Musings from afar

How India is adjusting to the global power shifts

If China has a strategy of containing India, then New Delhi can challenge Beijing’s core interests. Alliance with Russia could come in handy.

 |  Musings from afar  |  4-minute read |   03-10-2019
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US last week was a significant step in reaching out to US President Donald Trump, after months of negative headlines on the state of bilateral relations.

During his visit, Modi managed to mellow down Trump’s criticism on trade, even as he stood his ground on Kashmir. Trump was effusive in his praise of Modi and India at the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston and Modi showcased the power of Indian Americans for the American political establishment.

trump-690_100319114856.jpgNarendra Modi managed to mellow down Trump’s criticism on trade without conceding ground on Kashmir. (Photo: Reuters)

Modi has been engaging Trump systematically, and these efforts have borne fruit as Indo-US relations have been more stable than America’s ties with some of its closest partners.

Trouble on the borders

Trump’s term has seen a burgeoning of Indo-US strategic partnership. This has happened as America’s ties with China have deteriorated, allowing India to carve out a productive engagement with the US while its own ties with China are troublesome.

China’s support for Pakistan’s position on Kashmir at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) underscored the trajectory of contemporary Sino-Indian relations. Last month, the UNSC held closed-door consultations in response to Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s letter to the UNSC president on the situation in J&K, which was supported by China.

This was Pakistan’s bid to internationalise the issue of Kashmir. Its efforts also saw Beijing working with Islamabad to rake up the status of Aksai Chin, arguing that New Delhi’s decision to abrogate Article 370 violated bilateral agreements on maintaining stability in the border area. The message to India was clear: Beijing would join forces with Pakistan to hurt Indian interests at every possible forum.

There were many in India who expected China to moderate its behaviour vis-à-vis India in light of the so-called “Wuhan spirit”. That’s a misreading of Chinese foreign policy, as well as of PM Modi’s attempt to engage informally with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan last year.

China’s stance

By backing Pakistan’s request for the UNSC to discuss India’s Kashmir move, China has signalled its priorities and made any normalisation of ties almost impossible. India’s deft diplomatic handling of the situation has ensured that China stands isolated at the UN. Last month, the UNSC consultations on Kashmir concluded without any outcome or formal statement. Most members supported India’s stand that this was a bilateral issue to be resolved between India and Pakistan.

xi-690_100319115108.jpgBy backing Pakistan’s request for the UNSC to discuss India’s Kashmir move, China has signalled its priorities. (Photo: Reuters)

This repeated isolation notwithstanding, China remains unambiguously committed to sustaining its partnership with Pakistan. That’s the strategic reality New Delhi will have to contend with.

The Wuhan summit was an attempt by New Delhi and Beijing to lower temperatures after the Doklam crisis, and it succeeded in doing so. But the underlying factors that have shaped the trajectory of Sino-Indian relations over the last few decades remain unchanged.

Moreover, as India becomes a more proactive player in the international order and China’s troubles with the rest of the world continue to grow, Beijing will target New Delhi more pointedly.

China can’t expect that its priorities on trade and 5G would be considered favourably by India if it continues to challenge the fundamentals of good neighbourly ties. Nothing can stop India from raking up issues like Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Tibet and Taiwan remain Chinese vulnerabilities. Beijing should be under no illusion that, just because the Chinese President would be visiting India in October, ostensibly to take the “Wuhan spirit” forward, India would hesitate in responding to its provocations. It should realise that there is no major constituency left in India today that has a favourable view of China.

If China has a long-term strategy of containing India within South Asia, then India can adopt a strategy of challenging China’s core interests. India is trying to do this by building solid partnerships with other major powers like the US. Even Russia is being engaged with in the hope that the budding alliance between Moscow and Beijing can be snapped.

World is not enough

Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit the Russian Far East Region last month to give “a new direction, new energy and new speed” to relations between the two countries.

Modi’s presence at the EEF is crucial at various levels. With the centre of global economics shifting to Asia, Putin is keen to focus on the Far East and develop it with the help of Asian powers. Chinese dominance in Russian Far East is palpable, to Moscow’s discomfort. Putin’s attempt to diversify assumes importance so as to lessen Russia’s dependence on China.

India and Russia’s challenge is that they must convert their partnership for the 21st century. Global trends are evolving and major powers are constantly redefining their ties with each other. In light of this, New Delhi must be diplomatically nimble as it seeks to engage major powers more substantively.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Why ‘declaration of war’ by Imran Khan is an opportunity for India


Harsh V Pant Harsh V Pant

The writer is Professor of International Relations at King's College London. His most recent book is India's Afghan Muddle (HarperCollins).

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