Almost half a year ago Narendra Modi was sworn in as the 16th Prime Minister of India, the largest democracy in the world. The general expectation was that Modi’s coming to power would mean a more independent foreign policy as he was known for his tough stance and clear vision of India’s role as a sovereign international actor.
China is without doubt a foreign policy priority for Modi’s government. Since the incumbent Indian PM was heading the state of Gujarat, the Chinese officials do not conceal the fact that they felt comfortable dealing with him for the 13 years of his governorship. Beijing believes that PM Modi is the strong leader able to position India as an independent “center of gravity” on the international arena. China has invested considerable amounts to the state of Gujarat for those years and was impressed by the business style of the then governor of the state.
Beijing welcomes the reluctance of new Indian Prime Minister to take part in schemes aimed at the “containment” of China in the Asia-Pacific. They would like to see Indian economy growing again at 8% and to strengthen the Chinese-Indian economic ties.
China is also interested in using its dollar reserves for investments in transport infrastructure and creating industrial corridors in India (Japan and South Korea are also seen as potential investors). While India needs approximately $1 trillion in investments, and the Chinese are potentially going to provide $300 billion of that.
Both Indian and Chinese leaders are also committed to develop the network of the oil and gas transportation systems in Eurasia. They recently began constructing the promising Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline. China is looking for shorter and safer alternatives than the Malacca Strait, and India also prefers more reliable land-based routes.
Narendra Modi believes that the idea of a US-centered world has not come to fruition and that the new world system requires closer coordination between India, China, and Russia to stabilize the international system. For instance, such coordination is possible in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of ISAF troops. The three global powers are interested in maintaining the territorial integrity of Afghanistan. The apparent surge of Islamic radicalism would jeopardize the western regions of China (the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), the western states of India, and Central Asia. The effectiveness of their trilateral coordination would likely be even more enhanced in the case that Iran joins these efforts.
China, India, Russia, Pakistan, and the Central Asian states can play important stabilizing role in the Middle East, the region where Iran and Saudi Arabia are competing for the decisive influence. Both Delhi and Beijing enjoy stable and multi-profile relations with Tehran and Riyadh. Since the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring’, Iran is displaying a model political tact and restraint towards the Shia communities of the Arabian Peninsula and adjacent states.
Indian admission (together with Pakistan, Iran, and Mongolia) to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a full-fledged member, would herald not only an important milestone in China-India relations but a notable shift of power in Eurasia and the whole world politics.
Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September 2014 underscored the importance of the current bilateral issues for both partners and perspective joint projects based on the common notion that the center of global gravity is shifting to the East and the Asia-Pacific.
The Chinese “New Silk Road” initiative has both pros and cons for India. Delhi is seeking free access to the Chinese market for its commodities and technology (its trade deficit for 2007-2013 was $169 billion). Meanwhile India supports the idea of the Bangladesh-India-China-Myanmar “economic corridor” that would create a project fostering peaceful and stable cooperation between the four countries. Through its participation, India has secured $20 billion in Chinese investments over the five years.
There is a strong commitment of Indian and Chinese leaders to definitely solve the territorial and other issues complicating the neighboring ties.
First, Modi realizes that the Indian people are not yet ready for closer relations with China. The 1962 war is still fresh enough in their minds as to keep the majority of Indians away from supporting a rapid rapprochement with China. There are also influential circles in both countries that believe that the relationship is far too complex for a quick solution to remedy.
Second, traditionally India avoids making abrupt foreign policy turns. It follows such specific features of Indian civilization as continuity, reasonable caution, and respect of the past. The Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swarage believes that foreign policy does not fluctuate when the government changes, although it does acquire new dimensions. India will be paying more attention to the Asia-Pacific region (Japan is the leading foreign investor in the Indian economy, South Korea also shows impressive dynamics), but the final road map of Delhi’s eastern policy is not clear yet.
Third, Modi’s government sees a direct link between the modernization of the Indian economy (comprehensive national strength) and foreign policy. The government set the goal of building a “just society”, which is the basis of both Modi’s internal and external agenda.
Fourth, the unsettled border dispute serves as a major hindrance to the further development of bilateral relations. Any delineation agreement would have to be approved by both the Indian Parliament and the Chinese Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which, to put it nicely, would not be a bed of roses. Hard work is ahead in order to normalize the bilateral relationship between these two states-civilizations.
The US sanctions imposed on India in 1998 are still a vivid memory. Delhi understands quite well that the US wants it to join in efforts at containing China.
Former Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal says that the US would like to promote special relationships with countries that have a shared concern over a rising China. The goal is to play this card against Beijing in case US interests are ever directly threatened, but alas, no protection is afforded for the proxies doing the dirty work. India would be better off to abstain from this kind of ‘cooperation’ that in effect is a softer version of the US-Japanese neo-colonial relationship.
It’s not easy to implement the policy of “India First” in the contemporary world, but the very existence of this state-civilization presupposes an independent foreign policy, which is why the Delhi-Beijing axis should be built and sustained.
Prof. Andrey Volodin is Ph.D. (History), senior fellow of the Russian Institute of World Economy and International Relations, specializing on the Indian studies.
Source: Strategic Culture Foundation
Original publication adapted by ORIENTAL REVIEW.