India, China discard old ideologies: With a weak US, Asian neighbours focus on new geopolitical concerns

India and China's decision to have a "forward-looking" discussion at the bilateral meeting between the heads of the two governments during the 9th BRICS Summit underlines the growing need for policy realignment in a rapidly changing world.

Both India and China, as Chinese premier Xi Jinping reaffirmed, need "healthy and stable" relations in a world where the US influence is waning rapidly, leading to new geopolitical concerns in Asia and Europe.

 India, China discard old ideologies: With a weak US, Asian neighbours focus on new geopolitical concerns

Xi Jinping greets Narendra Modi and Mexico's president Enrique Pena Nieto during the BRICS Summit, in Xiamen, China on Tuesday. Reuters

Beijing, it is evident from the BRICS declaration on terrorism, has realised it doesn't gain anything from alienating India at a time when China is busy asserting its role as a global power and an alternate to the US. India, on its part, has realised that not making China unhappy will serve New Delhi's interest because of changing global equations.

To understand why China is becoming an important geo-political player, we need to take a step back to look at the ongoing battle of words between the US and its ally South Korea amid the standoff with Pyongyang.

Two days ago, President of the US Donald Trump stumped everyone by criticising South Korea for engaging with North Korea. His verbal attack on Seoul came within hours of North Korea claiming a successful test of hydrogen bomb, which it is now threatening to use against the US.

According to CNN, Trump's aides say the President has grown frustrated by what he regards as a soft stance toward North Korea by President Moon Jae-in, who has pressed for negotiations with Pyongyang in an attempt to tamp down rapidly heightening tensions.

Seoul has been a US ally ever since its creation. It has stood by Washington through various crises. So, why is Seoul suddenly in Trump's line of fire? Why is it advocating a "soft stance" towards North Korea in spite of the fact that Pyongyang almost seems to be begging for war with the US and its allies in east Asia?

One of the reasons, of course, is domestic politics. President Moon Jae-in came to power in May on the promise of speaking with North Korea and dealing with corruption. So, he has his domestic constituency to address. But, the other reason is also compelling: South Korea's desire to not annoy China, Pyongyang's only friend in the region.

As The Guardian writes, Seoul is advocating dialogue because its people have realised China is the emergent hegemonic force in the Pacific. "The unipolar world is being replaced with a chaotic system in which China and Russia are creating weak local polarities. Working out whose polar attraction will shape your region in the 21st century is not hard if you live on the Korean peninsula," the newspaper argues.

In short, everyone is noticing the growing influence of China in a world where the US is weakening.

That India is coming to terms with the impending chaos was evident in its handling of the Doka La crisis. Though it stood up to China and took timely action by blocking construction of road by Beijing through the Doka La plateau, India avoided shrill rhetoric and did not go out of its way to humiliate or challenge China (in spite of shrill warnings from the state-controlled media of its neighbour). Instead, India kept its focus on dialogue through diplomatic channels. It realised that even though US is tilting towards New Delhi, it is in India's interest to strike the right balance in an emerging multi-polar world.

Peaceful resolution of the border stand-off and the latest bilateral talks between the two countries during the BRICS Summit shows how the two countries have adjusted to the new realities instead of sticking to conventional positions. By accommodating India's concerns on terrorism, China has indicated it realises the importance of a stable and healthy neighbourhood. India, on its part, has come to terms with China's ambitions of filling up the vacuum created by a receding US.

This new evidence of pragmatism, as opposed to ideologies dictated by the past, is a welcome development. India and China benefit from mutual respect and peace in many ways. China benefits from a stable and democratic neighbour that is a major consumer of its products and, thus, a major contributor to its trade. Annoying India makes little political or business sense.
India, meanwhile, can go about the task of building its economy without bothering about a hostile neighbour with a huge military and financial muscle. Keeping China in the good books also helps India to hedge it bets in a world where there could soon be multiple powers competing for political, strategic and business partners.

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Updated Date: Sep 06, 2017 06:36:19 IST