April 04, 2020
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Op. Equidistance

Beyond the balancing, India must build good ties with China

Op. Equidistance
Modi with terracotta warriors in Xian
Photograph by PTI
Op. Equidistance

Since the end of Cold War, India has improved int­ernational relationships. While maintaining a traditional partnership with Moscow, it has been able to stabilise its ties with Beijing. Meanwhile, both India and the US have abandoned their Cold War baggage and begun a comprehensive cooperation in the political, economic and military spheres. Such improvement is welcome. India now can develop fruitful rel­ations with all major powers. This offers her the opportunity to expand its influence.

India has not wasted opportunities; it has deepened its ties with China. As their relations are fundamentally affected by the border issue, they have worked persistently in building security and confidence measures. Two years ago, they worked out a collaborative border security by committing not to trail each other’s patrol along the LAC. Though there is still some distance to go in clarifying the line and settling the border, they have managed to largely maintain peace.

Lately, India and China have partnered to improve regional and global governance. They are BRICS members, and an Indian banker is a  founding president of the Shanghai-based New Development Bank. India has joined China in the Asian Inf­­rastructure Investment Bank as its second largest stakeholder.

Meanwhile, India-US ties have been upgraded. To tap business opportunity and to help build bilateral trust with India, the George W. Bush administration helped waive NSG restrictions on India’s access to international cooperation in civilian use of nuclear energy. The Obama administration is now working to bring India into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. America’s rappr­ochement is not merely a product of the end of the Cold War; it also has geostrategic interests. China’s rapid rise has led to a relative decline in US dominance in Asia. Washington is keen for partners to check and balance China with. For the US, India can be a partner, given their shared values and security concerns.

India has to balance its traditional independent foreign policy and a pragmatic multilateralism. It is interested in tapping US support for its ambition to be a major power, so it is grateful to US efforts to bring it out of international isolation vis-a-vis civil nuclear energy.

Though one is yet to test US commitment to support India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, Delhi still appreciates Washington’s rhetoric on this. Washington sees India as a swing country that will side with it when in need. India wants close ties with the US to reap economic and trade benefits but is aware of the costs of a close political and military tie-up. India and the US concluded talks last month on a Logistics Support Agreement. For India, with its independent foreign policy, this may signify an apparent shift. But it can also be interpreted as India’s hedge against China’s military modernisation and access to the Indian Ocean. As it wants to send a signal to China without provoking it, India has not yet joined the US to co-patrol the South China Sea.

Though the US has offered more arms for India to shop, New Delhi has bought some hel­­i­­copters and transporters, but not American warplanes. It opted instead for Russian and French military aircraft. India’s reluctance to arm its air force with US planes might have something to do with its expectation of long-term India-US ties. Whether PM Modi manages a breakthrough during his June visit remains to be seen. It seems India will continue with its pragmatic foreign policy. Close India-US ties have China in mind, but India doesn’t want to overplay it. After all, China too has its own geostrategic cards, not to mention rich resources.

As long as India positions itself as a major power, it will take care to play a balancing game rather than be played by others. PM Modi shall understand that India has a great future by building relations with both China and the US. A proper rebalance of power, without aligning with any other power, only benefits India more.

(Shen Dingli teaches at the Institute of International Studies in China’s Fudan University)

Slide Show

Mechuka, a town in West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh on the China border, was a strategic area in 1962. An Advanced Landing Ground of the IAF in Mechuka became operational recently.

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