Context: India finds itself in an increasingly dangerous world, one that is fragmenting and slowing down economically.

Current Scenario:

  • New geopolitical situation: caused primarily by the rise of China.
  • New economic and political centre of gravity of the world: India and other powers Indonesia, South Korea, Iran, Vietnam are in a crowded Asia-Pacific region.
  • Rapid shifts in the balance of power in the region have led to arms races and to rising uncertainty.
  • It is fuelled by the unpredictability, disengagement and the transactional “America First” attitude of the United States President.
    • China-U.S. strategic contention is growing, uninhibited so far by their economic co-dependence. 
    • As China seeks primacy in a world so far dominated by the U.S., the world faces a destabilising power transition which may or may not be completed. 
    • It is a hinge moment in the international system.

What should India's response be to the new situation?

  • Due to fears it is suggested to make alliance with the USA.However, India is much greater and more resilient than what is thought.
  • There is a common thread running through the foreign and security policies of successive governments of India  that is strategic Autonomy.
    • Strategic autonomy denotes the ability of a state to pursue its national interests and adopt its preferred foreign policy without being constrained in any manner by other states. In its pure form, strategic autonomy presupposes the state in question possessing overwhelmingly superior power. 
  • India requires creative diplomacy and flexibility, adjusting to the fast-changing balance of power and correlation of forces around India. An alliance seems to be exactly the wrong answer.
  • Pursue National interest: The Doklam crisis of 2017 is only the most recent example that shows that no one else is ready to deal with India’s greatest strategic challenge — China. It saw a tepid reaction from the rest of the world. To expect anything else is unreasonable.

The China question

  • China’s rise is the foremost challenge which could derail India’s quest. But it is also an opportunity. 
  • How to handle China:
    • One possibility is to engage China bilaterally to see whether the two countries can evolve a new modus vivendi.
    • Another option is to work with other powers to ensure that its interests are protected in the neighbourhood, the region and the world. 
    • The balance will keep shifting between cooperation and competition with China, both of which characterise that relationship.
  • India-China relations are more complex than simple: there is room for both sides to seek a new modus vivendi. This would require a high-level strategic dialogue between the two sides about their core interests, red lines, differences and areas of convergence.
  • The U.S. is an essential partner for India’s transformation: But it is withdrawing from the world, less certain as to how it will choose to deal with China.
    • Certainly, it will no longer be the upholder of international order, economic or political.
    • India must work with other powers to ensure that its region stays multi-polar and that China behaves responsibly.

Opportunities available for India:

  • Deep sense of strategic confusion: In India’s case, this confusion extends to it being not just about the ultimate goal India’s foreign policy should pursue but also over the best means to achieve them. 
  • Recently, the Prime Minister has declared the goal of India to be a ‘Vishwa guru’, or world teacher, which is still a long way away when it is an importer of knowledge and technology.
  • Double opportunity for India:
    • China-U.S. contention — which is structural and, therefore, likely to continue for some time with a paradigm shift and it also opens up opportunities and space for other powers.
    • Both China and the U.S. will look to put other conflicts and tensions on the back burner while they deal with their primary concern.This effect is already perceptible in the Wuhan meeting.

India risks missing the bus to becoming a developed country if it continues business and politics as usual, or tries to imitate China’s experience in the last 40 years, does not adapt, and does not manage its internal social and political churn better. 


Image Source: The hindu