Indo-US bonhomie should not irk China

Brig Anil Gupta
The recent three-day historic visit of President Obama has invoked a mixed response in the media. While a section of the media views it as a major foreign policy breakthrough and a boost to the growing Indo-US strategic ties against global terror, another section terms it as india’s attempt to jump into the American band-wagon for containment of China. Many analysts have also concluded that it has irked China and may further dampen the Sino-Indian relations. But the truth lies somewhere else. Ever since Modi assumed power in Delhi in May 2014, he has been trying to give a new direction to India’s morbid foreign policy. In order to revamp India’s international image and her stature he has tried in his unorthodox “Modi Style” to reach out to the leaders of all major global powers. Resultantly there has been a flurry of visits to India by the important international leaders as well as visits by the Indian Prime Minister to different countries. The visit of President Obama should also be seen in the same light. For India a closer tie with the US is compatible with her multi-faceted diplomacy in pursuance of the agenda of growth and development.
Delhi’s pro-active engagement with major global players namely China, US, Russia and Japan suggests a more sophisticated and interest-based foreign policy. The Indo-US bonhomie should also be viewed from the same prism. While US may be desirous of co-opting India as a potential ally in regional security architecture, India prefers to chart an independent course based on her national regional and global interests. India desires to create an independent slot for her in the global strategic space. The recent warm up in Indo-US relations is being wrongly viewed by some as India’s total convergence with US in its Asia-Pacific Policy. The fact is that India’s foreign policy remains consistent vis-à-vis the great powers. The only difference is the new pro-active and practical shift from idealism to realism. While India desires to maintain good relations with all the global powers yet at the same time would not hesitate to seek support from one power against another keeping in mind her strategic interests. At the same time India would prefer to resolve its differences with any power through deft diplomatic engagement rather than completely aligning itself with a particular power. India under Modi is more confident of its prowess and capabilities to engage China diplomatically to resolve the contentious issues between the two giant neighbours. Similarly, China is also growing exponentially to engage in strategic competition with US. Hence, to term growing Indo-US bonhomie as an irritant in Sino-Indian relations is nowhere near the truth.
India and China need not view each other as a threat but must work together towards exploiting enormous opportunities available to both the neighbours to emerge as important global players once again ushering the era of multi-polar world.India needs capital investments to accomplish its agenda of growth and development. Both China and US are important to India as they are to each other purely in economic terms. The US role in China’s growth story is acknowledged world over. For economic growth India needs a secure environment and energy and also has convergence of interests with the US in the prevailing geo-political strategic environment. However, it should not be construed as an attempt to ‘gang up’ against China. The Chinese intelligentsia also echoes the same sentiments.  “From the US point of view, India is the key for America’s so called Asia-Pacific Strategy aimed at containing China besides balancing Beijing’s Silk Road push into the Indian Ocean as well as blunt the growing influence of China and Russia in India and South Asia”, writes Prof Wang Yewin of School of International Relations, Renmin University of China. He further eulogises, “Of course it is American strategy to use India against China. But we understand India also needs strategic cooperation with the US in defence and security because India suffered due to separatists and terrorists attack and needs capital investment from US. We must understand that from India’s needs.”
Personal bonding the two leaders shared during the just concluded visit in no way should undermine the personal equation Modi established with the Chinese President Xi Jinping during the latter’s visit in September last year. This is the peculiar Modi way to give a new impetus to India’s foreign relations and announcing India’s emergence as a substantial player on the global scene. Through deft diplomacy India seems to convey to the international community her commitment to maintain its non-aligned status and pursuance of the strategy of mutual cooperation with global powers based on her strategic interests. India remains firm in her quest for “strategic autonomy”. The visit of Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to China immediately after the Obama visit is an indicator of the importance India attaches to bilateral relations. “Obama visit should provide the impetus to pursue a mutually beneficial equation with China,” according to Zorawar Daulet Singh, a research scholar at King’s College London. Even President Obama in an interview with CNN immediately after his path-breaking visit to India said, “China doesn’t need to be threatened because we have good relations with India.” In fact both the US and India share commonalities in their relationship with China. The three ‘Cs’ namely; Competition, Cooperation and Conflict are the main determinants of their bilateral relationships. In his interview to CNN, Obama further said, “I have continuously emphasised that it is very much in America’s interest to see China continue with its peaceful rise. What’s dangerous for us is a destabilised and impoverished and disintegrating China.”
What appears to have irked China a bit is the US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region issued at the end of Obama visit. The two leaders called for resolution of territorial and maritime disputes “through all peaceful means and in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law including United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea”. The Chinese perceive it as an attempt to stir up trouble in the South China Sea. It has upset the Chinese who retorted by saying, “We believe relevant disputes should be resolved by parties directly concerned through peaceful talks and consultations”. The Chinese media also cautioned India to not to fall in the ‘Zero-sum-trap’ being set up by the US. The media also vociferously criticised Washington for pitting India against China through its ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy. Instead India and China need to work together to realise the common dream of “Asian Century”. India and China, both as emerging powers, need to seize more opportunities of co-operation than confrontation/conflict. While India has repeatedly assured China that it would not join in any plan of China’s containment, China has also taken note of India’s sensitivities to its Silk-Route plan. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has acknowledged by stating “We believe India-US relations and India-China relationship are two bilateral relationships”.
Modi’s statesmanship is under the scanner. His greatest challenge in the coming months is as to how he handles India’s relations with China while forging better and stronger ties with US. The prime minister’s forthcoming visit to China is crucial. He would have to use his diplomatic finesse to allay the Chinese apprehensions as well as extract the maximum to minimise the irritants in the bilateral relationship. Sushma Swaraj has already termed it as “outcome driven visit”.  Modi will be conscious of the fact that strategic relations between great powers are not determined through personal equations but by national interests.
{The author is a Jammu based security and strategic analyst)

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