Joseph R. Biden Jr. just became the first US Vice President to visit India in three decades. While India considers this to be a proof of its popularity and widespread influence, there is The People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA) proving us all wrong. PLA crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) into India for the nth time this year alone! That China is bullying India has become more a common headline these days – and during a time when India is busy with some ineffective verbal tactics to cajole and persuade its adamant, powerful neighbour. But all along, we’ve seen China adopting the carrot and stick approach while dealing with our nation. How have we reacted? Actually, the more pertinent question is – have we?
History stands testimony to the fact that India – more often than not – chooses to sit back and take the blow (or many blows-after-many!) than being proactive in its foreign policy. Is there a wiser justification to the fact that even a much smaller (and weaker perhaps) State like Pakistan has dared to wage war with us as many as four times in the last 65 years. Today, it even executes terror acts in our country. Still our authorities choose to remain still and silent! And presently, with great camaraderie between China and Pakistan, the two foreign forces are working hard to make their fellowship count – against their common neighbor. The two have in recent times only magnified India’s external and internal security concerns! China isn’t just the only culprit – Pakistan is enjoying giving the “poke” too. If China has shown disregard for the sanctity of LAC, Pakistan is flouting cross-border ethics in Chimur & Ladakh.
That the United States is increasingly feeling the heat from China – whose ambition clearly is to eclipse US as a global geopolitical and economic superpower – is a fact unknown to only a few. Under such a circumstance, US wants to cook a potion to neutralise the Chinese poison. There is also deep resentment in America regarding Pakistan, as time and again it has come to public light that the country covertly works against the interest of US and its people. From giving shelter to Osama bin Laden to becoming a haven for a host of small and large, organized and unorganised terror groups, like the Haqqani network (that engages in war against US-led NATO forces and the govt. of Afghanistan and is said to have support from influential elements within the Pakistani security establishment), US is increasingly finding Pakistan an unmanageable rogue State.
Joe Biden’s visit to India is therefore to drive home the point (to PM Manmohan Singh and Co.) that US wants to “rebalance” its position in Asia, under the prospect of rapidly changing political and economic scenario in the region. That Biden’s visit came close to the heels of another visit by an American statesman (John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, who discussed on diplomacy, economy and environment) is sign enough that American lords are not completely pleased with the balance of power in the Asian arena. They want something to change. And fast.
It is clear that US is putting special emphasis on India as a growing power in Asia and encouraging it to play a bigger role in shaping US’ interests in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. What is paradoxical about India’s (foreign policy) ideology is that while on one hand the nation is expressing concerns to US that the exit of NATO from Afghanistan could quickly tilt the balance of power back in favour of Taliban, on the other, American insistence of a bigger Indian role in the region is being met with avoidance! It is hard to understand the hesitation on the part of India to do so, except for the fact India perhaps doesn’t want to escalate its cost by doing so (and would rather concentrate on advancing its economy per se – a policy that US followed for a long time in the nineteenth and twentieth century till the Second World War). However, the difference in geopolitical dynamics lies in the fact that US was not threatened from outside like India is at present. If we allow Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan and they resume exporting terrorism – the cost incurred thus in preventing and repairing the losses would be much higher.
As for China, its efforts to control the waters of the Indian Ocean can be countered by India, with help from US, as the Americans themselves are hell bent to give one back to China as a restraining tactic. All South-Eastern and Far Eastern nations that surround the Chinese borders are growing increasingly insecure of China and are ready to befriend the Americans to meet their purposes. Countries like Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea and Japan are all American allies and the Obama administration is leaving no stone unturned to bring other neutral countries in the region that are feeling excessively threatened by and dissatisfied with China (like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia) in its orbit of influence. Under such circumstances, India has the great opportunity to be on the right side of history by playing a meaningful role to combat its biggest adversary and a country that is proving to be portentous of great danger to India.
However, all geopolitical activism will come to naught if our economic performance slips. And that’s the second agenda of Biden’s current tour. He publicly expressed concerns over our economic condition to the Indian business elites in Mumbai. The excitement of American business delegates that accompanied George Bush and later Barack Obama has all but vanished as foreign investors currently face many impediments to investment, like high entry barriers, poor infrastructure, and unabated political corruption. Even PM Manmohan Singh acknowledged the slowing down of our economy (to Biden) and just before his visit, the union government allowed a number of pro-reform measures like 100 per cent FDI in telecom, 49 per cent FDI in defense and passage of the Food Security Bill. However, with an eye on General Elections next year, it will be difficult for the UPA government to curb populist welfare measures, thereby further worsening the already disappointing state of our current account and fiscal deficits.
Indian neutrality is all welcome. That has been the case since 1947. India maintained its non-aligned status with both US and USSR. But even then, India had the support of the Soviet Union. Now, as we enter the second half of 2013, with a new world order emerging, India should enter a new phase of friendship with the United States, whilst maintaining its independence and sovereignty.
A lighthearted rapport with America may help India ward off many an evil eye that stare at its borders and threaten its national security. Shaking America’s hand on the basis of mutual trust could even help improve India’s economic and social state. Question is – how pure should this spirit of familiarity and fellowship with America be?