Three perspectives of a relationship The Statesman 27 Jun 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Three perspectives of a relationship The Statesman 27 Jun 2023

          PM Modi’s recent visit to the US was amongst the most keenly observed events globally. The attention to detail given by the White House as also multiple visits to Delhi by high-ranking US diplomats displayed efforts by the Biden administration to make it a success. While the visit hogged headlines in India and the US, which was expected, it drew adverse comments from China even before it commenced.

          An editorial in the Global Times quoted Wang Yi, director of the CCP’s Foreign Affairs Commission and erstwhile foreign minister, ‘The US’s geopolitical calculations are not difficult to read. Washington’s vigorous efforts to strengthen economic and trade cooperation with India is primarily to slow down China’s economic development.’ It added, ‘India’s trade with the US cannot replace its trade with China, nor can India replace China in global supply chains.’ It cautioned on developing Indo-US relations by mentioning, ‘US pays lip service to India but seldom delivers.’

          In another article titled, ‘India may ask for higher price as US to woo Modi during visit,’ the Global Times mentions, ‘completely leaning toward the US for its strategic pursuit means India will alienate itself from China and Russia.’ It also stated, ‘Unless the US is willing to keep paying a high price to attract India, sooner or later, the two sides will disappoint each other.’ It added that India will not be a US military ally.

          For China, US-India proximity is intended at curbing its growing quest to be the dominant power in Asia. It also believes, and rightly so, that the US is seeking to move global supply chains away from China, preferably to India. No wonder Wang Yi stated, ‘China’s position in the global supply chain cannot be replaced by India or other economies.’ China is also aware that transfer of technology and provision of latest weapons from the US could reduce the technological and military advantage it possesses.

          Post the visit, the Global Times mentioned, ‘We welcome US-India cooperation aimed at peace and development. However, we strongly oppose any US-India schemes targeting China.’ It added, ‘The more strategically independent a country is, such as India, the less likely it is to strictly follow the script written by Washington,’ hinting that India not join any US led alliance. In another article it stated, ‘America’s embrace of India doesn’t go beyond exploiting shared apprehension toward China.’

          Lisa Curtis, senior fellow in the Centre for New American Security, in a discussion mentioned, ‘the Biden administration believes that a strong US-India partnership is essential to achieving its Indo-Pacific goals.’ Ashley Tellis added in the same dialogue, ‘Both the US and India share the objective of not having an Asia that is dominated by China, or an Indo-Pacific region that is subject to Chinese coercion and assertiveness.’ For the US, an economically and militarily strong India is a challenge to China. Hence John Kirby spokesperson for the NSA, stated, ‘We support India’s emergence as a great power.’  

John Bolton, the former US NSA mentioned, ‘I think the big challenge that confronts India and the US is how to deal with China. A lot depends on how countries in the region align with countries outside the region to deal with it (China). The two most important countries in that complex situation are India and the US.’ Ely Ratner, Assistant Secretary of Defence, stated, ‘you hear us talking a lot about a free and open Indo-Pacific. A strong India and a strong US-India partnership is central to achieving that vision. That is why the relationship matters.’

Simplistically put, for both, India and the US, China is a common threat not just militarily but also economically. The US is well aware of the India-China equation. It was summarized by Kirby when he stated, ‘This state visit wasn’t about China. India has challenges with China as well, right on their doorstep, but also more broadly in the region.’ For China, a US-India alliance is a matter of concern. Hence, the visit was closely observed and commented upon by Beijing.

Further, to enhance Indo-US ties, no contentious subjects including India’s procurement of Russian oil or its stand on the Russo-Ukraine war were broached during the visit. John Kirby clearly enunciated, ‘India will not be lectured on human rights.’   India also represents the global south and that itself challenges Chinese intent to dominate the Pacific and Africa, a fact not missed by the US.

          For India to develop as a military and economic power it requires technology transfer, modern military equipment and investments, all of which could flow from the US. The signing of deals of technology transfer of GE 414 engines, assembling Predator drones, establishment of a Micron semiconductor manufacturing unit etc, as also increased investments indicates that the US considers India a trusted partner.  

In return, India would be firmly in their camp and work with them in securing the Indo-Pacific, without challenging China militarily. It is already doing so by conducting military exercises with ASEAN nations while selling Brahmos missiles to China’s adversaries. India’s shift from Russia to the US simultaneous with a growing Russia-China proximity could change geopolitical dynamics. India will continue in global forums alongside China and Russia.  

          The US is aware that India’s ongoing dispute with a stronger China precludes it from being a military ally as also limits its participation in military actions against China. Hence, Delhi will continue as a strategic partner which can influence the region in multiple forms including relocating global supply chains, thereby reducing China’s ability to blackmail. While the US would encourage India to continue to expand its sphere of influence, China would seek to limit it. India, in the meanwhile, will desire to grow in power and develop capabilities which would preclude Chinese misadventures.    

          Both India and the US consider China a competitor and seek to contain it, while China visualizes the two nations ganging up against it. At the end of the day, the US views India through the prism of China. Beijing views Delhi through the prism of Washington while India seeks to counter Chinese threat with US’s technological and military backing. Variations in strategic outlook of the three nations is evident.