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US working on “Asian-NATO” with India to counter China

Pentagon says purpose of CPEC is decreasing China’s reliance on strategic chokeholds. 2020 report shows PLA has surpassed US military in terms of navy size, land-based missiles and advanced air defence systems

Nation special report

WASHINGTON: A new developed has emerged in terms of US, India relationship on Monday when the US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the United States seeks to formalise its closer defence ties with countries of the India-Pacific region — India, Japan and Australia — similar to something like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) with an aim to counter China. Observers name the new alliance as “Asian NATO”.

He said that Washington’s aim is to get the grouping of four countries and others in the region to work together as a bulwark against “a potential challenge from China”, and “to create a critical mass around the shared values and interests of those parties in a manner that attracts more countries in the Indo-Pacific and even from around the world … ultimately to align in a more structured manner”, South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun

Biegun made the comments while speaking with former US ambassador to India, Richard Verma in an online discussion organised by the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum. “The Indo-Pacific region is actually lacking in strong multilateral structures. They do not have anything of the fortitude of NATO or the European Union. The strongest institutions in Asia oftentimes are not, I think, not inclusive enough and so … there is certainly an invitation there at some point to formalise a structure like this,” Biegun said.

“Remember, even NATO started with relatively modest expectations and a number of countries (initially) chose neutrality over NATO membership,” he added. However, he cautioned that the US would keep its ambitions for a Pacific NATO “checked”, asserting such an alliance “will happen only if the other countries are as committed as the US”.

Biegun said the grouping of four countries are expected to meet in New Delhi this autumn and cited Australia’s possible participation in India’s Malabar naval exercise as an example of progress towards a formal defence bloc, according to SCMP.

India is “clearly indicating an intention to invite Australia to participate in the Malabar naval exercises, which will be a tremendous step forward in ensuring the freedom of passage and the security of the seas in the Indo-Pacific,” the senior US department official said.

The naval exercises have been conducted by the US and India since 1992 and mostly takes place in the Bay of Bengal. Japan has been taking part in this exercise since 2015. (ANI)

Pentagon report on CPEC

Meanwhile, the Pentagon released a report on CPEC on Wednesday which states that under its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) policy, China is pursuing projects in Pakistan that would decrease Beijing’s reliance on strategic choke points, says a Pentagon report released on Wednesday.

The 2020 Pentagon report on China’s military power also shows that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has surpassed the US military in terms of navy size, land-based missiles and advanced air defence systems.

Title of 2020 Pentagon report

A chapter on Beijing’s economic policies notes that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects focus on pipelines and port construction that would “decrease China’s reliance on transporting energy resources through strategic choke points, such as the Strait of Malacca”.

Launched in 2013, OBOR seeks to foster closer economic integration with countries along China’s periphery and beyond, thereby shaping these countries’ interests to align with Beijing’s, the report adds.

The report notes that OBOR also seeks to promote regional stability to repel criticism over China’s approach to issues it views as sensitive. The Pentagon argues that the growth of China’s global economic footprint also makes its interests increasingly vulnerable to domestic political transitions in participating countries.

In 2019, Beijing hosted the Second Belt and Road Forum to address growing international scepticism over corruption, indebtedness, environmental sustainability, and lack of transparency over OBOR projects.

Another chapter on China’s foreign policy notes that tensions between China and India persist along the northeastern border in Arunachal Pradesh and near the Aksai Chin region at the western end of the Tibetan Plateau.

Chinese and Indian patrols regularly encounter one another along the disputed border, and both sides often accuse one another of border incursions. Yet, “Chinese and Indian forces have regularly interacted since the 2017 Doklam standoff and generally kept disputes from escalating in 2019”, the report adds.

The report also notes that despite low-level face-offs among troops, both sides have prevented these incidents from escalating to the level of the 73-day border standoff at the Doklam Plateau in 2017.

Chinese and Indian officials also have continued diplomatic discussion on border issues, the Pentagon adds. The report acknowledges that in its millennial report two decades ago, the Pentagon largely dismissed the PLA’s rise, yet it is now on track to become a “world-class military” before the middle of this century.

The report claims that China is also attempting to at least double the number of nuclear warheads in its arsenal in the next decade.

The Pentagon calculates that “Beijing will seek to develop a military by mid-century that is equal — or in some cases superior — to the US military, or that of any other great power that China views as a threat”.