In this episode of Worldview, we discuss how the unstable relationship between the world’s biggest powers affects India
This week on WorldView- As XI Jinping and Joe Biden meet, US and China decide resume military communications and aim to work together on artificial intelligence, climate change & countering narcotics- Despite the bonhomie, Biden calls Xi a dictator- how does the unstable relationship between the world’s biggest powers affect India, and what are takeaways for New Delhi from the Summit in San Francisco
This week, US and Chinese Presidents met on the sidelines of the APEC or Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group Summit in the US- The APEC was set up in 1989 to be premier forum for economic cooperation in the region amongst 21 countries- including US, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, ASEAN Countries and Taiwan. India is not a member, but of course now there is the Indo Pacific and the Indo Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) which held its meetings just before APEC- which China is not a member of.
This was their first meeting since the Bali G20 in 2022, and comes at a time of major global challenges:
- Downturn and Economic Security- Chinese economy has slowed down
- COVID Pandemic and Health security
- Possibility of US-China standoff over Taiwan
- Russia-Ukraine War
- Israel-Hamas conflict- no ceasefire
At the meeting, here’s what the leaders said- where Biden recalled meeting 10 years ago when they were vice-presidents and Xi called the US China relationship the most important relationship in the world.
More recently- US-China ties have nosedived over a number of incidents:
- Tensions over Taiwan, where an election is due in January. China that claims Taiwan, says the US is “playing with fire” with its support. After Speaker Pelosi’s visit last year China snapped military to military communications with US. US has called on China not to change the Status Quo over Taiwan.
- US has shut down what it calls Chinese influence operations in the US including mandarin training centres, and both closed each other’s consulates.
- US has passed a number of legislations that ban Chinese goods, pushed partners to given up Chinese telecommunication equipments and restrict critical industry including Semiconductor and Chip manufacturing to domestic manufacturing.
- Chinese Spy Balloon across US set off a high alert.
- 10. China’s maps and aggression in the South China Sea are a growing concern for the US, which has also supported India in its standoff at the LAC.
In fact, the US and China have bilateral trade of $760 billion but have had growing differences in the past decade on almost issues:
Strategic- as the US sees China along with Russia as its two biggest military challenges. At 2 million plus China’s military has more personnel than US but lags behind in almost everything else- expenditure, armoured vehicles, naval aircraft carriers, airforce.
US Pentagon estimates China has about 400 nuclear warheads.
Economic- Since the Trump presidency the two countries have slapped more tariffs on each other’s goods- about six times more- 2/3rds of US imports from China are under tariffs of an average 19.3 %, while China taxes about 58% of all US imports at an average 21%.
The two countries have been facing off in public- US is concerned by Chinese forays like the Belt and Road Initiative, and now Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative and Global Civilisational Initiative, while the US seeking partners like AUKUS Quad and IPEF, are seen by China as a containments strategy.
Human Rights- US has called China to end HR violations in Xinjiang, Tibet and other regions, all of which China has dismissed as interference.
Given all the flashpoints, the goal for the talks were seen much more as crisis prevention than dispute resolution. Even After their talks, Biden said that he believed Xi is a dictator, ruffling feathers amongst the Chinese delegation.
Aside from that remark, both leaders came out of the talks very positive about the outcomes, calling it a candid and constructive meet- you can the read the readouts from both sides.
- Resumed Military to Military contacts- direct basis
- US PRC to talk on counter-narcotics- curbing Fentanyl precursors in particular
- Discuss Risk and safety of Artificial Intelligence
- Renewables cooperation
- Pursue high level diplomacy – pick up the phone and have it answered
- US Maintains One China policy on Taiwan
There were some lighter moments too: as Biden checked out Xi’s car.
And China has been pushing the memory of the US’s Flying Tigers squadron, that helped defend China from Japan in the Second World War.
What should India watch out for?
- A reduction in US-China tensions helps defusing conflict in the region- where China’s aggression and US’s counter mobilisation adds to tensions and instability
- However, any détente between US and China leads to India’s concerns being pushed aside- so any attempt at a G-2 should be watched closely
- On issues like Climate Change for eg., US and China have in the past made pacts that don’t take India’s concerns into account
- Given China’s diplomatic push with global powers and within South Asia with countries like Bhutan, India-China border standoff at the LAC needs to be resolved so they can discuss other issues, but for that China has to agree to step back from areas where it has amassed troops since 2020
- Economically too, India has gained some from the US-China tensions of the past, with many US companies like Apple and Microsoft being encouraged to diversify and move manufacturing plants to India.
Here’s what EAM Jaishankar said when asked about the comparison to China, during his visit to London this week:
In a world of global polarisation, any détente between two big powers that often ask other countries to choose between one or the other, helps India to focus on its own priorities rather than being caught between them. It is unlikely that the San Francisco summit will yield more than a working arrangement between US and China, but tensions could flare up at any time again. India’s strategic ties with China are at present extremely poor, especially compared with its growing ties with the US, and this asymmetry, a growing perception that India has “chosen a side” constrains India’s strategic autonomy on the global stage.