10.05.2018 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Is India Turning Towards China?


The “New Eastern Outlook” seeks not to let out of sight any significant events in the system of China-India relations. Together with the United States, Japan and Russia, both Asian giants have a decisive influence on the development of the situation in the India-Pacific Region, on which the shaping of the world political climate depends substantially.

Meanwhile, in recent years, the condition of China-India relations has not looked optimistic, instead demonstrating a steady trend towards deterioration. And although this negative process significantly depends on the periodic actualization of the “historical” problems (for example, intersecting claims to certain frontier territories), the main factor has always been the phenomenon of transformation of the PRC into a second global power. And that is more and more cautiously perceived by India.

The incompatibility of the available potentials (India’s GDP is five times less than China’s) would seem to be a natural way of pushing New Delhi “under the umbrella” of Washington. In general, it has been going this way since the beginning of the new millennium, and it has nothing to do with the notorious “American intrigues” Washington simply opened its palms in which one of the two largest powers in Asia was supposed to fall naturally and soon.

In anticipation of these developments, two years ago, a draft of the creation of the military-political “Four” consisting of the United States, Japan, India and Australia, was extracted from a dusty trunk; that is a sort of “Asian NATO” of obvious anti-Chinese orientation. Entering into such a configuration would mean the crossing of the “red line” for India in its positioning on the international arena as a whole, as well as in relations with the PRC and the USA, in particular.

In this case, India would finally be freed from all traces of neutralism of the period of its informal primacy in the “Non-Aligned Movement” (which is almost forgotten today) and would irreversibly pass to the other side of the global barricade in relation to the PRC. And would inevitably fall into the “friendly embrace” of China’s main opponent – the United States.

It is a scenario of “Russian roulette” type, associated with extremely serious risks. The high reality of its implementation is explained by the author’s recent skepticism about the prospects of both China-India relations and the formation of the triangle “Russia-India-China”.

However, at the turn of 2017-2018 the government of India (apparently, under the impression of almost a three-month conflict on the Doclam Plateau decided to break an imposed scenario and establish a dialogue with the PRC.

For this reason, a former ambassador to Beijing was appointed on a high post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the beginning of current year, and the events arranged by the “Tibetan government in exile” on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Dalai Lama XIV’s stay in India were actually ignored. Both acts were met with satisfaction in Beijing, which has been calling for development of mutually beneficial cooperation for a long time, particularly, on the basis of the NSR project.

According to experts, evaluation of the current state of China-India relations and their further development will be possible after the meetings of the countries’ leaders on the sidelines of the SCO summit, which will be held in the Chinese city of Qingdao in June 2018.

However, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi decided not to wait for a “suitable opportunity” and on April 27-28 held an “informal” meeting in Wuhan – one of the important cultural, historical and industrial centers of modern China.

As usually happens in such cases (especially at meetings of Asian leaders), a lot of vivid words were uttered, among which Mr.Modi’s phrase about “1600 of the last 2000 years when India and China were the engines of global economic growth” deserves special noticing.

In addition to the almost obligatory verbal compliments, there were messages deserving increased attention in the modern political space. We are primarily talking about the mentioning of “trade protectionism and inward-looking nationalism” in a negative context. These memes were used by both leaders in relation to the word “West”.

Here it is important to clarify that most of the countries of the notorious “West” have bad attitude towards “protectionism-nationalism” as well, mentioning in this connection their own leader – the USA.

With this in mind, we will pose the key question: did Mr.Mody intend to drastically turn his country in the direction of the main “globalizer” and the enemy of “protectionism,” that is China? And the resulting question is: is it possible to expect the positive reaction of the Indian government to the repeated appeals of Beijing to join the NSR project?

The author’s generalized answer to both these questions is: “If yes, then not immediately. Too quick maneuvers are not in the traditions of such a heavy geopolitical ship as India.” And the confirmation of this point of view is the failure of the Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to sign the clause in the final document of the SCO ministerial meeting, which provides for the participation of members of the Organization in the NSR project. This meeting was held in Qingdao three days before the negotiations of Xi Jinping and N. Modi.

India’s certain watchfulness to this project is understandable, because one of its main practically realized elements (the “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor”) passes through the part of the territory of the former principality of Kashmir that is controlled by Pakistan. Meanwhile, due to disputes over the ownership of the former principality, both (nuclear) countries either fight or are in the pre-war state.

As for the “unexpected and informal” meeting of Xi Jinping and N. Modi, the main positive result of it is the intention of the leaders of the PRC and India to dramatically increase the frequency of bilateral contacts. There is apparently no way to clear the debris in bilateral relations without that.

The complexity of the forthcoming work is due to the fact that both Asian giants are involved in various kinds of relations with the third countries. Earlier we noted that India is in a position of searching for its place and role in the starting global game. In this regard, the European tour of N. Modi to Sweden, UK and Germany, which took place on April 16-20, deserves noticing.

During his visit to London, the Indian Prime Minister was one of the central figures at the summit of members of the “Commonwealth of Nations”, including 54 countries. This relatively insignificant – from the position of the “Big World Politics” – organization (whose sphere of interests and activities is limited to humanitarian issues) was ignored by India for practically the entire period of its independent existence.

The fact of the presence of the country’s prime minister at the last “Commonwealth’s” summit is due to the significant strengthening of India’s position in the world arena and the search of New Delhi for international institutional resources that could be used to meet its increased ambitions.

Commenting on the presence of N. Modi at this event, Indian experts indicate that India’s GDP has almost reached the GDP of the UK – the unofficial leader of the “Commonwealth” (2.43 and 2.56 billion dollars, respectively), and will surpass it this year. And further, the India’s gap will rapidly increase, so it is clear who can lead the attempts (although quite hypothetical) at the revival of “Empire-2.”

Finally, it seems to be the right moment to touch upon the question of positioning the Russian Federation in the modern global game. Despite the quite obvious shift of the center of world processes from the Euro-Atlantic to the India-Pacific Region (where two-thirds of the Russian territory are located), basing on the thematic content of the domestic media we can conclude that ridiculous “eurocentrism” of perestroika- reformist times continues to dominate in Russia.

Meanwhile, above-mentioned events at the India-Pacific Region can breathe new life into Russian Ex-Foreign Minister Evgeny Primakov’s old idea about the creation of the “Russia-India-China” strategic triangle. But with the inclusion of other significant regional players into this configuration, primarily Japan and Pakistan.

Not such a crazy idea, taking into account, for example, the growing problems in US-Japanese relations. It is necessary to work.

As for the game table, behind which Russia has to deal with “Europe-West”, the most expedient way for us is to take a “strategic pause.” We should turn our backs on this table and return to the game with the Western “partners” only if they make the noteworthy moves.

But in any case, we should not lose sight of the fact that on the other side of the table there are primitive swindlers, and not carriers of “European values-investments-technologies”. And their behavior was badly affected by the communication with the “Ukraine” which they patronize.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”