South China Sea: Modi, Not Duterte, Is China’s Problem

/ AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s foreign policy flip-flops aren’t a big threat to China’s ambitions to write the navigation rules for the South China Sea. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s high profile diplomacy is, something investors should keep a close eye on, as it complicates the geopolitical risks in the region.



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India doesn’t border the South China Sea. But it has very much been involved in the ongoing disputes between China on the one side, and the US and its allies. “We are already working together to address the existing and emerging strategic and security challenges that affect both our nations—in Afghanistan, West Asia, the large maritime space of the Indo-Pacific, the new and unanticipated threats in cyberspace,” stated Modi in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published on the day he made his official visit in the White Hou se.

“We also share an interest in ensuring that sea lanes—critical lifelines of trade and energy—remain secure and open to all.”

Apparently, India is siding openly with Washington on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, something China is disputing. Beijing considers that body of water its own sea.

This isn’t the first time Modi meddles with South China Sea disputes. Last October he didn’t miss the chance to bring up an international arbitration ruling, which found that China has no historic title over the waters.

That was during his visits to Singapore and Vietnam, trying to revive an allied front against China’s ambitions, according to a China Topix report.

India’s high diplomacy on South China Sea disputes has very little to do with the dispute per se and plenty to do with China’s unofficial agenda to encircle India through Pakistan and Sri Lanka, by pursuing massive infrastructure projects – like The China Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) in Pakistan, and the building and modernizing of ports in both Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Then there are a couple of Chinese foreign policies that have irritated India. Like Beijing’s open support for Pakistan in the India-Pakistan Kashmir standoff, as evidenced by statements by China’s senior officials last year.

“We support Pakistan, and we will speak for Pakistan in every forum. We attach great importance to Pakistan’s position on Kashmir,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ongoing 71st session of United Nations General Assembly in New York, as quoted in Pakistan Today.

Then there’s China’s refusal to support India’s bid to join the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG). Offi cially, Beijing claims that India doesn’t satisfy the conditions for joining the elite group. But the real reason is to be found elsewhere. China wants to punish New Delhi for growing closer to US in recent years, serving Washington’s policy to contain China. “US backing adds the biggest impetus to India’s ambition,” stated a Global Times editorial, back in June. “By cozying up to India, Washington’s India policy actually serves the purpose of containing China.

The US is not the whole world. Its endorsement does not mean India has won the backing of the world. This basic fact, however, has been ignored by India.”

So, India must pay a price for ignoring China. But China cannot ignore India either, as it can amass enough support to spoil Beijing’s’ South China Sea and Indian Ocean ambitions.

That’s why China should keep a close eye on Modi rather than Duterte.

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