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SOURCE: RAMANPREET SINGH / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

China, India, and, to some extent, Japan are the three giants in Asia that will eventually clash over influence in the region. We are already seeing friction between India and China in the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean. While China and Japan are having tensions over islands in the East China Sea. China has the largest GDP in the region. The entire country is under the Communist Party of China (CCP) with Xi Jinping as its undisputed leader. China wants to be the greatest global power and compete with the United States for that title.

However, to fight the US in the world arena, it must first gain control over Asia. That very goal is what is causing tensions in the region. China is actively trying to undermine Japanese influence in the region. At the same time, it is actively trying to subdue India into a lesser power, despite India being a major player in the region. Let us first explore the current situation, and then consider possible solutions.

History

Tensions in the region started a long time ago, when China slowly started building potential military bases in the Indian Ocean region. China was suddenly investing heavily in the region under the one belt one road initiative. China supplied massive loans, but with strings attached designed to corrupt governments in the region. These loans were meant to develop the infrastructures and economies of underdeveloped regions of the nation. However, these loans, instead, were debt traps for the nations and were meant to take over critical infrastructure in the region. For example, Sri Lanka lost the Hambantota port to China for the next 99 years. This port has the potential to become a massive naval base just 240 nautical miles from India. China has been making massive investments in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. All these nations offer few business opportunities for China, yet hold massive geographical opportunities to eliminate India in its own region.

These are all of India’s neighbors that have been slowly losing critical assets to China over time or will in the distant future. India sees China’s moves in its backyard as strategic threats to its national security. The Hambantota port can be used to house naval ships and submarines to attack Indian ports in the south. Gwadar port in Pakistan can be used for submarines and surface ships to launch attacks at Indian’s western coastline including Mumbai. There have been intelligence reports of a possible Chinese military/naval base in the Maldives. China uses the Coco Islands, near the Andaman Nicobar islands as an electronic intelligence and signals base to collect information on Indian activity in the region, including naval ship movements and missile tests. These are just a few examples of how China has militarized the Indian Ocean region, as it did with the South China Sea.

China has also been pushing eastwards towards Japan. China has a very sensitive relationship with Japan, due to Japanese atrocities against China during World War II. China has always viewed Japan as a threat since the very foundation of CCP. These hostile relations go back to World War II, when Japan and China, were fighting for control over China. One of those parties involved in fighting was CCP under Mao Zedong which fought against Japan. Now China sees Japan as a threat and is aggressively trying to undermine the Japanese military and its claims in the East China sea. They are islands near Taiwan that are under Japanese control, but China claims them. Japan, since World War II, has disbanded its military, and uses the Japanese defense force which is used to defend Japanese land. Japan has no aggressive ambitions in the region, unlike China. The Chinese have been getting very aggressive in the region after they took over the South China Sea region without a fight. Japan, in reaction, has since started to hike its defense budget which China now sees as a threat to its eastern border.

Current Situation

Currently, there are growing tensions in the region, due to the Chinese military advancing into Indian territory at strategic points and setting up buildings. This has caused a new standoff at Line of Actual Control (LAC) with both side mobilizing forces. Thankfully, both sides have decided to slowly disengage at a few points, after a brutal clash between the two nuclear nations. It is very unlikely for the status quo to return, which is what India wants, for a very simple reason. Chinese are inside Indian territory. Why would they want to go back when they have more to gain by staying? China, for years, has been following a strategy where they slowly creep into other nation’s territory and raise tensions to make the other concede to Chinese interests. The Chinese most likely would not agree to go back to the status quo without India either coinciding to land claims, or diplomatic demands. China has for a long time seen India as a threat and has built its strategy to contain India. India, in contrast, has always seen China as a friendly nation and looked to increase cooperation and trade, even after the 1962 Sino-Indian War. India, therefore, must recognize this threat and make short-term and long-term strategies to keep the Chinese under control.

While China and India were in a standoff in the Himalayas, the Chinese military was flying its aircraft and sending its navy ships through disputed territory in the South China Sea and they have continued to do the same in the East China Sea. Japan too is suffering from Chinese aggression in Asia. If Japan does not initiate a plan to limit Chinese influence in the region then China will prove to be a lethal threat to Japanese sovereignty and interests in the region. India and Japan must work together to plan how they can best tame the Chinese dragon.

How to Contain China

To counter China, India, and Japan first must build capabilities. Japan has money to invest, while India offers many investment opportunities. Both will benefit greatly by increasing cooperation and co-developing technologies. These two nations must support each other, as they face common threats. India and Japan must work in all spectrums to increase cooperation. They need to focus on diplomatic, military, and economic cooperation.

Trade

In 2019, India and Japan had total trade worth about 16 billion dollars. In that same time period, China and Japan had trade worth about 304 billion dollars. That is about 19 times more than India and Japan. India and China at that same time had traded at about 85 billion dollars. Clearly, there is an overdependence on Chinese goods. This money, that is going into China, is fueling its military posture against the same neighbors that it is getting this money from. The best way to resolve this is to increase trade between India and Japan while reducing dependency on China.

This can be done by creating special trade pacts, mutually lowering tariffs, and building companies together to share technology. Most importantly, India must increase its production of goods. India needs to be involved in the major supply chains for global conglomerates. The only way for India to grow in GDP, as China did, is through massive exports to other nations. This will help meet the Japanese needs for a good, while replacing China, and bring in money to India. This will potentially take money away from the Chinese military, thereby weakening its strength.

Technology

India and Japan need to sign pacts to share technologies. These two nations also need to work together to research new advancements. India is very strong in the medical field, while Japan is more advanced in artificial intelligence and robotics. India can use this to its leverage to make drones and robots locally with Japanese cooperation. India and Japan should formally sign pacts to allow, freely, the flow of engineers and researchers. Japan has money to spend, while India has the highly-skilled manpower to spare. Working together, they can maximize their capabilities and combat their common enemy.

Military

In terms of military cooperation, India becomes very hesitant to commit. India has followed its nonalignment policy ever since independence. Justifiably, India does not want to be involved in someone else’s wars, as there are enough issues at home to deal with. However, this ideology of nonalignment has to be reconsidered and reevaluated. The hot zones are not located hundreds of miles away, as they were during the cold war. They are right next to us including in India’s territory and region of influence.

China sees India as a threat and it will continue to attempt misadventures and incursions either directly or indirectly, through Pakistan. India must shed its nonalignment policies and work at least with Japan if not the whole Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). Nothing is stopping India from carrying out massive training exercises with Japanese forces. India does these joint exercises with Russia, the US, and many others, including China. We need to increase communication and cooperation between the Indian and Japanese armed forces to prepare for the worse. This will be good training for the Japanese, who have not faced any real combat situations against a modern, mechanized military. India would only improve its defensive capability. India and Japan should have combined air exercises to better train pilots and crew for future missions and air combat. India does not have to sign a total alliance with Japan, but it should at least begin doing training exercises with Japanese defense forces.

The cyber domain is another place where both nations can work together. The cyber domain poses a massive risk to both nations. Since COVID-19, China and Pakistan have been attacking India at record rates. China has not only built up its own capabilities, but it has helped Pakistan and North Korea to have similar, though less advanced, capabilities. China, as an invisible army, has been carrying out cyberattacks against Japan. In 2016, Japan had announced how Japanese infrastructure faced a massive threat from Chinese cyber attacks. We all saw North Korean capabilities in the Sony hack of 2014. If India and Japan can work together in this field, not only will they be able to defend their own critical infrastructure, they might even be able to go on the offensive. The cyber domain can be used to disrupt communication, steal information and technologies, take out power and internet from areas to disrupt enemy movements, or to simply cause chaos and panic. This is something both nations should look into and build capability together.

Intelligence

Currently, there is very little intelligence sharing between the two nations. This has to change as there is a common enemy who poses a massive threat to both. India and Japan should be sharing information related to the movement of surface ships and submarines. There should also be sharing of intelligence reports on possible cyber-attacks or simply movement of troops. This will allow both to gauge how many assets are near each border area and alert the forces. This will allow both nations to gain greater intelligence about the enemy while not increasing cost or manpower. This will simply help them to be better prepared for threats coming from mainland China.

Covert Operations

This is the most critical area to weaken China. Currently, there is massive unrest in Hong Kong. The people of Hong Kong are upset with China for abusing its powers, taking over the civil liberties of the people there. This is a flagrant breach of the treaty China had signed with the UK. There have been protests going on for a long time. All it will take is a little spark to set the fire. These protests had been mostly peaceful, but then the police resorted to dispersing the protesters. The right confrontation and it can escalate into an armed struggle. It may not succeed for too long, nevertheless, it will cost unrest and resources. However, anything to distract and tie up Chinese resources at home will provide relief to India and Japan at the border.

The Chinese have a history of funding our insurgencies in India for the longest time. China has also been recently helping Pakistan to fuel the insurgency in Kashmir by flooding the region with Chinese weapons and drones. These are issues India is still facing, and we are losing resources that could be used at the border. We all know how China is treating its Muslim population in Xinjiang. These are massive human rights violations and a modern-day genocide is going on in Xinjiang. India can use this to create insurgency in that province. India should support the population to fight the Chinese forces. The Chinese are carrying out heinous acts against innocent people. If an insurgency, large or small, does start in that province, China will have to move forces from the western command away from the Indian border into Xinjiang. This will cause resources of the western command to be spent on insurgency rather than misadventures against Indian forces.

Tibet was an independent nation until attacked and conquered by Chinese forces in the 1950s. The People of Tibet do not want to be part of China, as they see this as a forceful occupation displacing their Dalai Lama. There have been movements in the past, both peaceful and armed, to seek freedom. However, all failed due to a lack of recognition and support. There is still a very small amount of insurgency surviving in Tibet fighting for their land. Tibet is very important strategically. It provides massive amounts of water which flows into India and Bangladesh, as well as China. Taking out this water supply from India and Bangladesh will have massive consequences for India. At the same time, overflow in the rivers will cause massive flooding in the northeast region of India. Tibet also holds a massive amount of other resources that can be used to fuel the economy. Tibet’s border with India gives Chinese strategic importance to carry out misadventures and to arm-twist India into allowing China to make moves in the region. Therefore, it becomes a topic of massive importance on how to take away or limit Chinese advantage in Tibet. India can support the insurgency in Tibet and cause havoc on Chinese military infrastructure. This will disrupt years of military infrastructure development in the region, taking away China’s ability for rapid mobilization at the border. Providing diplomatic support to the Tibetan cause will also go a long way for India. This will also cause China to tie up their reserves fighting insurgents, rather than support its border forces and plans.

The real question India faces is whether these insurgencies would succeed? The answer is that they probably would not. Then what purpose will they serve? These insurgencies will take money and manpower away from Chinese forces and turn their attention elsewhere. Look at the insurgency in Kashmir, the insurgency in Northeast, and Maoist in central India. All doomed to failure, but have prevented the development of the area and tied up resources. Resources that could be used to develop the region or for military modernization and strengthening. They serve the purpose of causing the enemy to fight with one hand at the border while the other is busy at home.

India alone does not have the money or the resources to fund all of this unrest. However, QUAD overall has the resources and manpower to fund this. Every member of the QUAD whether it is the US or Australia faces a Chinese threat, even though they are not direct neighbors. The CIA could be more than happy to provide funds to weaken their enemies, as they did during the Cold war. All Quad members combined have enough intelligence assets in the region to fuel such unrest. After all, American money and Russian weapons go a long way in causing unrest in any region of the world.

Diplomatic Cooperation

The diplomatic interests of Japan and India are very closely tied. Therefore, both can easily work together and share diplomatic channels to help each other. This can be used to increase trade or just build better relations with other countries. This becomes very important when it comes to the United Nations. Both nations can take turns raising human rights issues in Xinjiang, or raising concerns about new Hong Kong law in the international arena to cause the Chinese to go on the defensive. China regularly defends and brings up issues of interest to Pakistan, to help its friend. Similarly, India and Japan can work together to bring up topics of Tibet and Taiwan to show support to their cause making China uncomfortable. There is so much these two nations can do by simply working together diplomatically to accomplish common goals.

Taiwan

Taiwan can serve a particular purpose for India. India was, unfortunately, one of the first countries to recognize and accept the One-China policy. India did this to appease China and to prevent future friction. Soon the rest of the world followed. Taiwan is a very sensitive issue for the Chinese party. India can use this fact to its advantage by shedding the One China policy and getting China to renegotiate it. India can negotiate its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group or a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, which is only being blocked by China. Currently, the diplomatic wind is blowing against China, due to its role in COVID 19 and its aggressive actions at home and abroad. India can pressure China by officially recognizing Taiwan and opening an embassy. Many nations might follow in India’s footsteps especially if the QUAD gets on board with this idea. India can exploit this sensitivity of China to either back down from the current standoff, stop its support to insurgencies in India, or for diplomatic gains. If anything, Taiwan offers economic opportunities. They might be willing to invest more freely in India if the Indian government can stand by Taiwan. Taiwan is a nation that India should keep in mind and explore for opportunities.

Conclusion

India and Japan are the two nations in Asia that China sees as an imminent threat. Both are becoming closer to the United States and aligning with the idea of QUAD, much to the resentment of China. India has mostly resisted the ideas of QUAD, but it is time to fully align and form QUAD into real cooperation. India can either do this as a whole or with Japan alone at the start. Both countries must first build capabilities together to create a deterrence against a common adversary. They can do this by increasing cooperation in military, diplomatic, and economic areas. Once this capability is established, both nations must work together to disrupt and cause unrest in regions of strategic importance in China. The best way to prevent a war is to be prepared for it. One of the ways to prepare for it is to weaken the enemy by any means possible. For either India or Japan to stand up, alone to China, would be a difficult task. Together, however they can succeed, by strategizing and combining their resources and strengths.

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Article by RAMANPREET SINGH,  cannot be republished Partially or Full without consent from Writer or idrw.org