Three days ahead of the maiden meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump, China showed the first sign of nervousness – after change of regime in America – about the dynamics of India-US relationship.
Responding to a question about India-US cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region in the view of Modi-Trump meet, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang warned India and the US not to disturb “peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
Geng Shuang said, “With concerted efforts of China and ASEAN countries the situation there is cooling down. We hope other countries especially non-regional countries can respect the efforts by the regional countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea and can play a constructive role in this Regard.”
This is, though, not the first time that China has expressed reservations about deepening India-US ties but since Donald Trump took over as the US President, the American policy towards Beijing has not been structured. It has veered from belligerent in the beginning to moderate off late.
Trump has minced no words in saying that his administration considers India as a ‘key ally’ to maintain balance in the region.
INDIA-US STRATEGIC TIES
Two of the biggest neighbours of India have adversarial relation with it. India sees deepening ties with the US as counter-balancing force to its rather uneasy relations with Pakistan and China.
In the run up to Modi’s visit to the US, Donald Trump administration approved of a pact to sell 22 Guardian drones – unmanned surveillance planes.
Manufactured by General Atomics of the US, Guardian drones are said to be a game changer for Indian Navy, which had made the request for this intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform last year.
Incidentally, India is the first country outside North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) which will buy Guardian drones. This deal gains significance for China, which has increased its activities in the north Indian Ocean near India’s maritime border with Pakistan.
Donald Trump administration also recently stated that it is in favour of deepening nuclear energy ties with India.
The US, too, has strategic interests in both Pakistan and Pacific region off Chinese coast. The biggest source of tension between China and the US has been the South China Sea.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
South China Sea is a resource rich area of the Pacific Ocean having few islands of strategic significance. In recent years, China has started asserting its sovereignty claims over all of South China Sea.
Other countries in the region including Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the South China Sea. India has some business tie-ups including oil exploration with some of these countries. China has objected to all kinds of Indian activities in the South China Sea region.
Apart from South China Sea, China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in the East China Sea as well. China has turned some of the islands and reefs of the area into a garrison having built strong military bases there to control the entire region.
Both the South China Sea and the East China Sea are resource rich – in natural gas, various kinds of minerals, oil and other natural reserves. Both play vital role in global trade involving the countries of the region.
THE BIG PACIFIC GAME
The United States maintains that the entire region – beyond the sovereign rights areas of the coastal countries – should be free for navigation for all nations.
Recently but first time since Trump became President, the US sent a navy warship near an artificial island in the South China Sea. This was the first “freedom of navigation” operation under President Trump. China treated this as a challenge to its sovereignty in the region.
China warned that the “irresponsible” move of the US might lead to “extremely dangerous consequences.”
With such backdrop, the statement of the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson betrays Beijing’s nervousness about the possible outcome of the Modi-Trump meeting.
Recent cancellation of military meetings between China and Vietnam is also being seen in the context of Modi-Trump meet and anticipation of its impact on Beijing’s strategic game-plan for South China Sea.