China and Pakistan have agreed to further deepen their military cooperation amid India’s training of Vietnam troops on its soil. Central and South Asia is apparently being divided into two camps with China, Pakistan and their allies in one camp and U.S.-led allies, including India and Japan, in the rival camp.

A statement by Pakistan’s military on Thursday announced that the Pakistani army chief and Chinese leadership have reached an agreement to ramp up military cooperation between the two nations despite worries from India and its allies that China-Pak defense relations pose a serious challenge to the balance of power in the region.

China
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Pakistan and China strengthen military ties

Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa met with senior Chinese political and military officials as part of his three-day trip to China. The two allied countries, which are currently implementing their massive joint project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), termed their defense cooperation as a source of strength.

Islamabad and Beijing expressed their satisfaction with strengthening their bilateral coordination of actions on international and regional affairs. The rapid development of cooperation between Pakistan and China is widely interpreted as a response to India’s – their mutual rival in the region – warming up to the United States, whose vast influence in the region has been challenged by Beijing for years.

India finds itself isolated in Asia

India has been a vocal critic of CPEC and any other factors that bring Pakistan and China closer together. New Delhi, which views China as a threat to its key role in the region, has been seeking new allies in the region to counter Beijing’s growing influence.

After enjoying a decades-long friendship with its major and most reliable ally, Russia, today no official in Indian leadership can be certain of the strength of their ties with Russia anymore. One can argue that India should blame its own policies and particularly its decision to seek closer ties with the United States – Russia’s traditional rival – for losing Moscow’s support.

In fact, Russia reacted to India’s shift toward the U.S. almost immediately and has pursued closer ties with India’s traditional enemy, Pakistan, despite decades of cold relations between Islamabad and Moscow since the Cold War era. At the other end of the issue are India-U.S. ties. While the U.S. seems hellbent on supporting India to counter China’s growing influence in the region, it has made little effort to build a strong partnership with the South Asian nation and has given no guarantee that it would back India in any regional conflict, be it with Pakistan or China.

Irreconcilable differences between India and China

This uncertainty in relations with both the Russians and Americans makes India isolated in the region. New Delhi isn’t interested in being left all alone, especially not in the era of China and Pakistan’s formidable alliance in the region, which is why it has started looking for new allies in the region.

Though Vietnam may not be as strong of an ally as Russia or the U.S., India is seeking closer military ties with it. This week, New Delhi trained Vietnamese soldiers in the town of Vairengte, Mizoram. However, if India is trying to tilt the balance of power in its favor by numbers by seeking closer ties with multiple medium-sized nations in the region, China too is reaching out to smaller nations to secure its dominance in the region.

On top of having allied with Pakistan and Russia, China has sought closer ties with both Bangladesh and Myanmar, further fueling India’s fears about an expansionist China, both along the Himalayas and in the Indian Ocean region. Last Sunday, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina officially commissioned two Chinese-made submarines, which will become the Bangladesh Navy’s first submarines ever.

It makes New Delhi no less worried that reports are flooding in that China may be planning to deploy thousands of marines to defend Gwadar Port in Pakistan as part of the $46 billion CPEC project. CPEC itself presents a number of challenges to India, including that it runs through the disputed Kashmir region and that it serves as a game-changer project for both the Pakistani and Chinese economies.

Is India the “pawn” of the U.S.?

The Chinese media thinks the U.S. and Japan are using India to contain China in the Asian region and have no respect for India’s strategic interests there. China’s state-run Global Times warned India of falling into the “trap” of Washington and Tokyo, as reported by The India Times.

“Washington hopes to use New Delhi to contain China in the Indian Ocean. Tokyo wishes to counter-balance China in the Pacific Ocean with the help of New Delhi,” the newspaper states.

While the newspaper agrees that the promises from the U.S. and Japan are disguised as “strategic opportunities” for India, they are merely “traps” for New Delhi to become “a pawn” in the hands of the two biggest regional allies.

But India seems eager to hold on to any string of hope, only to prevent China from stationing its troops in the Indian Ocean region and expanding its influence there through its partnership with Pakistan and other nations. Beijing is currently in the process of selling eight diesel-electric submarines worth more than $5 billion to the Pakistan Navy, which marks the biggest military export deal ever signed by the Chinese.

India to challenge China’s naval operations in the South China Sea

While India is waiting for U.S. President Donald Trump to unveil his plans for the Asian region and, in particular, his plans for U.S.-India relations, the Indian government is trying to find more allies there. New Delhi has recently offered Vietnam its advanced BrahMos missile, which can target enemies 400 km away and travels at speeds nearly three times the speed of sound.

The deployment of the BrahMos missile into Vietnam would be a major step by India and would present a serious challenge to any military operations by the Chinese in the South China Sea.