a challenge to American power, influence and interests.
  • His recent China-specific restrictions on trade and legal migration are, possibly, only the beginning of a serious re-adjustment.

Decoupling of the economies and new cold war

  • A full-spectrum debate on China is now raging across the U.S.
  • Former White House Chief of Staff Steve Bannon declared that the U.S. is already at war with China.
  • Others like diplomat Richard Haass and former president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, warn that a new Cold War will be a mistake.
  • Scholar Julian Gewirtz, in his brilliant essay, ‘The Chinese Reassessment of Interdependence’, talks about a similar process underway in Beijing.
  • Both sides are acutely aware how closely their economies are tied together: from farm to factory, the U.S. is heavily dependent on supply chains in China and the Chinese have been unable to break free of the dollar.
  • If Mr. Trump’s wish is to disentangle China’s supply chains, Mr. Xi is equally determined to escape from the U.S. ‘chokehold’ on technology.
  • To what extent the de-coupling is possible is yet to be determined.
  • But one thing is inevitable, India will become part of the collateral damage.

Hong Kong: Sign of U.S. China rivalry entering in ideological domain

  • Will Hong Kong become a game-changer in the post-COVID world?
  • China’s decision to enact the new national security law for Hong Kong has been condemned in unison by the U.S. and its Western allies as an assault on human freedoms.

Why is this significant?

  • The points of divergence, even dispute, between them have so far been in the material realm.
  • With Hong Kong, the U.S.-China rivalry may, possibly, be entering the ideological domain.
  • For some time now there are reports about Chinese interference in the internal affairs of democracies.
  • Countries in the West have tackled this individually, always mindful of not jeopardising their trade with China.
  • Hong Kong may be different.
  • It is not only a bastion for Western capitalism in the East, but more importantly the torch-bearer of Western democratic ideals.
  • Think of it as a sort of Statue of Liberty; it holds aloft the torch of freedom and democracy for all those who pass through Hong Kong en route to China.
  • This is an assault on beliefs, so to speak.

Issue of China’s role in Covid-19 pandemic

  • These is growing demands that China should come clean on its errors of omission in the early days of COVID-19.
  • In the months ahead, more information may become public, from sources inside China itself, about the shortcomings of the regime.
  • That will further fuel a debate on the superiority of the Chinese Model as an alternative to democracy.

Will this form the ideological underpinning for the birth of a new Cold War?

  • That will depend on who wins in Washington in November.
  • It will also depend on whether profit will again trump politics in Europe.
  • Moreover, how skilfully the Wolf Warriors of China can manipulate global public opinion will also make the be an important factor.

Consider the question-“Various recent measures by the U.S. on China and the debate on the role of China in Covid-19 makes it clear that the next Cold War is all but imminent. And India has to be careful to avoid being collateral damage in that war. Comment.”


The lines are beginning to be drawn between the Americans on the one side and China on the other. A binary choice is likely to test to the limit India’s capacity to maintain strategic and decisional autonomy.

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