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Strategic Vision: Taking India to the East

February 03, 2015 19:51 IST

Moving beyond the traditional trappings of non-alignment, strategic autonomy and independent foreign policy, India has committed to work with the US from Africa to East Asia, says Srikanth Kondapalli


In an unprecedented and bold manner, India and the United States announced a short, but significant, joint strategic vision during President Barack Obama’s visit to India.

The language of the joint statement is direct and sharp, with no claptrap nor encumbered with diplomatic roundabouts.

Moving beyond the traditional trappings of non-alignment, strategic autonomy and independent foreign policy, India committed itself to work with the United States from Africa to East Asia.

The bottom line in this regional partnership is as much economic partnership, connectivity as guarding against a range of regional security challenges of use of force, terrorism, piracy, spread of weapons of mass destruction and the like.

The forms of such coordination and cooperation between the two were outlined in the bilateral and trilateral dialogues, diplomatic and security arrangements.

This open and forthcoming ‘strategic vision’ sets apart from the other major equation of ‘new type of major power relations’ that the US and China cobbled up at the California meeting in June 2013 between President Obama and Xi Jinping.

For, the US-China ‘win-win cooperation’, ‘non-confrontation and non-conflict’ arrangement appeared more as a stop-gap arrangement for the voracious power of China at the global and regional levels.

While the US-China arrangement primarily was concerned about how a challenger is accommodated by a defender in the international system, the US-India vision is aimed at bolstering ‘long-term peace and prosperity for all.’ The contrast between these two sets of arrangements is obvious.

That both the US and India are uncomfortable with the sharp rise of China is visible in the recent events, despite the fact that each of them separately have built strategic relations with Beijing.

Yet, India had been tied down with the costly and unresolved territorial dispute with China.

China’s new leadership’s strategic plans for Asian region, as outlined in the CICA (Conference on Interaction and ConfidenceBuilding in Asia) summit meeting in May 2014 or the 2013 ideas of continental and maritime Silk Roads, are too encompassing to ignore by others in the region.

One of the common areas of the joint strategic vision of India and the US is slated to be in the South China Sea, where China had in the recent past drawn a nine-dashed line restricting the entry of international commerce and trade in this territorial sea construct.

The May-August 2014 Haiyang Shiyou 981 incident, when China unilaterally deployed oil rig in disputed areas much to the discomfort of Vietnam, had sent alarm bells across the region.

China’s plans to construct five forward naval and air bases in the South China Sea at Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson South Reef, Gavin Reef and Calderon Reef by land reclamation is further adding tensions as this could be a precursor to China’s announcement of an Air Defence Identification Zone in the region, much like the one it imposed in late 2012 in East China Sea.

No wonder, the India-US joint statement stressed ‘safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea’.

As more than $1 trillion of US goods and 55 per cent of Indian trade passes through the South China Sea region, coordination between the US and India has become palpable.

However, the joint statement between India and the US and the discussions between the two leaders do not exhibit any signs of containing China.

The stakeholders in the region have outlined joint efforts to see Beijing merge with the rule-based order.

Even though Beijing sees red herrings all across and seizes every such opportunity to propose tactical united front policies, the India-US joint statement is clear headed and unambiguous in reiterating the ‘universally recognized principles of international law’.

It, however, needs to be seen if there is wide chasm between precept and practice in the coming years.

Srikanth Kondapalli is professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University

Srikanth Kondapalli