India will be only a passive partner at best in the United States policy to balance China, a senior policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, told a Congressional Subcommittee exploring ‘The Rebalance of Asia: Why South Asia Matters.’
Walter Lohman, director of Asian Studies Centre at the Washington, DC and former policy aide to Senator John McCain, said India’s role in America’s effort to maintain its commitment to ensuring the peace, security, prosperity, and freedom in East Asia was relatively minor.
Lohman said, “(It) will grow, if at all, only according to India’s timetable and very proud world view. India will not serve, except passively, as part of an American policy to balance China. Anytime, the foreign policy establishment there feels it is being pulled in that direction, it will recoil.”
“Failing to recognize India’s limitations as a partner,” he warned “risks forging a relationship where the US trades tangible benefits for theoretical geopolitical discussion.”
“More importantly, it risks obscuring the relationships and other factors that provide the real basis of American power in the Western Pacific -- our alliances, a robust forward deployed military, and commitment to free commerce.”
Lohman said, “The bottom line is that for all its deference to the Myanmar regime on human rights issues and recently accelerated diplomatic and assistance activity, India is not effectively balancing China’s influence on Myanmar, or Southeast Asia more broadly.”
Citing how New Delhi had gained cooperation from Myanmarese authorities in cracking down on insurgents operating in its volatile Northeast border region, he argued, “This, it would appear is India’s principal objective, not geostrategy. Shorn of its geostrategic content, the US does not necessarily share India’s priorities in dealing with Southeast Asia.”
Even Myanmar, he suggested, recognised this: “When the Myanmarese junta recently reached out -- arguably to counter an increasingly out of balance Chinese presence -- it reached out first to the West, not to India. It did so for good reason; India does not have the capacity to offset the Chinese advantage.”
“Because the US and India each employ a mixture of balance and engagement, and because they are not mutually dependent,” he added, “they are often out of cycle with one another.”
“The India side, in particular, is sensitive to the domestic political change or caving to American strategic interests, while the American relationship with China is so encompassing of its bureaucracies’ energies that it has a dynamic all its own, often carried out without much regard for Indian equities.”
In recent years Lohman has emerged as an acerbic critic of India.
Last year, at an American Enterprise Institute conference titled ‘Is the US-India Relationship Oversold?’, he had implied that India was taking the US for a ride and that Washington was deluding itself in believing it had a strategic partnership with New Delhi.