Whose side is history on?


The status of ties between US, Russia, China

Since the Non Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran, analysts have been weighing its significance. One can understand why there is confusion; in times of transition it is hard to make sense of events as they occur. Evaluating developments requires a sense of history that is usually lacking these days.

A number of unprecedented events unfolded this week. For example, US declared Haqqani network a terrorist organization as Pakistan and India agreed to ease their visa regimes and China and India decided to resume joint military exercises. Additionally, President Putin will visit Pakistan in October and General Kayani’s is heading to Russia. There are also media reports suggesting Chinese are to take over Gwadar Port. To comprehend these developments one needs to look closely at what is emerging between the ties of global powers such as China, US, and Russia.

As the Cold War ended NAM glided in to obscurity, there was no one left to align against. However, now that Russia and China are increasingly challenging US, and vice versa, NAM will obviously become more relevant once more.

President Putin’s recent interview to Russia Today indicated that all is not well when it comes to US-Russia ties. “Today some want to use militants from Al Qaeda or some other organizations with equally radical views to accomplish their goals in Syria,” Putin stated in the interview. “This policy is very short-sighted and is fraught with dire consequences.”

He added, “That was the case during the war in Afghanistan.” “At that time, our present partners supported a rebel movement there and basically gave rise to Al Qaeda, which later backfired on the United States itself.”

Moreover, Russia Defense Ministry threatened counter measures last week if US does not relent in implementing a missile shield over Europe. The Commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces stated that the country will develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile by 2018.

In the case of US-China ties, things do not look much upbeat either. During Hillary Clinton’s visit to China last week, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao showcased his concerns in a press conference:

“Generally speaking, our relationship has been moving forward, but recently I am more or less worried.” He went on to add, “I feel that our two countries should maintain political mutual respect and strategic mutual trust. The United States should respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” His comments sounded more like those that Pakistan makes after drone strikes.

China and US are increasingly at odds over the territorial disputes of the South China Sea.

The country has warned US against meddling in the territorial disputes while US has called for freedom of navigation in South China Sea. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei stated, “Countries outside this region should respect the choice of countries directly concerned with this issue and should earnestly honor their commitment of not taking sides in this dispute.”

China claims indisputable sovereignty over the islands of South China Sea while Philippines, Vietnam and other nations assert the same. Recently US accused China for escalating tensions as Beijing set up a remote garrison in the South China Sea.

On the other hand, some analysts have played up the differences between Russia and China, calling it an unnatural alliance. Moreover, this perspective blames Russians for not reciprocating the Chinese in the Asia Pacific in the same manner they are supporting the Russians in the case of Iran and Syria. However, this notion was some what dispelled when the Chinese President Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of 20th informal economic leaders’ meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

Both countries reached consensus on key political, economic, security goals and agreed to push the China-Russia strategic partnership forward. These were previously decided upon at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in June. In 2011, the volume of trade between the two countries was worth $83 billion, and Putin expected it to increase to $100 billion by 2015.

While the US relations with China and Russia are not going well, Russian and Pakistan are moving closer while Chinese-India ties are heading towards normalization.

As Pakistan and India agreed to easing of their visa procedures, China’s Defense Minster Gen Liang Guanglie’s was in India last week and consented to resume joint military exercises that had been suspended two years ago. The defense ministers of the two countries decided that closer military ties would facilitate trust and friendship between the two. Despite tensions, trade between India and China has climbed from $5 billion in 2002 to nearly $75 billion last year. On the other hand, bilateral trade between India and Pakistan was only $300 million in 2004 and has increased to $2.7 billion in 2011. At a joint press briefing held after signing of the visa agreement, Pakistan’s foreign minister stated, “We will not be held hostage to history.”

Irrespective of what is happening to US-Pakistan ties, the views of Pakistan and India on key international issues are moving closer to those of Russia and China. In addition to the focus on developing regional trade and energy corridors, the buzzwords emanating from China, Russia, Pakistan and India are respect for sovereignty and national integrity of states and resistance to external intervention in regional disputes.

In this context, the war on terror appears more and more like a transitory phase. As the global power tussles intensifies, the militias, extremists, and states are likely to be absorbed as proxies and partners in to one or the other fold once more. This phenomenon is increasingly at display in the case of Syria.

Hillary Clinton herself frankly pointed out to this stark reality. She commented on his trip to China that the two nations are attempting to do something that has not been done before in history “which is to write a new answer to the question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet”.

This comment pretty much sums up the present hustle bustle in international relations. It’s yet to be seen if history will be made or repeated.

The writer is the chief analyst for PoliTact (www.PoliTact.com and http:twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at [email protected]