There is no denying the fact that India perceives China as its arch rival when it comes to gaining supremacy in the region. China’s meteoric rise has made the United States (US), the world’s sole superpower and largest economy, to also bewary of China’s economic progress. It therefore seems natural that the US and India have teamed up to put impediments in China’s path, which suits India very well since it can achieve its quest for supremacy by riding piggyback on America’s shoulders.
Its quest for power has made Indian foreign policy very hegemonic. Smaller Asian nations feel threatened, while bigger countries remain cautious of India’s demeanour. This disparate nature of policy execution has led to chaos in the region. Chaos is also distributed subtly through the adoption of long-term policies that create lack of harmony and order in the region, for instance, India’s refusal to attend the SAARC Summit 2016, which pressured other regional countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan to also pull out. This move seems to be counter-productive to India’s claimed regional leadership. True leaders cultivate harmony, not disparity and chaos. India’s pretext of developing a nuclear submarine for countervailing the Chinese prowling of the Indian Ocean as a security measure is not true, as China cannot afford any instability in the Indian Ocean due to economic interests being paramount for China.
The compelling nature of India’s affliction of “keeping up with the Joneses” has put it on the path of acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Traditionally, Russia was the largest weapons supplier to India, followed by Israel. Its new found romance with the US has fulfilled its cherished dream of acquiring weapons of western origin. Competing with China has made India disregard its age old relationship with Russia, much to the chagrin of Moscow since it is at the cost of growing Indo-US ties. The Russo-US rivalry is not exactly a secret.
Modi has denigrated Xi Jinping’s ambitious OBOR at the behest of the US, but this has not stopped it from becoming a member of the China sponsored BRICS Bank as well as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank
China on the other hand, which developed its economic might quietly and without boasting, has caused the current US President Donald Trump to wage a trade war against it. Undeterred, China has responded in a calculated and precise manner. India on the other hand is playing a double game. Privately, it acknowledges China’s rapid growth both in the economic and the military fields but on the sly, Narendra Modi has denigrated Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious but gargantuan One Belt One Road (OBOR)or New Silk Road Project at the behest of the US but this has not stopped it from becoming a member of the China sponsored BRICS Bank as well as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
India had received a drubbing at the hands of China in the 1962 Himalayan conflict and recently had to drawdown its forces in the face of Chinese supremacy at Doklam. India also has unresolved border issues with China, which can be resolved on the table but it is posturing to get a resolution in its favour through brute force, although that will be a grave misadventure. Narendra Modi also needs Chinese investments to support India’s development projects. At times Modi has tried to play up Japanese rivalry with China to attract Japanese financial investments while also playing to the US.
Narendra Modi has apparently lost sight of the fact that India is no match for deep seated Chinese diplomacy, economic progress and endeavours in the field of weapons development. Contrasting with Indian hegemonic designs as well as browbeating its smaller neighbours, Chinese efforts to take its neighbours along on the road to development has put China in favourable grace with the rest of its neighbours. China does face contentions regarding some of the islands in the region. Both Washington overtly and New Delhi covertly have fanned issues to create a conflict between Beijing and its neighbours but the Chinese desire to settle all issues bilaterally through peaceful negotiations, have averted clashes so far.
In this equation, Pakistan’s case is curious. Once perceived as a US ally, it was abhorred by India. During the cold war, USSR, the arch rival of USA, supported India. Pakistan and China have always been close friends even at the height of the Pak-US camaraderie. In fact Pakistan played the role of mediator in the US recognition of mainland China and establishing diplomatic ties between the two.
The current milieu is different. India and the US have drawn closer but Pak-US ties are rapidly disintegrating. India welcomes US animosity towards Pakistan and tries to fan the flames of distrust. China has traditionally stood by Pakistan through every trial and tribulation. The Indo-US tryst has ironically brought Russia and Pakistan closer.
If India wants to realize its ambitions of becoming a regional power, it will have to stop playing cat and mouse games with China and behave more responsibly with its other neighbours.
The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China
Published in Daily Times, May 19th 2018.