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India needs clear foreign policy as world heads to US-China bipolar order, Fareed Zakaria says

At ThePrint's Off The Cuff, scholar and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria said India turning into an 'illiberal democracy', and explained why Xi Jinping is bad for China.

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New Delhi: The world is moving towards a bipolar order, and the US and China will be the quintessential powers, according to scholar, CNN anchor and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria.

“The world is now America and China. That’s the choice India has to make,” he remarked.

Zakaria was in conversation with Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta Monday at the latest edition of ThePrint’s Off The Cuff programme where he talked about India’s ‘illiberal democracy’, New Delhi’s “lack of a grand strategy”, how US foreign policy is likely to be different under former vice-president Joe Biden as compared to that of President Donald Trump, and why President Xi Jinping is bad for Chinese power and influence across the world.

Also read: What is nine-dash line? The basis of China’s claim to sovereignty over South China Sea

A new bipolar world

Talking about the systemic changes the world order has undergone over the past couple of decades, Zakaria said the “rise of the rest” has been the most significant feature.

While the US continues to be way ahead of everyone else, when it comes to raw power — economically and militarily — it is no longer a unipolar world, according to Zakaria.

“The US accounts for 25 per cent of global GDP. It did so in the 1890s, in the 1930, and in 1985,” he said. “But the rise of other powers, especially China, has eroded US’ unipolarity.”

While the share of US’ global output has remained the same, China now accounts for a sizeable share — about 17 per cent. This shift is mostly due to the relative decline of European powers and Japan.

According to Zakaria, the world is gradually progressing towards a bipolar order — where the US and China would be significantly more powerful than the rest of the world.

Also read: US-China tension is on its way to getting worse and there’s no exit in sight

US foreign policy under Biden

The opinion polls for the upcoming US presidential election have given Biden a substantial and sustained lead over Trump in key US states such as Florida, which makes it very hard for Trump to win the November reelection, according to Zakaria.

He remarked that if Biden comes to power, there could be some restoration of the old “liberal internationalist” US foreign policies. “I think Biden will go back to Iran, join JCPOA, he’ll go back to the Paris climate change agreement,” he said. “There will be a very different immigration policy under Biden.”

While Zakaria critiqued a large part of Trump’s foreign policy such as the President’s treatment of key US allies, he also said some of the changes brought about by Trump were long overdue, such as dealing with China.

“There will be important changes under Biden, but what won’t change is that we are entering a bipolar world,” added Zakaria.

Also read: The world has changed too much for Biden to erase the Trump effect

India’s poor state and illiberal democracy

A large part of the conversation was focused on India, and Zakaria touched upon several topics such as the country’s rising ‘illiberal democracy’, the lack of an efficient state, New Delhi’s “poor” diplomatic capacity, and the “absence” of clear strategic thinking in terms of foreign policy.

He criticised the Indian government’s pandemic response and argued that a deeply “inefficient state” is to be blamed for it.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the Indian government, and by that I mean the Delhi government, has handled this crisis very poorly,” he remarked.

“Indian government functions very poorly, even in comparison to other developing countries. Coronavirus has highlighted that reality,” added Zakaria.

Talking about the rise of ‘illiberal democracy’ in India over the past few years, Zakaria said, “Sadly, India has moved closer to Erdogan’s Turkey instead of Britain or France.”

He mentioned the increasing lack of free press and the erosion of institutions as key factors behind India’s weakening of liberal democracy. Zakaria argued that India is too diverse a place — almost like a continent in itself — and democracy is the only way to govern it.

“What I wonder about (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi is, is he really bringing all of India along with him?” asked Zakaria.

Also read: India’s democracy deficit comes in the way of its battle against COVID-19

No grand strategy

On India’s foreign policy and strategic thinking, he thought that even now New Delhi refrains from coming up with a grand strategy. Such a strategy would involve coming up with a foreign policy goal, and applying all your resources towards achieving it, he said.

“Saying you want to have good relations with everyone in the world is the absence of a strategy. India needs to start making fundamental choices,” said Zakaria. “That often involves getting your hands dirty. Sometimes there are repercussions to your choices, but you bear the costs.”

Zakaria also advocated closer US-India strategic alliance and said that both countries were in a position to foster closer civic — people to people — ties, which is often the bedrock of close interstate relations.

He also said that India’s lack of diplomatic capacity restricts New Delhi from conducting effective global diplomacy. Comparing it to China, Zakaria said that Beijing has a far larger diplomatic corps, and their conduct of diplomacy is extremely methodical. That is in stark contrast with India, where often giving a speech at the United Nations is considered the end of the diplomatic endeavour, he remarked.

Also read: Three cold wars involving China are dragging India into conflicts it is not ready for

Xi Jinping and China

Talking about China under Xi, Zakaria thought that the President had been charting his country in the wrong direction. “Imagine China without Xi Jinping and you would imagine a very different trajectory,” said Zakaria.

In terms of dealing with the crisis at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Zakaria said that diplomacy was the way to go ahead for now.

“In a way, India seems like roadkill for China’s obsession with absolute control over their borders. I do think there is an opportunity here for diplomacy,” he said. “I don’t think India needs to be confrontational about it (the LAC issue), but of course it should push back.”

Zakaria said Indian diplomats should reach out to China and work towards a settlement as this shouldn’t go on for the next 30 years.

“For the long term, India needs to decide it’s position with China,” he said.

Zakaria thought that India was in a better position than most other states to manage a balancing act between economic ties with China and a strategic relationship with the US, owing to its large size.

Also read: China is forcing the world to find new ways to deal with it

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