US, India differ on Indo-Pacific strategy

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/6/18 20:08:40

Editor's Note:

The relationship with China will loom large on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second term. How will China-India relations evolve amid a changing global milieu, especially brought about by US policies of protectionism and unilateralism using tariffs as a weapon? Srikanth Kondapalli (Kondapalli), chairman and professor of China Studies at the Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, shared his opinions with Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui. 

Photo: IC

GT: President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi met on June 13 at the sidelines of the SCO summit. What's the significance of the meeting to bilateral relations? What are the prospects for bilateral relations?

Kondapalli: The meeting in Kyrgyzstan was the first meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi after the elections in India and after Prime Minister Modi took oath for a second term on May 30. Just before the meeting, President Xi had congratulated Modi on his re-election.

Modi tweeted that his meeting with President Xi was "extremely fruitful" and their talks "included the full spectrum of India-China relations." So this meeting, although very short, because the main issue was Shanghai Cooperation Organization, was a good meeting. It has been praised by both sides. 

We'll probably see another meeting between the two at G20 and possibly in the Indian pilgrimage city of Varanasi (Modi's electoral constituency) in October. This could probably result in more understanding between the two sides.

The prospects for bilateral relations under Modi's second term are pretty good. The Wuhan spirit is continuing. The new Indian government has announced some schemes. No. 1 is India wants to raise its GDP to $5 trillion by 2024, which means China has a lot of opportunities in the manufacturing sector. No. 2, in terms of investments in infrastructure projects, the new government wants to invest about $1.5 trillion in infrastructure. So this is again an opportunity. There are also railway construction projects and shipyards, fiber optics and others. There are many areas where the new government wants to invest. China has an opportunity in the next five years.

GT: India is considered an important pivot for the Trump government's Indo-Pacific strategy. What's India's stance on the strategy? 

Kondapalli: If the Americans want a pivot to India, that is American policy. India's policy is that India wants a five-trillion-dollar economy, and a 10-trillion-dollar economy by 2032. India wants to stabilize its security and other situations. India wants to raise its status with help from solar alliance, space technology alliance, by counter terrorism, by various other measures. So this is what India expects. 

It's true that the Indian side has officially accepted the Indo-Pacific strategy, which the Trump administration has mentioned several times. And in November 2017, they formed the quadrilateral security dialogue, a dialogue mechanism in the Indo-Pacific comprising the US, Japan, Australia and India. In addition, the US, Japan and India have trilateral Malabar exercises in the naval sphere. These two main mechanisms would probably move ahead in the future, but that depends on Indian aspirations as well. For example, Modi went to the Shangri-La Dialogue last June, and he said he wanted an inclusive Indo-Pacific. He also emphasized the importance of ASEAN centrality in the Indo-Pacific. Between the US pivot to India and India aspirations in terms of an inclusive Indo-Pacific, there are a lot of differences. 

GT: The US is launching a trade war with major powers including India. It ended preferential trade treatment of India. How will this affect India-US relations?

Kondapalli: This is a big issue in India as well. The US-India trade conflicts are emerging. But compared to China, Mexico and Europe, the US-India trade conflict is small because India's trade surplus with the US is not large. But India is also concerned about the tariff situation.

Obviously, India is trying to address the issue. Like every other country, it's trying to adjust its policies. One of the things is India planning to import LNG (liquefied natural gas) from the US to bridge the trade deficit. Probably India will also buy some arms from the US. That would again bridge the trade deficit. But the overall issue is still not resolved because the Trump administration has also asked India to reduce oil imports from Iran. We have huge imports from Iran. We now have to adjust our policy on this. 

Another issue is the Indian purchase of arms from Russia. One major purchase was the S-400 missile defense system. Now it's speculated that the Trump administration wants India to cancel the deal. There is a big problem emerging. Imagine if India cancels the S-400 deal, its relations with Russia will be affected. So it is now caught in a difficult situation. 

Besides, because of the general tariff conflicts, there is a disruption in the trade value chain. If India wants to be a 10-trillion-dollar economy, it needs a stable international economic situation. But because of the disruption, the growth rates will be affected, not for India, but for every country. The trade war is affecting global growth rates and global investors. It is affecting stock exchanges. It is affecting technology flows and creating problems for countries which need investments. Over the past three weeks after the formation of the new government, there was a lot of discussion on how to address this issue.

GT: China and India had the Doklam standoff in 2017. Can a breakthrough in solving the border issue be achieved during Modi's second term?

Kondapalli: During the Wuhan meeting in April 2018, China and India discussed the guidelines issued to arm forces for maintaining stability in border areas. This was directly related to the situation we witnessed in 2017: the Doklam incident. China and India are making efforts to solve the border issue. During the Xiamen meeting in September 2017, President Xi and Prime Minister Modi decided to have new confidence-building measures (CBMs) in place. So let's wait and see. During Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe's visit to India last August, China and India agreed to implement CBMs to ensure peace. It's not yet implemented. But at the highest level, they decided to have border stability. Let's see how it works on the ground. The feeling in India is that the two countries will have some mechanism for border stability and incidents like the Doklam standoff won't take place again. 

GT: India is still refusing to participate in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Is there a possibility that it will have a rethink?

Kondapalli: It's not true that India had not joined the BRI. India joined the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor in 2013, so technically, India is a part of the BRI. Besides, India is the second largest shareholder in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which partly finances BRI projects. So India is a part of the AIIB and then the BRI. 

Of course, India has some concerns over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, because it passes through Kashmir, which is claimed by the Indian constitution as part of India. So Prime Minister Modi criticized BRI projects in India. Modi said that connectivity should not ignore sovereignty issues. China is also very cautious of its sovereignty interests in the South China Sea, Taiwan and Tibet or in areas that border India.


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