A ‘Syria’ in Myanmar? A new war in Ukraine? China makes the move with Iran. Where is the ‘India First’ policy?
After suffering as guests in Alaska, China’s diplomats hosted their Russian equivalents properly in the karst hills (shaped as natural pyramids) in Guilin, southern China. The conversation and subsequent actions that have followed have an air of acceleration about them. Russia and China have reaffirmed their close relationship. In the face of a hardening posture by Washington, doubts have been dispelled. Things are moving all across Eurasia.
Moscow has signalled its displeasure with a European Union whose external orientation is as haphazard as its vaccination drive so far.
The Chinese have conducted a whirlwind of diplomatic visits in Southeast Asia and been all over Southwest Asia too, including Saudi Arabia. It culminated with the signing of the 25-year $400 billion agreement between China and Iran. This dwarfs any deals with Pakistan and the rest of South Asia.
China also made a pitch to Southwest Asia (the Middle East) asking to work together in dialling down the tensions, put a stop to Western invasions, and rebuild shattered economies and societies. This will go down well.
By contrast, some Western commentators have been raising the creation of a “Syria” on the Irrawaddy. On opposition media from outside Myanmar, one sees banners blazoned with R2P (Responsibility to Protect) -- the type of intervention which starts peacefully and can end with appalling destruction, like in Libya.
The Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) held a parade on Armed Forces Day on March 27. India and Bangladesh both sent representatives. An Indian ex-diplomat described their participation as pragmatic. Channels of communication need to remain open. An externally ramped up civil war in Myanmar could spill over into Mizoram, Manipur, and Yunnan. Neither India nor China want a neighbour tearing itself apart on their borders. There are common interests after all.
To the west, there is smoke billowing near Donbass. There is chatter about a possible move by pro-Western Kiev forces in Russia’s election year. The US and NATO naval vessels sail in the Black Sea. Ukraine is one of Europe’s poorest states, but also one of the world’s largest granaries.
Ukraine has been the main conduit for Russian gas heading to Germany and a key Silk Road route.
It is now being bypassed by NordStream pipelines. They are under heavy assault as the last few kilometres of pipes are being laid on Germany’s northern coast on the Baltic Sea. America is sanctioning companies involved, demanding Germany buys expensive US LNG. German Big Business wants Russia.
Afghanistan has hovered over our lives, for four decades, since the Russian invasion. The remaining US forces are supposed to leave on May 1. They look reluctant to go. Osama Bin Laden was despatched into the Arabian Sea 10 long years ago. Biden was vice president. The US has failed to win the war, lacking sensible objectives, yet it wants to determine its future. Here’s the rub.
Whatever “peace agreement” emerges, Afghanistan is ultimately going to be solved by neighbouring Asian states. We are seeing the very gradual enactment of an Asian Monroe Doctrine. In 1823, US President James Monroe effectively told the British Empire that any intervention in the Americas would be seen as a hostile act by the US.
The doctrine only took off from 1850, as the US was becoming an industrial giant. We can join the dots for the 2020s to 2050. However, it is likely to become an Asian, not solely Chinese, approach.
With the BRICS splintering because of Modi and Bolsonaro, the “opposition” in Eurasia has been Russia and China. It is likely Iran eventually joins the two in some form. The low-profile Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an oven-ready geo-political platform able to deal with intra-Asian issues, along with the potential for common external defense. Interestingly, Delhi finds itself inside both the SCO and the US-Japanese QUAD.
Last year, it seemed India had missed the bus over Iran in its eagerness to placate Trump’s America. It’s natural energy supplier of choice should be Persia. The grand plan had been to bypass China’s corridor through Pakistan with its own where cargo ships would sail from Mumbai to Chabahar and then on an International North South Transport Corridor through Iran to Russia. That is still achievable, but it would take a groundbreaking shift in strategic posture.
Helpfully, Delhi has recently been slapped down by Washington for agreeing to purchase Russia’s S-400 surface to air missiles. As the experienced Indian ex-diplomat put it, Delhi has discovered limits placed on its strategic autonomy. So, what should it do? a) Buy the missiles and b) double down on its multi-billion investment in Iran to secure economic benefits for India. It needs a real “India First” policy.
Farid Erkizia Bakht is a political analyst. @liquid_borders.