With the Asia-Pacific region becoming the playground of escalating US-China competition, India is in an enviable position of being wooed by several countries.
The United States feels India would be a “linchpin” in America’s new defence strategy that
involves “re-balancing” its forces towards Asia-Pacific; Australia has announced that, along with Indonesia and India, it will form the first “troika” to confer on the Indian Ocean, ostensibly to check China; and, Japan is steadily encouraging India’s participation in East Asia, again with China in mind.
While the United States is encouraging Australia and Japan to engage India, China too has risen to the occasion. It has stressed that Sino-Indian ties would be the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century. After sniggering at India’s 5000-kilometre Agni-V missile test, it has pointed out that India had an independent foreign policy, which could not be manipulated byWashington.
While New Delhi views its ties with Washington as crucial to cement its rising power status, it has also conveyed to Washingtonthat it needs to recalibrate its policy. It has emphasised the “need to strengthen the multilateral security architecture” in the Asia-Pacific and that it must “move at a pace comfortable to all countries concerned”. In doing so, New Delhi has maturely indicated that it prefers “cooperative ties” with both Beijing and Washington.
Though Sino-Indian ties have steadily improved, there is enough to keep them on tenterhooks, especially in the security domain. Some Chinese experts feel that the Indian defence strategy now treats China, not Pakistan, as priority target. This is also a perception that the new Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid alluded to. Clarifying what was a bigger challenge for India — territorial dispute with China or trust deficit with Pakistan — he said the former was a “major concern” than the latter, given the Chinese power to impact India in various spheres. Coinciding with the Chinese view is an Indian assessment: “Hardly a week passes without Delhi taking stock of China’s creeping ‘encirclement’ of India.”
Though Sino-Indian ties have steadily improved, there is enough to keep them on tenterhooks, especially in the security domain. Some Chinese experts feel that the Indian defence strategy now treats China, not Pakistan, as priority target.
Despite the bilateral tension and the US efforts to draw a wedge in Sino-Indo ties, there is plenty to cheer about. From about $1 billion in 1995, the annual bilateral trade touched $75 billion in 2011, and is tipped to cross $100 billion by 2015. Such has been their inclination to cooperate that Prime Ministers Dr Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao held face-to-face meetings at least 13 times between 2004 and 2012.
Since 2003, there has also been steady progress in security cooperation. Starting with joint naval exercises, an agreement in 2004 facilitated exchanging military exercise observers; the following year, the two countries agreed to convert “bilateral engagements into a long-term and strategic relationship”, pledging to resolve border disputes and boost economic cooperation. Since 2007, the two armies are working to counter terrorism, separatism and extremism as well.
Thus, it is important to stop viewing the Sino-Indo developments in mere China-versus-India terms and take an optimistic China-plus-India approach that offers a win-win situation. As the global economic balance shifts towards Asia, China and India must engage in cooperative as well as competitive, and not confrontational, engagement.
The challenge is to ensure that the Asian security architecture, led by China and India, among others, gives rise to new institutions that foster stability, security, cooperation, and growth, instead of being mired in suspicion and insecurity that others will exploit.
The first sign of this Asian solidarity is evident in the November announcement of an Asian free-trade bloc, which is a reaction to US attempts to form a Trans-Pacific Partnership that excludes China. Billed as “the world’s biggest regional free-trade deal”, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership involves 10 ASEAN countries and six others — China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Further, in a shift from bilateral to trilateral partnerships, the first India-Japan-South Korea dialogue was held in New Delhi a few months ago. While China’s aggressive stance in South China Sea and the disputed islands were part of the discussion, it is heartening that China, Japan and South Korea have also decided to start their own trilateral dialogue on economic issues, which could thaw political tension.
Moving ahead, rather than falling prey to the Washington-promoted India-Japan-US strategic triangle, an India-Japan-China strategic triangle should be nurtured. It may be prudent to even work towards a China-India-US dialogue. As Chinese and Indian naval power expands, their interaction with the United States could be a defining feature in the Asia-Pacific region in the decades ahead. The Gulf countries must also encourage this for their own long-term interests.
(Dr. N. Janardhan is a UAE-based political analyst, honorary fellow of the University of Exeter, UK.)
Source: Khaleej Times