Posts Tagged Asia

Game of Thrones, High Altitude Edition

Walter Russell Mead has aptly characterized the ongoing re-working of strategic relationships in Asia as the “Game of Thrones,” and he takes notice of the latest developments on the disputed Chinese-Indian border.

The government on Friday for the first time admitted that People’s Liberation Army(PLA) troops had intruded as much as 19 km inside Indian territory to pitch their tents there, even as it kept a third flag meeting between local commanders in eastern Ladakh “on hold” to give China “time and space” to withdraw its soldiers on its own.

The move has to be seen in at least 4 different contexts.  First, there’s the simple straightforward ongoing border dispute with India.  India still has bad memories of having lost that war, and is clearly shying away from a direct confrontation this time.  It doesn’t have the organization to take on the Chinese right now, and doesn’t have the irredentist passion that existed in, say, pre-1914 France.  Anyone who’s ever tried to climb a 14er, or has followed a rescue from such a peak, understands the difficulty of conducting operations in such an environment.  So the Chinese may have stolen a 12-mile push forward, but it’s not as though there’s much more than pride at stake here.

Of course, Chinese-Indian tensions now extend well beyond the Himalayas.  As Robert Kaplan as pointed out, the Chinese have made Pakistan a strategic ally, with an eye towards an outlet to the Indian Ocean; the two countries are engaged in a struggle for economic influence in Burma, which has a direct bearing on the question of who will end up being responsible for naval security in the vital Straits of  Malacca.  And the Indians have taken suitable umbrage at Chinese resource claims in the South China Sea.  China’s Hiamalayan gambit can also be seen as an effort to put India back on its heels.

Not only does this serve as a remind to India of who’s in front right now, it also reminds others in the region that India can’t protect them, and of their own, weaker positions vis-a-vis China.  And globally, it calls into question the United States’s willingness and ability to continue to stabilize the situation in Asia.

Thus the fruits of taking punch at your strongest rival in his weakest spot.

The risks, of course, are they someday you’ll misjudge your own strength or your neighbors’ willingness to resist such incursions, even as your strengthen their resolve.  China, without serious allies in Asia (unless you count Russia’s willingness to make distracting trouble elsewhere), now has simmering direct or proxy disputes with India, Burma, the Vietnam, the Philippines, Australia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan.

It’s also worth remembering that China’s population is becoming older and unbalanced, with more men that women, thanks to sex-selective abortions, putting it in a mid-term (no longer a long-term) demographic bind.  This, even as the population grows increasingly displeased with Communist Party rule, has led the Party to stoke nationalist flames.

The analogy to pre-WWI Germany is looking increasingly apt, with baleful possibilities for all concerned.

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