We looked at several things in the last two weeks in this column: the rivalry among the USA, Russia, and China for global power. At the same time each and every country has concerns about terrorism and its many effects, including drug trafficking. From Asia, mainly Afghanistan and Myanmar, the trafficking in heroin is deadly trade going on.

All these things are, as always, geographically connected. This is why we have been talking about geopolitics.

American encirclement

The USA, too, is setting about trying its own policy of encirclement to counter the ambitious geopolitical encirclement happening in Asia. You can see a map of this here. (all links open in a new tab/window)

Through military and other alliances, the USA is trying to encircle China. The main countries that the USA wants to involve in this include Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, and Japan.

In Afghanistan, has multiple interests: maintain influence there to keep a check on Pakistan, maintain influence to keep a check on the neighboring central Asian countries, and to counter China’s influence in Pakistan.

India’s interests

India is investing significantly to keep control over its part of Jammu and Kashmir, and Arunachal Pradesh (claimed by China). India also has deep influence on Bhutan which shares borders with both China and India. The Chinese have also long claimed the Karakoram area of J&K as theirs. These are the main flashpoints between India and China.

Further, India maintains considerable influence on Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka by trade and military cooperation. These are all countries that China is trying to get as partners, to increase its own encirclement.

India is caught between the two competing encirclements – USA and China – and has to maintain its own individual power. This is very tricky. Discussions and negotiations with all the countries happen at the same time as several disagreements also happen.

China often violates the India-China border and enters Indian territory. China objects to any high level Indian government officials visiting Arunachal Pradesh. In recent weeks Defence Minister Nirmala Seetharaman and President Ram Nath Kovind visited Arunachal and the Chinese objected. India does these things to show the Chinese that the territory is Indian and we do whatever we please in it.

China’s moves

China is trying to get Indian, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and other South Asian countries to join it in its development of a 21st century Silk Route. Recall the ancient Silk Road that you have studied in your history class. The modern version would connect more countries. The connection would be by water routes as well as by land routes (rail, truck). Trains already run between Yiwu (China) and London (UK). (Read about it here.)

These partnerships are designed to increase China’s involvement in the international movement of commodities. These kinds of physical presence invariably lead to political and military presences of some kind or other.

Additionally, China has been building new islands in the South China Sea. These are in the middle of international commercial shipping routes. Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, USA, and other countries are concerned about this development. China claims that the South China Sea is its territory, others say it isn’t.

Trump’s travels

All these concerns, plus North Korea’s threat of nuclear war, led to the American president Trump’s visit to several countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Find out which countries he visited and locate them on a world map in your atlas. You will see the important of location (the most fundamental geography concept) in the choice of places he visited.

He had talks with the heads of states in those countries, but returned to the USA with nothing more than nice words. No great agreements of any significance were signed. He did make threatening comments against the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, making the situation worse!

In sum, it appears as though China’s encirclement policy is progressing better than the USA’s encirclement policy. So far, India is playing its cards very carefully and not letting either side pull it too far.

Why care?

Why should we care about all this? Well, for one thing, this is geography and history in action. Never dismiss either of these as irrelevant. Far from it.

For another, every country’s civilian and military budget is affected by these goings-on. Every country’s military, political, and financial stabilities are affected. These, in turn, affect investment and financial growth in each country. This affects education, employment, freedom, and other aspects of life for the citizens of each country. Finally, the power that each country wishes to project on the global stage is affected.

It is never wise to ignore geography and history in the development of nations. These affect our lives in a myriad ways. If we understand these well and act accordingly, we can have greater peace and prosperity. Else, we may not.

Things you can do:

  • On the internet, find out the route of the Yiwu–London train. What does it carry? What is the distance? How does the track gauge work (is it different for each country or the same …?) Which countries, latitudes, longitudes, and physiographic regions that it pass through?
  • Examine the relationships that various Asian countries – particularly the West, South, and Southeast Asian countries – have with India, with USA, and with China. See how you can categorize them. Friendly / unfriendly / hostile? Or are there other ways of describing these relationships?

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition.

Featured image, courtesy: Foreign Policy Research Institute (https://goo.gl/HXcn2y).


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