November 29, 2009

India is being careful not to reveal its hand

The US, China, Japan and Russia are seeking India's attention, but New Delhi is keeping all options open

By Pankaj Jha, Special to Gulf News Published: 00:00 November 27, 2009
India has been changing its position with regard to strategic issues primarily for two reasons. The first reason covers the ever-growing spectre of an increasingly assertive China. Secondly, India is looking to operationalise its status as an emerging power with regard to the global order. But the predicament for India is that it cannot demonise China and it should not trust the United States. These strategic realities are driving India's emerging strategic outlook.

This month is continuing to see a flurry of diplomatic activity for India. The visit of the Vietnamese Defence Minister in the first week, the visit of the Indian Defence Minister for the First Defence Dialogue with Japan and the ensuing visit of the Australian Prime Minister to India are definitive events that represent useful markers delineating Indian foreign policy priorities for the second term of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The comprehensive talks on security and intelligence cooperation issues with Australia show that India is not seeking US assurances in terms of its strategic needs. Even as Singh is hosted by US President Barack Obama this week in Washington, the Obama administration's unclear commitment towards the Indo-US nuclear deal and the US administration's misgivings about India's commitment to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty have come up as major irritants that continue to dominate the much heralded Indo-US relationship.

The rise of China has been matched by a Chin-ese encroachment policy on Indian issues, which if not met with strong objection is likely to increase China's influence in regard to border issues and contentious landmasses. The snub that came from India with the denial of business visas to the Chinese workers and the strong rebuttal over the issue of separate Chinese visas to people of Kashmir have won domestic brownie points for the United Progressive Alliance government. The media in India have stirred a lot of mistrust over Sino-Indian relations. India has been cautious, not allowing relations to deteriorate between the two countries, by cheekily indicating to the Chinese that they must understand India's democracy does not run on the whims and fancies of the government of the day in New Delhi, unlike in Beijing.

String of pearls

Critically, Indian strategic thinkers do not completely subscribe to the ‘String of Pearls' theory that sees Chinese enveloping India's interests in the Indian Ocean. In fact, India has made it clear that New Delhi will not cower in the face of Chinese apprehensions about India's rise. The recent visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang, in Arunanchal Pradesh, is an indication of India's changed stance.

New Delhi has embarked on a strategic and diplomatic offensive to gain the same status it had during the initial years of the Non-Aligned Movement in the mid-1950s. The winning formula today calls for an enhancement of its presence in the international sphere through economic cooperation, and this includes seeking membership in organisations such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, in addition to a more positive role in the East Asian Summit. Finally, India needs to play a bigger role in global concerns with regard to climate change, trade in commodities and sustaining positive dialogue in global economic forums such as the World Trade Organisation.

The common question that might arise at such a juncture is whether there is any real change of stance with regard to India's strategic priorities. After all, every Indian government in the post-Cold War period has sought to project an omni-directional foreign policy. But India's growing linkages and engagement with the central Asian republics as well as Mongolia, South Korea and Japan today suggests that India is preparing itself for a containment strategy with regard to China. And it is deploying a safety net in a game of strategic hedging should relations between the US and China take an ugly turn, as has happened in the past in the case of the USS Impeccable incident, or the ongoing Chinese spying claims by the US.

Although the process is a long one, India has drawn up a detailed strategic plan to make it a formidable power within the next two decades. While its military capabilities are not on par with those of China, the strategy calls for India's deterrence abilities to be strengthened until 2015, so that the country can project power thereafter. The benign stature of India's military machine will remain indefinitely, even as the bureaucrats in South Block seek to position India as a crucial swing power that is sought by all the major powers, so as to tilt any balance of power in its favour.

It does appear as if India's strategic priorities are likely to retain a measure of flexibility to deal with a constantly changing external environment. The US, China, Japan and Russia are seeking India's attention, while India has carefully kept its cards close to its chest. The interim prognosis is either India has got the better cards, or it wants to play the psychological power game in the international sphere to the best of its capacity.

— Opinion Asia, 2009

Pankaj Jha is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perfect analysis !India is slowly showing itself to be " as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves".
India has a overt long term strategy to deal effectively with China.China is gradually learning that India is longer the pushover it was courtesy Nehru.
Obama is too immature to understand any of this.He and his minions provide valuable lessons to be learnt in dealing with the USA.