Monday, May 22, 2017

India Waits for Trump

strategic-culture |  So, what is India’s real problem with the BRI? Quintessentially, India’s problem is geo-strategic – its inability to come to terms with China’s rise. The pundits in Delhi used to fancy that India would eventually catch up with China’s development and even overtake it. But that turned out to be a pipedream. The real challenge today is to come to terms with the yawning asymmetry in development.

Indeed, India’s China watchers are a rather pedestrian lot. Some assessed that China was about to implode out of internal contradictions, and even if it survived, its high growth would be simply unsustainable. Others insisted that the medium term advantage would accrue to India because of the so-called «demographic curve» – India’s young population. All this turns out to be wishful thinking.

Today, India sees in the BRI the objective co-relative of China’s growing capacity and economic influence in the emerging global economic and strategic architecture. The policymaker agonises that the BRI holds the potential to be a conduit of strategic access for China. No doubt, the BRI event in Beijing showcases China as a responsible great power.

The Indian elites counted on the US’ containment strategy to rein in China’s march to superpower stature. Weaned on the neoconservative foreign-policy ideology dominating successive US administrations through the past decade and a half, they blithely assumed that Washington would mentor India’s rise as a global power, as a counterweight to China.

Admittedly, the United Progressive Alliance government (2004-2014) led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also subscribed to the Washington Consensus but retained some degree of strategic autonomy by keeping an independent line open to China while not averse to selectively tapping into the US’ pivot to Asia to create synergy. That policy worked to India’s advantage and when UPA relinquished power in 2014, India-China relations had reached an appreciable level of stability and predictability. Even the negotiations on the border dispute began tiptoeing toward a breakthrough point.

However, the foreign policy directions under the present government have undone those gains. The policy shift to bandwagon with the Obama administration’s pivot strategy aimed at containing China altogether changed the matrix. Of course, there was a domestic dimension, too, since the Modi government’s strident nationalistic agenda dovetailed nicely with the optics of a «muscular diplomacy» towards China. In turn, if the India-China relations began losing direction, the «animated suspense» only provided justification for the drive to align India’s foreign policy with the US’ regional and global strategies.

Enter Donald Trump. The incipient signs of a reshaping of the US’ ties with China under Trump threaten to derail Modi government’s China policies. Going back to Beijing in sackcloth and ashes is neither an option nor is it acceptable to the Hindu nationalist groups mentoring the government and/or the Sinophobes entrenched amongst the security and foreign policy elites. Therefore, Delhi is watching anxiously the outcome of the power struggle in the Washington Beltway and is hoping against hope that the Obama-era US policies would eventually revive.