This is the third 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
The two geostrategic bridges linking South and Southeast Asia are India’s Trilateral Highway and a joint Indo-Japanese investment projects in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The first one is ultimately dispensable if Myanmar’s civil war either spiraled out of control or was deliberately aggravated by the US, while the second one remains the enduring focal point of the Indo-Japanese Axis’ transregional connectivity plans.
This highly strategic location allows Japan to exert influence on the Bay of Bengal and protect the coastal Myanmarese termini points of the East-West and Southern Corridors if it so desired. These Indian-administered islands also allow New Delhi, and its Tokyo ally, to keep a watchful eye on the western reaches of the Strait of Malacca and China’s Kyaukpyu project(s) to a limited extent, thereby giving it triple significance in view of the unipolar camp’s strategy in the transregional Southeast-South Asian space.
As mentioned in the theoretical background of the Chinese-Indian New Cold War, India and Japan see Indochina as a landmass straddling the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, and therefore serving as a bridge connecting one unipolar Great Power with the other via their newfound partnership.
India is becoming more active on one side of Indochina in the South China Sea, as Japan is doing the same in the Bay of Bengal. It is interesting to note how this incipient process will impact South Asia, and potentially diminishing the Chinese merchant and military navy’s strategic freedom in this part of Greater South Asia. In the maritime sense, OBOR envisions linking the Myanmarese and Malaysian (both East Coast Rail Line and conventional Strait of Malacca) points of access with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and beyond, but the southern approach through Malaysia (whether multimodal [ECRL] or wholly sea-based) is entirely influenced by the Indo-Japanese Axis’ presence in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
China wants to take the lead in establishing a quadrilateral trading arrangement in the Bay of Bengal between Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Malaysia, preferably with its pertinent infrastructure projects playing the key role in this multipolar network, while India and Japan want to obstruct this or at the very least be able to completely monitor developments, maintaining a position of power to alter them if needed. Bangladesh, for all of the promise that it has to behave as a sovereign state in adroitly balancing between Beijing and New Delhi, has pretty much fallen under New Delhi’s strategic sway, so the prospects are dim that Dhaka will be able to play a key role in China’s arrangement. Sri Lanka is in no such position, as it’s masterfully courting both unipolar and multipolar infrastructure projects in order to maximize its geostrategic position and ensure its long-term stability. The island is equally important to both camps as a way point in trans-Indian Oceanic trade and any destabilization there would be to the detriment of both parties.
Having described the maritime connectivity competition in the Bay of Bengal, it’s time to see what it actually looks like:
As can plainly be seen, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands allow the Indo-Japanese Axis to control access to and from the Bay of Bengal and the Strait of Malacca, as well as to protect the two coastal termini points for the East-West and Southern Corridors in Myanmar. However, the extent of their influence projection is limited and doesn’t fully extend over the western part of the bay, which indicates that the successful completion of the proposed China-Myanmar Economic Corridor could still allow for the partial realization of this quadrilateral arrangement without fear of total maritime obstruction/surveillance by India and Japan. As important as this maritime component of OBOR is, it’s not the only manifestation of China’s connectivity plans in South Asia, as there are also three mainland elements, though only one is reliable.
China’s South Asian Silk Roads
Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor
The BCIM was a proposed but long-stalled initiative to link some of the most underdeveloped regions of the four member countries together, and it also represents the only joint Chinese-Indian infrastructure project ever seriously considered.
Himalayan Silk Road
China plans to construct an $8 billion railway under the Himalayas in connecting its Tibet Autonomous Region with Nepal, which could then see the People’s Republic make clever use of the Indian-Nepali Free Trade Agreement to transship its goods into India.
This game-changing economic corridor is the Zipper of Pan-Eurasian Integration and could ultimately function as the Convergence Point of Civilizations, and it’s suggested that the reader review those two cited works to become more familiar with these interlinked concepts.
Here’s what China’s South Asian Silk Roads look like:
There are three different avenues of mainland approach, each beginning in a separate autonomous region or province. The Autonomous Regions of Xinjiang and Tibet are the points of contact with Pakistan and Nepal, respectively, while the Province of Yunnan is the starting point for engagement with Myanmar. The last two projects – the Himalayan Silk Road and BCIM – hold the potential of converging in the West Bengal capital of Kolkata and forming a development loop if India ever decided to join, though that probably won’t happen as the ruling Modi-Doval-Hindutva Deep State remains in power. As for CPEC, India is absolutely opposed to the project on all counts, and is even using terrorists against it, conclusively proven through the conviction of seasoned Hybrid War operative, Kulbhushan Jadhav.
India’s intransigent attitude towards China’s New Silk Roads stems both from the hyper-nationalist jingoism of its leadership, which in turn feeds off of an obsessive paranoia about China and Pakistan, and a deep fear that the People’s Republic will flood the subcontinent’s markets with all of its overcapacity and decimate local businesses. Pursuant to the Hindutva jingoism preached by the BJP, India’s leadership truly believes that its historic moment has arrived and that the country can seriously compete with China all across the board, which is why it’s pushing so hard for the Make in India program, Freedom Corridor, and other such development initiatives. At the same time, India has no qualms about using Chinese investment to achieve its objectives, while opposing any large-scale and direct commercial relations with its neighbor.
Not only is India against China establishing any reliable trade corridors with it, but as the aspiring regional hegemon, per the geopolitical manifestation of the Hindutva ideology, New Delhi is bullying its neighbors to prevent Beijing from doing the same with them. This is why India has taken an active role in courting Sri Lanka lately, for example, as well as pushing the advance of the neo-colonization of Bangladesh. New Delhi is also very suspicious of Naypyidaw’s efforts to deepen ties with Beijing, especially since de-facto ruler Suu Kyi was thought to have been vehemently anti-Chinese before she entered into power. What irks India the most, however, is the rapid progress made in Nepali-Chinese relations over the past two years. New Delhi senses its greatest regional vulnerability here due to the possible Chinese exploitation of the Indian-Nepali Free Trade Agreement to access the neighboring 220 million-large Uttar Pradesh marketplace and from there the rest of the country.
Just like in Southeast Asia, there are also several Hybrid War vulnerabilities which could be triggered – whether deliberately or through their ‘natural occurrence’ – to scuttle China’s Silk Road plans, which would lead to a relative victory for the Modi-Doval-Hindutva Deep State, at the predictable expense of the Indian masses’ socio-economic development.
In brief, here are the scenarios which could feasibly transpire or are already unfolding in the region:
Every one of the member countries, except China, has a serious identity-centric vulnerability, which could be lead to the destruction of this project, if it was ever revived. Myanmar’s civil war is the most obvious obstacle in that country’s case, while the complicated situation in India’s Northeastern Provinces, especially as it relates to the Nagalim cause of Naga unification, poses a very real risk to the transnational economic corridor. As for Bangladesh, the upsurge in militant Islamic terrorism over the past two years gave credence to the author’s late-2015 appellation of the country as “Bangla-Daesh”, and a worsening security situation in the country could spell doom for any integration projects crossing through its territory.
None of these scenarios are coveted by India, since each of them could directly blow back and destabilize the situation within its own borders. If anything, India is expected to exploit its self-proclaimed role in furtherance of its own hegemony in the northeastern reaches of the Bay of Bengal region. From the reverse perspective, however, these conflict variables could be manipulated by another power, like the US, who has an interest in undermining any possible Chinese-Indian rapprochement in the event that both sides overcome their present New Cold War contradictions. For this reason, it’s important that outside observers keep an eye on these factors in order to monitor their development and attempt to figure out whether any signs of conflict are “naturally occurring” or externally encouraged.
Himalayan Silk Road
Nepal is a country dangerously teetering on the edge of civil war, still recovering from the late 2015 crippling blockade, which was supported by India. The Indian-born, and –descended, Madhesi borderland community in the southern Terai plains are supported by New Delhi, and their ancestral homeland enacted the embargo against its northern neighbor in support of its proxies’ violent riots against Nepal’s new federal constitution. The crisis narrowly avoided spilling over into a second civil war due to Kathmandu entering into a political compromise with the agitators, but the identity tensions still remain unresolved in this sharply divided country, and could easily be exploited by India again to destabilize the Nepali government.
This could lead to a situation where the Chinese opt against building the Himalayan Silk Road through a conflict-prone country, and/or a pro-Indian/or outright Indian-descended leader coming to power after the present authorities are deposed by a Hybrid War and eliminates the project altogether. The one thing likely disinclining India away from immediately pursuing this scenario is there’s no telling whether or not the expected chaos in Nepal could be managed, meaning that arms and fighters could possibly ferry back and forth across the Indian-Nepali border, inadvertently leading to the destabilization of the country’s largest province of Uttar Pradesh. It should be assumed that all sorts of anti-state riffraff are already running around this state of 220 million people, but they could receive a fresh impetus in their criminal activities, if a deteriorating situation in neighboring Nepal presented fresh physical and situational opportunities for them.
This project is the centerpiece of the emerging Multipolar World Order and geographically in the middle arc of the Indian Ocean Region, so its geostrategic importance in the 21st century shouldn’t be underestimated in any regards. India and the US are hell bent on either destroying CPEC, or increasing the physical and security costs of doing business along it so the route becomes commercially unviable. To this end, they’re attacking the project on 3 fronts via various proxy mechanisms. The first one is more ‘traditional’ and has to do with Afghan-originating terrorists which have either infiltrated across the border into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) or are activated sleeper cells. There’s nothing historically unique in this method, but it led to the desired Indian results in the 2000s, which is why New Delhi is once more relying on this tried-and-tested approach.
The second one is less visible than the first, and much more difficult to attribute to the US and India, but it’s nonetheless very effective, and might serve to be the most destabilizing approach in the long run. This is the information war that’s being waged inside of Pakistan by irresponsible useful idiot media outlets/journalists, which suck up the foreign-originating propaganda against CPEC and disseminate it to the masses through indigenous voices. There are legitimate concerns against this, and any other project, but there’s a distinct difference between opposing certain aspects of CPEC because of possible environmental consequences and outright condemning the entire initiative as a “Sinofied neocolonial version of the UK’s notorious East India Company”, for instance.
The weaponized fomenting of popular discontent might not be enough alone to damage the project. The more concerning is the renewed federalism discourse that has emerged in some circles. Argued on the basis that each province should be able to regulate CPEC tariffs across their internal borders however they see fit, it is a disastrous scheme, which relies on the manipulation of uneducated, though seemingly attractive, populist sentiment to craft an unworkable political-economic framework. The bitter intra-provincial competition over tariffs would instantly diminish CPEC’s attractiveness and create problems with China on the state-to-state level. After all, China presumed that all of its CPEC-related dealings would be conducted directly with Pakistan, not with each individual provincial capital, as the latter could attempt to counteract previous state agreements.
Finally, the last Hybrid War scenario being directed against CPEC, the use of terrorism to throw Baluchistan into bedlam, has been operational throughout 2016-17. The arrest and conviction of seasoned Indian Hybrid War veteran, Kulbhushan Jadhav, testifies to the amount of attention New Delhi is placing in destabilizing this province, as does Modi’s provocative statement about Baluchistan in August 2016 during the commemoration of his country’s independence. Apart from that, India supports cross-border terrorism involving Pakistani Baluchistan, with the intent of sparking a regional state-to-state conflict, as was the intention behind the late-April killing of 10 Iranian border guards by what were presumed to be Pakistan-originating, but Indian-backed, terrorists. Similar tactics are also being applied against Afghanistan for the same purposes.
Overall, however, the Baluchistan factor is the one which serves as an introduction to the Mideast and Central Asia.
When referring to the Mideast, we meant Iran, in this case, which is poised to host competitive connectivity projects from both China and India. The Islamic Republic also serves as India’s gateway to Central Asia and New Delhi’s Afghan ally, and as it’s Beijing’s largest partner beyond the Central Asian states. What is directly pertinent to the present discourse is that the easternmost Iranian province is Sistani Baluchestan, one of the three components of transnational Baluchistan, with the first being in Pakistan, and the last being in southern Afghanistan, though without its own political-administrative territory.
India’s destabilization of Pakistani Baluchistan will inevitably spill over the border into Iranian Baluchistan, though it’ll be revealed how adverse consequences are surprisingly manageable in the cynical sense.