India: Expanding Interests in Central Asia

With the reemergence of Asia as the primary sphere of global engagement in the 21st Century due to power balance of population, production, information and military gradually shifting towards India and China, the West is now looking for an ally to retain its preeminence. China’s one party rule, power centric approach and huge economic and trade surpluses are admired as well as feared. On the other hand India with its democracy, soft diplomacy and a strong military appears to be favorably placed to balance the two poles of the global balance, China and the West.  

 The United States has a number of policy objectives in engaging India, strategic, economic and socio cultural with a large Indian diaspora in America today. Some Indian analysts feel that one part of the relationship is also to balance a rising China, however there is a majority of Indians who hold the view that finally India and China will cooperate in Asia as well as the globe as was evident in the cordial atmosphere of talks between the Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers in Bangkok on 24 October.

Yet there are many challenges to be overcome before the West is comfortable with India or India with the West and China and India develop a relationship of trust beyond the occasional stand off over the border issue and visits by dignitaries to Arunachal Pradesh including the revered His Holiness Dalai Lama, whom Beijing sadly denigrates as a,“splitist” amongst other unwarranted castigations.

The Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh who many believe is too soft on foreign policy issues thankfully set the record straight when he met Premier Wen Jiabao in Bangkok on the issue of His Holiness to Arunachal Pradesh. India views the Dalai Lama as a guest and a spiritual person exactly opposite of what the Chinese perception. However this is not likely to satisfy the Chinese who will continue to raise the issue from time to time. Hopefully New Delhi will not wilt.

But there are other concerns in the Sino Indian relations which make the Chinese wary of Indian intent. One is the Indo US defence cooperation. The scale of ongoing military exercises between the two countries is worrying Chinese analysts. There is actually no major change in the Indo US joint military exercise, the purpose remains restricted to company level joint training for Ex Yudh Abhyas for the Army and joint airborne training for Cope India for the Air Force. Company level training is not considered large scale. Even the equipment used such as Bradley armored vehicles have been used earlier in similar company level training in Alaska in the US by Indian and US forces.

Increased army sales are another factor that Beijing is worried about. The US arms sales policy denotes that this is another facet of the overall bilateral cooperation as also defence cooperation between the two countries. India is developing a balanced arms purchase policy to technologically upgrade its Armed Forces and therefore US assistance in this sphere would be welcome.

The Chinese need to appreciate that India is wary of President Obama’s policies, despite the 24 November State welcome to the Indian Prime Minister in Washington. There is an Indian view that US foreign policy under President Obama is not as favorable as it was in the time of Mr George W Bush who went out of the way to accommodate India through the special Indo US Nuclear Deal. Indians are skeptical of President Obama’s policies on nuclear non proliferation, CTBT and FMCT. Similarly the emphasis of the US President on preserving domestic jobs is also a concern for countries as India who has a large number of youth working in the United States.

India is no doubt on the cusp of an emerging opportunity to be a major player by balancing between the West and China. However for this it would have to place itself more aggressively on the multilateral fora though it is not a part of the UN P 5. But it can well leverage the link or swing power role that analysts have been talking about to advantage. Are Madam Nirupama Rao and her colleagues in Washington and Beijing looking towards such a role for the country would determine the way ahead? We all hope they are doing so.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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