New Delhi: It is becoming evident that president Donald Trump is engaged in a determined containment of China one step ahead of the China-United States trade war. China is not being openly sanctioned as Iran and Russia are. Those may register louder in a decibel measurement of US foreign actions targeting adversaries but they are not half as significant and far-reaching as Trump’s slow throttling of China. As long as it was a trade war with China, things could be nicely confined to geo-economics. But Trump’s America has also decided to challenge China’s expansions in the South China Sea and the East China Sea which threaten the sovereign and national security interests of Japan and several ASEAN states. In doing so, Trump has put the threat from China to the United States higher than any emanating from Russia and Iran. There are lessons hidden here for India which would surely escape the closed minds of the national security establishment which is stuck in India-Pakistan binaries of the immediate post-Independence period.

If China were a democracy, as stated in a previous commentary, the United States would take its geo-economic rise in its stride. But China is an expansionist totalitarian state whose strongman has only recently crowned himself for life. He has not even subjected his power to the ritual of periodic elections which Adolf Hitler turned into high farce. The geo-economic rise of a totalitarian power should have led to US countermeasures long ago. They were absent under George W. Bush and negligible as to make a difference when Barack Obama was president. Indeed, the Chinese scorned him, which in turn reflected their contempt for US power.

This was the exact opposite of the experience with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In its early post-World War II years under Joseph Stalin, Soviet Russia rose to the extent of being two-fifths of the US economy. It led to Nikita Khrushchev’s boast of burying the United States although by then the decline had set in. As the ideological fervour died, the Soviet Union went into a rapid and calamitous slump. Without the support of geo-economics, Soviet geopolitics could not sustain, and was eventually undone by the great George F. Kennan’s containment policies. Deng Xiaoping had a clear idea of what ultimately destroyed the Soviet Union. He did not buy into Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika claptrap. Just when his ideas for China’s capitalism with Chinese characteristics were crystallizing, the Tiananmen Square crisis blew up. Entering into a social contract with the Tiananmen movement leaders, he pledged to clear the path for wealth creation but with the Communist Party of China holding a monopoly of state power. China’s staggering success followed aided and abetted by the United States. It realized too late that it had revived a monster Middle Kingdom with ambitions of world dominion. China learnt too well from Soviet mistakes while the United States failed to produce a second George F. Kennan to foresee the danger from China and prepare for it, until Donald Trump came along. Trump has strategically targeted China’s geo-economic might before venturing to clip its geopolitical wings. If the sequence was planned, it is brilliant. Already reeling from the trade war, China now has to surmount US countermoves in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Beyond a point, Russia will not come to China’s aid. Its economy cannot take anymore sanctions. On the other hand, NATO states have overcome their “out of area” reservations and participated in containing Chinese expansions in the disputed seas. China cannot withstand the two attacks on its geo-economics and geopolitics for any length of time. If and when it sues for peace, China will not be the same. It could break up or become a democracy.

These denouements still lie in the foggy future, but Donald Trump’s policies are nudging China in that direction. Opportunities are opening for India should it have the intelligence to see them. Not only is Donald Trump isolating China geopolitically, he is also making Beijing a geo-economic pariah. He has correctly noted that China is not a market economy. US trade with countries that trade with China would eventually get hit by sanctions at worst and iniquitous trade arrangements at best. China’s predatory geo-economics, represented by Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, has scared the new Imran Khan government to the extent that it has tied with Saudi Arabia to partly fund CPEC projects with nominal debt obligations. According to the grapevine, the United States may have a tangential role in the Saudi involvement in Pakistan to narrow Chinese investments. Rather than abuse Imran Khan and wage pointless verbal battles in the United Nations and elsewhere, India should seek opportunities in Pakistan’s attempted distancing from China. Pakistan is also preparing to apply for an IMF loan. The loan won’t be granted without US approval, which will place tough conditions. This presents another opportunity for India to wean Pakistan away from China by explaining the sub-continental dynamics to the US. The US exercise to contain China has gifted India with multiple options to change geopolitical equations in the sub-continent. Is anyone in Lutyens’ Delhi alive to the changes?