Modi needs to pay careful attention to the intentions of China
Amidst the growing fervour and anticipation over US-North Korea’s much touted bilateral summit in Singapore, India is facing quite a task in balancing its domestic imperatives alongside its foreign policy concerns.
Modi’s government will face the general elections in 2019, which would bring under the public eye his five-year long term. More than the tangible results, what essentially garners people’s attention is the kind of status and reputation that is accorded to India in the global domain. And that profoundly has been the government’s dedicated strategy behind a galore of bilateral engagements.
Not to forget, Indian Prime Minister Modi has been the prime mascot to drive this larger-than-life vision into the public consciousness and foreign policy narrative. When the US is stumbling to put its act together to tackle the ambivalent North Korea, the neighbourhood is wary of Chinese overarching intentions.
India, profoundly adhering to strategic autonomy, has articulated its foreign policy stances on the principles of, albeit theoretically, “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity.”
It is preeminent at this juncture, therefore, to investigate India’s foreign policy framework in a prudent manner, and its approach towards the regional hegemon, China, specifically.
Foreign policy domain has been greatly shadowed by individual choices and the domestic scenario, which has inevitable political consequences. India’s posture in the global ambit has been one of enhancing its status as a responsible power. Specifically, in the last four years, there has been a stress on establishing India as a unique power owing to its rich cultural heritage and historical affiliations.
The perfect balance
The primary strategy has been to strike the perfect balance between bandwagoning and balancing. India opted to deploy the strategies quite inconsistently -- while dealing with the US at several occasions, India has opted for bandwagoning, even at the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Balancing is a technique that New Delhi believes is adequately suited to counter the hegemonic China. Besides, the major concern has been of status rather than just security.
Status ambitions have creeped into India’s global posturing as well as the foreign policy framework, quite intricately. Not just at the institutional level, but in the domestic ambit, status affirmation has been of highest priority for India.
In the present conditions, India has reiterated its stance against the Belt and Road, most recently at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit (SCO). This highlights India’s self-perception vis-à-vis the image it aims to build in the global ambit.
Insisting upon the status of a responsible state, India has vouched for the recognition of a distinguished state namely at the established global platforms, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
In the recent past, India has been extremely adamant with its decisions relating to China and Pakistan, while on the same hand ensuring diplomatic advancements towards the major Asian states, including Indonesia.
As the clock is ticking for the next general elections, the government machinery has been fastened to ensure that India remains in the top-most layer, and is seen with utmost regard by the major states.
Pulling up their socks
What remains to be tested eventually is the resilience and strategic thinking ability of Indian foreign policy-makers in the context of the region primarily.
While China continues its advent into South Asian bloc, India has felt the urge to pull up its socks. At times responding with extreme care, at times exhorting casualness.
Interestingly, the US has maintained a safe distance from India’s overtures with China, let alone at the strategic front. As the impending trade rift is put on a haul, India and the US have secured their belts on several fronts.
The US has engaged, in a well-articulated manner, in a strategy of peaceful accommodation with India. At once understanding the status that India demands for itself, while also engaging with its partners in an equally brutal fashion. The months ahead will see extreme unpredictability at the end of Trump, Xi, and Modi.
While Modi is concerned about securing a stable public image, Xi is determined to ensure China grows faster -- not just economically, but attain a significant position in the global domain.
At the same time, there is a substantial challenge to counter the force that the US has come to symbolize. Following the balancing strategy, the threat that the hegemon poses in the regional domain has to be counterbalanced by an alliance of sorts formulated by the opposite forces.
In this scenario, India and the US have mutual interest in ensuring China doesn’t rise to a level of commanding extravagant power and recognition. India has the need to also ensure that its foreign policy adequately caters to its urge to secure stronger relations with China, that will have repercussion on where Indo-Pak ties stand.
While not being submissive to Chinese pressure, India has to maintain an independent stance vis-à-vis the major players in the region. In doing so, India’s foreign policy needs to expand its ambit to include perspectives beyond realism, or military might, to be considered as the ultimate goal.
The need here is for policy-makers to give due importance to aspirations of the other states involved, such as China.
What has been China’s incentive to support Pakistan at several occasions? Was it to counter India’s rising closeness with the US, or the fundamental disagreements that China has with India?
Baisali Mohanty is a foreign policy analyst who writes on security and conflict issues focusing on Asia Pacific.