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India Tightens Links to China’s Rivals, Escalates Game of Thrones

As the Game of Thrones intensifies in Asia, India and the Southeast Asian countries are banding together against China. Japan is thrilled, China annoyed, and the United States is hoping the tensions stay under control.

India and the ASEAN nations vowed closer economic and security ties at a meeting on Indian soil yesterday. With leaders from Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and China’s other rivals in ASEAN, Indian PM Manmohan Singh hailed a new free trade agreement and a more prominent role for India in South China Sea disputes as important milestones.

Said Singh: “As maritime nations, India and the ASEAN should intensify their engagement for maritime security and safety, for freedom of navigation and for peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in accordance with international law.”

As Reuters reports, China recently announced a plan to detain and search ships that “illegally” enter what Beijing considers Chinese territory in the South China Sea. The chief of ASEAN responded that this could lead to war.

Though India has no territorial claims to the disputed islands in the South China Sea, Delhi has embarked on a “look east” policy of deeper political and economic engagement with Southeast Asia. India, Reuters reports, is “hungry for energy and is exploring for oil and gas with Vietnam in an area contested by China. In future, it is expected to ship liquefied natural gas from Russia through the Malacca Straits.”

India’s increased maritime engagement is broadly congruent with the plans of incoming Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, who has stressed his desire to deepen ties with India. New realities are taking shape in the Game of Thrones—and not the ones Beijing would have wanted.

So far, Chinese diplomacy in Asia is eerily repeating some of the worst mistakes Germany made in Europe under Kaiser Wilhelm II: by turns frightening and angering neighbors who then draw together to balance its power. If China is determined to follow the German road to ruin, the next step will be to denounce the ‘encirclement’ its own actions have provoked, and then to start thinking about war scenarios to defeat the gathering coalition.

This would be a huge and historic mistake. China’s neighbors, and also the United States, want a peaceful China in a rising Asia. That’s not a bad outcome from the standpoint of China’s interests, and is a lot better than anything visible down the road on which, at the moment, Beijing seems determined to go.

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