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No Longer the US, This is China’s New Enemy in the Asian Region

China’s domination in Asia has been shaken after India took big steps to expand its influence in Southeast Asia. This step has the potential to exacerbate tensions between the two countries in the region.

This perception was shared by Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank.

“India is certainly becoming more ambitious in Southeast Asia. There is no doubt about it,” Pant said as quoted by CNBC International as quoted Thursday (17/8/2023). “It’s also getting stronger and more open about its relationship with the region,” he said.

According to Pant, increasing competition between India and China so far will influence New Delhi’s strategic calculations in strengthening its presence in the region.

He argues that, for the long term, India’s leaders have been hesitant and reticent about their country’s role in the region, apart from its own tensions with China along its Himalayan border. But now that perception is fading.

“I think the understanding in New Delhi: Don’t wade into waters where China may be more uncomfortable,” Pant said, adding Beijing has great potential to cause problems for India.

“Since China hasn’t stirred up the border issue, India now feels no real payback for its cautious attitude towards Southeast Asia,” he added.

India’s relations have been strained since a border clash with Chinese troops in 2020. According to Indian army data, this incident killed at least 20 of its members.

In June, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar even highlighted the border conflict affecting relations between the two countries.

“Until China-India relations reach a sense of normalcy, New Delhi has little choice but to improve relations with countries – large or small around China’s periphery, to ensure it has leverage,” Pant said.

Send Ships to Vietnam
In recent months, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has stepped up its outreach to regional countries aiming to balance Beijing’s aggression. This step strengthens India’s ongoing comprehensive strategic partnership with Southeast Asia.

In June, New Delhi provided a naval warship to Vietnam, in the latest sign of improving defense ties between the two countries. This was conveyed by Satoru Nagao, a non-resident researcher at the Hudson Institute, based in Tokyo.

“India is also training pilots and ground crew of Vietnam Air Force fighter jets. Indian naval ships visit Vietnam constantly,” he added.

Vietnam now plans to buy supersonic missiles and surface-to-air missiles from India, said Nagao, who specializes in defense strategy, foreign policy and security alliances.

India previously caused a stir in late June when its Foreign Minister and his Filipino counterpart Enrique Manalo issued a joint statement, urging China to comply with the 2016 Hague arbitration ruling in the South China Sea.

The joint statement fueled speculation that New Delhi is shifting from its neutral stance on competing territorial claims in the region.

In a landmark decision on the South China Sea dispute, an international tribunal in The Hague unanimously voted in favor of the Philippines in its historic case against China. But China has rejected the 2016 ruling as illegal and void.

So far, China has claimed almost the entire South China Sea, which is about 90% covering an area of ​​about 1.3 million square miles, with the nine-dash line concept. This includes most of the islands within it.

From these unilateral claims, Beijing has even set up military outposts on the artificial islands it has built there. The SCS itself is traversed by important shipping lanes and contains rich gas fields and fishing grounds.

These unilateral territorial claims overlap with those of several ASEAN countries and Taiwan. Apart from China, the LCS itself shares borders with Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Source : CNBC