In discussions about the ‘roles’ countries play in the new multipolar world, it is often said that Russia provides the geo-political muscle while China provides the economic engine of a world where the US is no longer a singular hegemon.
However, with Russia’s economy turning from resilient to growing and with China becoming ever more involved in world-affairs ever since the announcement of One Belt—One Road in 2013, it is becoming clear that China too has a great deal to say about the wider geo-strategic environment.
For the last three years, the US had crossed several geo-strategic red lines for Russia. First there was the fascist coup in Kiev which occurred in February of 2014. Simultaneous to the US engineering a coup that brought a deeply hostile regime to a country which for centuries was an integral part of Russia and which since 1991 represented a fraternal nation, America was busy arming and funding Salafist terrorists in Syria, a country where Russia has maintained a Navy base at Tartus since 1971, one year after Hafez al-Assad became President.
Russia was not going to idly sit by as the US crossed a bridge too far. The answer came in two forms: first there was instant recognition of Crimea’s referendum on re-joining Russia and in September of 2015, it came in the form of Russia agreeing to militarily support the Syrian government’s fight against terrorism.
For China, Donald Trump is rapidly crossing as many redlines in his first years of office as Obama did vis-à-vis Russia in his second term.
From Trump sabre rattling over Korea to repeated violations of Chinese maritime sovereignty in the South and East China seas to Trump’s burgeoning public friendship with Prime Minister Modi of India, China is not at all happy with Trump.
Now by threatening a trade war with China and by accusing China’s ally Pakistan of being inept and unhelpful in Afghanistan while calling on India to particulate actively in the conflict, China may have reached a similar boiling point that Russia did over Syria and Ukraine.
China has already made its position clear on the matter, defending the actions of its Pakistani ally and warning both Washington and New Delhi not to make any moves that could threaten Chinese interests in the region.
China’s Foreign Ministery spokeswoman Hua Chunying has stated that Pakistan “has made great sacrifices and contributions to fighting terrorism”. She added,
“The international community should fully affirm the efforts by Pakistan”.
Hua further stated,
“Donald Trump talked about close US-Indian relations, we are glad to see the development of normal and friendly relations between these countries if these relations do not harm other countries’ interests and create positive conditions for regional development”.
The meaning of this message is clear enough: Do not use India to interfere in China’s regional interests, namely its economic cooperation with Pakistan and other endeavours to begin the initial phase of One Belt—One Road in South Asia.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is vital to One Belt—One Road and both Beijing and Islamabad openly acknowledge this. The prominence of Pakistan in One Belt—One Road is such that neither country can afford to have anyone sabotage or interfere with the process.
Therefore, it is in China and Pakistan’s joint interest to finalise a tentative Afghanistan peace process as quickly as possible. This means a peace process that would involve dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban.
Donald Trump has said that at some stage the Taliban could come into an America led peace process, but not before US troops re-double their fight against the Taliban, a fight which Taliban leaders have promised America will lose. In other words, Trump’s strategy is hardly worthy of the name, just as the same could be said of his two immediate predecessors in the White House.
The US has continually agitated China on all sides of its One Belt—One Road commercial superhighway. By brazenly inviting India to dig deeper into Afghanistan while criticising Pakistan in very definite terms, Donald Trump may just have done enough to lead China to do in South Asia what Russia did in Syria—stand up for an ally and drawing a line firmly in the sand against US expansionism and geo-political meddling.