By: conn Hallinan
Trump’s Stubbornness and the Changing Face of Asia
“Boxing the compass” is an old nautical term for locating the points on a magnetic compass in order to set a course. With the erratic winds blowing out of Washington these days, countries all over Asia and the Middle East are boxing the compass and re-evaluating traditional foes and old alliances.
India and Pakistan have fought three wars in the past half-century, and both have nuclear weapons on a hair trigger. But the two countries are now part of a security and trade organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), along with China, Russia and most of the countries of Central Asia. Following the recent elections in Pakistan, Islamabad’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, has called for an “uninterrupted continued dialogue” with New Delhi to resolve conflicts and establish “peace and stability” in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, is a critic of the US war in Afghanistan and particularly opposed to the use of US drones to kill insurgents in Pakistan.
Russia has reached out to the Taliban, which has accepted an invitation for peace talks in Moscow on Sept. 04 to end the 17-year old war. Three decades ago the Taliban were shooting down Russian helicopters with American-made Stinger missiles.
Turkey and Russia have agreed to increase trade and to seek a political solution to end the war in Syria. Turkey also pledged to ignore Washington’s sanctions on Russia and Iran. Less than three years ago, Turkish warplanes downed a Russian bomber, Ankara was denouncing Iran, and Turkey was arming and supporting Islamic extremists trying to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad.
After years of tension in the South China Sea between China and a host of Southeast Asian nations, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, on Aug. 02 Beijing announced a “breakthrough” in talks between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). After years of bluster— including ship-to-ship face-offs—China and ASEAN held joint computer naval games on Aug. 02-03. China has also proposed cooperative oil and gas exploration with ASEAN members.
Starting with the administration of George W. Bush, the US has tried to lure India into an alliance with Japan and Australia—the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “quad”—to challenge China in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. The Americans turned a blind eye to India’s violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dropped the ban on selling arms to New Delhi. The Pentagon even re-named its Pacific Command, “Indo-Pacific Command” to reflect India’s concerns in the Indian Ocean. The US is currently training Indian fighter pilots, and this summer held joint naval manoeuvres with Japan and the US—Malabar 18— in the strategic Malacca Straits .
But following an April Wuhan Summit meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Delhi’s enthusiasm for the Quad appears to have cooled. New Delhi vetoed Australia joining the Malabar war games.
At June’s Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore, Modi said “India does not see the Indo-Pacific region as a strategy or as a club of limited members,” and pointedly avoided any criticism of China’s behaviour in the South China Sea. Given that Indian and Chinese troops have engaged in shoving matches and fistfights with one another in the Doklam border region, Modi’s silence on the Chinese military was surprising.
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