Indo-US Strategic Partnership has robustly deepened and expanded for last two decades, but the real challenge to its relevance, usefulness and utility came when China displayed its brazen aggressiveness along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the long the India-China border.
India has strategic partnerships with several countries around the world, but it has been the United States that has so far responsively demonstrated its open support to India in the face of Chinese aggression and simultaneously taken certain steps forcing China to withdraw its troops from the site of physical fights with the Indian military personnel and dismantle its illegal structures in some of those areas.
It would, however, be wrong to deduce that Washington’s position on the Sino-Indian border is reflective of any military alliance in the making between the United States and India. Neither India nor the United States favours establishing any anti-China alliance formation.
But true to the letter and spirit of “strategic partnership”, some of the bold pronouncements of the White House and the State Department and action on ground by the Pentagon of dispatching two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea and Indian military’s bravery at the LAC to take any challenge from the Chinese PLA clearly displayed a strong signal to China to refrain from any illegal or immoral misadventures.
Demonstrative of Indian military prowess along the border was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unprecedented visit to the forward areas at the Indo-China border to boost the morale of the military personnel and support staff. It was greatly complemented by the excellent diplomatic skill displayed by the External Affairs Ministry under the able leadership of diplomat-turn-minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who handled the Chinese aggression in the midst of the deadly COVID19 pandemic.
External powers extend their hand of cooperation only when a country shows its capability to defend itself. The Indian Government’s deft handling of the issue created an eco-system where other willing powers, mainly the United States came forward to deal with China’s aspiration to become a hegemonic power in the world.
Taking advantage of the highly toxic Covid19 pandemic, China exhibited its real desire to expand its geography by gobbling up other countries’ territories around its border—both land and maritime. On the one hand, China declared victory over the pandemic and flaunted restoration of its economic activities and, on the other, it thought that other powers are busy combating the Coronavirus and Beijing began to her quest to be a major power.
China’s behaviour proved, the theory of “peaceful rise of China” was a deceptive ideological instrument used by Beijing to its advantage. It also has clearly shown that China wanted to trouble most countries that are America’s allies, strategic partners or emerging friends. Systematically, China picked up fights with Japan, Vietnam, India and Bhutan and, of course, Australia.
It also tried to deflect the global attention on its annexation of Hong Kong by indulging in violent behaviour along the Sino-Indian border.
However, the Chinese calculations have gone haywire. It had to withdraw its troops along the Indian border. Hong Kong is back on the radar of the US, UK, Australia and many other countries. The United States has clearly described China as an enemy country. ASEAN too, has supported rules based conflict resolution in South China Sea as per the UN Law of the Sea Treaty. The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has hit the wall in many countries.
India and the United States for long supported an approach that would make China a stakeholder in the international system. It was believed by both United States and India that by promoting trade and investment ties with China; Beijing would become more liberal in its domestic as well as foreign policies.
But this belief was misplaced. India and the United States along with other liberal, democratic countries must deal with China as it truly is and not go by theories. China must not be allowed to re-write the global rules and practices of engagement on its terms and conditions.
Script: Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra, Pro Vice-Chancellor, JNU