China used the Covid-19 crisis for strategic gains across the Indo-Pacific region, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has said in a report which noted that the pandemic was replete with “significant” geopolitical ramifications.
China’s increasingly active drive and India’s rivalry with Pakistan will continue to dominate the regional security environment when the pandemic dies down, said Strategic Survey 2020: The Annual Assessment of Geopolitics, which was launched virtually on Friday.
“Competition intensified in the region. Beijing seemed steadily more intent on asserting strategic primacy in its maritime littoral. The US government…saw evidence that China was taking advantage of other governments’ preoccupation with the Covid-19 pandemic to gain strategic advantage throughout what the US, its allies and other states including India and Indonesia increasingly referred to as the Indo-Pacific region”, it said.
In South Asia, according to IISS, the pandemic severely disrupted economies and tested governance and public-health infrastructure. Densely populated urban areas, poverty and poor sanitation, weak public health systems, and low testing rates by Asian standards challenged the region’s ability to limit infections and deaths.
Reviewing the events and issues related to the changed constitutional realities in Jammu and Kashmir, the think-tank concluded that during the year, although India’s actions resulted in greater international attention, Indian diplomacy successfully ensured that it remained a bilateral issue with Pakistan and avoided international mediation.
Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior fellow for South Asia at IISS, said: “In effect, for 2021, India is likely to see the resumption of ‘hard power’ geo-politics amidst growing Sino-Pakistani security convergences and relative neglect by the US and the ‘Quad’ countries [India, US, Australia, Japan] ….a tough year, amidst a dramatically weakened economy.”
In his perception, South Asia’s geopolitics in 2021 will be shaped by US president-elect Biden’s relative neglect of the region (in view of his domestic priorities and foreign policy constraints with a likely Republican-controlled Senate).
It will also be shaped, he added, by continuing Chinese assertiveness on the Sino-Indian border amidst growing influence amidst India’s neighbours and in the Indian Ocean due to regional economies weakened by the impact of Covid-19; and a decreasing focus on the Indo-Pacific from a ‘free and open’ region to one of ‘security and prosperity’ by the US and Japan.
“As a result, for India, its key priorities will be: to adroitly counter the repercussions of a political transition in Afghanistan and resultant loss in influence, by seeking to engage with a likely Taliban-dominated Afghan government to prevent ‘safe haven’ for anti-India terrorists while attempting to shield itself from a possible civil war in Afghanistan; counter Chinese assertive policy by building on its own economic and military capabilities and focusing on extending its influence and leverage in the Indian Ocean; and managing tensions with Pakistan with the possibility of an escalation of conflict”, Roy-Chaudhury said.
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