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THE NATIONAL BUREAU OF ASIAN RESEARCH NBR ANALYSIS VOLUME 13, NUMBER 5, October 2002 The China-India-U.S. Triangle: Strategic Relations in the Post-Cold War Era John W. Garver [This page intentionally left blank.] Foreword In the post-ColdWar era, relations among countries inAsia have undergone a dramatic change.Anew strategic triangle overlays the region. Old rivals China and India have emerged as strong regional powers, as evidenced by impressive economic growth, the development of nuclear arsenals, and demonstrated ambitions for influence in the Pacific and SouthAsian theaters. While China’s role as an economic and geostrategic player is more widely recognized , India is now a regional competitor to be taken seriously.And with the unprecedented U.S. military presence in South Asia due to the war against terrorism, a third player—the world’sremainingsuperpower—isnowinvolvedinthehistoricSino-Indianrivalry.Aslongas the United States retains this position and stays engaged in the region, managing this emerging U.S.-China-India strategic triangle will be an important issue for U.S. strategic thinkers. In this issue of the NBRAnalysis, Dr. John Garver, professor of international relations at the Sam Nunn School of InternationalAffairs at the Georgia Institute ofTechnology, traces the origins and possible future of the new triangle.According to Dr. Garver, while concerns about China have frequently driven relations among the three countries in the last decade, Beijing understood the rules of the triangular game long before Washington or New Delhi. Chinese leaders learned early that playing the United States against India, particularly on issues of nuclear armament and nonproliferation, was a means to gain favor with Washington, while diminishing New Delhi’s role in international politics.As U.S. leaders realized that relations with the NortheastAsian giant had consequences for relations with the SouthAsian giant— and vise versa—they grew more sensitive to the triangular dynamic. America’s strategic reengagement with Pakistan, key role in the reconstruction ofAfghanistan ,andmilitarypresenceforthefirsttimeinCentralAsiasignificantlyincreaseitsability to benefit or injure the interests of India and China vis-à-vis one another.As both China and India seek geostrategic advantage in Southeast and SouthAsia, U.S. support for democratic India (or for India’s efforts to subordinate Pakistan) will fan Chinese nationalism and fears of containment. Conversely, U.S. acquiescence to greater Chinese presence in India’s perceived realm of influence will alarm leaders in New Delhi. 297 According to Dr. Garver, there are few, if any, short- to medium-term catalysts that would convince China and India to align against the United States, especially as both countries see cooperation with Washington as vital to economic growth. Dr. Garver asserts that Beijing may periodically pursue Sino-Indian cooperation on a given issue, but only because it will “cost India much more than China in terms of U.S. goodwill.” The deep geopolitical rivalry between India and China, combined with the expanded influence of the United States, makes U.S. support of oneAsian rival against the other an extremely important strategic factor. Dr. Garver concludes that, unless Beijing softens its generally abrasive policies of the 1990s, the comingyearswillwitnesscloserrelationsbetweentheUnitedStatesandIndia,amongChina’s other neighbors. We are very grateful to the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for its support of NBR’s publications. As with all NBR reports, the author is solely responsible for the content and recommendations in this paper. RichardJ.Ellings President The National Bureau ofAsian Research 298 A new strategic triangle among the United States, China, and India emerged from the flux in international relations created by the end of the Cold War. The new triangle had taken clear form by the time of the South Asian nuclear tests of 1998, and is being consciously and enthusiastically “played” by strategists in all three capitals. Washington, Beijing, and New Delhi more frequently perceive each of their national interests as being adversely affected by an alignment of the other two against it, and thus a minuet of strategic triangular relations has resulted. Extant and emerging issues of concern to the strategic triangle are the India-China border dispute, establishing nuclear deterrents, the war on terrorism, relations with Pakistan, and political and economic influence in the South Asia-Indian Ocean region. The deep geopolitical rivalry between India and China, combined with the expanded influence of the United States, makes U.S. support of one Asian rival against the other an extremely important strategic factor. At the same time, there are leaders in both China and India who resent the U.S. global position and find attractive, if impractical, the possibility of identifying issues on...


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