Logbook of an Ambassador
Chinese dialectics over Bhutan and their correlation with developments in the South China Sea
Remember the “Doklam incident”, when, three years ago, the Chinese started building a road on Bhutan territory and were stopped by Indian forces, Bhutan’s legal and lawful protecting power? The Doklam plateau high up in the Himalayans is locally of high operative value for military strategists. Who possesses it, has a view on approaching adversary troops. It is part of Bhutan’s sovereign territory, whose inviolability is being guaranteed by India based on an Indian-Bhutanese Treaty.
PM Modi’s difficult choices between Covid-19, strategic positioning, domestic sectarian violence and diplomatic relations
At the beginning of June of this year, India is experiencing the fastest expansion of Covid-19 infections in the world. Within one week, the numbers have brought the country globally from the eleventh to the seventh rank, and the numbers continue to grow faster than anywhere else. Add to the scaring figures the fact that due to the sub-standard infrastructure of the country huge numbers of infected people and of the dead will never be recorded. In addition, the general shut-down of the country, which was meant to contain the spread of the Corona virus, has triggered mass movements of people, which will increase the number of infections even more.
Geo-economics of Indian foreign policy
Continuing along the lines of our last column, where we had commented on some aspects of Chinese-Indian competition on the African continent, we now take a closer look at the economic and financial constraints on the Indian government to follow suit on their strategic options and choices. In 2019 the Indian economy has become the world’s third largest, in purchase power parity (PPP), and sixth largest in US dollar terms.
Africa, China and India
The size of Africa’s population is comparable to China’s or India’s population: some 1.2 billion people. They are, however, spread over some fifty countries of very different size, nature, economic power and strategic importance. Since, under the Trump Administration, the US has shifted its strategic priorities with regard to Africa from development to security and counter-terrorism, the field for competitors for influence has been widened. Russia is taking advantage in Northern Africa and China in East Africa, from where the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is spreading to reach out to more of the African continent.
China’s expansion, regional reactions to it and India’s ambiguous maneuvering
In the field of competition for domination beyond national borders, one of the keys to strategic power is the capacity to project military power. For those who fear Chinese expansion, it is therefore relevant to look first at the development of China’s military means. From 2008 to 2018, China has doubled its defense budget. That budget is today still a fraction only of the USA defense budget, i.e. less than a quarter, but China’s defense spending is more than double the size of each of the other three biggest spenders in Asia, that is India, Japan and Russia, and it is still growing.
Russia’s policies and strategic moves in Asia: with or without India?
Russia, a big European power, is also an Asian power, in fact a genuinely Eurasian great power. Due to its conflict with its largest European neighbour, the Ukraine, Russia finds itself isolated at its European front. Having realised that a greater role in a European context seems unattainable for Russia, it is turning to the East for enhancing its political and economic potential in Asia. China and India have different roles in Russia’s strategy.
India’s current geopolitical positioning
India will soon be heading for its next general elections. Prime Minister Modi was brought into power with the general elections of May 2014. His first term, thus, comes to an end in 2019 and the country, as the world’s largest democracy, will be getting prepared to one more giant election process. Modi’s fate will be decided by domestic politics, not policies in the field of external relations. Assessing domestic politics is reasonably possible only from inside India. We, in this column, have been observing India from outside and would therefore not qualify for a domestic perspective. We have been looking at PM Modi’s achievements and positioning in the world. Now, we wonder whether India’s electorate will also take some of that dimension into account when choosing the next government.
India and Iran: the wider geopolitical context
US-President Trump’s unilateral sanctions on Iran have one useful side-effect: they shake other big players of world politics so much that their national strategies become visible to a wider audience of observers, either by way of being redefined or by way of confirmation. India, which does so little to impose itself on world affairs according to its potential, appears in shaken power equations as a possible core element of strategic networks.
The “Indo-Pacific”: a strategic concept gets concrete
We have introduced the notion of “Indo-Pacific” to our readers two months ago. The term is developing its international acknowledgment; Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put it at the centre of his strategic outreach. The US Secretary of Defence James Mattis has publicly recognized its relevance and the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command in charge of US military activities in the Pacific has been renamed “Indo-Pacific Command”.
China gets serious in the Indian Ocean
For India’s prestige and strategic image, the so-called Doklam standoff last year ended in a tactical advantage. Chinese troops and road construction teams had to withdraw from a contested corner at the Bhutan-China border. See our column of August 2017. Since, Indian armed forces have seemed to be able and willing to oppose Chinese attempts to challenge the common border in the Himalayans.