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Enhancing Indo-US strategic ties worries China

Enhancing Indo-US strategic ties worries China

The China-Pakistan all-weather friendship appears to have been rattled by the Indo-US bear hugs and handshakes, particularly with President Donald Trump assuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi that in keeping with his campaign promise, his "White House will be a true friend of India". There is growing apprehension that the Beijing-Islamabad gambit of establishing Chinese hegemony over much of the waters of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea controlling the trade routes could face a challenge. The outcome of the Trump-Modi talks in Washington DC has decided to take the bilateral relationship to a new level of strategic partnership on a par with other such nations, appears to have unnerved China. This assumes significance in the wake of the Chinese official mouthpiece "Global Times," observing in a commentary that bypassing Pakistan in a direct air corridor with Afghanistan reflected New Delhi's "stubborn geopolitical thinking". Further, this brought to the fore India's opposition to Beijing's connectivity project -- the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Just last week India and Afghanistan had opened a direct commercial air route bypassing Pakistan because of which, the ties of both the neighbours has soured over the issue of terrorism. This is expected to boost bilateral trade. Pakistan, lying between India and Afghanistan, has not allowed overland trade between the two countries. Needless to say, questions have been raised about New Delhi bypassing Pakistan in developing trade not only with Afghanistan but with other Central Asian countries as well. Global Times observed that India had always been pushing back against the Belt and Road initiative in an endeavour to create its own network to counterbalance the CPEC and bypass Pakistan. The newspaper acknowledged that New Delhi cannot be faulted for pandering to its own self-interests but wondered whether it should dabble in such counter games. The wider view is that, not only should India work with the US, Japan and Australia to ensure freedom of navigation on the high seas for all, it must also cooperate in frustrating the nefarious and expansionist designs of the Chinese in the South China Sea, where Beijing is seeking to establish its hegemony.

On its part, India and the US as two powerful democracies have decided to work closely in achieving the common objectives of preventing the Chinese from encroaching on the freedom of the seas and consequently crucial trade routes. Trying to irritate India, Chinese troops have blocked the route taken by Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar, which is being petty amid hopes that better sense will prevail. Having agreed to ensure peace and tranquillity on the Sino-Indian border, not a single shot has been fired by both sides in the last four decades. Be that as it may there have been many instances of Indian and Chinese troops coming face to face with their rifles strapped to their backs. On at least two occasions recently, the Chinese troops have squatted for days on territory claimed by India.

On both occasions, India and China ensured the disagreement did not go out of hand in impacting bilateral ties in other spheres. However, it is for the first time that Beijing has retaliated by closing one of the routes to the Mansarovar Lake, passing close to the present site of confrontation. There are growing worries about Beijing's strategy of encircling India which cannot be dismissed off-hand. The ongoing Chinese dalliance with Pakistan is a reality, which seems like it is here to stay. Beijing cannot dismiss out of hand an emerging India-US-Japan encirclement along with other interested players like South Korea and Australia. What has assumed importance is to ensure warm and friendly ties particularly with the neighbours. The Modi government's efforts on that front have not borne the desired results. China and Pakistan are not the only irritants for New Delhi. Bangladesh has opted for Chinese weapons and Nepal is desirous of joining the OBOR. Now that Modi has returned from his highly encouraging visit to the US and embarks on a trip to Israel on July 4, it is necessary to ensure that the Chinese blocking of the Mansarovar yatra does not deteriorate situations within the countries.

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