The US is the world’s biggest economy and third most populous nation. China is the world’s second biggest economy and most populous nation. India is the world’s second most populous nation. Their economic, social, military and political activities have global significance, especially as each fights for its own perceived geopolitical importance.
The US, China and India have much in common in how they view and aspire to their respective national interests. How they behave internally and with each other have the potential to disrupt other nations and risk a world littered with geopolitical collateral damage.
Adding layers of complexity to the inter-actions and relationships between the US, China and India are their political constraints and political drivers (and personalities) of their respective leaders. The US and India have populist incumbent elected leaders who are very aware of, perform to and frame policy around their respective election cycles. China’s leader not only wears none of those labels but can (and does) frame long term policy without the restriction of election cycles.
In many areas of geopolitical influence, the US is in decline (not surprising given its isolationist trade policies in response to globalisation). It is resisting (or in denial of) that decline and its waning global geopolitical dominance, and fighting off its perceived challengers.
China is slowly catching up to or, in some cases overtaking, the US in its global economic, military and geopolitical influences, much to the frustration of the US.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of complexity to the direct relationships between and influences of the US, China and India. The coronavirus pandemic hurt China initially but China rebounded quickly. The US and India lag China in their efforts to contain COVID-19 and return their respective economies and global geopolitical standings to their pre-COVID positions – much of that lag and their sluggish and haphazard response to the pandemic can be laid at the feet of their populist leaders.
India has always taken a more introspective approach with international relations, compared to the US and China, but has always been assertive when it comes to its borders, especially those with Pakistan and China. Equally, China is also asserting itself with its borders, territories (currently focused on Hong Kong) and shipping lanes (currently focused on the South China Sea) while the US is shoring up its border with Mexico.
The US and China, in their battle to be the world’s number one in terms of economic, military and geopolitical influence, are seeking partners and allies. Other nations that take sides in such a battle will only increase the list of collateral casualties and further hamper the global recovery from the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As difficult as it will be, not taking sides between the US and China will prove to be a nation’s strategy for survival.