Proof will lie in how Blinken-Sullivan eat the Chinese pudding (Augmented)

US Secretay of State Anthony Blinken and President Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan]

The leading members of the new Joe Biden Administration — US Secretary of State Anthony J Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will, for the first time, touch base with Yang Jiechi, director of China’s Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18. This meeting will be in the wake of the virtual summit last Friday (March 12) of the head honchos of the Quadrilateral — Narendra Modi, Joe Biden, Yoshihide Suga and Scott Morrison, and of Blinken and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Tokyo and Seoul scheduled for March 16-17. That China agreed to this first meeting being held on “American turf” is considered an aspect of the U.S. approaching China, per the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, from a “position of strength” and “in lockstep with our allies and partners.” This suggests that the issues the Quad partners are supposedly in “lockstep” on were at least notinally discussed at the Quad virtual summit.

The main achievement of the virtual summit, however, was elsewhere, in the agreement on the division of labour to get the Quad’s Covid-19 ‘vaccine diplomacy’ to outmatch China’s global efforts, underway. According to this schemata India will use its production facilities to produce the vaccine at a fast clip at low cost, the US will facilitate the transactions with due regard to intellectual property rights, etc for Indian pharmaecutical companies to mass produce the latest remedy in the field — the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine and otherwise prepare it for speedy world-wide distribution, Japan will financially underwrite such commercial deals as are involved in joint manufacture, and Australia will pitch in with assistance in vaccine delivery systems.

Other than on the vaccine, the four leaders also decided to cooperate on what was referred to as “critical and emerging technology” areas, chiefly 5G telecommunications technology sector. China has taken the lead in terms of commercializing 5th-generation equipment but now finds itself stymied by a whole bunch of previous customer countries rejecting Huawei (and other Chinese company-produced) gear out of the reasonable security fear about deeply embedded electronic bugs prospectively activated by the their PLA masters that could hold hostage the communications networks of various countries. While there was a reference to strengthening India’s defence industrial base, there was no specificity about the US sharing any sensitive military technology with India, or any such thing. In the event, this issue is likely to go the way the DTTI (Defence Technology and Trade Initiative) has gone over the last 20 years, which is no where!

Blinken and Austin’s discussion with the Suga government will, logically, be around two issues: the increased presence of Chinese warships and fishing trawlers in the contested waters off the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu for the Chinese) Island chain The numbers of Chinese vessels of all kinds in this East Sea area tripled in the period 2012-2020. The other issue concerns the protection provided by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) to the US Navy’s 7th Fleet staging out of Yokohama, and US Air Force combat aircraft operating out of Japanese bases. This more proactive use of the Japanese military muscle was made possible by the “reinterpretation” ordered by the previous Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2014 that led a year later to the famous ‘Article 9’ of the country’s ‘peace Constitution’ being stretched to legalize this more offensive use of Japanese forces.

What the Suga regime will want to be reassured about is the extent to which Tokyo can depend on US naval and airforce assets attached to the 7th Fleet to buttress Japanese MSDF activity in defence of its Senkaku interests against the Chinese PLA Navy (PLAN). The Japanese government will want to work out a very clear understanding with Blinken and Austin about what exactly to expect by way of American military support and help should the simmering crisis with China begin to boil. The tension will be between what Tokyo would ideally like with respect to maximal deployment of US forces and what the Biden Administration is actually willing to commit to in the context of Washington’s less combative attitude to Beijing now than when Donald Trump was in the White House.

The Blinken-Austin duo’s conferring, across the Sea of Japan, with the South Korean regime of Moon Jae-in would be of a completely different character. Unlike the Suga cohort seeking more intensive US engagement on the Senkaku dispute, the high American officials will be wanting an iron-clad promise from the Moon Jae-in government to not be tempted, or get lured, by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s play for rapprochement at the expense of the US thinning out its militaryforces from South Korea. It is a deal that a large section of the South Korean population pining for, if not reunification than, normal relations, support.

What transpires in the Blinken-Austin rounds with Suga’s and Moon Je-in’s representatives is the baggage Blinken and Sullivan will carry to Anchorage in their meeting with Yang Jiechi, the top Communist Party man and overseer of China’s foreign policy who, incidentally, outranks foreign minister Wang Yi. But what is the Biden template for the US’ China policy?

President Biden in his address to American diplomats at the State Department on 4 February ahd this to say regarding China: “We’ll …take on directly the challenges posed by (sic) our prosperity, security, and democratic values by our most serious competitor, China.  We’ll confront China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive, coercive action; to push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance.” This would have been encouraging had it not been for the wishy-washy stuff that followed. “But we are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so”, he explained.  “We will compete from a position of strength by building back better at home, working with our allies and partners, renewing our role in international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority, much of which has been lost. That’s why we’ve moved quickly to begin restoring American engagement internationally and earn back our leadership position, to catalyze global action on shared challenges.”

A month after Biden’s speech, Blinken in his first address (March 3) as boss to an audience at the State Department, embroidered the President’s statement. “Our relationship with China”, he declared, “will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be….The common denominator is the need to engage China from a position of strength.“ This could well be the mantra that the other Quad foreign ministers S Jaishankar, the Australian Marise Ann Payne, and the Japanese Toshimitsu Motegi and their governments will readily subscribe to as well. In the main, because it allows each individual Quad state an awful lot of slack in defining when their country needs to be competitive, collaborative or adversarial! It also reflects and reveals the greatest weakness of the Quad. It relates to Washington’s opting out on any issue dear to the other three individually or collectively. Thus, without the military resources of the kind that the US can muster being available, the remaining Quad states could find themselves left high and dry in a contingency or crisis involving China.

In any case, the Biden Admin is moving cautiously. Referring to the proposed meeting with Yang Blinken clarified that “This is not a strategic dialogue. There’s no intent at this point for a series of follow-on engagements. Those engagements, if they are to follow, really have to be based on …tangible progress and tangible outcomes on the issues of concern to us with China.” These “issues of concern” over which the two sides have, according to the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, “deep disagreements” are, specifically, China’s “coercive and unfair economic practices,” the “crackdown in Hong Kong”, and “human rights abuses in Xinjiang”; and more generally America’s “concerns about challenges [China] pose[s] to the security and values of the United States and our allies and partners”. Psaki talked “about areas where we can cooperate, of mutual interest” without spelling out these areas but hinted that these may have to do with upholding “the rules-based international system and a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

And in this regard, Blinken stated that “China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system — all the rules, values and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to.” He then referenced the Pentagon “task force” constituted by Biden to “work quickly, drawing on civilian and military experts across the department to provide within the next few months the recommendations to Secretary Austin on key priorities and decision points so that we can chart a strong path forward on China-related matters”. This task force is to be chaired by Ely Ratner, a longtime Biden aide installed as Defence Secretary Austin’s adviser, who prefers the competitive (rather than the collaborative or adversarial) approach to China. This may or may not be reassuring to India.

What the Modi government will definitely be more wary of is the Biden Administration’s strident tone on two other sets of issues — trade & economic policies, and democracy and human rights. As regards the first set, Blinken reiterated the Trump line on domestic investment, in-sourcing and employment generation. “Our approach” will involve, Blinken said, fighting “for every American job and for the rights, protections, and interests of all American workers.” So, say Good Bye to the prospects of Washington encouraging US companise to invest in India or to move their manufacturing facilities to this country! And stressing on Biden’s favourite theme, Blinken talked about “Shoring up …democracy [as] a foreign policy imperative“. “Otherwise”, he added, “we play right into the hands of adversaries and competitors like Russia and China, who seize every opportunity to sow doubts about the strength of …democracy. We shouldn’t be making their jobs easier.“ But, he repeated Trump’s line against foreign interventions by the US but in a slightly different guise. “We will not promote democracy through costly military interventions or by attempting to overthrow authoritarian regimes by force” he added. “We’ve tried these tactics in the past. However well-intentioned, they haven’t worked. They’ve given ‘democracy promotion’ a bad name, and they’ve lost the confidence of the American people.”

As far as as India is concerned it leaves a great many foreign policy balls up in the air not least that matter about whether and under what conditions the four Quad countries will join in pursuing competitive, collaborative or adversarial strategies vis a vis China. This will be the great sticking point on which the Quad could render itself immobile. And then there’s the question of how long it will be before the Biden Government, prompted by the progressive element in the Democratic party led by the likes of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, will make Kashmir and the eroding respect of the Modi regime for human and democratic rights the rock on which the ship of Indo-US relations will crash. There are enough signs already that that point will not be long in coming and, in any case, a clash is inevitable in the context of the Modi government’s reaction to the negative Western assessment of Indian democracy.

The US-based Freedom House last week downgraded India from “free” to “partially free” status. And the V-Dem Institute in Sweden deemed India less an “electoral democracy” than an “electoral autocracy”. Apparently, Modi has been hurt to the quick because in his travels to America and elsewhere in the West in the past few years, he has basked in the glow of massive electoral victories at home. This is reflected in Jaishankar’s waspish reaction over the weekend. Per news reports this is what he said: “You use the dichotomy of democracy and autocracy. You want the truthful answer — it is hypocrisy. Because you have a set of self-appointed custodians of the world, who find it very difficult to stomach that somebody in India is not looking for their approval, is not willing to play the game they want it to be played. So they invent their rules, their parameters, they pass their judgments and then make out as though this is some kind of global exercise.”

These are fighting words and the BJP government better be prepared for even closer scrutiny and criticism of its record on the human rights front by Washington involving US Congressional Hearings on the subject of a democratically sliding India. Jayapal and others will be in the forefront of pressuring Modi regime onto the right and narrow path they deem democratic and that could mean, you guessed it, sanctions in some form or the other even if Biden himself would be loath to go this far considering how alienating India could lose America strategic traction in the Indo-Pacific. Still the Western democratic purists may decide that this price is worth paying.

Then what do you reckon the Indian government will do? Because such things as attempts by Washington to win brownie points with Delhi, like including India in the US-hosted talks for peace in Afghanistan as rival to the Russian-led negotiating effort from which India is excluded, won’t help.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Australia, Central Asia, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indo-Pacific, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, North Korea, Northeast Asia, Russia, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Technology transfer, technology, self-reliance, United States, US., Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Proof will lie in how Blinken-Sullivan eat the Chinese pudding (Augmented)

  1. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    Another aspect worth considering is that Australia inspite of all its tensions with China has already signed RCEP.

    Quad will not amount to much except yearly military exercises between the forces of these four countries.

    US has big trade deficit with India as well as China. It would love to see a full fledged war between China & India to sell weapons to India.

    The United States itself will never directly confront China for a war.

  2. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    The situation in India’s neighborhood has turned very serious. A civil war has begun in Myanmar;

    A few excerpts from the aforesaid news link;

    The military declared martial law in the area after Chinese businesses were attacked. Protesters believe China is giving support to the Burmese military.

    Beijing said people armed with iron bars, axes and petrol had set alight and damaged 10 Chinese facilities – mostly clothing production or storage factories – in Yangon. A Chinese hotel was also attacked.

    On its Facebook page the Chinese embassy said some “factories were looted and destroyed and many Chinese staff were injured and trapped”.

    The embassy urged Myanmar to “take further effective measures to stop all acts of violence, punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law and ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese companies and personnel in Myanmar”.

  3. Amit says:

    It will be very interesting to see how Quad dynamics play out. Each of the four players has tried to be ‘collaborative’ with China in the past. So if you go by past actions the Quad could be a still born dud. Yet, things seem to be moving more concretely in a direction which is ‘competitive’ against China. Only time will tell how the Quad becomes more ‘competitive’ or ‘adverserial’ against China (depends on Chinese actions too I think).

    I think there could be significant trade actions. The US is quite serious about building alternate supply chains. I think the Covid vaccine collaboration is a positive sign for more things to come in that area. India will benefit only if it implements the right economic policies. Don’t think the US government will have a big role here. US industry decisions are led more by the private sector.

    On the security front, it would be great if the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, UK and France also join the Quad. I’m reading more about this in the news – so this is probably where the Quad might be headed.

    One hopes the Quad develops into a real ‘competitor’ to China. As long as China continues to behave in the stupid manner it has in the last couple of years, this is almost certain to happen. I wonder why the media plays up Chinese ‘strategic’ thinking or their ‘long game’ that much. They have acted profoundly stupidly IMHO!

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Amit- Here in China they say that India initiated last year’s armed confrontation because the Indian establishment wanted to divert Indian public’s attention from its badly managed Corona Virus situation and crumbling economy.

      On pointing out that international media also stated the fact that China was the aggressor in unilaterally altering the border status, the standard reply is that international media is biased against China.

      The aforesaid views are not of common people in China (most of them actually don’t care about this issue) but of high ranking government officials and people associated with Geo-politics.

      Looking at Chinese propaganda and brain washing attempts even Joseph Gobbels would turn in his grave.

      • Amit says:

        @Gaurav Tyagi,

        Well, I don’t think one can say that the western media is not biased against China. That would be true of India as well. However, the fact is that the many countries in the world are ganging up against China and it is mainly due to China’s recent escalating aggression. Making enemies of everyone is hardly a wise strategy. That’s why I say that they have been profoundly stupid. They are perpetuating the exact thing they want to avoid!

        But having said that I can’t say that the US is being very smart either. They should mollify Russia instead of being so antagonistic against them. China is their main threat and having Russia in their camp is better than fighting China and Russia together. But institutional memories die hard I guess.

        In that sense the Chinese have been smart. They have managed to bring American enemies into their camp and relentlessly continue to do so. This could increasingly mean a more bipolar world rather than a multipolar world as India desires. At least until the Indian economy rises to a $10T level or so.

  4. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    No wonder the army says that politicians will deal with China;

    I have personally observed the high degree of corruption and misconduct in the Indian army since, my school days during the 80’s and early 90’s.

  5. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    This is the latest step by China;

    The most interesting aspect is, this Chinese vaccine is not even available in India.

  6. krishna soni says:

    Respected Sir@Professor Karnad Boris Johnson’s plan to increase the size of the UK’s nuclear weapons stockpile what would this development mean for world geopolitics ,what should India learn from this development,is it a bold step by UK prime minister.

    • UK is a bit like Pakistan in that while one rides America’s coattails, the other rides China’s, and the size of the nuclear arsenals of either coattail rider doesn’t really matter.

  7. Sankar says:

    @Professor Karnad:
    This is an aside to this column:
    “How will the Mandarins of South Block react? They will probably try to keep the information under the carpet as long as possible. But if they wait too long, it may be too late. Remember the Aksai Chin road.”
    Read more:
    But I would appreciate it if you could follow it up in a new column as a strategist think tank

  8. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    India and Pakistan can make a new beginning. Let bygones be bygones. Shed the past baggage.

    Recognize the present/existing border as final settlement thereby rendering IOK/POK terms irrelevant.

    Open up the border for trade, commerce, people to people exchanges, tourism. Provide visa on arrival to people from both sides.


      Gaurav Tyagi@ — So should India now ask Hasina to consider herself as a east-Pakistani again ? I wonder what will happen to the status of Bangladesh once India and Pakistan resolve their differences over Kashmir. Should India need to renounce her 1971 war aims then in order to normalize differences with Pakistan ?

      What makes you think that trade will bolster ties between the two countries which have a historical Hindu-Muslim animosity here. Remember India and China had at least 20-30 times more trade than India and Pakistan ever have had. So if trade resolves all problems then why did Doklam and Galwan take place ?

      I would love your answers.

      • Gaurav Tyagi says:

        Debanjan banerjee@ — Bangladesh is already in existence since 1971. There is no need to drag it in talks between India and Pakistan.

        I am of the opinion that the existing border between India and Pakistan should be recognized as the final settlement. No claims on each other’s lands anymore.

        The problem with China happened because of Modi’s policies of “riding two boats” simultaneously. When he isn’t willing to join RCEP, OBOR etc. then act tough on China. Recognize Taiwan and get out of SCO & BRICS as well.

        Modi’s getting too close to Trump annoyed China. That’s why they initiated last year’s military action against India.

        They have shown the world that Indian government is incapable of standing upto China. They can only bully Pakistan.

        I will not mince my words and tell you the real reason about India’s so called “tough posture” on Pakistan.

        India’s NSA has a secret understanding with his Pakistani counterparts to arrange so called terror attacks in India close to the election time to benefit BJP.

        Ram Gopal Yadav & Raj Thackery both have casted doubts on Pulwama terror attacks. The latter even hinting Doval’s involvement in it.

        India and Pakistan have the same cultural background. Opening up trade and people to people exchange will definitely benefit both sides.

        Hardliners/fundamentalists Hindus and Muslims from both sides may be annoyed with it but over a period of time, this step will surely benefit both sides resulting in a drastic “paradigm shift” among these two South Asian neighbors.


    Dear Mr Karnad
    Another wonderful article from your mighty pen. I just wonder what we can actually achieve by boosting a security-centric attitude towards China. If you look at the largest arms importing country (Saudi Arabia) and the largest arms exporting country (USA) none have actually managed to win any significant military victory let alone improve their national power. The USA has been unable to win in third world countries like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and then Afghanistan whereas Saudis despite importing almost every Western advanced arms system that money can buy are in a stalemate in Yemen with the Hauthis launching drones and missiles almost at will against major Saudi cities.

    So do you think that security-centric approaches are just not working for major arms manufacturing and procuring countries so will they work for India ?

    Thanks and regards with best wishes

  10. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    India should aggressively start Uranium mining in Arunachal Pradesh;

    The Chinese rant is so childish. You folks recognize Arunachal Pradesh or not. It doesn’t make any difference. The province is a part of India.

    If I say, I don’t recognize Modi as the Prime Minister of India. Will it achieve anything except my own self gratification? Modi will continue to be the Indian PM.


      Mr. Tyagi,
      We have been able to send a short-term strong message to the Chinese with this uranium mining however we need to be concerned for the long run on long term implications for the same.

      1. First of all we have been protesting Chinese decision to build dams at Branhmaputra because of environmental impacts. I wonder whether this decision will weaken that argument or not.
      2. Secondly the Arunachal pradesh Tibbetans are not supportive of this decision. Remember how they protested just recently against hydropower exploitation in that region.
      3. Remember the Dalai Lama has not supported us even during the Doklam as well as the other Ladakh stand offs. I wonder whether he will support us on this issue or not.

      I wonder considering all these whether your celebration may be little bit premature.

      • Gaurav Tyagi says:

        Debanjan Banerjee@ — I am not celebrating anything because I know how corrupt/incompetent Indian policy makers are regarding China.

        Dalai Lama has been treated like a pariah in India. He should be invited for important state events. What has India done for the Tibetan cause? Nothing really.

        Merely giving Dalai Lama shelter in India doesn’t amount to anything. India should never have recognized the so called, one China concept.

        The country should have aggressively raised Tibetan issue at every international forum.

        Dalai Lama would have achieved far greater traction for Tibet, had he moved to US or any Scandinavian nation in Europe.

        He and his fellow Tibetan refugees haven’t been treated fairly in India.

  11. Vikrant says:

    Sullivan and Blinken both have worked for CCP-linked Harvard’s belfer center. From Avril Heines to Melanie Hart almost every Biden regime operative, including Biden himself, have been subject of China’s influence operation. These influence operations are carried out by China United Front through various organizations, like Belter center and Begruen institute. The stated goal of these influence operation is to “to co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling Chinese Communist Party” and “influence foreign governments and other actors to take actions or adopt positions supportive of Beijing.” Moreover, the biggest exponent of China is Wall Street, which also happens to be the biggest political power center in the US.

    The recent talk of ‘cooperation’ as opposed to ‘confrontation’ is a sign of Washington reverting back to Obama era policy of “new model of great power relations” which is just another way of saying G2, which will eventually morph into China as the superpower and US as it’s junior partner.

    In this context, Quad is just a tool to get favourable deal for the US whether the deal is in the interest of Quad members, individually, or collectively, is irrelevant. It’s also very important to note that US doesn’t want India to become more than a regional power.

    Therefore, our focus, along with building manufacturing base, has to be in building MIC, digital sovereignty, 5G, Microchip and AI through massive government investment into DRDO and various research institutes and universities, and giving the end product to private sector for mass production.

    And when it comes US operatives undermining Indian democracy, well, that’s going to continue unless we take substantive steps to fortify our democracy- like banning Big tech (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and twitter) and creating domestic alternatives. But alas, that’s not going to happen because, as Lawrence of Arabia would say, we’re not a serious people.

    Lenin’s adage that you probe with a bayonet if you find steel, withdraw, If you find mush, keep pushing. Having forsaken our language and culture we’ve become a mush.

  12. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    Biden was asked in an interview whether he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin is a killer and said “I do.” Russia on Wednesday announced it’s recalling its ambassador in Washington for consultations.

    “One by one, the Russian oligarchs, dissidents, and gangsters who fled to Britain after Vladimir Putin came to power dropped dead in strange or suspicious circumstances.

    One by one, their British lawyers and fixers met similarly grisly ends. One by one, the British authorities shut down every investigation-and carried on courting the Kremlin.

    “It wasn’t until Putin’s assassins unleashed a deadly chemical weapon on the streets of Britain, endangering hundreds of members of the public in a failed attempt to slay the double agent Sergei Skripal, that Western governments were finally forced to admit that the killing had spun out of control.

    “Unflinchingly documenting the growing web of death on British and American soil, Blake bravely exposes the Kremlin’s assassination campaign as part of Putin’s ruthless pursuit of global dominance-and reveals why Western governments have failed to stop the bloodshed.

    The unforgettable story that emerges whisks us from London’s high-end night clubs to Miami’s million-dollar hideouts, ultimately rendering a bone-chilling portrait of money, betrayal, and murder.

    Based on a vast trove of unpublished documents, bags of discarded police evidence, and interviews with hundreds of insiders, this heart-stopping international investigation uncovers one of the most important- and terrifying-geopolitical stories of our time.”

    Heidi Blake, author of; From Russia with Blood: The Kremlin’s Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin’s Secret War on the West.

Leave a Reply to Gaurav Tyagi Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.