From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much.
Mains level : Paper 2-Balancing India's interests in the light of US's strategy to contain China in the Pacific.
Since 2017, the United States government has released a few reports and fact sheets on its new Indo-Pacific strategy. Buried in these documents is a much deeper agenda of the U.S. government: to use three large Asian states — Australia, India, and Japan — to isolate China. There is nothing else to it.
The scale of BRI and the US objections
- Objections to BRI: The U.S. government has made it clear that what it finds most objectionable is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has signed on more than 70 countries in the world.
- What BRI aims to achieve? Adopted in 2013, the BRI is intended as a mechanism to-
- Development of new markets: BRI aims to end China’s reliance upon the markets of the West and to develop new markets in other continents.
- Building infra: It is also intended to use China’s massive surpluses to build infrastructure in key parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
- Investment of $ 1.3 trillion: By 2027, according to estimates by Morgan Stanley, China will spend about $1.3 trillion on this ambitious construction project.
- Involvement of Saudi Arabia: Even Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the U.S., has made the BRI one of the cornerstones of its Saudi Vision 2030 plan.
- Involvement of Pakistan: While China has invested $68 billion to build the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor from Xinjiang to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port.
- Saudi Arabia has agreed to invest $10 billion in the port itself.
Significance of the BRI and comparison with the US spending
- Staggering scale and participation: The scale of Chinese investment, and the participation of a range of countries with different political identities in the BRI, is staggering.
- Loss of appetite in the US to spend: At the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in July 2018 the U.S. said that it has spent $2.9 billion through the Department of State and the USAID (United States Agency for International Development).
- It has lined up hundreds of millions of dollars more through its U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
- Inadequate US spending: If one adds up all the money that the U.S. intends to spend for economic projects, it is still a fraction of the amount spent by China.
- ‘America First’ attitude: There is no appetite in Washington, D.C., with its ‘America First’ attitude, to funnel more money towards investments in the region currently being built by the BRI.
Military Claims of the US and investment
- US investment with military presence: It appears as if U.S. investments will come only with military claims.
- The case of Nepal: A few years ago, Nepal discovered a large amount of uranium in Mustang, near the Nepal-China border; this has certainly motivated U.S. interest in Nepal’s economy.
- If the U.S. money comes with U.S. military presence, this will create a serious flashpoint in the Himalayas.
Raising human right and transparency issue against China
- The argument of human rights and transparency
- Rhetorical argument: Unable to outspend the Chinese, the U.S. government is making a rhetorical argument that it has more respect for “transparency, human rights, and democratic values” than China, which “practices repression at home and abroad”.
- The argument of transparency and the debt trap
- Debt trap used by the US: It is hard to imagine the U.S. being “transparent” with its trade deals. It is equally hard to imagine the U.S. being able to argue that it would not put countries into debt.
- Debt crisis created by the US in the 1980s: The U.S. government enabled a massive Third World debt crisis in the 1980s, which was then used by the U.S.-driven International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Programs to strangle countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
- This history is alive, and it makes a mockery of the U.S.’s attempt to say that its own approach is superior to that of China’s.
US withdrawal from multilateralism
- Apart from that, the U.S. government has already indicated that it is uninterested in multilateral deals.
- Withdrawal from TPP: The US withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, for instance.
- Australia and Japan shrugged, and then put their energy into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which sidelines the U.S.
The claim of free and open Indo-Pacific
- Renaming the Pacific Command: In May 2018, the U.S. military’s Pacific Command was renamed the Indo-Pacific Command, a symbolic gesture that provides a military aspect to the Indo-Pacific Strategy.
- What free and open mean to the US? The U.S. government has made it clear that for all its talk of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, what it actually wants is an Indo-Pacific with fewer Chinese ships and more U.S. warships.
- Just before this renaming, the U.S. National Security Strategy of 2017 noted that “China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region”, and so the Indo-Pacific Strategy intends for the S. to fight for its dominance in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and in the Asian rim.
- This is a very dangerous war that the U.S. seeks to impose on Asia.
India adopting the US project of Indo-Pacific
- Australia and Japan moving away: As the military aspect of the Strategy increased, both Australia and Japan edged away from full-scale adoption of the U.S. project.
- Japan has begun to use the term “Indo-Pacific” without the word “Strategy”.
- Australia has signed onto a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with China.
- Only India adopting the project: Only India remains loyal to the agenda set by U.S. President Donald Trump.
- No US strategy to contain China: In all the documents released by the U.S. government and in all the speeches by officials, there is no discussion of the strategy to contain China.
- There is only rhetoric that skates into the belligerent territory.
India would be advised to study the U.S. project rather than jump into it eagerly. Room for an independent foreign policy for India is already narrowed, and room for independent trade policy is equally suffocated. To remain the subordinate ally of the U.S. suggests that India will miss an opportunity to be part of a reshaped Asia.