Global Governance
The Status and Potential of Regional Conflicts in South Asia

Intensifying economic and strategic competition, between China and the United States on the one hand and India-China on the other, has pushed all of South Asia to the verge of permanent instability, especially in the wake of the US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Multiple regional conflicts and war scenarios are being contemplated that would ultimately determine the status of potential disputes between the US and China, India and China, and Pakistan and India, respectively. These have been increasingly overshadowed by coercive international diplomatic posturing towards Russia and China, which has further opened up the risks of conflict both in the South China Sea and in the wider South Asian region. This contest is now commonly known in terms of “rising China” challenging the US-led “West-based international economic and security order”, and has been driven by the scramble for resources and the transition of power accompanying the onset of the ‘Asian century’. 

Why does China’s economic power matter? 

The argument that China is expanding its strategic influence in a way that corresponds with its growing economic and military might has become clearer with its regional partners (e.g. with Russia) and China’s preferences in dealing with the US at numerous international organizations. As a result, it has become remarkably difficult for the US and its allies to preserve the post-World War II international order which was perceived as the key to peace and prosperity in Asia. The paradigm shift in the Chinese approach to defend its entities in the South China Sea is already transforming a “new cold war” into a hot one. Given the deployment of extra military resources by China and continuous air reconnaissance by US fighter jets, the two countries should exercise caution to prevent  small-medium range conflict. 

The U.S. and allies’ “China containment” policy alludes to a conflict and has implications for the rights of coastal states, international law and conflict risks that engages India and Pakistan. The U.S. India policy too shares a “diplomatic obligation” to help India counter and engage China, especially in the service of the balance of power in South Asia. Instead of India working with Pakistan and periphery states (e.g. Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), it has to support US foreign policy and develop a remotely controlled regional order. This can undermine China’s rising economic power and subsequently may harm India-China economic relations, because both countries have shared interests in the global economy. 

US-China Rivalry in a Post-Covid Scenario
P.S. Raghavan
It is still premature at this stage to forecast the contours of post-Covid US-China relations. Covid itself is in a strong second wave in many countries, with its economic and humanitarian consequences yet to fully play out. The US is on the cusp of one of its most important Presidential elections in recent history, whose outcome will influence domestic politics, transatlantic relations and relations with both Russia and China.
Expert Opinions



Assessment

Due to the growing tensions between the US and China, and prevailing rhetoric in the media and diplomatic environment between India and China (in addition to Australian support for the US strategy and operational design), there seems to be no near-term prospect for the resolution of potential regional conflicts in South Asia. In practice, Chinese tech companies, academics, researchers and scientists are being profiled and monitored for an unforeseeable in the US and Europe, a reason which has been causing diplomatic reaction from China, leading to reciprocate actions being taken against the Western entities. 

There is also a growing appetite to hold and sustain low-intensity conflicts between Indiaand China and India and Pakistan, so the status of potential local/regional conflicts can serve as catalysts when and if the US and its Western allies start raising their strategic stakes in Asia. This fact should not preclude China-India, Pakistan-India and Russia-Germany or the EU countries from making cooperative arrangements – and provide diplomatic mechanisms to establish regional peace, order and stability in South Asia. The joint ventures and conducting of joint scientific research to protect the environment and the apportioning of financial resources would become counter measures against U.S. plans for a sustainable intervention in Asian disputes. 

The reality however, is that China’s determination to implement its economic influence in the form of the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) has rather convinced many Asian nations that making necessary compromises with regard to China’s legitimate international role does not amount to enforcement of an ideological position. As a result, numerous Asian nations are benefiting from a boost in economic activities, infrastructure building and inter-economic dependency.  The complex nature of conflicts between India and China, India and Nepal (a border dispute) and Pakistan and India require a better understanding through a collective diplomatic resolution.

Why does South Asia matter for Russia?

China’s economic and security assertiveness in the South and beyond feeds the US and allies’ perceptions of a revisionist challenge to what it considers the “economic security – based international strategic order”. China’s BRI is clearly objected to and opposed by the US and the West in general. Moscow and Beijing object that the U.S and NATO interventions in the war-torn Donabass region (Russian-Ukraine border), and in Xingjiang province, where Hui Muslims are the majority group which holds a significant Uyghur population.  The US should restrain from creating further economic and military tensions and must comply with the doctrine of reducing friction through dialogue, agreements and a non-interventionist policy regime, in order to prevent and clarify red lines that may cause wider conflict.

Afghanistan: Post-withdrawal, Stability and Strategic Influence

Against the backdrop of the Doha peace talks,  post-US and NATO Afghanistan is facing rather significant security challenges. Multiple risks and opportunities exist while the “new” Taliban government is grappling with economic, security and humanitarian crises. It is assessed that countries in the region, especially Russia, China and Pakistan, are helping to stabilise Afghanistan. One of the main challenges is continuing ISIS-K attacks on innocent civilians, together with a serious humanitarian crisis, the refugee issue, and the Taliban government’s refusal to pursue an all-inclusive approach. As a result, three interconnected instability factors are looming: a), the West, especially the U.S., has not been showing an interest in addressing the economic and humanitarian issues that the Afghan people are facing, b), Absence of a collective mechanism among the major states for recognising the Taliban and engaging them to address the issue of including other ethnic political groups in major government positions and, c), acquisition of any further space by ISIS-K and other terrorist organisations in Afghanistan causing more risks of terrorist attacks, as well as continuous instability. Contrastingly, a joint mechanism of cooperation between Russia, China, Pakistan and other  countries of the region would add value and credibility to resolve the short-and-long term challenges that Afghan people have been facing.   
  
To conclude, the past two years have transformed the Asian region significantly into one of the most volatile parts of the world, where local/regional conflicts would potentially engage major powers (especially the US and its Western allies), and the risk of a major war is real. It is also concluded that the national strategies in the Asian continent have seen a change, for example, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh see engagement with China as a hedge against Indian dominance. Another conclusion is: China and India are unlikely to reach a comprehensive agreement on their border conflicts in the foreseeable future. Effective rules for border patrol operations and crisis management can assist in reducing tensions, but they will not eliminate flare-ups entirely. Finally, Russia, China and Pakistan should continue to work together to identify initiatives that each nation can contribute to, to help Afghanistan maintain peace and economic prosperity.

Russia - India - China: A World Without a Hegemon
On June 25, the Valdai Club together with the Indian analytical centre Observer Research Foundation (ORF) held a discussion on the topic: "The Chinese factor in Russian-Indian relations".
Club events
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.