Sino-US contestation, policy options for South Asia | By Usman Zulfiqar Ali


Sino-US contestation, policy options for South Asia

THE United States as the status quo hegemony is cherishing the power structure for decades. Their global hegemony comes of their greater military capability, strong political and economic institutions, and other indicators like trade surplus, Export with extensive savings. Yet a country breaking the horns in the east, posing questions to the shaped international order of western giants. In the recent years, Beijing has been emerged as the challenger to the global hegemony to fulfil its organic capacity through the means which are reformed and reshaped, much similar but diverse than the incumbent super power. The competition among giants juggles on the economic battlefields as one noted “a battle of efficiency”, to match other’s capacity. China’s neoclassical economics let the country accumulate human capital, technological progress, and Industrialization process despite her extractive institutions.

Obviously, the Chinese emergence as a global competitor has found a loop left by the United States. The dysfunctional political system renders the super power less capable to compete in terms of efficiency with the country in the east which is growing miraculously. Chinese growth remained much ahead of the rest of the country with Beijing lifting up its economy with 2.1 % ahead than the rest of the world in the period of 1950 to 2001, aiming to reach at the peak of the world economic ladder by 2049. The western scholars and states perceive this as an emerging threat to the liberal world order. Yet China claims it to redraw it in its reformed shape. The rivalry among the two has many implications for the modern economies and developing nations particularly in Asia where there are almost 20 economic powers are holding their residence. This will be a test case for these countries to pick the side among two distinct forms of capitalism that is, the one is free, liberal, and democratic while the other is authoritarian yet more economically modernized.

South Asia, a highly volatile region and remained a home to the major power’s interests and rivalries for decades. The regional geography intrigues the global power struggle in the dynamics of polarization. The United States visualizes the region as an opportunity to contain the rising challenger that is China. Throughout the Cold War history, India remained non-aligned or much inclined towards Russia. Pakistan and China have shared mutual destiny and an obvious strategic umbrella against the rival India especially for Pakistan. Yet the current dynamics has been exploring the other gateways of the policy options in South Asia to neutralize and balance the tension through adopting different parameters to engage US as well as China. Pakistan on the other hand is receiving billions of investments under CPEC and related projects from China and apparently there is no reason obstructing further cooperation between them.

Not surprising, despite having recent military clashes on border, India is a major trade partner to the China in the region while US was invisible in the time of crisis of Doklam and Galwan. India, a key ally to United States prior to Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ in containing China couldn’t call Russian resurgent moves an ‘Invasion’ grabbing more fuel from the country as Russia became India’s 4th largest exporter of Petrol. Similarly, India-China bilateral trade has crossed the 1 billion $ mark for the first time in the history in Fiscal Year 2022. Such a dynamics and trade opportunities put the south Asian countries in a test case in a rising polarized world. Despite clear indication of India’s reluctance to fall in American hands, United States wishes to continue the Indian balance against the China in the region, yet they believe on hedging.

The global conflict among the major powers has many implications for Pakistan as well. The country who decisively picked the side with western alliance in a historic Cold war, deciding to hedge this time in an emergence of the so called new cold war of the 21st century. In his speech to the Islamabad Conclave back in 2021, Pakistan’s then Premier Imran Khan categorically stated to avoid bloc politics. Instead harkening back to Nixon’s 70s, he pressed on to the bridging role between US and China when Islamabad’s a secret diplomacy brought the conflicting parties together. Meanwhile, China managed the regional countries through luring them in incentivised economy. As Deep Pal notes it that Beijing has only the economic levers of influence and they wield them to achieve the global objectives. Also, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative seems enlightened manifestation of their grand strategy and Pakistan is the part of it. In addition to it, the graph of Chinese imports to Pakistan is also flourishing with greatest help in technology. China had provided electrical and electronic equipment of US $ 4.93 billion in the year 2021.

Despite the economic influence of China is increasing in Pakistan, the country also remained undecide in choosing a wise game. Neither a policy maker nor historian will suggest the country to put all eggs in the same basket nor Chinese demands are such high in return of providing economic incentives. The case of southeast Asia countries and their ability to hedge among the two giants draws more clear pathways for India and Pakistan to predict stable future. On the other, a suffocating scenario has been arising for the United States which historically found Pakistan by their side from Cold War to War on Terror. However, the bitter past of alienation guides the Islamic Republic to hedge more likely to their neighbours in east.

—The writer is a Researcher at Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.

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