If it weren’t for all hell breaking loose in the Middle East, the tectonic shifts going on in South Asia would probably be the decade’s storyline. As it is, they still might be. In addition to China’s rise and India’s emergence, there’s also all sorts of movement towards warmer relations between the region’s traditional rivals that could smooth the way for further growth. Pakistan-India relations, while still prickly and marked by tit-for-tat missile tests, are more cordial than they’ve ever been. Same goes for China-India relations.As for China-Pakistan relations, a couple of articles (one here at Asia Times Online, and another here at Jamestown Foundation) discuss how the tensions both countries have historically experienced with India make for a natural tactical alliance between them. Toss in the unstable nature of their recent relations with America and the logic is even more pronounced.
Nevertheless, the Asia Times article suggests China is exercising more caution towards Islamabad of late, in part due to Pekin’s warming relations with Delhi, and in part due to its concerns about Muslim Uighur separatists on the Pakistani border with Xianjing province. And this Defense News article about India reinforcing and modernizing its military presence on its Chinese frontier shows that the old Reagan axiom, Trust but verify, is still the order of the day.
The takeaway is that the tensions and faultlines, both internal (Tibet, Xianjing, the Pakistani FATA) and external (Kashmir, Afghanistan, Taiwan), that run deep under the surface will continue to undermine these regional powers in their quest for global influence. With all the factors pointing to its eventual relative decline, that’s still an advantage the U.S. enjoys over them, although we’ve mitigated that advantage by “Americanizing” the costs of the ethno-sectarian conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East.