As a rising China challenges American primacy in Asia, navigating between the Chinese and American is a major strategic challenge for us. India’s default option, many assume, is to reaffirm non-alignment — neither with USA, nor China. That conventional wisdom is under a cloud as India draws closer towards America, amidst a rather difficult phase with China.
Contrary to the mythology of non-alignment, tilting to one side or another has been very much part of the Indian diplomatic tradition and the Chinese. As he founded the People’s Republic of China, it is known Mao Zedong insisted China must “lean one side” — towards the Soviet Union. But within a few years, he fought Moscow and leaned towards the other side, Washington.Jawaharlal Nehru proclaimed non-alignment but reached out to the US amidst the war with China in 1962. In 1971, Indira Gandhi signed a security treaty with the Soviet Union as the American embrace of China altered the regional balance.
The Problem with India-China:
China’s GDP is nearly five times larger than India’s. Its military spending is thrice that of Delhi. In the last few years, India has struggled to cope with China’s political expansion, military modernisation and power projection in India’s neighbourhood. India’s territorial disputes with China have also endured. After decades of negotiation, India and China don’t even agree on the length of their border. China says the border is about 2,000 km — the Indian count is nearly 4,000. Thereby hangs a tale of two nationalisms, so deeply attached to territory.
The territorial question is further complicated by the disagreement over Tibet and its relationship to India and China. India worries about China’s deepening alliance with Pakistan and frets over China’s growing power in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. India has a massive trade deficit with China. Beyond the bilateral and regional, China has tripped up India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and is unenthusiastic about India’s claim for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.To add to this, At UN, China’s decision to block India’s bid to ban JeM chief Masood Azhar is not going well down India
The Tilt towards USA:
India’s messy relationship with China stands in contrast to growing political convergence with the United States. India has a significant trade surplus with America; its dynamic IT sector is deeply connected to America’s Silicon Valley. The US ended its pro-Pakistan tilt some years ago and has moved towards neutrality; US is more forthcoming than China in helping India counter cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. Unlike China, America supports India’s membership of the UNSC and the NSG.
US says it wants to see India emerge as a great power; China seems to block India’s rise on the global stage.
The Uncertainty with USA:
India is acutely aware that US and China have a stronger economic partnership with each other than they have with India. For the near future, therefore, India’s emphasis will be on making the best of expanding the partnership with the United States while limiting and managing the differences with China. India has just begun this global walk— and there is much distance to cover.
India’s ambition to grow as an “influential and responsible global power” calls for it to manage equilibrium in the region. It is a challenge for India to ensure that its neighbourhood stays less volatile. At the same time, India has had long-term relations with America. The two countries were once described by PM Vajpayee as “natural allies”. In the last two years, PM Modi has taken these relations much farther and deeper. We need them in our pursuit of progress. At the same time, India needs to be watchful about US moves with at least four important countries — Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. These have a greater bearing on India’s interests in the region and beyond
“Nations have no permanent friends or allies in diplomacy; they have only permanent interests,” said the famous English statesman Lord Palmerstone.