Severe tests await

Political events in Washington and Beijing have put New Delhi at a cusp of diplomatic developments.

The 2012 US Presidential election brought no change of guard in Washington, but the 18th National Party Congress in Beijing has announced a change of leadership in Beijing.


However, these political events in world’s two most powerful capitals will make New Delhi face the most formidable test of its diplomatic dexterity in years to come.

Foreign policy of nations does not inevitably lead to drastic transformation with a change in the leadership, but the style and method of conducting diplomacy may change and pose fresh challenges to the practitioners of diplomacy.

During the first four years of Obama Administration, Indo-US relations, according to analysts and officials from both the countries, have matured to a great extent. But what exactly does this mean? It perhaps signifies that Indian and American officials have mastered the art of preventing foreign policy differences from escalating into serious conflict. It may also denote that divergent positions on critical subjects are not allowed to spoil the relationship, as was the case during Cold War days.

But political events in Washington and Beijing have put New Delhi at a cusp of diplomatic developments that will most likely require ministry of external affairs to be more adroit in handling international affairs, primarily in the arena of our “Look East” policy and including our maritime strategy in the Indo-Pacific region.

The re-election of Barack Obama makes it certain that the Pentagon is going to systematically implement the “pivot” to Asia strategy, announced in January this year.
While many believe that this new strategy aims at countering threats posed by China’s ever growing anti-access and sea-denial capability, China has interpreted the “pivot” to Asia strategy as a dogged US endeavour to inhibit the growth of Chinese military capabilities.

In an action-reaction trend, China seems gritty to keep enlarging its martial prowess. This is crystal clear in the speech delivered by President Hu Jintao in the inaugural session of the 18th National Party Congress.

He asserted that China would strive to “complete military mechanization” and “make major progress in full military IT application by 2020” and said that “China should strengthen the development of new- and high-technology weapons and equipment, speed up the complete development of modern logistics, train a new type of high-calibre military personnel in large numbers, intensively carry out military training under computerized conditions, and enhance integrated combat capability based on extensive IT application.”

Chinese assertiveness

In fact, a complex web of cooperation-competition-conflict already marks the US-China relationship and the complexity would get bigger in years to come with Chinese assertiveness and the American responses. Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines have been seeking closer security ties with the US mainly in reaction to belligerent Chinese stand on territorial/maritime disputes.

India-China relationship marked by mutual strategic suspicion, but rising economic cooperation will face severe tests as a complex Cold War unfolds in US-China relations during the second Obama term. The Indian policy of closer defence and security ties with the United States; Indo-Japan security dynamics; emerging security ties between India and Australia; and increasing bilateral collaborations between Vietnam and India have created certain unease in Beijing.

India’s relationship with China is the second most significant part of Indian diplomacy after the United States. Strategic partnership with the US is imperative to hedge against a rising superpower along India’s border. An India-China equation devoid of mutual misgivings is vital for the success of India’s “Look East” policy and peaceful neighbourhood.

Can India have robust economic ties with China and a stronger defence/security relationship with the US at the same time? Actually, India faces limited scope of its economic cooperation with China and it cannot forge a military alliance with the United States.

Secondly, India along with China desires to see the emergence of a multi-polar world system. But at the same time, New Delhi needs the United States to prevent the rise of a regional hegemon in the Indo-Pacific region.

Thirdly, India is weary of a G-2 world dominated by the United States and China. But at the same time, India would find it fiddly to navigate in the diplomatic river, if China and the US increasingly get involved in a complex Cold War.

In addition, sophisticated and advanced technology to India, necessary for a militarily stronger India, would not flow from the US and other Western countries, unless India further strengthens its strategic partnership with the United States. On the other hand, cordial ties with China demand more restricted defence relations with the United States.
The biggest puzzle is how to make India a truly autonomous centre of global power configuration without sparking regional Cold War with China and maintaining a judicious distance from the US short of an alliance.

President Barack Obama supports India’s membership in the UN Security Council and non-proliferation regimes, but China possesses the veto power to deny India access to all those bodies.

A successful G-2 world order may make India’s entry to influential international institutions gratuitous and a new kind of complex Sino-US Cold War may prevent it. The challenges ahead for Indian diplomacy are truly formidable.

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