India’s membership in a limited pool of the “Big World Game” major players is one the country’s major distinctive features today. At the same time, New Delhi’s positioning at the global “gaming table” is of critical importance for both of the two leading players, the US and China.
It appears quite obvious that it is up to India to resolve the mentioned issue, and India relies upon its own understanding of what is good and what is bad.
But why not try to “recommend” New Delhi what will be “the best” solution in this eternal dichotomy? This is actually what Washington has been working hard on for the past two decades. That is, from the moment when the China’s chances to become the US’s main geopolitical opponent for the entire 21st century began to turn into a harsh reality. The reaction to this geopolitical change is rather conventional – the US is taking attempts to build a hostile coalition around the source of its problems. It looks obvious why in this coalition India has been allocated almost the main role.
At the same time, the complex nature of relations between the two Asian giants is also taken into account, as tensions between the two emerged almost immediately after India had become independent in the late 1940s – exactly at the same period of time when the Communist Party of China won the civil war.
During the last twenty years, all the US administrations, without exception, have been participating in the process of “courting” India. It began during the presidency of Bill Clinton who made a “historic” visit to New Delhi in 2001. This visit ended the period of (to put it carefully) wariness in bilateral relations which dominated the second half of the Cold War period.
The positive trend in the relations between the US and India that has been developing since that Clinton’s visit, is actively supported by the current US administration. The latest evidence is the fact that on April 11, in Washington, bilateral negotiations were held in the so-called “2+2” format, that is, with the participation of the Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers of the two countries. By the way, these have been the fourth negotiations held with the use of this platform, very important in relations between these states.
Right before these latest negotiations, US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a video conference. It was held following India’s refusal to join the anti-Russian actions taken by Washington in connection with the Ukrainian crisis. The latter was particularly frustrated by the unwillingness of the former not only to plug into the flow of anti-Russian political rhetoric, but also to participate in what is called “self-inflicted damage” in relations with the Russian Federation. Both of the above approaches are demonstrated to the US by the rest of the “free world” with masochistic pleasure. And they look as if they went completely crazy.
This means that in particularly acute global conflicts, India continues to adhere (to a certain extent and relatively) to the neutral position that has been typical for this country since it became independent. Still, for a number of reasons discussed by NEO on many occasions, in the recent years, India’s foreign policy has been leaning towards the United States.
This trend is quite explicitly illustrated by the content (very extensive) of the Joint Statement adopted following the 2+2 meeting between the US and India. In the documents like these, each word matters, and any “summary” will be inevitably affected by the commentator’s (subjective) view both on the state of relations between India and the United States, and on the processes taking place in the Indo-Pacific region as a whole. Those who are interested in the contents of this Joint Statement, will be better off forming their own idea of this document. For this purpose, the author recommends to read this Statement.
Here, attention will be paid to only what is missing in this document. What really strikes the eye is the absence of any direct statements about the “Russian aggression in Ukraine,” which is extremely important for Washington today. However, if (specifically) desired, some hints can be found in the preamble, where among the international values shared by the parties, the factor of “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity” is mentioned. However, it is not clarified whether these values relate particularly to Ukraine.
In this connection, note that Russia is also apparently considered as a potential participant in the anti-Chinese coalition currently built. To ensure “better understanding” of what the “designer of the above coalition” wants, over the past eight years, they have been pressing with special diligence on the subjects located in the territory of Ukraine which are the “hot-button issues” for Russia. At the same time, the Kiev puppets apparently believed in their own importance in the global politics and, in particular, in the fact that they are really ruling this unfortunate country.
Both events discussed here ended a series of recent actions undertaken by Washington as part of “courting” India. Among these actions the most remarkable one was an early April’s visit to India of the Deputy National Security Adviser to the US President, Daleep Singh, who is a born Indian. It should be noted, by the way, that more often than ever before, ethnic Indians are represented in the position of various levels in the current US administration. Suffice it to mention Kamala Harris, who is holding the second-most important position in the office, and who is half-Indian.
Talking in front of the journalists, Mr. Singh even opted for the blackmail in relation to the country being visited, in view of India’s plans to drastically increase the volume of purchases of Russian oil. In particular, it was said that in the event of a Chinese attack on India, Russia (“unlike the United States”) will not help it. The reason for this, as previously mentioned, is almost allied relations between Beijing and Moscow. That is called a “subtle hint” regarding who New Delhi “should” be friends with.
The United Kingdom is actively involved in the process of “courting” India and this is becoming an important element of London’s overall strategy to resemble its presence in the region to the “East from the Suez Channel.” The concept of this strategy is based on the governmental document published in March 2021 under the title “Global Britain in the times of competition.”
An organic element of the foreign policy strategy outlined in this document is the UK’s willingness to some extent to restore its position in the former “pearl of the Crown” of the former British Empire. In this regard, an important stage could have been the visit of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to India planned for January 2021. This trip, however, was postponed, and in May of the same year, a video conference was held between the heads of government of both countries.
Nevertheless, offline contact between the heads of states is considered also important, and Johnson’s visit to India was still scheduled for April 20 this year. On the eve of his arrival, it was expected that the Prime Minister of the former Metropole would put the Ukrainian crisis in the center of the upcoming negotiations with his Indian colleague Narendra Modi.
It should be noted that China’s leadership who are mainly interested in not letting the process of “courting” New Delhi go “too far,” are trying to prevent this from happening. Recently, they have been taking efforts to reduce the severity of problems in relations with India. In this regard, the recent trip of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to New Delhi was a remarkable event.
All of the above is one more proof that India’s positioning in the modern world of escalating political issues, remains (at least, to some extent) neutral. And this is despite the growing efforts to shift this extremely important country from these positions.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.