Both China & West Want India, But Will the ‘Sweet Spot’ Moment Last?
When the euphoria withers, India may not have much time to make up its mind on where it stands.
India, it seems, is in a ‘sweet spot’ – a happy phrase that former Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramaniam used in the Economic Survey for 2015-16 to describe India’s opportunity to enter a double-digit economic growth phase – on the foreign policy front. This can be seen from India’s happy position at the G-7 summit in Munich last month, which was captured in the video clip where US President Joe Biden tapped on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shoulder as the latter was engaged in a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron.
It seems rich countries of the West want India to be on their side in the confrontation with Russia in Ukraine. The Americans have managed to rope India into the anti-China Quad of Australia, Japan, India, and the United States, and in the other quadrant of India, United Arab Emirates, Israel, and the United States. The latter is also known as I2U2, with a virtual meet of the four scheduled for 14 July. The West is indeed wooing India on the strategic front.
It seems rich countries of the West want India to be on their side in the confrontation with Russia in Ukraine.
On the other hand, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi has been making conciliatory gestures, first in his unannounced visit to New Delhi in March, when Prime Minister Mod refused to see him, and again in Bali on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting.
But this sunny period may not last long, and India may not have much time to make up its mind on where it stands.
Both the US and China are aware of India’s market size and its importance, and they would want to keep India on their right side. It would be premature to say that the US, China and the rest of the world want to be on the right side of India.
On the other hand, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi has been making conciliatory gestures, first in his unannounced visit to New Delhi in March, when Prime Minister Mod refused to see him, and again in Bali on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting on 8 July, when External Affairs Minister S.Jaishankar kept firmly to India’s line that China should pull back in eastern Ladakh.
Wang talked of not mixing border disputes with other important issues that matter in bilateral ties. China is indeed trying to make up for its aggression in Ladakh without yielding an inch on the ground. The Chinese are not making empty gestures. They, too, want to keep India out of the American orbit.
India Is Going By 'Opportunism'
So, as the two major powers that really matter – the United States and China – vie for India’s attention, it is indeed a ‘sweet spot’. But this sunny period may not last long, and India may not have much time to make up its mind on where it stands. The thinking of the Modi government appears to be that India should enjoy the moment in the sun as it were, step up oil from Russia at discounted prices, strengthen ties with the US to keep a check on China, and to talk tough with China from a position of comfort, if not of strength. But the approach in the Indian foreign establishment in the government and in the strategic community seems to be not getting hung up on ideas and principles, using the position to pressure China and enjoying trade advantages with Russia without giving up the membership of the Western club.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made the disarming statement that India likes to be with the democratic West, but it needs Russian oil as well. Opportunism is the word to describe India’s advantageous position right now.
India Saw This Euphoria Under Nehru, Too
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues cannot be faulted for believing that this is partly due to the disarming personal style that Modi himself has brought to international diplomacy. Whether or not Western leaders find in Modi an easy person to converse with in comparison to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping – and these little things matter – in deciding global issues, there can be little doubt that it is India’s economic clout that has made it an important player. Both the US and China are only too aware of India’s market size and its importance, and they would want to keep India on their right side. It would be premature to say that the US, China and the rest of the world want to be on the right side of India.
India experienced a similar sense of euphoria in the 1950s, when the country’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, interacted with world leaders. It seemed that India enjoyed good stature despite its poor economic status because Nehru was a charming man and India spoke the sweet words of democracy, freedom and economic development in the world. All this culminated in Nehru’s speech in 1961 in Belgrade, where he spoke eloquently at the first Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit. But the Chinese attack in 1962 shattered that euphoria.
Today, India is in a stronger position because of its market economy.
The secret of India’s global standing lies in its economy. Can India, including the Modi government and the rest of the captains of industry and business, keep the Indian economy strong and attractive to the rest of the world so they defer to New Delhi?
A Hindu Discourse in a Cosmopolitan World Won't Help
There is another aspect. Big countries expect India to speak in the language of freedom, democracy and equality – and to live up to its own rhetorical idealism. Modi has adopted the rhetoric suited to the Hindutva ideology of his party, which is considered India’s own, and has chosen not to borrow phrases of Western liberalism that Nehru used back in the 1950s.
It is not necessary to object to Prime Minister Modi’s favourite phrases such ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ (the world is a family), but it is a phrase and a sentiment that may not resonate in the world – and not just the Western world, because a globalised world is a cosmopolitan one that does not understand clannish bonds.
China has learnt that it is futile to speak of Confucian principles and ideals and it has nearly given up its bid to set up Confucian centres to spread the message of order and harmony. The Modi government should look for a cosmopolitan instead of a Hindu discourse, however universal it may seem, apart from keeping the economic pot boiling.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist. He tweets @ParsaJr. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.