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‘Pressure put by China on India will change their dynamics’

Calling the disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) “a good thing”, a senior Trump administration official said the pressure China had put on India would have a long-term impact on their dynamics.

“This [troop disengagement] is a good thing and we hope this continues. But I think that the pressure that China put on India on the LAC will have a long-term impact on how India views the relationship. It will change the dynamics between the two,” said Lisa Curtis, Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump and Director of the U.S. National Security Council’s South and Central Asia Bureau. Ms. Curtis was responding to a question on the evolution of China’s involvement in South Asia at a seminar organised by Brookings, a think tank.

“India demonstrated that it has the will and the capabilities to stand up to China. Of course, it played the economic card by banning the Chinese apps and putting a hold on Chinese investment contracts. And I think the rest of the Indo-Pacific region is watching this very carefully,” Ms. Curtis said, saying the region would be “encouraged by India’s resolve.”

In her keynote address at the virtual event, Ms. Curtis called the India-U.S. relationship a “success story” and said “few countries in the world are more familiar with Chinese malign influence than India”.

“But our partnership with India is about much more than economics and security. It’s also about the democratic traditions that have made both of our countries more prosperous and secure,” Ms. Curtis said.

On China’s influence in India’s neighbourhood, Ms. Curtis said the country had been getting involved not just economically in Sri Lanka and Nepal, but also in their internal politics. Bangladesh, as per Ms. Curtis, was showing “more resiliency” and seeking “ to balance its foreign relationships”.

‘Crown jewel’ in BRI

The China-Pakistan relationship, Ms. Curtis said, had grown from a very close security partnership to Pakistan increasingly depending on China through loans and through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which Ms. Curtis had earlier referred to as the “crown jewel” in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

“Chinese pledges for CPEC now exceed $60 billion, but CPEC is not foreign aid, nor is it the equity investment that drove China’s own development,” she said. “CPEC is financed by sovereign debt and needs to be paid back. The risk is borne by the Pakistani people. Yet the benefits accrued primarily to the Chinese Communist Party,” she said, presenting the U.S. as a preferable alternative to China as an investor. The U.S. does not want to “contain China’s development” and will work with it when interests align, Ms Curtis said.

“Even as the U.S. competes with China in South and central Asia, we welcome cooperation where interest align. In Afghanistan, for example, China has supported calls for reduction in violence in order to create an environment conducive to inter-Afghan negotiations.”

More risk

In response to a question on how likely it was that a “cold war” situation with China would become a “hot war” situation, Ms. Curtis said both sides would want to prevent tensions from escalating, but the U.S. is willing to accept more risk in the relationship.

“Clearly tensions are rising. But I think that each side would want to control those tensions from escalating,” Ms. Curtis said.

“ …The U.S. is willing to accept more risk in the relationship. I think each side will have to get used to, sort of, these new guidelines that will be directing U.S. policy in the region as we move forward.”

Ms. Curtis said there would be a deepening of the U.S.-India partnership based on a commitment both countries have to an open and transparent region in the Indo Pacific. “ You will see more of a focus on building up that relationship and also ensuring that the other nations of South and central Asia can maintain their own sovereignty and they have choices and alternatives to China.”

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