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US strategy doc sees India as counterbalance to China

January 14, 2021 04:42 AM

US strategy doc sees India as counterbalance to China

Rezaul H Laskar

New Delhi : The US sees China as a strategic competitor bent on circumventing international rules and norms and a key security concern across the Indo-Pacific region, where Beijing wants to establish “new, illiberal spheres of influence”, according to a newly declassified strategy document.

The document framed in 2018 envisaged bolstering India’s capacities so that it could work with other like-minded countries to act as “a counterbalance to China” and maintain the capacity to counter challenges from Beijing such as “border provocations”.

According to theUS Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, one of the main national security challenges for the US in the region is maintaining its primacy and promoting a “liberal economic order while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence”.

The 10-page document, declassified on January 5 by the outgoing Trump administration’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien, also states that China’s economic, diplomatic and military influence will “continue to increase in the near-term and challenge the US ability to achieve its national interests in the Indo-Pacific”.

Under President Donald Trump, the US adopted a confrontational approach to China on both trade and security issues and called out Beijing for not doing enough to contain the initial spread of the coronavirus in early 2020. The incoming Biden administration hasn’t fully spelled out its China policy though most experts believe president-elect Joe Biden will be less confrontational even as he counters challenges from Beijing.

The strategy document states that China “seeks to dominate cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence and bio-genetics”, and use them in the “service of authoritarianism”.

China’s dominance in these technologies poses “profound challenges to free societies”, and China’s proliferation of “digital surveillance,information controls, and influence operations will damage US efforts to promote our values and national interests in the Indo-Pacific region” and even in the Western hemisphere, the document adds.

The strategy also envisages China taking “increasingly assertive steps to compel unification with Taiwan”.

One of the strategic goals of the US, according to the document released on Wednesday with slight redactions, is working with partners on every continent to resist “Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence”.

In a specific section on China, the document points to US efforts to counter China in the trade and military spheres, including Beijing’s industrial policies and “unfair trading practices” that distort global markets, and its use of military force against the Washington and its allies or partners.

On the military front, the US’s objective is deterring China “from using military force against the United States and US allies or partners”, and developing capabilities and concepts to “defeat Chinese actions across the spectrum of conflict”.

According to the document, the US will work to “enhance combat-credible US military presence and posture in the Indo-Pacific region, to uphold US interests and security commitments”, and help its allies and partners “improve their security posture, including military capabilities and interoperability, to ensure strategic independence and freedom from Chinese coercion”. The US will also expand “partnerships and capabilities that limit China’s ability to coerce allies and partners”, the document adds.

In order to counter China’s intelligence activities, the US will equip its allies and partners to counter “China’s clandestine activities in their countries” and expand American intelligence and law enforcement activities that counter “Chinese influence operations”.

The US will also help allies and partners develop high standards in counterintelligence, counter-proliferation, cyber-security and industrial security.

China’s “predatory economic practices” freeze out foreign competition, undermine US economic competitiveness, and abet the “Chinese Communist Party’s aspiration to dominate the 21st century economy, and the US will build international consensus that China’s industrial policies and unfair trading practices are damaging the global trading system”, according to the strategy document.

While seeking to maintain the American industry’s innovation edge vis-a-vis China, the US will work with allies and like-minded countries to “prevent Chinese acquisition of military and strategic capabilities; broaden the scope of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to cover venture capital and other forms of investment by China; and adopt domestic policies that promote growth in key technologies”.

In order to promote US values across the Indo-Pacific to counterbalance Chinese models of government, the US will develop “public and private messaging and promote initiatives that show the benefits of democracy and liberty... including economic, technologic, and societal benefits”, and coordinate efforts to “protect and promote internationally recognized rights and freedoms”.

The US will also enhance its engagement in the Indo-Pacific while “educating governments, businesses, universities, Chinese overseas students, news media, and general citizenries” about China’s “coercive behavior and influence operations around the globe”, and invest in capabilities that “promote uncensored communication between Chinese people”.

Sameer Patil, fellow for international security studies at Gateway House, said China has alternated between being seen by the US as a strategic competitor or a strategic partner over the past few decades, whereas the strategy document casts it firmly as a strategic competitor because of its influence operations and aggressive actions.

“The document also envisages the allies and partners of the US looking at China through the same lens, and anchors India’s role as a principal rival to China which the US can bank on. It also includes all of India’s key national priorities, such as cyber-security, the border issue, counter-terrorism and even access to water resources,” he said. “By making such a recent and important document public, the Trump administration seems to be trying to tie in the hand of the incoming administration on how to approach China. There has been a fundamental shift in the world’s view of China and president-elect Joe Biden can’t do a complete U-turn on China, as he will have to abide by certain basic principles liked to core US national interests

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