Alliance of South-East Asia will be an alliance of this century
The Great Indian and Chinese Civilisations were born in the plains of the river flows from the Tibetan plateau. The entire economy of the North and North-East India survives on the rivers flowing from Tibet. The Gangetic plain, Indus valley and the Yangtse rivers flourished the survival of both these great nations for centuries. The combine contribution to Global GDP of 50% for 17 long centuries was the outcome of the agricultural produce at the banks of these rivers. And then on, the economy, industry and urban settlements in the last 300 years depend now on these rivers.
It is no rocket science that by controlling Tibet, China controls water-taps of 10 nations namely – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. This means China can cause floods and famines in any of these countries as there are no water-sharing agreements in place. The subsequent economic remote control of electricity production, industry, human survival and climate after-effects of presence and absence of water flows too go by default in China’s control. Many of the South-east Asian nations are already trapped with BRI projects of supplying electricity or managing their electricity grid. The electricity is produced by the dams constructed inside China over the rivers flowing to these nations from China. No prizes for guessing as to who decides on the water flow and also the electricity supply to these nations. If these nations oppose dams built by China, they lose out on electricity and vice versa.
The way of being a global power is not easy. To be one, your first line of defence and offence has to be the farthest from your people and your mainland.
The initiation of a 10-nation water-sharing talk with China for an agreement will lay the foundation of genuine border talks between India with China. Until the water-sharing deal is sealed, you will never find any government officer or leader talking about India-China border or raking up Tibet issue officially, no matter how many times Special representative mechanism is activated for border talks. The consortium of these nations will be able to negotiate better with China with the help of the pending Tibet issue at that point. However, even after signing and sealing a 10-nation historic water-sharing agreement, there are still chances that China may not respect these commitments any point in time. This means all these nations will have to be united for a very long time to come, in terms of diplomacy, economics and defence. Entire South-East Asia belt will seek refuge in an India-led coalition for the sheer reason of sustaining regular water flows from Tibet. The alliance of South-East Asia will be an alliance of this century.
As part of mitigating China’s belligerence at the border, India will have to take a lead in training all these nations for employing access denial and no-access tools and strategy at their respective borders with China. These small nations are already serving as cannon fodder for the US-China conflict. They have already turned into a battlefield for China-Quad conflict in terms of snatching strategic projects like the Kra canal, Kyaukpyu port and so on. In diplomacy, we might see India arm-twisting Nepal and Pakistan once the Chinese back out from the face-off points. Sri Lanka and the Maldives have already realised the heavy burden of debts piled and subsequent consequences of being under obligation to China. Bangladesh is sitting on the fence and managing both China and India relations well. The main problem with Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is that China can buy top leaders and officers for a while, but in the long term, the natives turn against Beijing because of the consequences.
I believe big, economy-serious nations don’t take war inside their own territories as long as smaller nations are available to serve as rented war zones. They try to conduct even real war actions as far away as possible from their own geography. Irrespective of how the face-off with China ends, Bhutan as a traditional Indian ally will have to be very, very alert as the Chinese angst might pour out on them eventually. Be that as it may, India too is looking for a resounding and significant action against China after the face-off ends. And in that process, we might see actual Indian action against Pakistan which can hurt Chinese investments in collateral damage. India might also conduct deep strikes inside Myanmar on China propped Arakan army and other allied militant groups, which could be put up for public display next year.
The way of being a global power is not easy. To be one, your first line of defence and offence has to be the farthest from your people and your mainland. The Theatres of War outside territory are plenty. The Elephant has grown enough to sniff its military options against the Dragon in and around the neighbourhood.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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