India-US ties: China factor set to play big role

India-US ties: China factor set to play big role

US needs to regain leadership of transatlantic alliance & partner in Indo-Pacific to push back China; India will be a key player in this effort 

China’s strategy is to not go for war but put overwhelming pressure on its adversary so that it gives up the will to fight and agrees to its terms. Credit: Reuters Photo

The convening of the third annual US-India 2+2 Ministerial meeting with physical participation of Michael Pompeo, US Secretary of State, and Mark Esper, Secretary of Defence, with their Indian counterparts in New Delhi on October 27, a week before the US Presidential election signalled unequivocally the common resolve of the two countries to push back China’s efforts to destabilising global peace and security, including aggression against India and other countries. The signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement will enable the sharing of advanced military technologies and satellite imagery, thus further deepening their strategic partnership. 

The China factor will play an even bigger role in defining the policies of the US, India and other countries in future. In the US, while there is considerable similarity in the views on China of the incumbent, Donald Trump, and his opponent in the Presidential contest, Joseph Biden, there are important divergences too. Both have promised that they would not permit China to threaten its neighbours, rob American companies of their technologies and subsidise its own industries. 

But Trump has taken unilateral actions against China, including the imposition of punitive tariffs and sanctions while seeking cooperation from allies. Biden wants to forge a “united front of allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviours,” while seeking the latter's cooperation on climate change, non-proliferation and global health issues. Given that many allies and partners have developed considerable distrust of the US and want to safeguard their strong economic interests with Beijing, it will be necessary for Washington to regain their confidence and convince them of the long-term threat posed by China to their peace, security and development. 

Position of US allies

The US’s allies and partners, in and outside the Quad, have generally been reticent in supporting its inclinations to formalise the Quad, openly oppose or name China in the absence of clarity on how the US would respond to their security and economic concerns. They would like the USA to convey a clear commitment to counter China’s aggression and deploy its capacity to deter assaults on them, as it has done in the case of Taiwan recently.

Also, they want to continue with their economic and trade relations with Beijing just as the US itself is continuing its large economic and trade relationship with China. In regard to shifting of supply chains and excluding the Chinese companies such as Huawei from their 5G networks, they want to ascertain the alternate arrangements, which the USA would promote, and how these would impact them. 

As an urgent priority, the USA needs to establish a common trade area encompassing both its Asian and European allies and partners which could reduce their economic dependence on China and make them less exposed to Beijing’s coercion. It needs to give priority to forging a common front with its allies and partners to counter China’s unfair trade policies and cease its public quarrels; the trade inequities with them can be corrected gradually through a dialogue.

India is the main anchor in the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy given its growing economy, big professional armed forces, its strategic location and determination to resist China’s abusive behaviours. While there are many convergences in India’s strategic outlook with the US, there are some differences too, on issues such as Pakistan-sponsored terrorism against India, Pakistan’s support to Taliban, US’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iran and other issues.

India also has congruence of interests and strategic partnerships with key countries in the European Union such as France, UK and Germany, some of whom are working out other frameworks for the Indo-Pacific to secure their interests. Russia, a key traditional partner, is integrated with India in several partnerships such as BRICS, RIC and SCO and is opposed to the concept of Indo-Pacific and Quad. India is also keeping its communications open with China to find a bilateral solution to its security and other problems.

India-US relationship

In view of these reasons, India’s preference will be to forge a deeper partnership with the US instead of a military alliance. In any case, India is progressively getting closer to the US in strategic and defence fields by sharing its logistical and communications facilities, joining in combined military exercises and relying increasingly on her for security needs. 

Given the above constraints, it may be useful to contemplate diverse cooperative frameworks in the Indo-Pacific including formal alliances such as NATO, quasi-alliance (USA-Taiwan) and strong partnerships (India-USA) as long as these are tied to an agreed framework of cooperation. It will allow many more countries to participate in building a common edifice of cooperation against Beijing without hemming them to constraints of an alliance. 

US leadership key 

The outcome of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee meeting held recently indicates that China is determined to pursue its ambition of rapid modernisation of its military by deploying huge resources on domestic innovation and homegrown technologies. As the next party Congress approaches in 2022, the Chinese President Xi Jinping will double down on his current aggressive approach, which is popular at home, to achieve some demonstrable results to perpetuate his stay in power.

Against the above background, the next US President will need to regain the leadership of the transatlantic alliance and partner in the Indo-Pacific in building a cohesive group with shared interests and tied to an agreed course of action, to push back China’s hegemony and unfair policies. This may involve a restructuring of several existing groups such as G-7, Quad and others.

America’s unilateral actions have, so far, yielded only limited results; there is no substitute for the above united approach to mount needed pressure on Beijing to amend its policies. 

China’s strategy is to not go for war but put overwhelming pressure on its adversary so that it gives up the will to fight and agrees to its terms. It will be necessary for the US’s allies and partners to assist each other in augmenting their economic, military and technological capacities so that their collective resolve and strength could outweigh China. 

(Yogesh Gupta is a former Ambassador who writes on China-related issues)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.