US China India trilateral: The fulcrum of global politics

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US-China-India trilateral web has immense potential to be a game changer for good in global affairs. If the three nations harmonise their divergent perspectives and pull together, the global economy can be put on the track of quick recovery and sustained growth, writes B. Ramesh Babu.

The demise of the Soviet Union and collapse of communism triggered transformational changes in the strategic, economic and ideological context of global affairs. All the major powers of the world responded by restructuring and re-tooling their bilateral equations with one another irrespective of inherited linkages or past ideological inclinations. Naturally, India had gone through a similar drill of re-evaluation and re-formulation of its foreign policy and bilateral relations with all major powers of the world. In the process, India transited from non-alignment to multi-alignment, notwithstanding official contentions to the contrary. Global power structure moved in stages: from the end of the bi-polar world, through the unipolar movement, and is now all set to shift the centre of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific. All this is happening in the overall context of a multipolar world in the making.

Foreign policy challenges confronting India

It is fascinating to look at the foreign policy challenges confronting India at this juncture. President Obama, in his typical rhetorical flourish, described US-India relations “as one of the defining partnerships in the 21st century”. Not to be left behind, China responded by declaring that it considers its relation with India as a defining partnership in the 21st century. India is in the enviable situation of being courted by both sides. Hyperbole apart, it is possible to assert that the USChina- India trilateral web undergirds the global economy. If the three nations harmonise their divergent perspectives and pull together, the global economy can be put on the track of quick recovery and sustained growth. But, that is a big if.

Under Modi’s leadership India should move aggressively forward on insisting joint production, real transfer of advanced and dual use technologies from the US (instead of being a passive purchaser of
weapons as under the UPA rule).

As of now the top leadership of the three nations has not demonstrated the will and vision to rise to the occasion.
The three countries are buried neck deep in shoring up their economies in their own ways and in pursuing their divergent national agendas as best as they could. President Obama is fully engrossed in his domestic battles with the right-wing Republicans hell bent on cutting him to size. The impending withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan is looming large on his watch. Soon, he will be entering the “lame duck” phase of his second term. China’s leadership is already into its second year. President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang are busy “mopping up” internal threats to their supremacy. The three “T’s”-Taiwan, Tibet and Terrorism continue to be the biggest challenges confronting China. The NDA government in India is youngest of the three key players in the US-China-India trilateral.

Business-friendly approach by India a welcome sign

Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonstrated his leadership mettle by putting the visa denial issue aside and by moving positively on the strategic and economic dimensions of relations with the US. On his part President Obama has taken the initiative by despatching Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defence Hegal to New Delhi to put the bilateral relations on the fast track prior to receiving Modi in September, 2014 (when the Prime Minister attends the UN General Assembly meeting in New York). Modi government’s decisions to raise the FDI limit in general and in defence industries in particular, to purchase more helicopters at a reduced price, revision of labour laws, speeding up of approvals for major projects, etc.

and the general mood of business friendly approach and so on are good and welcome signs. These and other measures in the pipeline will enhance the strategic partnership with the US, promote greater defence cooperation, and increase the inflow of investment in private industry and business etc. However, a word of caution is called for in this context. Under Modi’s leadership India should move aggressively forward on insisting joint production, real transfer of advanced and dual use technologies from the US (instead of being a passive purchaser of weapons as under the UPA rule).

Keeping the strategic security partnership with the US on track and moving forward on this front is the most vital part of our policy of dealing with China. Modi government must never let this slacken or lag behind because the only thing China fears is our strategic and political proximity with the US. This leads us to India’s China policy. Soon after taking office, the Modi government sent a high level delegation to China and signed a series of MoUs on infrastructure development and the setting up of industrial parks in selected locations in India. This was followed by the bold initiative at the BRICS Summit in Brazil in July 2014. A New Development Bank with an authorised capital
of $100 billion and a subscribed capital $50 billion was launched. Modi was able to prevail upon the acceptance of the principle of equality of all members in the operations of the Bank. He was also able to win the consent of the others over India nominating the First President of the Bank for an initial six year term. Then the position would rotate among all the members for a term of five years each.

Another key decision made at the BRICS Summit was the setting up of a Contingent Reserve Fund of $100 billion of which $41 billion is China’s share; $18 billion each is provided by India, Russia and Brazil; and South Africa’s share is $5 billion.

Modi utilised the occasion of the BRICS Summit to hold bilateral meetings with all his counterparts. The most important among them was the meeting between Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Modi brought up the critical issue of the massive and growing adverse balance against India in the bilateral trade. The projected large scale Chinese investment in infrastructure and industrial parks in India was seen as one of the ways to tackle the problem. President Xi invited India to take a more active part in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which came as a surprise. China was originally opposed to India’s very entry into SCO, but yielded because of the Russian insistence. At present India is only an observer in SCO. Hereafter, India can look forward to playing a more active role as a full member.

High-level bonhomie between India and China seen at present

China invited India to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as a founder member. President Xi also invited India to attend the Asia Pacific Economic forum (APEC) meeting to be held in China in November, 2014. This is particularly welcome because China has thereby acknowledged India as a legitimate player in the Pacific Region (i.e. beyond South East Asia). To top it all President Xi invited Prime Minister Modi to visit China and the latter reciprocated by inviting the former to visit India. Such a high level reciprocal bonhomie could well be seen as the harbinger of better days to come in the relations between the two countries!

India-China cooperation at the BRICS Summit is good example of shared interests at the global level —economic cooperation for mutual benefit and joining hands to eventually develop an alternative global financial order to the World Bank and the IMF(International Monetary Fund) dominated by the West. However, it is most crucial not to forget the border dispute, which could change the whole game in a jiffy. China itself keeps the pot boiling in the Himalayas by its policy of creeping aggression southward, reiterating its territorial claims over Arunachal Pradesh at regular intervals, and issuing official maps showing large tracts of Indian territory as part of China.

US-China-India trilateral web has immense potential to be a game changer for good in global affairs. But things can go awfully wrong if China chooses another war in the Himalayas —a possibility that cannot be ruled out. Less probable is the direct military confrontation between the US and China because of their symbiotic interdependence – a mutual hostage equation. However, if China opts to escalate the hitherto dormant maritime and jurisdictional disputes with Japan, Vietnam, and Philippines in the South China Sea, the US may be constrained to intervene militarily.

Containment for peace and cooperation for prosperity are and should be the two sides of the double-edged policy the US and India should pursue towards China for the present and in the foreseeable future!


B.-Ramesh-Babu

B. Ramesh Babu

The writer is a specialist in International Relations and American Politics. He is a Visiting Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad; and the Scholar in Residence, Foundation for Democratic Reforms (FDR), Hyderabad. Formerly, he was the Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Professor of Civics & Politics, University of Bombay.

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