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Thursday, October 13, 2016, 13:28 (GMT+7)
South Asia in major powers’ strategic chessboard

South Asia is located in an important geo-strategic position of Asia and the world. Therefore, in their strategies, major powers, such as U.S., Russia, China, India all have their own consideration to seek benefits, bringing out a direct or indirect effect on the security situation of the region.

As for the U.S., after the end of the Cold War, Washington implemented the "Pivot" to the Asia - Pacific region, in order to prevent terrorism in Afghanistan and contain China and Russia. To this end, the U.S. has taken advantage of the status of India, a major country in the region, and adjusted its policy on South Asia with the increasingly high priorities given to the region. However, the US true purpose is to enter South Asia, control Central Asia which has the world’s second largest oil reserves after the Middle East, narrow Russia’s strategic space and undermine the alliance between Russia, China and India in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Besides, the U.S. has strengthened its relationship with India in both bilateral and multilateral frameworks with a view to: (1) taking advantage of India’s status as a major power to implement its “Pivot” to the Asia - Pacific region; (2) serving its security benefits in the sea, Far East and Southeast Asia; (3) taking advantage of India’s Look East Policy to maintain the freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in the East Sea and extending its strategic space in the Far East and Southeast Asia; (4) seeking economic benefits.

As for Russia, it is now giving priorities to South Asia, focusing on three main points: (1) strengthening its relationship with India; (2) engaging in Afghanistan’s reconstruction; (3) assembling forces, building a security belt in Central Asian countries, and  minimizing consequences of the war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Russia shares a lot of characteristics and benefits with India, such as a good traditional relationship, mutual goal of a multipolar world order, shared efforts to fight against separatism, terrorism and radical religion. Moreover, India is a potential market for Russia’s defence industry.

Besides, Afghanistan attracts great attention from Russia as NATO and US troops are being stationed in the country. In spite of difficulties caused by the US and Western sanctions, Moscow generously wrote off Kabul’s debt of USD 12 billion and continued to provide military equipment and humanitarian aid, and train personnel. Maintaining a good relationship with Afghanistan will be an important precondition for Russia to strengthen its relationship with Muslim world.

In India’s strategy, the goal is to maintain its status as a major power in the region and then become a centre of power of the world. Thus, India has unceasingly pursued a policy of active involvement and economic diplomacy to maintain its influence in South Asia.

In addition, India attaches great importance to adjusting its policy to compete with other major country for influence. Concerning the U.S., New Delhi has promoted the strategic partnership between the two countries to take advantage of the US market, capital, science and technology, and to be able to access this country’s huge stockpile of nuclear fuels. Then, it would strengthen cooperation in nuclear power with potential nuclear states, contain Pakistan and respond to threats from its potential rivals. Regarding China, India advocates both cooperation and competition with this country, and encourages economic and trade relations between the two sides. Also, it has strengthened its relationship with Russia in various fields, particularly cooperation in energy, security and defence, basing on several similarities in economic and political benefits, security and tradition. As a result, India has witnessed impressive economic developments in recent years, with the average growth rate of 6.2% per year and a GDP of above USD 2,000 billion.

Respecting its defence potential, India has now mastered nuclear-missiles technology, acquired modern satellite technology, built up a strong navy and a developed defence industry.

As for China’s strategy in South Asia, it aims at extending strategic space, competing for influence and establishing a belt to lay siege to and contain India.

For its national interests, in recent years, China has further solved border issues with its 14 neighbours and strengthened its relationship with South Asian countries through the two “pincer movements” on land and in the Indian Ocean to extend its geo-strategic space in this region.

In its relationship with India, China hopes the two countries would fight, side by side, for a multi-polar world, comprehensively reorganize the United Nations and share more similarities. However, the overall goal of Beijing is to change the world’s economic structure, move the world’s economic centre from the West to the East and resolve the global issues, such as climate change, terrorism, epidemics. Hence, China does not want India to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and get a “ticket” to exploit natural resources in this region. Concerning Pakistan, China advocates setting up a “special relationship” with this country in all economic, political, defence areas, and always considers it as a “time-tested” traditional alliance. In this regard, China always gives priorities to maintaining close military cooperation and support Pakistan’s economic development.

Impacts on the region’s politics and security

It could be said that the intertwined strategic relationships of the countries mentioned above will lead to geo-strategic competition in South Asia, having a considerable effect on the region’s politics and security. Positively, it will help strengthen cooperation between major powers and regional countries. Through cooperation in counterterrorism, the U.S. has formed an alliance with Pakistan to firmly hold its position in the region.

Recently, the U.S. and India tended to be closer to each other and both pledged to build a new strategic partnership to share responsibility towards economic and politics issues in South Asia and Southeast Asia. China - India relationship and China - Pakistan relationship also have developments. Traditional cooperation between China and Pakistan is increasingly strengthened. China is taking advantage of Pakistan to realize its “one belt, one road” initiative, making its way to Indian Ocean, establishing a new energy transportation route and preventing terrorism in West China, particularly Xinjiang. Pakistan, meanwhile, wishes to take advantage of China’s huge capital resources and technology, promoting cooperation in security, defence and counterterrorism to enhance its defence potential and realize its dream of an “Asian tiger dream”. India - Russia relationship has had new developments. The two sides are carrying out defence industry, space technology, oil exploitation projects. In international forums, the two sides pledged to promote the coordination role of the UN, the reorganization of the UN Security Council and construction of a multi-polar world, and share similarities in settling international and environmental issues. Clearly, the competition for geo-strategy among major powers in South Asia has had a big impact on this region. Through strategic interests of the major powers, regional countries also hope to take this opportunity to serve their own national interests. When the interests in relationships are balanced, not a party will be bound too close to a certain major power. That will help regional countries develop more independently and autonomously.

However, experts believe that the increasingly competitive moves among major powers have made the region increasingly tense. Disputes over major powers’ interests will be more serious, which requires South Asian countries to take advantage of cooperation and lessen negative impacts to prevent themselves from being traded by major powers, and possibly makes the region's situation tense and unstable.

Snr Colonel, Nguyen Van Sinh, MA

Deputy Director of the B70 Institute, General Department of Defence Intelligence    

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