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India walks a tightrope between China and the Indo-Pacific

By Sudhanshu Tripathi - posted Wednesday, 22 September 2021


Unfortunately, China's mounting aggressions and the rising militarist assertions in the entire Asia-Pacific, or to be more accurate, in the Indo-Pacific, has considerably challenged the security umbrella that was established at the end of Second World War and that strengthened after the end of the Cold War.Inthis constantly evolving scenario, the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a new geographic space - bringing together the Indian and the Pacific oceans - represents the new strategic reality of the 21st century. Although the major powers in the region, Australia, Japan, and the US, consider India's Indo-Pacific role to be crucial, and despite New Delhi's significant presence in the Indian Ocean region, India has in the past largely ignored maritime security.

Today, the Indo-Pacific is a newly important domain in India's foreign policy engagements, representing a major shift in New Delhi's strategic thinking - expanding India's perception of threats from its continental borders alone, into its maritime space. While the global spread of the Coronavirus has put the whole of mankind under the gravest threat of this century,it also offers a wide-ranging opportunity to not only fight the epidemic but also restore the economy and socio-political order onto its normal track. India has consistently upheld all the stated goals of its foreign policy, and it continues to protect its national interests, genuinely motivated to do this in accordance with the true spirit of peace, prosperity, welfare and security for the whole of humanity as characterized by vasudhaiv kutumbakam ie the entire world is one family.

At the same time, China faces numerous internal challenges and popular unrest on several counts, according to political analysts, and these, taken altogether, pose serious threats to the regime of President Xi Jingping, who has been earnestly trying to divert the popular attention from his own follies and failures by focusing on the thorny border issue with India. This emerging scenario is becoming more worrisome for New Delhi since the Taliban recapturied power in Afghanistan, where Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and few more Islamic countries like Tajikistan, Kazakhstan etc., are taking a keen interest in Kabul, supporting the new regime of the Taliban terrorists. That may perhaps usher to a new world order characterized by more and more macabre violence and terror, thereby diminishing the liberal-democratic order.

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Despite all these grave challenges, India's competent leadership has successfully managed to retain the core principles of the country's foreign policy. They have done this while still addressing mammoth internal as well as external challenges in an effective way, handling all challenges in a genuine and responsible manner, and thereby substantiating India's long cherished aspiration to be a leading power, rather than just a balancing power, in the world. Prime Minister Modi holds that a leading power is a great power: not only economically and militarily but also culturally, having ideational and philosophical power to contribute something new towards the welfare of the whole of mankind. This invocation for the country consequently offers transformative possibilities, leading towards the acquisition of great power capabilities. Perhaps, with this view in hand, India has indeed successfully managed to forge and refresh close relations with all major powers and other regional powers like Australia, Japan, South Korea, Britain, France, Canada, Russia, the US, Brazil, South Africa, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan, Vietnam, and Philippines. But his concerted and sincere efforts to restore normal bilateral relations with China, Pakistan and Nepal and few more countries have not resulted in the desired outcome and, instead, have gone bad to worse. This is particularly so as Beijing and Islamabad continue to maintain bitter and hostile relations with New Delhi both individually and together, with, most likely, the involvement of Kathmandu and possibly Colombo too in an evolving anti-India conglomeration.

This is why, India has now decided to play a crucial role in the Indo-Pacific despite continuing to face tremendous challenges from China and Pakistan along the LAC and LOC respectively. Nepal may also be involved. And that obviously demands a two-pronged strategy: first, greater arms buildup by earmarking a massive investment in the defense sector accompanied by continuous modernization and dynamic and vibrant R&D; and secondly, rejuvenating the national economy to attain a two digit annual GDP growth rate, with consistent efforts to reduce the consistently escalating fiscal deficit through curtailing other expenditure. In the emerging grim scenario, mounting insecurity in the entire Indo-Pacific due to China's transgressions essentially demands India's sincere efforts to contain Beijing's rising imperialism in the region through evolving a mega regional security architecture. This can be achieved by expanding the scope of the QUAD initiative to include South Korea, Russia, the ASEAN states, all littoral states around the Indian Ocean and other major and smaller nations in the region. Further, India must step forward to play the role of a net security provider in the region, as desired by the ASEAN powers. To this end, New Delhi must discontinue the diplomatic stance occasionally labelled as strategic restraint. Further, India must initiate a meaningful agenda of forging close strategic relations with all like-minded powers in the entire Indo-Pacific region with the express aim of encircling China. It must also procure state-of- the-art weapons and military equipment in order to rapidly upgrade and consolidate its military power. Commendable efforts so far are the purchasing of Rafael advanced fighter planes from France, an advanced radar system from Israel, and the likely supply of missile attack defense system S-400 from Russia, and much other military hardware being procured from different sources. In addition India continuously strives toward indigenous production of all military defense necessities. New Delhi must also procure larger warships-cum-supercarriers so as to strengthen its strong presence on the oceans and other bodies of water in the region. Obviously, relations with Israel, France, America and Russia remain very pertinent in this context and these relationships must be further strengthened and diversified.

At the same time, India must not forget that China is an unpredictable mighty power. Several rounds of military and diplomatic level talks between them have not yielded any positive result, and for this reason New Delhi has to remain cautious and well-prepared on the issue of the LAC to ensure its territorial unity and integrity.

In the evolving new world order marred by the current corona pandemic, the Taliban's resurgence and China's militarist assertions and expansions, the Indo-Sino partnership will become as pivotal as the Anglo-US partnership was throughout most of the 20th century.

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About the Author

Dr Sudhanshu Tripathi is Professor at UPTROU, Prayagaraj (UP), Bharat (India).

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