India’s East-West divide

Spearhead Analysis – 15.05.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

The first Trump-Xi meeting suggests that the core mutual areas of Sino-US ties would not be tampered with, anytime soon. But alongside, each party would also continue expanding their -often incongruent-geopolitical interests. 

It is not solely a matter of China’s expedited economic development– but instead, its grandiose connectivity plans– that makes Xi’s call to avert the Thucydides trap less heeded by the current hegemon. And, it is in between these rifts of Sino-US mutual distrust; where India continues to carve its own relevance.

During a recent armed services senate hearing on Policy and Strategy in Asia Pacific– Predictably, China’s expansionist agendas was identified as the most consequential threat by all esteemed witnesses. The gist of some of their common statements was: countering Chinese OBOR initiatives- which carries the potential to not only transform the Eurasian region, but may dissolve US allies, while leaving the US strategically decoupled from the region. 

One of the common remedies suggested, to revert such a future was: to enhance US-India strategic partnership, merge India’s Act East policy with US Pivot to Asia, encourage a deeper integrated security network encompassing traditional US Asian allies, India and ASEAN countries– their financial standing was viewed as an imperative advantage to actualise the vision– The scope of reformulating a broad economic framework which could encourage smaller states to bandwagon was also discussed. 

Largely in line with these views, India, recently concluded its second round of talks aimed at strengthening India-US maritime cooperation in Asia Pacific, while alongside working to deepen defence cooperation with Japan. 

But, on the other hand, India also carried out stupendous diplomatic efforts to position itself in the SCO– the megastructure essentially aims to harmonise the security and economic outlook of a significant portion of the Asian region. Moreover, entrenched in this mega structure is also the belt and road blueprint. Therefore, the SCO technically, binds Indian support to a vision it claims to perceive as a threat. 

Essentially, India’s own current direction is largely at odds with the vision of the major powers, because at one end of the spectrum it values its ties US and its allies and on the other it continues to protect its core economic relations with China and enhance strategic ties with Russia and Iran. 

But so far, owing to its burgeoning financial capabilities, it manages to hedge and propel its own national interests, without ostensibly getting caught in the crossfire. 

The Chinese ambassador’s recent attempts to once again, extend the olive branch to India — could be viewed in this context as it signifies the economic opportunities China finds entangled to India’s development. Even though for now, it seems unlikely for India to officially attend upcoming OBOR conference, but one could expect it to not miss out on opportunities emanating from regional connectivity, once it officially steps foot on the SCO platform. 

So far, the Indian strategy appears to be aiming at overtly developing meaningful economic inter linkages with major powers –including China, while on the parallel spread out its tentacles in smaller states or war-torn zones to expand its own sphere of influence which could enable it to elevate its say on security matters with both Eastern and Western powers.  

Naturally, as a sovereign state it carries the right to extend its outreach to various global players; But, not at the cost of striking sensitive security cords of various regional and extra-regional players. Because, a key factor India seems to be discounting is that it is anchored in a region where multiple interests come clashing; so while its current hedging might produce short to medium term fruitful results, it along the way also deepens regional fault lines which contradict the aspirations of an enduring positive trajectory. 

Again, owing to its own development India has already carved out a meaningful position globally. Ideally, it should instead utilise this position to mend fences with its immediate neighbors -especially Pakistan, and also sincerely cooperate with Pakistan on resolving the crises in Afghanistan and Kashmir– In Order, to seal these asymmetric crevices prone to various exploitation, encourage mutual development so this core Asian region evolves towards carving a credible position in global negotiations.