New Delhi, November 26 | IANS
Perhaps the best insight into the geo-political divide between the US and China -- developing on the lines of a new Cold War -- can be had by juxtaposing the address of Chinese President Xi Jinping and the remarks of his American counterpart Joe Biden at the APEC CEO summit held at San Francisco on November 15.
The Chinese President with his quiet confidence bracketed the two countries as the global powers that would shape ‘the future of the world’ and recalled how the inaugural APEC Economic Leaders meet three decades ago had agreed to rise above ‘the outdated mentality of bloc confrontation’ and deepen economic cooperation to build a harmonious and prosperous Asia Pacific community.
Speaking against ‘the tendency to provoke antagonism’, he emphasised that the remarkable journey of Asia-Pacific cooperation during this period resulting in a contribution of 70 per cent to global economic growth, could prove to be the pacesetter for international cooperation.
Pointing out that ‘the world has entered into a new period of turbulence and change’, he called for a ‘relaunch’ of Asia Pacific cooperation and commitment to APEC’s founding mission.
Recalling that San Francisco was the place where the UN charter was signed, Xi Jinping favoured the path of ‘dialogue and partnership rather than confrontation and challenge’ for maintaining Asia Pacific prosperity and stability.
He asserted that China is "the most powerful engine of global growth" and made out that China’s strengths are a socialist market economy in systemic terms, a supersized market in terms of demand and an abundant high-calibre labour force and entrepreneurs in terms of human resources. He claimed that China has successfully pursued ‘high-quality growth and high value-added green economic growth’.
He assured the participants that China was committed to pursuing development "with our doors open" and spoke triumphantly of the "success of the third BRI Forum for international cooperation that had produced 458 deliverables".
Xi Jinping thus presented a rosy picture of Chinese growth and its pivotal role in global development confirming that China was pursuing the economic route to becoming a superpower and that it wanted to buy time for it without running into any military confrontation.
Biden in his remarks at the APEC conference made a firm assertion of American interest in Asia-Pacific pointing out that the 21 APEC economies made up for two-thirds of global GDP and could become the largest contributor of global growth in the long term -- into a future where "our prosperity is shared and is inclusive and where workers are empowered and their rights are respected".
He informed the conference that the growth of 4.9 per cent in the American economy was the highest in two years and claimed that more people in the US were in the workforce today than at any time in the country’s history. He assured the leaders of government and industry that they could count on the US which was a Pacific power.
Interestingly, Biden gave out that in his meeting with Xi Jinping a day earlier the latter had asked why was the US so engaged in the Pacific to which Biden replied: "It is because of us that there was peace and security in the region allowing it to grow."
Saying that Xi Jinping "did not deny that", Biden reiterated that ‘we are not going anywhere for decades to come’ as the region is "more vital than ever to the USA".
He stated that he was intent on "responsibly managing the competition" between the US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC); and revealed that he had mentioned this to Xi Jinping and also told the latter that "the US does not seek conflict".
Biden clarified that the US was "de-risking" its economic relationship with the PRC -- not decoupling it.
He admitted that the US has differences with Beijing when it comes to a fair and level economic playing field and these will be resolved through diplomacy. Biden emphasised that both sides were straightforward.
He claimed that "we have taken target action to protect our national security interest" but also informed the conference that the US had resumed military-to-military communication channels "to reduce the risk of accidental miscalculation".
The meeting between the Presidents of the US and China may prove to be of special importance considering that they presumably made a firm assessment of each other’s leadership acumen during their 4-hour interaction.
They were both at pains to make the point that a stable relationship between the two largest economies is "good for everyone" and they also evidently decided to work together on critical global issues like Climate, Artificial Intelligence and counter-narcotics.
The bilateral meeting would produce a thaw and the two powers would be able to concentrate on economic development and trade -- having certainly reduced the risk of a military confrontation.
Xi Jinping would be comfortable with the interaction for China’s strategy to work totally for building its economy to bridge the gap between the "largest developing economy" and the "largest developed economy" as the Chinese President described the two nations in his address.
There are increased prospects of US business giants making investments in China. Xi Jinping can be said to have benefited more from this bilateral summit.
It seems President Biden looks upon Russia under Vladimir Putin as its biggest adversary -- particularly in the wake of the Ukraine-Russia military conflict -- and would not like to create an environment that strengthens the China-Russia axis.
Economic engagement with China is designed, among other things, to serve that objective. However, Xi Jinping’s ambition of making China a superpower in the near future by extending its economic hold in the world outside is going to keep up the global shift towards a new Cold War in which China and not Russia would lead the block rivalling the US.
The Israel-Hamas confrontation has incidentally unveiled the move of China to increase its foothold in the Muslim world by reaching a give-and-take arrangement with Islamic radicals who regarded the US-led West as their first enemy and found themselves politically on the same side of the fence as China. China’s adjustment to the Taliban Emirate in Afghanistan illustrates this.
Biden has definitely adopted a more accommodating approach to China which is in contrast to the strident stand taken by former US President Donald Trump towards that country.
Incidentally, Trump had a friendly outlook towards Russian President Vladimir Putin -- this situation has been totally reversed with the arrival of Biden on the scene.
The US-China relations are a matter of strategic interest for India. Regardless of the status of this relationship, the security threats for India from a hostile Sino-Pak axis, Islamic radicals operating from the Pak-Afghan belt and the anti-India lobbies working on raising the narrative of alleged lack of protection for the minorities in India, are likely to deepen further.
There is a distinct possibility of Pakistan trying to revive Khalistan militancy in Punjab. The Indo-US friendship being pushed to a new high without India compromising with the vital bonds with Russia, is a crucial component of India’s strategy.
In the backdrop of a divide in the Muslim world between forces of radicalisation and countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt which are Islamic and even fundamentalist but on the right side of the US, India has to remain firm against the former -- particularly in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict. While strongly supporting the idea of two states, India would like the restoration of peace and no further civilian destruction.
India has to continue working with multilateral forums that stand for rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and watch out against any hostile activity in the Indian Ocean.
Dealing with Chinese designs on LAC and the persistent cross-border terrorism in Kashmir are problems that India would have to handle on its own.
The policy framework covering all these fronts is already in place and serving India well. It has also helped to make this country a trustworthy counsel on global issues of war and peace.
(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)