Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pakistan’s the Place…To Pull the Pin on the China Collapse Grenade

India-Pakistan relations look to be interesting in the next few years, especially if by “interesting” one means “potential for regional conflagration with toasty global elements”.

If the PRC continues its rise at its current trajectory and under its current management, chances are that by 2050 the United States will be facing a China that is 1) militarily and economically predominant in Asia and 2) explicitly hostile to US global and regional leadership and 3) in a position to do something about it.

Maybe the PRC will fall on its behind before that happens.  After all, the CCP’s empire is rife with internal political, social, ethnic, and economic contradictions and Xi Jinping seems to be trapped in the endless “frantically pumping up the economy with colossal amounts of debt while he struggles to make a single-party dictatorship pretend to be an efficient pluralistic polity” phase.

However, “standing idly by” is not the job description of the people who run America’s half-trillion-dollar military/security/intelligence effort, so I expect passively waiting for 2050 while praying that Gordon Chang is right for once is not the only item on the agenda.

Maybe a helping push will be necessary.  In other words, maybe the US will transition from a “containment while hoping China collapses from its internal contradictions” policy to a more forthright “China collapse” strategy.

In IR speak, this would involve a sea change from the US nominally promoting a stable world system to acting as a de facto disrupter and destabilizer.  

The US pays inordinate lip service to its role as custodian of the liberal global order and up til now has done an OK job of tarring China as an “aggressive, assertive” disrupter in Asia.  

But when deterrence/containment breaks down, the US has shown itself pretty willing to bend the rules of the “international liberal order” to advance its interests. 

Look at Syria as an example of what we do when our power projection capabilities are limited but we want to degrade and distract a regional adversary, Iran, by bleeding it in an interminable local conflict, cost, collateral damage, and blowback be damned.

 Nice harbinger for China.

And if one considers Syria as a U.S. foreign policy Mission Accomplished and not, as the IR crowd might, as a ECFOML—Egregious Clusterf*ck on Multiple Levels—the anti-China battlespace looks a little different.

There are plenty of external anvils to toss the PRC to exacerbate/provoke internal contradictions: Taiwan independence, Hong Kong autonomy, agitation in Tibet, the South China Sea…

…South China Sea?  Hmmm.

Are we going to confront Chinese power directly with our naval squadrons in the South China Sea, risking US assets and prestige in a hugely expensive mano-a-mano cage match over some worthless islands, the prospect of which quite frankly horrifies our prosperity-friendly and conflict-averse regional allies?

Or, as an option, why not look down South Asia way, fortuitously the home of a powerful and aggressive US ally, India, who is already eager to slug it out with a vital PRC ally, Pakistan?  

Maybe start something there the sooner the better, before the Pakistan-PRC axis entrenches itself and China breaks out of the US-led containment system toward its west via OBOR?

Something really nasty that in addition to balking a PRC move toward South Asia, offers the promise of a nice murderous stew of aggrieved Islamist militants unleashing havoc in Xinjiang?  

Something that involves a regional asset bearing most of the risks, and not the United States?


The China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC is in my opinion the key tell as to whether the US-led global system is willing to accommodate China’s rise or simply wants to f*ck with it.

Current indications are: Let’s F*ck With It.

The PRC has reached out to India to a certain extent to try to reconcile India to the CPEC—and the fatal fact that it cuts through Gilgit-Baltistan, which is tangled up in the Kashmir dispute.  

But indications are that India ain’t buying the win-win OBOR fable unless the PRC performs the impossible task of throwing Pakistan under the bus: neutering the ISI and its barely deniable terror network, neutralizing Pakistan’s army, zeroing out Pakistan’s independent regional influence, and thereby giving India a free geopolitical run to its west through Afghanistan and out to Iran.

The murderous Uri raid, in which Pakistan-backed militants apparently killed 17 Indian soldiers in India-occupied-Kashmir, looks like a disturbing indicator there is no way for China to square the circle between Indian assertiveness and Pakistani aggression.

I write about the entanglement of US and PRC priorities in the murderous mix of the Uri outrage in my latest piece at Asia Times, South Asia on a Knife Edge After Uri Raid.  Indian media and hawkish opinion have unsurprisingly adopted a simple narrative of "Savages murder innocent Indian soldiers because Pakistan's only export is terrorism", but it appears to me the raid is part of a nasty geopolitical snarl including Kashmir, Balochistan, CPEC, China, and United States threads.

India’s hawks are openly calling for the liquidation of Pakistan as Plan B, by supporting the independence of Balochistan, which would pretty much put an end to Pakistan and, in a geopolitical twofer, kill the CPEC, which runs through Balochistan for about a third of its length, and effectively end the PRC presence in South Asia.

Plan C—letting a hostile Pakistan stabilize itself and enhance its regional clout by serving as a useful economic and strategic ally and asset of the PRC on India’s doorstep—doesn’t seem to top too many lists, at least in government.

So Pakistan-collapse is emerging as the proactive option for India, just as China-collapse is for US planners.

The US, in a signal to India whose significance should not be understated, reaffirmed its opposition to Balochistan independence thereby indicating it wasn’t quite ready to see India promote the dissolution of Pakistan just yet.

 But that’s an undertaking that could be a) withdrawn b) honored “in the breach” i.e. the U.S. could condone Indian subversion of Pakistan sovereignty over Balochistan sub rosa c) blithely ignored by India, which is anything but a tractable U.S. client and understands the Pentagon will swallow almost any defiance as long as India plays an active anti-China role.

The unsettling conclusion is that, if you want to pull the pin on the China-collapse grenade, Pakistan is the place to do it—and India might be happy to perform the honors.


Glenn Brown said...

The Indians (and Americans) cannot afford to assume that Pakistan will follow the example set by the Soviet Union by gracefully agreeing to accept its defeat and dismemberment. Pakistan has too many nuclear weapons aimed at Indian cities. So this whole scenario basically assumes the Indians are so dumb they can't see they are risking their own national destruction by seeking to destroy Pakistan.
And even if it worked, and the Indians did manage to break up what's left of Pakistan, why do you assume this would be much more than a speed bump on the road to Chinese ascendancy? The new nations created by the collapse of Pakistan would still need trade and investment, and would want to benefit from the Chinese OBOR project if at all possible.

Unknown said...

I doubt it's that simple, you speak as if US holds all the cards in China's backyard, and if US decide to mess with China, China will standby.

All of the Latin American including Mexico are not exactly in love with US, you know, with US's history of coups, invasion etc...

And what about India? Can they afford destabilizing Pakistan to spike China? Please open up Google map and make sure you toggle Terrain, you can easily see Pakistan/India and China are separated by the Himalayan range with no people, while the lands between India and Pakistan are flat and has a lot more people. If Pakistan collapse in on itself, chances are all of the refugee flee go into India/Iran/Afghanistan. In the resulting chaos, if the extremist gets a hold on nukes, they will be more likely to fire it towards India than anywhere else.

And what about India itself? It is also rift with disorder, rebellion and ethic/regional tensions, if India mess with Tibet, do you think China is going to standby? I would say India has lot more to worry about in the next 20 years with poor infrastructure, and a massive you uneducated people, while the age of automation is taking off in manufacturing to replace cheap labor. (You might want to do a research on which nation has the most industrial robots.)

And lets say if all of above did happen, and China's OBOR end in failure... so what? Look at China's import/expert data, what percentage of it are with the Americas, Europe and ocean trade vs towards their Western neighbors? Answer is insignificant in term of percentage, not enough to collapse Chinese economy.

When it come to South China sea, this has the greatest area for conflict, but again, ASEAN is not stupid. China holds more card than US, while US has the most military presence but China overwhelmingly dominates when it comes to economic influence and trade. For the ordinary people in ASEAN who benefits more in their everyday well-being? US's B2 parked in Guam? Or Chinese bosses who open factory there and employ local and give them wages?

This is why you see China is so unwilling to compromise with Philippine while US is an involved party. While at same time, China so willing to give away money and infrastructure development to them. China is sending a message to ASEAN that..... If oppose me you get nothing, if you work with me and you get some benefit, and I dont care if you are going to bring US to your side, when push come to shove, when fight does break you I'm taking you down with me if I go down (They have not yet said this, but I think it will be openly expressed if the station goes that far).

Unknown said...

run out of space above

And in ASCEAN itself, China is playing them off each other, obviously nation such as Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar are more favorable to China's position, while Philippine has taken the extreme side for the past 10 years with little to show for. This is why Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia are smart enough to not fully commit to one extreme or the other. And most likely China has their inside man in each of their own nation's politics to play more distraction games.

And lastly, you forget about US power structure and who really calls the shots in US. It is no longer the time when US government can single handily decide to cut off oil shipment to Imperial Japan.

The US government, the State department, US military, by all means wants to see a China experience a USSR style collapse, but government are made of people, and people are made out of votes, and votes are made out of MONEY. In today when a presidential election costs 1 billion, and senate costs 10 mil and House costs 1 mil+ for campaigns, where do you think they gets their money from (hint, not small donors)? After all, the corporation do expect a return on investment. (And thats all there is, corporate donation = bribes, please don't think otherwise)

And what does those corporation wants when half of their revenue come from China? NOT WAR WITH CHINA, and believe me, their votes have more voice than the votes from the people who are actually doing the voting.

No matter how you look at it, US can never go into a full USSR and Imperial Japan containment mode for China.

However they are other ways US can do to be more effective to contain China than what they are doing now but they are not doing them, but this post has gone long enough.

Unknown said...

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC is in my opinion the key tell as to whether the US-led global system is willing to accommodate China’s rise or simply wants to f*ck with it.

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