The intensification of the COVID-19 pandemic in India has taken New Delhi on more than one foot. While it continues to cope with the fallout from the second wave of the pandemic, its domestic difficulties inevitably have an impact on the dynamics of its foreign policy. On the one hand, instead of becoming a regional power supplying vaccines to its neighbors, it stopped almost all vaccine exports and had to rely on foreign medical assistance. On the other hand, it has imposed an element of normalcy in its relations with China.from President Xi Jinpings’ letterto Prime Minister Modi offering his assistance to India to deal with the pandemic. This is the first known communication between the two leaders after the start of the pandemic in early 2020 and the Sino-Indian border crisis of April-May last year.
Simultaneously there was a phone callbetween the Minister of External Affairs of India, S Jaishankar, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of China Wang Yi. The Indian minister spoke with his counterpart about the importance of China’s transport corridors and cargo flights remaining open to facilitate the flow of materials to deal with the surge in COVID in India. unfinished and it should be finished as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, China appears to be heading towards an sweet spot. Its relatively intact economy is doing well, and its national mood manifested itself in the launch on April 28 of the core module of itsinternational space station project, which is a major indicator of the return to normalcy in this country. Beijing hopes that its space station will be operational by the end of 2022. And incidentally,China moved to fill the voidcreated by India and pledged vaccines and other supplies to countries like Bangladesh and Nepal. On April 27, Chinese Foreign MinisterWang Yi hosted a video conferencewith counterparts from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, where Beijing proposed a number of measures to promote anti-pandemic cooperation between them, as well as to promote economic recovery to continue cooperation Belt and Road. India was invited but chose not to attend.
The return to normalcy in China is important, because it is something that has so far escaped the United States and India. This will have an impact on geopolitical dynamics, in particular the revised Indo-Pacific strategy of quadruple nations. China is Australia and Japan’s main trading partner, while the United States is number two. By the way, according to Chinese data,bilateral merchandise trade between India and Chinatouched US $ 27.7 billion in the first quarter of this year, a huge increase of 42.8% year-over-year. WithJapanese ratification of RCEP,Things are on track for the deal to take effect in January 2022 as the largest trading bloc in history. Beijing is the key anchor for trading blocks with Northeast Asia, which includes Japan and South Korea, being among the four largest economies in Asia.
Elsewhere too, Beijing is on the move. At the end of April, the Chinese Minister of DefenseGeneral Wei Fenghe visited the South Asian region, with visits to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A major feature of the visit was the help China gave Colombo to cope with its COVID-19 crisis which has intensified in recent weeks. Beijing has granted more than $ 2 billion in loans and a currency exchange facility to Colombo to deal with the economic strain of the pandemic. Sri Lanka has over US $ 5 billion in outstanding debt to China. In theremarksDuring the Dhaka leg of his visit, General Wei spoke of the importance of neighboring countries resisting powers outside the region establishing military alliances in South Asia.
Before coming to South Asia, General Wei visited Vietnam, where he met with Communist Party General Secretary Ngyuyen Phu Trong and President Nguyen Xuan Phuc.In his remarks, President Phucsaid Vietnam would oppose any interference by the forces in China’s internal affairs, with reference to Taiwan. He added that Vietnam will never follow other countries in opposing China. The undeclared subtext of the tour appears to be the need to counter the activities of the Quad, which had acted aggressively to declare comprehensive strategic competition with China in the Indo-Pacific region.
As for the United States, it continues to maintain a firm stance on China, as the talks in Alaska show. But he is focusing on longer term competition. Speaking at the recent Aspen Security Forum,US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivansaid the goal of Biden’s policy was not to contain China. Indeed, he added, the Quad is not fundamentally about China. It is about this affirmative agenda that these four capable democracies can fix themselves. The Biden team intervenes along theInterim strategic direction on national securitywhich said, the basic strategic proposition is this: To be strong abroad, the United States must rebuild better at home. This process has only just begun, and the United States is unlikely to be interested in further destabilizing ties with a key trading partner. A full review of the U.S. China strategy is still in the works, so the policy of the Biden administration may well see great continuity, as well as cooperation, if not accommodation, with China.
A new Indo-Pacific strategy was outlined at the virtual Quad summit on March 12 byPresident Biden, who indicated that what the United States was looking for was to achieve stability in this important region, troubled by Chinese actions in Hong Kong and threats to Taiwan. In his remarks, he spoke of the importance of reviving the US economic recovery, although he framed the commitment to an Indo-Pacific governed by international law, and determined to uphold universal values, and free from any coercion. is to manage China’s future behavior, rather than undoing things that have already happened. Inhis first speech to Congressat the end of April, Biden pledged to maintain a strong military presence in the Indo-Pacific. He said that as China moves closer together quickly and the United States needs to develop and dominate the products and technologies of the future.
The US economy is also doing well and Biden had proposed an ambitious plan for national rejuvenation. The problem is that the United States remains a politically divided society and making the plans work on the ground will not be easy. Write in the Financial Times,Demetri Sevastopulopointed out that there are two key events in 2022 that are important for China and the United States. Biden must win the midterm elections in the face of Donald Trump’s ongoing challenge. And Xi Jinping must keep the Chinese Communist Party united as he seeks another five-year term in the National Party Congress scheduled for next year. The two will likely find they have to play hard until then, but that doesn’t mean we’ll see the kind of clashes that have taken place in the Western Pacific in the last year of the Trump administration. Indeed, US officials have signaled that there could also be cautious engagement.
All this does little to comfort New Delhi, which is negotiating a withdrawal from China in the eastern region of Ladakh. Prime Minister Modis’ remarks at the recent Quad summit were suitably innocuous and low-key, even though New Delhi could be a major beneficiary of America’s new posture. Since then, India has been submerged by the COVID tsunami which reduces the room for maneuver. Given the intensity of the current wave of the pandemic, it will be some time before the government can focus on foreign diplomacy. The current wave has yet to recede and even when it does, New Delhi will need to focus on plugging the dangerous holes that have manifested in its administrative and public health systems and anticipate further waves.
All of this is even as India grapples with China in eastern Ladakh and seeks to persuade Beijing to restorethe status quothe. theBeijing messageseems to be that India is better prepared to accept thedone.It could mean pressure on New Delhi to worsen the situation there, as in the case of Pangong Tso. This has its own risks.
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