07.06.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

India in recent international events

Together with China and Japan, India is one of the three leading Asian powers, whose mutual relations will increasingly determine the situation in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. In turn, this latter is today in the focus of the current stage of the Great World Game. And if we can speak more or less definitely about the positioning of the first two countries at the table on which the global action is unfolding today, then India's position at this table still looks

Together with China and Japan, India is one of the three leading Asian powers, whose mutual relations will increasingly determine the situation in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole. In turn, this latter is today in the focus of the current stage of the Great World Game. And if we can speak more or less definitely about the positioning of the first two countries at the table on which the global action is unfolding today, then India’s position at this table still looks “transitional”.

What are the initial and the end points of this “transition” and how far has it progressed? It is quite easy to answer the first part of this question. We are talking about the transition from the relatively neutral positioning of India at the previous stage of the Great World Game, called the Cold War, to the current one, in which the “level” of the mentioned neutrality is steadily decreasing. This is due to the drastic changes that have occurred over the past few decades both in the composition of the main players and in the “weight” of India itself in the world hierarchy.

During the Cold War, the main participants-opponents at the gaming table were the United States and the USSR. India, which was then nothing more than one of the countries of the “third (developing) world”, tried to balance between these main players with a noticeable preference given to the second of them. For both domestic political reasons (the word “socialism” was perceived very positively in India at the time) and the absence of any significant problems in Soviet-Indian relations. In particular, there were no territorial disputes.

Over the past three decades since the end of the Cold War, the picture at the gaming table has changed radically. First, of the two main participants in the previous stage of the Great Game, only one, the United States, has retained its status. The second layer disappeared from the world stage, taking with it the format of the state structure, which to a large extent was a model for India. The latter began to get rid of the signs of “collapsed socialism”, but at the same time dramatically accelerated its own economic development. So today India itself is already in the pool of the world’s leading players.

Secondly, the vacated chair of the main opponent for one of the two remaining major players is already quite confidently occupied by China. The picture of India’s bilateral relations with China (unlike with the USSR) looks much more complicated. Of a number of fundamental “peculiarities” in India’s relations with the new Second World Power, let us point only to their immediate vicinity resulting in a nearly 4,000-kilometer border. And it is not an internationally recognized border, but the so-called “Line of Actual Control” because along it there are several sections of disputed territories with a total area of about 130,000 square kilometers. The two Asian giants have been unable to remove this thorn in their bilateral relations, one of the most painful of a number of others, for several decades.

Serious problems in relations with the great neighbor explain the fact that today it is becoming increasingly difficult for India to take a position of neutrality in relation to the central element of the modern stage of the Great Game. Which consists in an increasingly confrontational nature of the relations between the two now main players in the game, the United States and China. The comprehensive shift of New Delhi’s policy towards Washington and its main allies is becoming more and more noticeable.

In particular, several years ago the US began ranking first in terms of trade with India, displacing China. Supplies of American (as well as Israeli, French and British) modern weapons systems are becoming increasingly important. US-Indian military cooperation has been developing.

The United States is more and more actively trying to involve India in various international projects to isolate China comprehensively, that is, economically and politically. For Washington and its closest allies, this activity is becoming particularly relevant as the global US-China confrontation moves into the area of struggle for influence in the so-called Global South. Since the days of the Cold War, India has retained considerable prestige among the countries now defined by this new term.

 All these circumstances explain the high priority given by the organizers of the recent G7 summit, held in Hiroshima on May 19-21, to inviting, first of all, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As well as politicians who can be publicly identified as authorized representatives of the above-mentioned Global South. It was the participation of these guests in the events held on the margins of the last G7 summit that made up almost its main real content.

While the extensive official summarizing document is unlikely to go beyond the format of an artifact, which even today is more of a “historical-academic” interest. For a variety of reasons, among which we denote the increasingly obvious discrepancy between the ambitions of the G7 and its really available resources, the growing turbulence in the relations between the participants in this group, as well as within each of them.

At the same time, the recent (third since its founding at the beginning of 2021, held as a face to face meeting) QUAD summit, which took place on the sidelines of G7, is of actual and very specific interest. The reason for it is India’s participation (along with the United States, Japan and Australia), as well as its connection with the second part of the generalized question posed above.

A brief look at the document adopted at the end of the recent meeting of the Quartet leaders allows us to conclude that in a significant way it reproduces not only the main theses, but also the verbal turns established in the American foreign policy rhetoric of recent years, in particular, used in the final G7 Communiqué. But now the signature of the Prime Minister of India has appeared under them.

Among other aspects of the situation in the Indo-Pacific region, the leaders of the QUAD member countries this time paid special attention to various problems in the Pacific Ocean as a whole and especially in the island states located here. It should be noted that in recent years this subregion has been the stage of a comprehensive activation of both the PRC and the USA.

One of the main goals of President Joseph Biden’s participation in a series of recent international events, somehow related to the G7 summit, was precisely to demonstrate the growing importance for the United States of everything that is happening in the Pacific Ocean. Moreover, this demonstration was to be held with the participation of the Prime Minister of India.

However, the well-known internal problems forced the American president to urgently return home, and then India itself demonstrated the growing importance of this subregion for it. That country, we repeat, increasingly claims to position itself as one of the new main participants in the current stage of the Great Game. This demonstration was quite successfully carried out by the Indian leader, first in Papua New Guinea, and then in Australia. The visit to this latter ended the latest trip abroad of the Indian Prime Minister.

Its general semantic content fits into the above-mentioned trend of India’s foreign policy shift towards the United States and its key allies. It should be noted that it emerged back in the early 2000s, when the country’s oldest party, the Indian National Congress, was still in power. That is, this trend is by no means specific to the current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Another indication that this trend is based on quite solid reasons (of an almost objective plan) was the remarkable circumstance of holding one of the apparently secondary events in the G20 format. Recall that India this year is the host and organizer of the entire range of events, which are usually held in this format.

Their list includes a meeting of the ministers of tourism of the participating countries. The Indian government has chosen Srinagar as its venue, that is, the main city of the Kashmir Valley, which is extremely attractive for tourists. In this connection (more precisely, because of the overlapping claims to the possession of the territory of the former principality of Kashmir) between the governments of India and Pakistan there was another verbal skirmish. Beijing did not take part in it, but refused to send its minister to this event (as well as Turkey). Since Pakistan is de facto an ally of the PRC.

So, what can be said in response to the general question of how far the above-mentioned “shift” in Indian foreign policy has gone? Refraining from a direct answer, we state only the objective nature of India’s interests expanding beyond the immediately adjacent space. In particular, in connection with Narendra Modi’s trip under discussion, India was described as “the third (significant) country in the Pacific.” After the United States and China.

Under these conditions, Beijing (and Moscow) will have to show exceptional skill in everything related to policy in the Indian direction. So that this objective process does not result in a “fall into Washington’s friendly embrace” of an extremely important country, which India is already today.

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

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