By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, October 3, 2021: The world is changing. The transformation is rather rapid. The trajectory of world politics gradually swings, just like a pendulum deciphering time, from the vantage point of a uni-polar world to that of a multi-polar world. On which course is realpolitik destined to traverse in this new world order is anybody’s guess.

The recent events in the United States of America, one of the superpowers since the Second World War and possibly most influential UN SC veto wielding superpower since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the slow and steady rise of China, world politics in the 21st century is destined to negotiate a path it has never travelled before.

The country after Donald Trump came to White House with his unorthodox ways of administration, effect of pandemic on its economy, its fragility of health system as exposed during the first few months of Covid’s fury, heightened tension between the Whites and Blacks, handling of migrants from Mexico and other Latin countries with construction of wall on the Mexican border, blanket ban on immigration of people from Islamic countries, assault on Capitol Hill on 6th January at the behest of the President in office, resolution in the House of Representatives for impeaching of President, sharp division of popular votes in the Presidential election reflected how divided it is, how fragile its political, administrative, social and public health structure is and how unrealistic its leadership is.

Finally disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan under Biden handing over the country to Taliban leaving behind sophisticated weapons, aircraft, helicopters armed vehicles and possibly drones seeking assistance from Qatar and Pakistan for evacuation of Americans

All these have irreparably damaged the reputation of USA as a Superpower.

Recent surprise announcement of AUKUS by Biden, Johnson and Morrison has received sharp reaction from France who was withdrawn its ambassadors from Australia and US out of protest as it has lost the submarine manufacturing contract in terms of billions of dollars. This is in the background of two years of active negotiation regarding formation of QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue). Now the idea quadrilateral grouping has been relegated to an alliance of economic cooperation, technology transfer, climate change etc. keeping strategy out of view.

Despite the so-called closeness of QUAD group, US made a naval exercise in proximity of Laccadive Islands in the name of freedom of navigation. US Defence department simply ignored the protest of India. AUKUS looks more like an Anglo-Saxon military alliance in the Asia Pacific of the post War period during the Korean conflict. It does not include either India or Japan.

“Five Eyes” intelligence sharing mechanism include US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. India is not within it so is not Japan part of QUAD. After Brexit, Trump wanted UK to be a part of economic partnership with USA. He had a grandiose idea including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand after abandoning the Trans-Pacific Economic Partnership crafted by Obama and renegotiating trade arrangement between US, Canada, Mexico, and Chile called NAFTA for Anglo-Saxon economic partnership. AUKUS, FIVE EYES and Trump’s dream of Anglo-Saxon economic cooperation although not explicitly spelt out indicate that blood is thicker than water.

In Europe NATO was considered as brain dead by Macron. Trump’s policy of America first extended to reduced financial support to NATO and his insistence upon more contribution of other members brought uneasiness among the members of military alliance. In the Asia Pacific Region, USA under Trump had also insisted on Japan and Korea for financial contribution for its military presence.

Although Biden has declared that America is back one must watch and see how much military solidarity the West will have in the context of BREXIT which has weakened Europe politically and economically. Change of leadership in Germany and growing ultra-national political forces in Europe in the background of anti-immigration sentiments in the continent perhaps will create new environment.

Russia is feared in Europe after annexation of Crimea and sabre-rattling on the Ukrainian border while the pro-Russian population have actively tried to destabilize Ukraine. Belarus being a protégé of Russia almost from the time of its creation and the recent Ryan Air state sponsored hijacking reflect new balance of power in East Europe. It must be kept in mind that in the Baltic region there is strong presence of ethnic Russians in addition to the Slavic connection between Serbia and Russia.

This must be counted in power balance in the area. Kazakhstan has substantial Russian population with strategic space station of Russia. Putin continues to have sway over Azerbaijan and Armenia as was evidenced during the recent Armenian and Azerbaijan conflict between the traditional rivals. After Georgia got splintered with creation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia Russia’s dominance has increased over the homeland of erstwhile Soviet supremo Stalin.

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) continues with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Moldova apart from Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Russia has substantial Islamic population in Chechnya, Ingushetia with militancy of Chechens in the recent past. Events since dissolution of Soviet Union with Putin, former KGB strongman coming into power from the first day of this millennium, when Yeltsin yielded place to him, have demonstrated increasing consolidation of authority of Russia in the region. Ordinary Russian has not forgotten mighty Soviet empire.

Many in Russia blame Gorbachev for his Perestroika and Glasnost which led to pathetic and shameless collapse of prestigious Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). No wonder Putin has been kept in authority either as President or Prime Minister since his ascendancy and with latest move to keep him in power till 2036, he is well entrenched like Xi Jing Ping, elected for life.

China’s economic rise along with its expanding military strength and having insulated itself from economic decline in the wake of pandemic, being the second largest economic power in the world and with spectacular space adventure including its successful Martian landing comparable to the American success has created new power structure in the world. Its ambitious BRI programme, robust presence in the sub-Saharan Africa, and its forays into Latin America have given prestige among small developing countries as a power to fill in vacuum created after Soviet Union’s exit.

It has entered Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership in Asia along with Australia, Japan, and New Zealand while India stayed away. As it is, the ASEAN market is dominated by China. No wonder China with these developments have started flexing muscle in Asia after it rejected the award of arbitration on South China sea. Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei have economic interest as its oil and gas reserve and other marine wealth have long term implications.

Freedom of navigation in the zone is under jeopardy after China has successfully created an artificial island and in the process of building many more. India’s maritime trade can be severely affected by the Chinese naval dominance. Recently, it has issued notification that each maritime vessel must report to the Chinese maritime regulatory body when it passes through the sea.

In addition, emergence of new island or islands under the Chinese control would also have influence over air transport movement as China would claim its sovereignty over airspace hitherto recognized as international sky. Under the Chicago Convention air space over the high seas are governed by international regulations and air navigation is subject to international air navigation plan.

The Senkaku island, called Diaoyu island by the Chinese is an island of tension between Japan and China in the Asia Pacific region.

Russia’s equation with China has vastly improved since the Soviet days. China depends upon Russian S-400 missiles, rocket technology and other armaments while Russia in turn looks for the Chinese market. There is convergence of diplomatic approach between the two countries reminiscent of early fifties of last century during height of Cold War.

China’s ties with Sri Lanka have economic and strategic angle. Apart from having set-up the Hambantota port it has taken it on 99-year lease as Sri Lanka defaulted in servicing its Chinese debts. Its access to maritime route to the Arabian sea, the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean Sea is well fortified through this port. In addition, this port can be used in future for naval base.

Needless to state China’s all-weather friend, (deeper than the deepest ocean and taller than the highest mountain peak as described former Prime Minister of Pakistan) has given access to the Gwadar port in Baluchistan with access to Arabian sea linked through Pakistan China Economic Corridor going across the Pakistan occupied Kashmir. With Taliban in Kabul, BRI with assistance of Pakistan would enter Afghanistan. This has been stated by the Pakistani Minister.

Nepal’s relationship after the Communists came to power has vastly improved with China with later trying to give access to Tibet by road and rail to free this landlocked country from India. One may remember blockade imposed on Rexall in the past causing shortage of essential goods including oil on the erstwhile Himalyan kingdom.

The Nepalese patriotic sentiments were aroused. Assuming that being a Hindu country it will be naturally close to India; a majority Hindu country would be a grave mistake. Myanmar with regime change under military would swing towards China in apprehension of sanctions from the West. China’s grip over Tibet is tight and once an independent country under the Chinese suzerainty called half-sovereign State by famous jurist- Oppenheim, it is getting more and more physically integrated with road and railway connection with mainland China.

The recent visit of President Xi to Nyingchi, the beautiful tourist city close to Arunachal Pradesh in south Tibet and his train travel to Lhasa and his subsequent message to the Tibetans that they should be proud of their country meaning China, sends a clear signal that China is no mood to consider autonomy of Tibet. Jinjiang, formerly known as Sinkiang, habitat of Uighur Muslims historically considered autonomous region from the British time is under firmer control than before with influx of the Han Chinese to this place. It is not coincidental why China is associated with Taliban in Afghanistan.

China has borders with Muslim countries to the east and East Turkmenistan Islamic militants are source of terrorist attack on China. Taliban an international pariah with its international recognition still in cloud of uncertainty, China is the source of strength financially and politically. It would have an understanding with Taliban for controlling Islamic terrorists. No wonder Talban leadership has recently declared that East Turkmenistan Islamic militants have been ejected from the Afghan soil.

Situation in Hongkong shows that China has firm political grip although since 1997 the territory was under one China and two system doctrine. How long financial autonomy which the city enjoined would continue is anybody’s guess. Britain can argue that it is violation of international arrangement and understanding. This takes us back to the Danzig free city of the inter-war period which got annexed by the Nazi Germany notwithstanding international treaty.

Taiwan, an independent country for all practical purpose with more than seven decades of autonomy and self-governance is under constant threat from China although US Administration is under legal obligation to guarantee its independence by virtue of Congressional law.

With pathetic and ignominious exit of USA from Afghanistan, China is bound to be emboldened about its historic assertion of sovereignty over this tiny island entity with magnificent economic prosperity attained in a half century of liberal economy and political democracy.

What happened to the so-called democratic regime under President Ghani in Afghanistan with full might of USA behind him and accompanied by periodic bonhomie between the leaders and what is happening to Hong Kong and now with sword of Damocles hanging over Taiwan one is reminded of the words of Kissinger. “It is dangerous to be America’s enemy but to be America’s friend is fatal”.

In the background these events and developments, one should also view the position of Iran, a civilizational country of history, an economically powerful nation with oil reserves having influence over the Shite population in the middle east particularly in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. The Syrian ruling elite including Bashar consists of sect of Shite Alawites.

After Trump’s summary rejection of the Joint Comprehensive Action of Plan on nuclear proliferation of Iran signed by US under Obama, UK, France, Russia, China, Germany and Japan and subsequent truculent and unreasonable economic sanction Iran has been financially cornered. Even a friendly country like India could not get oil from Iran because of sanction. China has become closer to Iran as its import of oil has been steady from this source undeterred by the US sanction. Even China’s Huawei Chief Finance Officer, Ms. Meng was detained at the instance of US in Canada for having banking transaction with Iran. Recent news that Meng has been released showed that US has buckled to China.

In the recent G7 meeting there was no consensus on China. Overall, it was stated that it is not a club against China while it was more aggressive on Russia. There is possibility of an alternative to BRI from this Group.US does not promise of a Marshall Plan type programme with its economy still recovering from contraction although the most needed plan after all the havoc Covid 19 produced on the global economy.

Turkey under Erdogan an Islamist having abandoned traditional secular approach of Turkey since the time of Mustafa Kemal Pasha has distanced itself from USA although in the same NATO group for an ambitious leadership of the Islamic world perhaps inspired by the thought of Ottoman caliphate. It has acquired Russian S 400 missiles ignoring US’s displeasure.

Saudi Arabia with virtual monarchical control of MBS also under cloud since accusation of his hand in gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi is now conscious of its dependence on oil will be detrimental to its long-term interest with rising demand in the world for carbon free renewable energy in view of the impending climate change and global warming.

It cannot afford to be liberal with its wealth and reserves and in the background of America’s discovery of shale oil on its soil which explains why USA would not look to the Middle East for oil. The strategic interest of America would shift from Middle East although OPEC group would continue to have influence as dependence on oil would not disappear in couple of decades as the small developing countries cannot afford to have carbon free energy in the foreseeable future.

Where does India stand? Its relationship with Pakistan is bitter from the start with four wars. With China after 1962 disastrous war and the Chinese sabre rattling in 1965 and helplessness of China in 1971 to come to aid of Pakistan and subsequent prompting to Nixon in 1972 to teach India a lesson there was rapprochement during Deng when Rajiv Gandhi visited China.

During Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh there was growing economic cooperation Whatever chance for peace did exist declined after Doklam and disappeared after Galwan with loss of the Indian lives. Whether China has taken an inch of territory or not whether Indian soldiers died after killing many after 2020 July clash would remain in the archives of world history for years to come.

India’s northern landlocked neighbour Nepal has maintained a frosty relation with India since India’s independence when King Tribhuvan ousted by the Ranas and from the time of King Mahindra.

Bangladesh if Mujib’s daughter Hasina is there in seat of power India will be considered a friend. With India’s secularism in question in India and in many democracies, what would be the attitude of Bangladesh with vast majority of Muslims if Hasina yields office to Mrs. Zia is a big question mark. China is having ambitious investment programme in Bangladesh. Myanmar even when Au Suu Ky was in power swung towards China.

Sri Lanka is having problems with Tamil issue. IPKF has not been forgotten either by Singhalese or by Tamils. Maldives a Muslim country has nexus with Pakistan and played ball with China for a while.

India’s relationship with the Islamic Middle East has been nurtured long since. The Indian Rupee was the legal tender in Dubai, Aden, and Muscat for a long time even after the exit of the British. Oil boom brought Indians in hordes as engineers, doctors, technicians, nurses, drivers, teachers etc.

Import of oil and remittances from the Indian expatriates created symbiotic relationship. India’s political leadership had warm friendship with the ruling class of the regions like Kings, Emirs and Sheikhs. India ’s pro-Palestine policy was greatly appreciated among the rulers and commoners. Over the years, however, events in India in particular destruction of Babri Masjid has been seen in eyes of common people as shift of attitude of India’s majority Hindu population towards Muslim minority whose sheer number make India the second largest Muslim nation in the world next only to Indonesia.

Geo-politics after the dissolution of Soviet Union underwent sea change affecting geo-economics bringing in liberalisation, privatization, and globalization necessitated fundamental change in India’s foreign policy which included recognition of Israel although tolerated by the rulers, not palatable to the commoners. Post-pandemic reaction in India towards Muslims and Delhi riots produced sharp reaction even from the ruling dispensation of UAE.

Oil price brought Saudi Arabia and India some uneasy relations with adoption dual oil price, one for the West and another for Asia in absence of common front in the east. It must be recognized that the Middle East has not been hostile towards India despite Pakistan. How will people there respond when the rulers lose their grip is a million-dollar question. The Arab Spring turned not only chilly in Egypt but became icy blizzard even storm in Libya and Syria.

India was not associated in final deal on Afghanistan in Doha talks even by Trump soon after his rousing reception in India in February 2020.Despite heavy investment Afghanistan, India is not sure what relationship will emerge with the new regime unfolding itself.

Quad includes India but it is away from AUKUS and FIVE EYES.

In the Group of four India recently, after lobbying with big five in the past, has staked its legitimate claim for permanent membership in the Security Council, but it is uncertain whether that would be available in foreseeable future.

India as a member of BRICS promoted New Development Bank and invested in the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank sponsored by China. With present level of political relationship with our northern neighbour what will be the future of this Group it is difficult to predict. SAARC is hibernating, BIMSTEC is yet to flourish, Shanghai Cooperation Organization is still a talking shop. In Group of 77 and NAM, India’s robust leadership of the past has waned.

India’s economy made a spectacular and eye-catching progress between 2005 and 2010 drawing global attention. Since then, it has been struggling with non-performing assets, high level of unemployment, low investible grade rating and recent contraction after pandemic. Much publicized Make in India with high profile visits abroad are yet to fructify into projects. India’s trade with China our political adversary continues to be high despite Atmanirbhar Bharat. The government has however taken positive steps in recent times introducing IBC, giving bailout packages, infrastructure spending and promising to set up bad bank, revival non-banking financial companies, micro-financing institutions and bank for infrastructure financing and abolished law relating to retrospective tax.

Unless India becomes financially and economically strong and militarily autonomous it will not wield meaningful influence in global politics. What should India plan to achieve this is the main question which should bother the minds of political leadership to have a place of global diplomacy.

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