This is the sixth, and final, part of The Chinese-Indian New Cold War series from Andrew Korybko, looking at the region of Southeast and South Asia. Please read the previously published sections for better understanding.
- Part I –The Chinese-Indian New Cold War – Background
- Part II– The Chinese-Indian New Cold War – Southeast and South Asia
- Part III –The Chinese-Indian New Cold War – Southeast and South Asia – Part II
- Part IV –The Chinese-Indian New Cold War – Middle East and Central Asia
- Part V –The Chinese-Indian New Cold War – East Africa
With the geographic scope of the study completed, we must review the most important strategic concepts, with a few additions, based on the readers understanding of the Chinese-Indian New Cold War.
This section is organized in three categories of concentration – background dynamics, strategic contours, and forward-focused analysis – going over the initial conditions of these two Great Powers’ competition, their influencing factors, forecasted trajectories, respectively, and bullet point summaries of each relevant concept:
Thalassocracy vs Tellurocracy
The sea-faring Atlanticist powers are unipolar and in favor of preserving the existing world system, while the land-based Continental ones are multipolar and actively striving to change the existing balance of global power.
Connectivity as The Solution to Containment
The pan-Eurasian containment noose that the US and its allies have set up against Russia, China, and Iran can be overcome through enhanced mainland and maritime connectivity all across the supercontinent, more broadly throughout the Indo-Pacific and entire Eastern Hemisphere via the inclusion of Africa, explaining the guiding motivation behind China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Roads.
Lead from Behind
Sensing that connectivity is an unstoppable eventuality, the US sought to offset the odds that China can monopolize this process by recruiting two of its most loyal allies, India and Japan, into a unipolar Rimland coalition, which shares the same interests as Washington in countering Beijing’s initiatives to transform the global system.
The US and its Indo-Japanese “Lead from Behind” subordinates are attempting to compete with China by building various connectivity projects of their own in Southeast-South Asia, West-Central Asia, and East Africa, though they need an asymmetrical behind-the-scenes boost in order to edge out Beijing.
Hybrid War is understood in this context as the American-backed encouragement of identity conflicts in geostrategic transit states located along China’s New Silk Roads, in order to disrupt Beijing’s plans; though it’s a double-edged sword, which might in some cases, also damage the Indo-Japanese Axis’ connectivity projects if the targeted country is hosting this camp’s investments too.
The research revealed that China and the Indo-Japanese Axis’ connectivity projects have a substantial geographic overlap, in terms of the Southeast-South Asian states of Thailand, Myanmar, and Nepal; the Mideast-Central Asian ones of Iran, Afghanistan, and the former Soviet Central Asian Republics; and the East African countries of Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique.
Despite the connectivity overlap in the aforementioned countries, China and the Indo-Japanese Axis have different geographic priorities in each of them:
Beijing is pursuing north-south connectivity in the mainland countries of ASEAN, also known as the “Greater Mekong Subregion,” whereas New Delhi and Tokyo are streamlining east-west integration. This makes China dependent on stability in the northern reaches of its regional partners, while India and Japan are more concerned with the state of affairs in the central parts of the countries through which their planned projects will transit. Ultimately, though, each camp’s initiatives are perpendicular to one another and therefore intersect on two occasions in the geographic heartlands of Myanmar and Thailand.
As for South Asia, India is moving ahead with east-west connectivity along Nepal’s southern Terai plains, while China is trying to break through the Himalayas, connecting Lhasa to Kathmandu potentially as far south as Kolkata, if New Delhi agrees to come on board. However, India is very suspicious of China’s intentions in Nepal and might use its sway over the Indian-descended “Madhesi” community in the Terai to politically paralyze the country and make the Himalayan Silk Road an unfeasible political fantasy.
Looking westwards at the Mideast (chiefly Iran in this context) and Central Asia, India-Japan and China have different access routes to this interconnected region. The Axis approaches it from the south through Chabahar, but the terminal entrance could be relocated to Bandar Abbas if Hybrid War circumstances prevented the former from being used. From Iran, India (and to a lesser extent, Japan) plans to construct a corridor to the EU via Azerbaijan and Russia (the North-South Transport Corridor, NSTC), though it could potentially branch off through Armenia and Georgia in establishing direct connectivity with the Black Sea, too.
India also wants to use Iran as a stepping stone for entering the Central Asian Republics and Afghanistan. China, however, must first pass through Central Asia in order to reach Iran, from where it would ideally like to eventually connect to Turkey en route to the EU (by means of the Balkans). This makes China’s Mideast (Iranian) overland connectivity strategy dependent on Central Asia, whereas India has no such regional strategic vulnerabilities to its vision and could still relatively succeed even if it only reaches the EU and never penetrates what might one day become a conflict-strewn Central Asia.
China’s goal is to build dependable transport infrastructure which reaches and eventually passes through the landlocked central areas of the continent in order to integrate all of Africa into the emerging Multipolar World Order, while India and Japan’s objective is comparatively milder and seeks only to compete with China for utilization of Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique’s coastal assets and nearby markets. This means that China’s grand plans could be curtailed if it were cut off from accessing the continental hinterland (or even the interior reaches of its coastal partners), whereby it would then have to more fiercely compete with India and Japan for the coasts.
Hybrid War Vulnerabilities
Each of the convergence states are fraught with their own Hybrid War vulnerabilities, which could be triggered or encouraged by the US in order to offset China’s plans, to the comparative advantage of its Indo-Japanese allies, as per the geographic divergences between both camps:
China is dependent on northern access routes through Myanmar and Thailand, so an aggravation of the civil war in the former and/or the encouragement of one in the latter could decisively interfere with Beijing’s projects. For example, the existing pipelines and prospective corridor through Myanmar must pass through the civil war battleground of Shan State and end in the “Rohingya”-troubled Rakhine State, so they’re not exactly on secure footing.
As for Thailand, the pro-American “red shirt” opposition counts the northeastern Isan region as their bastion of support, and any pronounced anti-state civil strife in this region could put a stop to the important Vientiane-Bangkok track of the ASEAN Silk Road. It’s still possible for the back-up route through comparatively less commercially attractive western Laos and northern Thailand to compensate for this, though that too could expectedly be disturbed through any forthcoming unrest in the Southeast Asian kingdom.
Nepal survived the intense civil war scare of late 2015, but its people are still as fractured between the native highlanders and the Indian-descended “Madhesis” of the southern Terai plains. It’s very possible that India might – whether deliberately or unintentionally – spark an actual civil war in the country through its proxy use of its “Madhesi” compatriots to stop the Himalayan Silk Road, though it would prefer at this moment for them to use their recently acquired “federal” tools to stonewall this initiative as opposed to resorting to violence like last time.
An area of connectivity convergence with India should be remarked in regards to regional conflict vulnerabilities that Pakistan is being targeted through the Hybrid War on CPEC, which sees among its most relevant ongoing scenarios the utilization of terrorism in the transnational area of Baluchistan. This is particularly pertinent to Iran because of the risk that it has to spill over its borders and embroil its own province of Sisten-e-Baluchestan in conflict, though interestingly without much serious consequence to India’s NSTC
China can’t reach Iran if Central Asia is destabilized, and the most vulnerable part of this region is the divided Fergana Valley, which has already seen Uzbek-Kyrgyz clashes in the recent past and has a history of Tajik-Uzbek mutual antagonism. These violent variables could be triggered into action if a few well-thought-out Afghan-originating terrorist attacks succeed in provoking some of their less-disciplined representatives.
Although it’s already been proven that Chinese freight containers can reach Iran by train via a circuitous detour along northern Kazakhstan and the eastern edges of the Caspian Sea, this route misses out on the commercial opportunities of the region’s densely populated Fergana interior and therefore isn’t prioritized, nor would it have the same New Silk Road connectivity impact if it ever entered into full-scale operation.
The destabilization of Central Asia would already preclude any real chances of China spearheading an overland connectivity route to Iran, but there are nevertheless two relevant conflict factors which could still damage China’s, and also Russia’s, remaining influences in the country. It was earlier explained on several occasions how Indian-backed terrorism in Pakistani Baluchistan could blow back into the Iranian province of Sistan-e-Baluchestan, though this doesn’t mean that New Delhi’s prized NSTC would necessarily be impacted.
If worst came to worst, India could rely on Bandar Abbas to reach Russia and afterwards the EU, and while it would be more expensive, it could also build transport routes to Central Asia and Afghanistan from there if a Baloch insurgency around Chabahar inadvertently became unmanageable. However, there’s another Hybrid War factor which could be activated to harm Russia’s interests, and it’s if a series of provocations were commenced to destroy the Azeri-Iranian relationship and therefore prevent the NSTC from transiting through its territory and on the way to Russia and the EU.
In that case, Iran and India could proceed with Tehran’s planned Black Sea ‘detour’ through Armenia and Georgia in order to bypass Russia entirely. This scenario could also unfold if Moscow’s ties with either of its two Great Power NSTC partners begin to fray for whatever the reason may be, whether it’s the perception that Russia is “stepping on Iran’s toes” in Syria or India issuing a failed ultimatum to Russia to stop its rapprochement with Pakistan and/or back away from its high-level comprehensive strategic partnership with China.
China’s top partner in Africa, Ethiopia, is beset with a multitude of Hybrid War vulnerabilities, though it’s confronting them in a very effective way. Still, it’ll probably remain a persistent struggle to keep these threats solidly under control, and it can’t be discounted that the rising Great Power giant will once again be targeted by a more severe destabilization campaign sometime in the future. Should that happen and the prospective threats succeed in sowing widespread unrest all across the state, then it would powerfully damage China’s standing in the continent and therefore work out to the Indo-Japanese Axis’ relative benefit, even if they had nothing to do with this and it was either American-provoked or ‘naturally occurring’.
As for the Central African Heartland, the Congo is already a failing state which will probably continue its descent into chaos in the coming months, even if Kabila goes forward with next year’s elections. This is because the state fragmentation dynamics have already proceeded quite far and acquired a dangerous pace, so it’ll be hard for any leader to contain these threats in the future when there’s hardly a functioning state to enforce law and order all across its territory in the first place. Coupled with the transnational threats emanating from South Sudan and potentially Burundi, then there’s a very real (but not inevitable) possibility that another large-scale war might break out in this part of the Africa and therefore cut off most of China and other players’ access to this mineral-rich region.
The next part of Africa which could be beset by Hybrid War is its southern cone, and it’s here where many Color Revolution scenarios could unfold in overthrowing the governments of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. These three states are strategically connected to one another, and events in one could cascade over the border in catalyzing copy-cat occurrences, especially as it relates to the potential weakening of central authority in Zimbabwe and South Africa and the encouragement that this gives to incipient Color Revolutions in the other. The Unconventional War in Mozambique also poses quite a few challenges as well, though its immediate fallout would be mostly limited to the country’s own borders, albeit with the possible consequence of impeding South African-Tanzanian connectivity.
Finally, the last Hybrid War vulnerability in Africa is the tribal situation in the Kenyan and Tanzanian interiors, since this could become aggravated during times of regional turmoil and therefore endanger coastal connectivity with the hinterland regions. It was already explained how this could negatively affect all competing Great Powers in these two states, but the US might find it ‘acceptable’ to have its Indo-Japanese allies deal with this fallout if it’s required to resolutely stop China’s plans dead in their tracks. Still, it can’t be confidently assessed either way whether these scenarios have a chance of unfolding or not, though if they do, they’d work much more to China’s detriment than to India or Japan’s, since the People’s Republic needs Africa’s markets in order to sustain its growth while its two rivals have no such pressing imperative right now.
Conclusion and Analysis
Here’s a rough approximation of the predicted Hybrid War battlegrounds in Eurasia which could be unleashed to stop China’s New Silk Roads, with Africa being left out of the picture for the sake of redundancy since all of it is vulnerable to identity-driven destabilization:
Given what was discussed in the previous two sections and the research as a whole, it’s possible to provide forward-focused analysis about the Chinese-Indian New Cold War:
Convergence States Could Still Be Partially Sacrificed
The four most important connectivity convergence states for China and India are Thailand, Iran, Kenya, and Tanzania, and each of them could still undergo limited degrees of Hybrid War destabilization in order to disrupt Beijing’s projects while theoretically leaving India’s undamaged.
Although not likely at the moment, separatist or civil strife in Thailand’s northeastern region of could stop China’s ASEAN Silk Road and the Indo-Japanese Axis’ East-West Corridor, but would still leave the latter’s Southern Corridor intact.
Any blowback in Iranian Baluchestan from India’s Hybrid War on CPEC could be mitigated by replacing Chabahar with Bandar Abbas as the terminal point for the NSTC, just as any (provoked/manufactured) antagonism from Azerbaijan or the northwestern Iranian Azeri community could be mitigated by detouring the NSTC through Armenia and Georgia instead of Azerbaijan and Russia en route to the EU.
Kenya and Tanzania are important at this stage mostly for the role that their respective ports could play in boosting commerce with India and Japan, and neither of these two Great Powers has much of a need for now in ensuring security into those African states’ interior and safeguarding their connectivity prospects with the continental Heartland, unlike China which can’t afford being cut off from this part of Africa for long.
Indonesia Is Indispensable
The author wrote a book-length article series last year on “The Meaning Of Multipolarity”, which analyzed the strategic state of affairs and possible trajectory of Indonesia as part of the research. The conclusion was that the archipelago country is still “contested” in the sense of remaining uncommitted to either the unipolar or multipolar camps, not necessarily because it’s “balancing” but because its “deep state” has yet to decide which way to go. It might wrongly believe that it’s possible to indefinitely remain “non-aligned”, though it’ll sooner or later be forced by the unipolar world (probably through Hybrid War) to choose or reverse its decision, at which time it’ll have lost the strategic initiative and will be in a relatively weaker position to advance its national interests.
Indonesia sits at the crossroads of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and its growing economic might and leading role in ASEAN gives it the chance to become a Great Power in its own right in the future. If it sided with China by retaining pragmatic relations with Beijing in spite of whatever intimidation it experiences from the unipolar world as a result, then it could help to stabilize the situation in the South China Sea by pressuring its troublesome American-influenced ASEAN members and therefore helping this crucial maritime artery remain a secure route in China’s OBOR. However, if Jakarta throws its hat in the ring with New Delhi and Tokyo by joining their “China Containment Coalition”, then it could decisively shift the balance of power all along the Eurasian Rimland and add qualitative value to the Axis’ outreach efforts in the “Greater Mekong Subregion”.
It’s understandably of premier global strategic significance which ‘side’ Indonesia decides to partner with, since it’ll soon be impossible for it to continue its fence-sitting much longer. It’ll eventually be pressured by the US and its “Lead from Behind” underlings through institutional, economic, and perhaps even Hybrid War means to assist the unipolar forces in constructing a durable “China Containment Coalition” linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans. From the reverse perspective, if Indonesia decided to continue cultivating pragmatic relations with China and avoided being drawn into the US’ Indo-Japanese “Lead from Behind” Axis, then it could aid China’s ‘breakout’ maneuver in the Pacific by guaranteeing it more reliable access to the Indian Ocean, to say nothing of the win-win New Silk Road benefits that both would reap as a result of their growing multipolar partnership.
Island Hopping in The Indian Ocean
The importance of several Indian Ocean islands and chains thereof can’t be overestimated in the Chinese-Indian New Cold War, and a heated competition is already taking place for most of their loyalties. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are obviously within India’s sovereign realm, hence why New Delhi decided to invite Japan to play a role in them for the unstated but inferable sake of rattling China’s nerves by giving it a dependable presence in the Bay of Bengal. As for Sri Lanka, the other focus of rivalry in this part of the ocean, it’s been playing its cards well and is poised to play off China, India, and Japan in receiving enormous infrastructure investments from each one.
Moving along, the Maldives are more closely aligned with China than they are with India, though this hasn’t stopped New Delhi from seeking to exert its influence over the island chain, whether through direct engagement or indirectly encouraging its political opposition. At the end of the day, whichever of the two Great Powers has a better relationship with Saudi Arabia will probably be the one which prevails in this competition, since the Kingdom has tremendous soft power and financial sway over the country’s Muslims and could push them to side with one or the other Asian Powers. China seems to be closer with Saudi Arabia than India is, though New Delhi will certainly try to change that in the years ahead.
The other two island chains of significance are the Seychelles and Comoros which lay off the coast of East Africa. The first one is already the site of American and Indian bases, though rumors have persisted for the past years that China is interested in setting up one there as well. If Beijing is successful with this, then it could help the Seychelles ‘balance’ between the unipolar and multipolar worlds and seek to become a sort of ‘maritime Djibouti’ in the sense of being an African state hosting several (somewhat competing) military bases at once. The Comoros, though, are presently beyond the direct influence of either China or India despite the two economically competing for its loyalty. As with the Maldives, it might come down to Saudi Arabia to be the ‘tie-breaker’ in shifting the balance of influence one way or another in this Muslim-majority country.
Last but by no means strategically least is the UK-controlled island of Diego Garcia which hosts one of the most important American bases in the world. Located near the center of the Indian Ocean, this small territory allows the unipolar forces to monitor most of the traffic transiting this large body of water, and it’ll only become more pivotal throughout the Indo-Pacific Century as China’s economic partnerships blossom in Africa. There is no realistic scenario by which the US or UK would cede control over this island, and if anything, they’ll retrench and expand their military forces here. In fact, there’s a high chance that India could be allowed to join them too, seeing as how the mid-2016 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed between the US and India allows both of them to use each other’s military facilities on a case-by-case basis, and it’s to the US’ grand strategic benefit to see India become its “Lead from Behind” hegemon in the country’s namesake ocean.
The US’ 8th Fleet
The US only has 7 fleets thus far, but none of them are solely responsible for the Indian Ocean, which is divided between the 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleets. Given the changing center of strategic gravity in the world, it would make sense for the US to optimize its naval operations through the creation of a separate fleet dedicated to this area of operations. It’s possible for it to be based in the UK overseas territory of Diego Garcia, but it would give off a strong statement if the US chose India instead, expanding upon the provisions included in LEMOA to seal a more formal and long-lasting deal. This would fully align with the US’ strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific Century and increase pressure on China in an unparalleled way.
The Indian-Pakistani Naval Race
Seeing as how the US has chosen India as its preferred regional partner through LEMOA and China has done the same with Pakistan through CPEC, it’s only natural that each of these competing Great Powers will aid in the buildup of their partner’s naval capabilities so as to secure their shared interests in the Indian Ocean Region. The US and India have the initial advantage here, though, because China doesn’t have any Diego Garcia-like permanent naval presence in the area, nor are its maritime forces anywhere up to the level of the US’. Moreover, China is cut off from Pakistan’s Arabian Sea by the South China Sea, Strait of Malacca, and Bay of Bengal, all of which are becoming ever more contentious by the day. It would therefore help if China was granted basing rights in Gwadar, though this would only be a first step in a lengthy process of what needs to be done.
China would be depending on a naval partnership with Pakistan to defend Gwadar, the southern terminal of CPEC, but also to legitimize Beijing’s maritime military presence in the Indian Ocean which would be deployed to protect its Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), no matter if the publicly presentable pretext ends up having to do with “anti-piracy”. The end goal in the distant future would be for joint Chinese-Pakistani patrols to keep an eye on the trade routes between Gwadar and China’s East African Silk Road ports, as well as between Gwadar and other Chinese-developed ports in Myanmar and Malaysia. India would of course take serious issue with this, but it’s expected by that time that it and the US would already have been regularly conducting their own joint patrols in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. The intersection between both camp’s forecasted naval routes could lead to a lot of tension depending upon the New Cold War context at the time.
The study wouldn’t be complete without analyzing Russia’s interests in the developing New Cold War between China and India. Moscow would preferably like to maintain a balance between Beijing and New Delhi, though India will probably (per American incitement) enact pressure on Russia to pull away from its high-level and comprehensive strategic partnership with China. There’s no way that Russia would ever do this, and inferring that it should behave this way will probably prompt Moscow to immediately look at New Delhi with the worst of suspicions and begin instantly contemplating how to accelerate its rapprochement with Pakistan even faster in response to the Indian-American military-strategic partnership. It’s not in India’s best interests to treat Russia this way, but the combination of its highly ‘self-confident’ Modi-Doval Hindutva “deep state”, as well as the US’ own interests in replacing Russia’s military- energy influence in India, could be enough to convince New Delhi to do what Washington wants.
Accordingly, Russia should also question the long-term feasibility of the NSTC, since it already looks like Iran is thinking about redirecting the entire route through the Black Sea detour that it’s discussing with Armenia and Georgia. Although this branch corridor isn’t openly being considered because of Russia, it’s possible that any deterioration in ties between Moscow and Tehran, Moscow and New Delhi, or even Baku and Tehran could lead to the Islamic Republic opting to prioritize this much more direct route to the EU instead of the Azerbaijan-Russia one. This possibility should always remain in the back of Russian decision makers’ minds because the US might be willing to turn a blind eye to Iran serving as the transit state for EU-Indian trade so long as this deprives Russia of that opportunity and contributes to the optics of “isolating” it (whether stated or not).
It’s true that Russia would be wise to diversify its strategic relations all across the breadth of Eurasia in order to be the most effective balancing force in the supercontinent, but it must be cautious in placing too much trust in the Indian-Iranian NSTC due to the many scenarios which could unfold in stopping this project’s completion or resulting in its redirection to Armenia and Georgia. For as long as it’s possible, Russia should continue to vie for India’s economic, nuclear and conventional energy, and military marketplaces, though understanding that New Delhi will probably only remain a political ally in name only so long as Moscow continues its partnerships with Beijing and Islamabad. Russia shouldn’t be cowed by Indian inferences that it could be replaced by the US, Japan, France, and “Israel” in any of its respective military-energy spheres since it would still take some time for New Delhi to physically make the strategic reorientations necessary to accommodate new partners in these fields to the level that Russia presently is, though that being said, it’s by no means impossible, and the early indications of such a prolonged shift are already visible.
In light of this, Russia should continue rebalancing its South Asian priorities between India and Pakistan, including through the possibility of selling more anti-terrorist weaponry to Islamabad and increasing connectivity with CPEC. Russia could develop an “Altai Alley” corridor to connect its namesake autonomous republic with China’s Xinjiang, and from there to CPEC, though taking care not to formalize its cooperation on this project in order to not unnecessarily provoke India into making sudden “multi-alignment” hostile moves against it vis-a-vis the unipolar camp. CPEC is undoubtedly a part of Russia’s future since it will help the North Eurasian Great Power with its multipolar outreach to the Global South, including in the future to the African economies which China is presently helping to develop. Russia will eventually seek to restore its Soviet-era presence in the Indian Ocean, though it might naturally feel uncomfortable docking in India if New Delhi prospectively hosts a future US 8th Fleet, so it could instead set its sights on Gwadar just like China is doing.
This doesn’t mean that Russia is doing anything counter to India’s direct interests, just as India cooperating with the US isn’t necessarily “anti-Russian”, and if Moscow was wise, then it could try to play off such a move as helping its “decades-long and trusted Indian ally” “balance” the Chinese presence in Gwadar through a “friendly presence” alongside Beijing’s there. Taking it even further, Russia should work with China to help develop Pakistan’s navy, and Moscow should balance its erstwhile maritime military cooperation with New Delhi by developing similar cooperation projects with Islamabad as well. If, as the author forecasts, India continues to drift away from Russia by replacing its military-energy services with US, “Israeli”, French, and Japanese companies, then it would do Russia well to take the initiative in carving out new markets in Pakistan, which could also help it eventually penetrate Islamabad’s close GCC partners sometime down the line too as part of a future rapprochement deal with them.
From its newfound position in the Indian Ocean through economic cooperation on CPEC and a naval base in Gwadar, Russia will be well equipped to deal with the challenges and opportunities of the Indo-Pacific Century. The world is presently experiencing a series of paradigm shifts in almost every sphere, but one of the most powerful driving forces which is expected to endure all across the Eastern Hemisphere throughout the coming decades is the Chinese-Indian New Cold War, and Moscow would do best to take this irrefutably unfolding development very seriously by actively advancing its interests in this context. What’s required from Russia at this crucial time is the foresight to accurately predict the trajectory of this rivalry, the strategic flexibility to adapt to ever-changing and unpredictable conditions amidst these planet-wide paradigm shifts, and the ambition to equally (key word) balance between India and Pakistan, the two fulcrum states of “Greater South Asia” and therefore the forecasted naval powers of this century in the unprecedentedly important Indian Ocean Region.
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