Beijing has established China’s first foreign military base in Djibouti. The move can either be interpreted as a sign that China is taking on greater international responsibility as an emerging global power or be interpreted as a threat. For those who hope to use Chinese might to balance US military muscle, the development is more than welcome. For China’s neighbors and the US, the willingness of Beijing to extend the China’s military machine is troubling. On the other hand, the US needs world powers to contribute to global security. With the size of the Chinese population and economy, China can do a lot. Unlike world power allies Britain and France, however, China is not a democratic society, which complicates things.
Democracies face an inherent conflict of interests when it comes to their policies toward non-democratic and ill-democratic governments. They must either choose to respect the boundaries and sovereignty of foreign governments or conflict with these governments over their dominance of their territories and populations. In practice, the former too often means hypocritical betrayals of their own democratic values while the latter means exerting undue influence in the affairs of other nations, which is something all forms of government are compelled to do in order to ensure their interests. At best, democratic governments will support policies that favor foreign governments when the interests of the populations of both nations align.
Clearly, relations between democratic nations face fewer ethical concerns and inherent flash points. When the interests of two Peoples and two democratic governments misalign, however, democracies still face foreign policy strife, yet neither democratic nation has to sacrifice their values, unless corrupt leaders chose to do so. Nations have a chance to simply disagree and find compromise solutions over the course of time, which is how democracies are supposed to handle internal disagreement as well. Because democracies and nondemocratic governments are more often likely to have disagreements over fundamental issues of governance, conflicts are far more likely to occur and escalate far quicker to the point armed conflict becomes the most likely outcome.
Underscoring the complex dynamic between the US, China, and China’s neighbors, the Malabar 2017 maritime war games between the US, India, and Japan represent the kind of cooperation between democratic countries that align with American interests and democratic values. These events, of course, occur at a sensitive time as tensions between China and India escalate over the Bhutan border dispute. To make matters worse, India and arch-rival Pakistan are also engagement in ongoing border disputes over Jammu and Kashmir. India and Pakistan,which is an unreliable US ally strengthening military ties with China, might both be democratic societies, but their contentious history and racial divisions make their Peoples and, therefore, their nations bitter enemies.
The Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese quandary is messy business. Their smaller neighbors, of course, complicate things even more. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, for example, consistently draws the ire of the US. As the US cannot deal with North Korea directly and China can, North Korea must be addressed by America’s Chinese policy. Similarly, the porous nature of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border forces the US to rely on Pakistan to address issues in Afghanistan and globalized terrorism. With India caught in the middle and an enemy of two nations the US needs for strategic purposes, it might seem prudent to disengage, but the US cannot forge the kind of relationship it needs with China or Pakistan.
Currently, US foreign policy is focused on the Middle East due to the threat of globalized terrorism and regional instability. The Middle East may have oil, but the US, which enjoys its own energy reserves, has far more valuable economic and strategic interests in Asia than the Middle East. Helping to resolve the brewing conflict between India, China, and Pakistan is far more important than devoting resources to securing the kingdoms of the Middle East from their own Peoples, especially when their government are far too consumed with undermining each other. A war between these three nuclear giants is sure to cause far greater global instability than the fall of any government in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the American People are focused on Russia thanks to alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Quite frankly, rebuilding US-Russian relations is important, but rebuilding US-Russian ties for the sake of rebuilding US-Russian ties is not so critical that it must be done at the expense of America’s broader interests. The US needs world powers to tackle complex global issues. China is one such emerging world power. Unfortunately, Beijing’s undemocratic ways creates an inherent conflict of interests. The same conflict exists with ill-democratic Russia as well as the autocratic governments of the Middle East. The US has struggled to overcome issues with the corrupted Pakistani government, but strengthening US-Indian ties is a powerful means of strengthening US global power.
US interests would be far better served by building stronger ties with India than focusing on Russia, the Middle East, or even China. Although US relations with Pakistan and China are strained, the US can help work with India to resolve the underlying grievances between both Pakistan and China. Because India has favorable relations with many governments, which conflict with Washington, India can help the US develop better relations with China and countries like Russia. Unlike China, Russia, and the governments of the Middle East, India is democratic, which means there is no inherent conflict of interests between the US and India. Unlike the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and China also have a long history of avoiding major conflict, thus the issues between the three giants are resolvable.
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