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Countering China is now a priority for both India and US. But only one needs the other

There are two necessities for India to counter China and both require depending on American power.

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Irrespective of who wins the American presidential election next week, India’s strategic circumstance will not change. The huge — and still-growing —imbalance of power in favour of China, and its containment strategy against India, is a reality that will persist for the foreseeable future. This means that India’s primary objective of countering China on both these fronts will also persist. The US is essential to this task. Simply put, New Delhi will have to work to intensify US-India strategic cooperation with the next American president — whether it’s Donald Trump or Joe Biden who wins next Tuesday.

Equally, countering China will be an imperative for the US too. Irrespective of the election result, the condition that the US finds itself in will not change. This is one in which America’s relative power vis-à-vis China is declining. And it will decline much more precipitously if the US does not step up to counter China. Though there is an intense debate among American analysts, as well as within the Democratic Party, about America’s China options, Beijing’s behaviour is itself limiting these options.

In short, both India and the US have a strong interest in countering China. The question is only about the mechanics of an arrangement that will allow India and the US (and others) to do this together.

Surely, there are differences between how Trump and Biden will run American foreign policy. But there are only two issues regarding the US that India needs to be concerned about. The first is whether the US has the power to counter China; and the second is whether it has the willingness to do so.

Also read: Why has India’s China policy been such a failure? Question New Delhi’s assumptions first

India needs US help with LAC 

There are two necessities for India to counter China’s power and both require American support. The first, and most important, is directly shielding India from China’s military, economic and diplomatic power. India has considerable military power and is much better prepared today than it was in 1962, and perhaps even a decade before that, especially in terms of border infrastructure. But the military balance is a moving target, and it is moving much faster and more adversely than anyone could have anticipated. While the Indian military may be able to give a good account of itself today along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), doing so will become more difficult with time. China spends nearly four times as much as India does on its military; in fact, China spends more than all the other major powers in Asia, combined.

This will eventually have an impact on the military balance at the border, as Chinese forces invest in higher technology in greater quantities. Even if India’s large military precludes any need for the US or anyone else to send military forces to bolster Indian defences, New Delhi will still need American assistance to ensure that a rapidly modernising People’s Liberation Army (PLA) does not gain advantage at the LAC. In addition, US intelligence assistance can bolster Indian efforts, and US diplomatic help will be necessary to hold China off in multilateral forums. This requires a long term partnership with the US, irrespective of who is in the White House.

Also read: Linking LAC peace with good relations shows India still doesn’t get China

Stop Chinese ‘hegemony’ in its tracks

The second Indian imperative is ensuring that China does not transform its regional power dominance into hegemony. Simply defined, Chinese hegemony is a condition in which Asian countries choose to submit to Chinese preferences because they have no other sensible choices. Even though India’s primary interest is national security rather than the shape of the international or regional order, these merge in the case of the Indo-Pacific because Chinese hegemony over Asia will be greatly harmful to Indian interests. China will attempt to seek hegemony in Asia for some time, and the only power that can prevent it is the US. Once again, it matters little who is in the White House.

China’s power dominance has become an even bigger problem because it continues to demonstrate, almost on a daily basis, that it intends to use its power with little regard to the interests or sentiments of others, both in its neighbourhood and even far from it. In one sense, this is fortunate because China’s crude exercise of power leaves little room for doubt about whether India can accommodate China. India has been reluctant to reach this conclusion but it is clear that China will continue to push India and everyone else towards this path. It would have been a lot more difficult if China had behaved with greater sensitivity and masked the danger that it poses.

Also read: India can’t free-ride others to limit China. It needs to lead the containment strategy

US, the other big question

Despite the relative decline in American power, there is little doubt that the US is still the only nation capable of countering China’s military, economic and diplomatic power. And that’s why it would be difficult for India to counter China without the American support. The real question, however, is whether the US is willing. That is the reason for much of the debate in the US.

Although this is a question that Americans have to decide themselves, it is worth remembering that the domestic American questioning of its global commitment is at least partly the result of the perception that American allies are exploitative free-riders. This is not entirely true, of course, because the US garners great benefits from its leadership position that are not easily enumerable. Still, it does not help when American partners demonstrate reluctance to pay their share of the common defence or appear to undermine American interests. This is less an Indian problem, but its effect washes over New Delhi nevertheless.

Equally, it is vital for New Delhi to recognise that all partnerships are of limited scope. The primary reason for an alignment with the US is to counter China, even if it is not polite to say that out loud. India and the US can, and probably will, disagree on a number of other issues, including Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan and possibly Indian domestic affairs. But neither side should let these differences come in the way of their more critical cooperation on dealing with China. This is particularly so for India. The US has other allies it can depend upon, but India does not. In the worst case, the US can pull up the drawbridges and retreat. This will be costly to American power, but that will be nothing compared to the consequences for India and the Indo-Pacific.

The author is a professor in International Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Views are personal.

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  1. My 2c worth. India playing Taiwan against China or stirring up trouble in Tibet will have the Chinese backing various indigenous tribes in India for independence and recognizing PoK as part of Pakistan since India has already changed the status of India’s occupied portion of Kashmir. That would then allow Pakistan to invite China to perhaps lease bases in PoK. Then india would be screwed…

    • @The_Observer: Lol!! What makes you think that #CCP communist China has not infiltrated India and doing all what you say & much more??!! #CCP is a dictatorship much like Islamic Pakistan so no prizes for guessing all evil they do!!

  2. America is basically begging India to help with China. I guess after losing in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq – it is time to for another century long struggle with China.

  3. Surprisingly, all analysts miss the nuclear dimension even though it’s the first thing to be mentioned in discussing indo pak confrontation. Indian nuclear aspirations pre dated pakistan’s acquisition of the bomb and clearly were aimed at china in case of a full scale confrontation. It’s pointless to suggest chinese nuclear arsenal because they wouldn’t risk a nuclear war for afewmiles at LAC whereas the author has suggested much more stark situation for India in which case a nuclear option is viable

  4. Gone are the days when India was a nonaligned country . It did not involve in fights of warring groups . Modi ji since first day of joining as P.M. has taken side of Pro capitalist pro atomic power group lead by America . Now Modi ji is to fight against all countries who do not subscribe to American policies . Now there is no question of India`s interest . President of America Donald Trump is Insisting on his declaration” AMERICA FIRST ” . Being member of that group Modi ji is duty bound to do what America wishes . If China is enemy of America it is also enemy of India. Now America wishes to establish its military base in India Modi ji will have to provide all facilities ,amenities for that. The recent agreements with America are towards that end.

  5. As it is, India has not much to show for its independence of 70 years. When one reads between the lines of such article, it seems that India chooses to make matters further worse on purpose. The point is that you have strong friends only if you are strong yourself. While India has equipped itself with armaments bought for a very high price from abroad, it does not make India a strong country. First of all, it grievously lacks the economic clout that always remains the most important factor in the making of a country’s greatness. It is also the economic might that builds the morale of its citizens. But these are not the areas of action in which India has ever been focused. India remains a divided country right from the day of its birth; its elites with colonial mindset without any sense of accountability to the people, and its vast masses, most of them impoverished, who have never had any control over their own destiny. While China’s leadership spent decades focusing on bringing their own masses out of poverty and bring them at the world stage as part of a united and mighty nation, India’s governing elites just took the people for granted all these decades and went about their own myopic passions such as trying to subjugate the smaller neighbors, or pretending to belong to the high table of world leadership and so on. Even now, if India were to be sincere with its own people and bring “achchhe din” to them, China is the only country that can help them out. But, as implied by this article, they are talking of taming China, a totally uncalled for agenda. If China were to choose to punish India, as contiguous neighbor, they can think of a thousand different ways, and there will neither be Trump or Biden to fight for India. This whole exercise of befriending distant America at the cost of friendship with China is nothing more than sound and fury that signifies nothing for India.

    • Shrestha ji as a Nepali citizen you have every right to think of India as having not been sympathetic or helpful to its smaller neighbors that of course does include Nepal. I know that there can be many real and perceived differences between Indian perspective and Nepal’s but India has never tried to annex the Nepalese territory nor has India ever tried to adversely influence its internal affairs and governance to control its economy, foreign policy and culture. Which I believe is not true for China, which according to you is the only country that can help smaller nations around India. The Indo-Nepal relations have been celebrated as they have provided many enriching interactions for both the countries at the social, cultural and economic level without taking advantages of each others circumstances. The Operational freedom, dignity and respect for the mutual needs have been the corner stone of our relationships. Probably India has never been too vocal, loud mouthed and outspoken about our interactions due to which many of our core cooperative issues have not reached the masses, this could be a severe short coming on India’s part, diplomatically, that I can accept.

    • Very good, logical analysis. Economic strength is the foundation and India does not have that, and whatever was built is washed away. We have not addressed education, hunger, population, casteism and communalism, but we hanker after great power status, as if it is an entitlement.

  6. India and US have strange relationship. We want US to support us against China and Pakistan. But when it comes to support America internationally, we develop cold feet. We never give full support to US in its dealings with China, Iran or Russia. We try to keep balance. Our statements are ambiguously diplomatic. And Americans too have their own interests in the region.

    • If you give full support to US, you will have to go and die for them in their wars. During the Vajpayee time also the BJP Hindus wanted to go with America. But when the Iraq war came, and the Americans requested troops, even the BJP Hindus got cold feet. They realised they will be dying for Americans and it would bring attacks on India.

  7. In future India need a `common enemy` for its Unity and progress …fight against China will become India as superpower ..Democratic India vs communist China…

      • Lol!! Ye!! It was the Hindus who created Pakistan, now Islamic slave of communist China!! Mosques destroyed to give way to Chinese toilets is what Islam/Muslims seem to love!!

  8. If India cannot protect itself and does not have the resolve to stand up to China then India herself is to blame. You can blame anyone in the world and cry foul but it is a collective failure of the last 70 years to build a national identity and a border that India can say its own and stand up to the world. Successive government appeased China and promoted and pampered the dragon giving up various international positions, practiced meaningless non-alignment with no coherent strategy whatsoever at various level. May be India will learn the lesson when it cedes considerable amount of territory to Dragon to shake it up internally and develop a consensus on what India means, its identity, define and respects her own people of different ethnicities, caste, language, color and origins and borders. Most Indians are fighting among themselves based on Caste, Religion, Language, Food Habits, Color of Skin, North Vs. South, East Vs West, RSS vs Others, Italy vs India. While some level of chaos, noise and arguing is ok in a democracy a country of the size of India cannot survive when it does not have a strong unified identity and developing a grounding based on that. It looks like a loose coalition of countries ready to break up at the smallest disagreement and talking in different tones even to adversaries like J&K welcoming China and Pakistan to invade them. Left political discourse and concern is more about China /Russia sovereignty than Indian sovereignty. Different political parties and their agenda are only adding to the irony. People across the borders are more happy to see that situation because it makes their job of breaking up India easy more so now than before. Get your act together now or lose some states to the Dragon. Period.

    • Well, you have summed up the Indian situation correctly. Alas, that is how Hindus are and that is how they will run the country. They cannot give up caste and forge an Indian identity. Indians will not fight for their country like the Russians did when Nazi Germany invaded them. The Hindus will be absorbed in infighting to care about China.

      Therefore, the correct conclusion is that India will break up in the next 50 years. like so many countries. J & K is ruled by the gun, so they will ask for Pak and Chinese help. Ladakh and Arunachal will go. The Hindi hegemony will force the south to leave. Hindu-Muslim civil war will drain resources.

      • We will see.
        “Kuch to baat hai ki hasti mitati nhi hamari…
        Sasiyon rha hai dushman daur e jama hamara”.

  9. If Biden wins Xi will be emboldened to repeat 1962. China is just waiting. Democrats with their pseudo statesmanship will try friendly negotiations with China with US interests in mind. India will no longer be in the radar.

    • As on today we are Facing two Enemies ,Internally CORONAVIRUS PROBLEMS , Externally BORDER PROBLEMS . Ultimately Unavoidable Economical Burden on The EXCHEQUER.
      We alone Can Not Tame China , but have to Handle The Situation Very Delicately .
      Whatever may be the USA ”S Election Results , at present Senario Both of Us Need one another to CHECK CHINA’ TO A CONSIDERABLE EXTENT .Even though The Whole WORLD Wants to Check China NoBody Dares to Prick China , Unless It Becomes an United Single Strike ,which is doubtful to happen It will be Better for our Country to do All the Best Possible Diplomatic Solutions and Economical Preassures with The Coordination of USA , While keeping
      The Deffence Option to The Last ,again with USA SUPPORT .

      On our Part as True Citizens , Let us Contribute Our Humble Might to THE CAUSE OF NATIONAL SECURITY , By Protecting Our own Individual HALTH ,

      With Best Wishes For Bettermnet Always .


        Who will curb RSS, gau rakshaks, rapists, Yogis and mobsters and dacoits of Hindu society ?

  10. e A clear convergence of interest is emerging between New Delhi and Washington in the context of minatory behavior of Beijing. Pompeo has called Xi as a predator. That sums up the US mood. National interest will not change. Nuances will. That PRC is a threat to world peace is now accepted. It has unleashed its biological weapon – and the price the international community are paying. What is the guarantee Xi will not unleash another weapon of this kind to realize his political objective? The cheapest and the quickest way of finding a solution to this intractable problem is to ensure a regime change in Beijing. Xi has to go lock, stock and barrel. It is Xi who is responsible for the present aggressiveness. A moderate leader at the helm in China will pull the chestnut out fire and the world will heave a sigh relief. At present the world is willing to wound but afraid to strike because world economy is greatly linked to the Chinese supplies.

  11. India is digging its own grave by fighting China to last Indians for US hegemony. If China has work peacefully along with everyone in win-win situation, esp all South Asians, what’s stopping India to ride China’s wave for its own rise?

    China has settled all its border issues with a dozen of neighbors 2 decades ago except India(& of course its protectorate Bhutan), even with the most difficult Russia occupied 1.5M sqkm lands.

    But India was impossible to satisfy, even wannabe JiangZM offered Rao to pick either strategic West Tibet(Arsai Chin) craved by India or rich resources South Tibet(Anuracha) occupied by India as once & for all border settlement. India rejected every offerings. Its eyeing entire Tibet as part of Greater India ambition.

    Bhutan been occupied and threatened by India army, so called protectorate, is not allowed to even have any foreign relationship without India approval. So it couldn’t settle border issue with China it so desired.

    Because its Indian’s “Himalaya Ego” as coined by ex-India diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar:

    “The Americans are vastly experienced with the Indians’ Himalayan ego and by now they know well enough where and how to tickle Indian vanities. How they pedal fresh dreams to the Indians and pick up the fruits of their endeavors will be keenly watched not only by the multitude of Indians back at home, but also by the Pakistanis, Chinese and the Russians” (The Dragon spews fire at the Elephant, Asiatimes)

    • Codswollop.
      China does not want anyone to ride on her coattails. It’s plain and simple China 1st, 2nd and last. It’s all about China’s rise and no one elses,.

  12. if the americans do not maintain their pre- eminent position in the world affairs, then the first casualty will be dollar as the currency of the world.

  13. 20 years hence, history will show that Xi made a big time goof ups in Dokhlam in 2017 and in Galwan in 2020. He compelled Narendra Modi to change India’s defense policy completely and made India a resolute power ready to defend its borders with China with equal force and ferocity. It made it easy for him to embrace USA in defense and strategic tie up. In the process, he punctured halo of Chinese power!

    China would of course, become more powerful in years to come but India will not allow it to become a hegemon in Asia and will broadly match it in all the spheres. It was USSR in 1971 which helped India in creation of Bangla Desh by blocking threat from China and USA and it will be USA in 2020 which will help India to stand up against China. One unintended consequence of this alliance with USA will be that India will end up breaking Pakistan, as that is the easiest way to throw Chinese out of South Asia and finish off one of their client states.

    • India can overcome all of these circumstances by resolving Kashmir issue otherwise Destructions is must. America has to sell his arms and with destruction.

    • Yes, China will become the biggest economy by 2030. It is important to work with China for peace and stability in the region. War is never the first option.

    • You are a typical, vain Hindu. You do not know how to rule India, and you think you can take on China and Pak. together. It is wishful thinking for a cornered Hindu mind.

  14. He is from JNU: explains his awe stuck, reverential prostration infront of his demiGod China and accepting inferior positions, getting progressively worse with time for every one else.
    Realism- laced and balanced, with a small dose of patriotism (rooting for your team) attitute is the need of the hour, not mushy, negative and defeatist mindset cultivated in the left leaning institutions, for all future analysts,writers and leaders.
    Print editorial team needs to consider what psychlogical impact its author is conveying to its readers unless you are also on team China !

    • ‘(rooting for your team) attitute is the need of the hour…’

      You mean you want someone to feed your Hindu delusions of superpower status. Modi is already doing that.

    • @BBSUD: Indians should have no doubt that the Chinese & their Paki Islamic slaves have infiltrated Indian society, politics, judiciary & media!!

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