‘India Turns East’ Excerpts: What US-China Rivalry Means for India
In his latest book, India Turns East, Frederic Drare tells the story of Indiaʼs long and difficult journey to reclaim its status in a fast-changing Asian environment increasingly shaped by the US-China rivalry and uncertainty around the US commitment to Asiaʼs security.
“Despite India’s concerns about potential Chinese military threats, a conflict with China is not preordained, even if not inconceivable. Since 1962, India has managed its relationship with Beijing quite well despite the military asymmetry between the two countries. Moreover, there is no consensus in India about the nature of the Chinese threat. Indian analysts for example are not unanimous in their interpretations of China’s presence in the Indian Ocean, despite the Indian Navy’s objections to the infamous “string of pearls” strategy, a term used to describe the extensive network of Chinese military and commercial facilities around India. Analyst Raja Mohan, for example, states that “it may be somewhat premature to describe China’s construction of maritime infrastructure facilities in South Asia and elsewhere as motivated by military considerations.”
The so-called Look East policy initially aimed at reconnecting India with Asiaʼs economic globalisation. As China becomes more assertive, Look East has rapidly evolved into a comprehensive strategy with political and military dimensions.
“Moreover, India’s official position on China’s presence in the Indian Ocean has evolved. A joint communique issued during then-Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in December 2010 stated that “the two sides reaffirmed the importance of maritime security, unhindered commerce and freedom of navigation in accordance with relevant, universally agreed principles of international law”.”
Frédéric Grare argues that, despite this rapprochement, the congruence of Indian and US objectives regarding China is not absolute.
“The debate over the nature and scope of India’s partnership with the United States is part of this process, as is the Look East policy – from its first out-reaches into ASEAN to its later extension to Australia, Japan, and South Korea. But China can respond in kind, as demonstrated by the New Silk Road initiative. It can, moreover, devote many more resources to the endeavor. India must therefore carefully manage its partnerships.”
Grare is of the view that the two countries share similar concerns, but differ in their tactics as well as their thoughts about the role China should play in the emerging regional architecture.
“India’s policy in Asia cannot be explained as merely an effort to balance China. India wants to limit, to the extent possible, the risk of conflict with China and the negative effects of a fundamentally unequal relationship, all while “display[ing] publicly that it can stand up for its convictions.” This approach necessitates finding the right balance between pragmatism and nationalism in public discourse while also developing real incentives for economic cooperation with China.”
The book ends with Grare saying that the United States should help India be India and not a pale copy of itself to fight Washington’s fights in Asia.
“The expansion of ASEAN-like institutions to the Indian Ocean, which would be no more than the fulfillment of the actual objectives of the Look East policy, would redefine the paradigm of US-India cooperation and engender additional advantages. The United States would no longer be perceived as trying to turn India into a pale copy of itself destined to fight Washington’s war in Asia and elsewhere, which in turn would greatly reduce Indian mistrust of US policies. The key to a better US-India relationship is for the United States to help India be India. It is, meanwhile, India’s responsibility to make this a politically attractive proposal.”
Bilateral policies are usually perceived as a positive thing in Delhi. Paradoxically, the angles the US pursues to rebalance in Asia sometimes push Delhi towards Beijing more than Washington. This book is important as it explores some of the possible ways out of Indiaʼs “Eastern” dilemma.
‘India Turns East’ recounts how India refocused its attention on trade and investment towards East Asia from the early 1990s onwards. Lucidly written and well-researched, it deals with developments that have widespread implications for international relations.Athar Hussain, Director of the Asia Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science
(Frédéric Grare is a non-resident senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowmentʼs South Asia Program. He has served at the French Defence Ministry’s Directorate for Strategic Affairs, at the French embassy in Pakistan and as director of the Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities in New Delhi.)
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