America Should Not Cheer on an India-China Fight

Soldiers drive Pakistan's Al Khalid tanks during Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Playing geopolitics in South and Central Asia can have disastrous consequences for U.S. national security.

Still, the report is not all gloomy and there seems to even be some decent progress. Since the management of the port changed hands from a Singaporean owner to Chinese management, the article claims that all new equipment and machinery has been installed, including cranes, forklifts and trucks for hauling the containers. Up to now, most of Gwadar’s trade is with Pakistan’s most populous city of Karachi, which is 600 km away along a coastal highway. The planned handling capacity of the new port, at 3–400 million tons, apparently amounts to ten times that of Karachi, however, and is said to be equivalent to all of India’s ports combined. A new desalination plant is reported to be up and running to provide for the port’s basic fresh water requirements. That plant is also said to distribute some of that precious resource to nearby residents free of charge [向附近居民免费分发淡水]. Much more fresh water is needed, but another benefit to locals, according to this Chinese rendering, will be the opportunity for Pakistanis to develop training and experience in modern port operations. Perhaps most impressive in this report, however, is the interesting detail that a convoy of sixty-plus trucks rumbled down the 3,115 km road journey from Kashgar in the Chinese province of Xinjiang [中国新疆的喀什] to Gwadar in fifteen days during November 2016. With export products destined for Africa and the Middle East, this convoy apparently signifies that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor “has been realized” [变为现实]. For China, there are the benefits that Pakistan has valuable resources in its own right, such as a major cotton export industry, or the opportunity to gain tax and tariff advantages. But the most tantalizing dream for Beijing is that coveted energy resources will be shipped almost directly via Gwadar through pipelines from the Persian Gulf into western China. [ . . . 从波斯湾地区进口的原油和天然气直接从瓜达尔登陆或直接通过管道运往 . . . 中国西部].

Even as China and India once more come nose to nose and eyeball to eyeball across the forbidding glaciers of the high Himalayas, the United States must resist the temptation to pour gasoline on this potentially dangerous conflagration even though more than a few U.S. (and global) arms merchants would benefit from the intensification of Sino-Indian military rivalry. Nor do more bombs and special forces for Afghanistan portend any particular progress. Indeed, the inclination in Washington to blame all of Afghanistan’s troubles on Pakistan is extremely unlikely to resolve any fundamental strategic issues and may well make the overall strategic situation highly combustible. On the other hand, China’s “Belt and Road” holds out the promise of genuine developmental progress for both Afghanistan and especially Pakistan, as discussed above. The Chinese Ambassador to Islamabad from 2002–07, Zhang Chunxiang, is quoted in the Caijing article as follows: “From 2002 to the current day . . . China has pursued commercial goals in Gwadar and there is not a single [Chinese] document to demonstrate the intention to convert Gwadar into a military port.” But whether or not Ambassador Zhang is believed or not, there is actually nothing especially alarming about the PLA Navy having a foothold near Hormuz anyways. Even the most truculent China hawks must concede that Beijing has legitimate security interests in this region.

A more mature and forward-looking approach is badly needed. That is not one that seeks to plunder Afghanistan’s mineral wealth to pay for a failed war—a farcical line of argumentation that recalls the fantasy of using Iraqi oil to compensate the United States for trillions squandered in Middle East quicksand. Rather, a responsible policy for Central and South Asia that respects the reality of limited U.S. resources (and patience) would finally withdraw all forces from Afghanistan and initiate a major effort to bring about confidence-building measures to improve the climate of relations between Beijing and New Delhi. These could involve prior notification agreements concerning major military exercises or deployments of naval task groups into sensitive areas, as well as restraint in selling arms.

Most critically, the new approach would accept and even embrace the long-time, but now blossoming, China-Pakistan partnership as revealed in the discussion above of Gwadar’s difficult, but steady development. Such an acceptance would be built on the stark logic that Washington and New Delhi have much to lose if Pakistan slips into violent chaos or radicalism. They each have significant gripes with Islamabad (and Beijing), to be sure. But seen in a larger context, they both also have much to gain from a more stable and prosperous Pakistan.