Why the hype?

US & In­dia can work to­wards main­tain­ing peace in the re­gion with­out brouhaha

Financial Chronicle - - EDIT, OPED, THE WORKS -

THERE’S lot of fren­zied hype whipped up around the meet­ing be­tween prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and the US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Manila in the Philip­pines on Mon­day. For­eign sec­re­tary Subra­ma­niam Jayshankar and White House state­ments af­ter the Modi-Trump meet­ing have taken the at­mo­spher­ics to a new level.

While both lead­ers thrived in the bon­homie shown to each other, they should also not loose fo­cus on re­al­ity: Hyp­ing up of such meet­ings should not be re­sorted to if pre­serv­ing peace and tran­quil­ity in the re­gion is the ob­jec­tive.

In­dia mov­ing up the lad­der along with the US mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment from a strate­gic per­spec­tive was a big pos­i­tive for both sides. While the US would like to pig­gy­back on In­dia to pur­sue its in­ter­ests in Asia, for New Delhi, a free, open and in­clu­sive Indo Pa­cific re­gion is a top pri­or­ity.

Should we read too much into pres­i­dent Trump’s as­ser­tion of two great­est democ­ra­cies must have two great­est mil­i­taries? Is there also a deeper mean­ing into pro­mot­ing the Indo Pa­cific re­gion con­cept time and again by Wash­ing­ton at the high­est level? Lately, it has been no­ticed that the US wants to use In­dia as its pivot both for Afghanistan and China. The fact that it has ex­erted sus­tained pres­sure on In­dia re­sume a po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue in Kash­mir is equally sig­nif­i­cant that right wing In­dia is will­ing to ac­cept Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new pitch which ap­pears to be go­ing be­yond optics.

Well, the for­eign beat hawks at­tribute huge im­por­tance to both these lines spo­ken out by pres­i­dent Trump util­is­ing the var­i­ous in­ter­ac­tions on the side­lines of ASEAN sum­mit in the Philip­pines.

Hav­ing two great mil­i­taries is seen as hav­ing deeper and wider strate­gic and de­fence co­op­er­a­tion be­tween In­dia and the US. At an op­er­a­tional level, the US mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment may not be hes­i­tant in trans­fer­ring lat­est mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy and cut­ting edge know-how to In­dia that was hith­erto un­avail­able in the past.

Es­pe­cially af­ter the Pokha­ran nu­clear tests con­ducted by In­dian es­tab­lish­ment un­der the then prime min­is­ter Atal Bi­hari Vajpayee, the US mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment had been very sus­pi­cious of the coun­try’s am­bi­tions and as­pi­ra­tions. How­ever, strate­gic shift vis-à-vis In­dia has been seen dur­ing last 10 years un­der both Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can regimes of pres­i­dents Bar­rack Obama and Don­ald Trump.

If Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s as­ser­tions are any in­di­ca­tion, In­dia seems to have meta­mor­phosed into a full global part­ner with the US not only for Asia but much be­yond. It is clear that the US feels threat­ened by ris­ing Chi­nese mil­i­tary and eco­nomic power. It would want a strong ally and In­dia fits the bill for it shares a huge un­de­fined bor­der with the Chi­nese, the face off in Dok­lam be­ing the lat­est case in point.

Ped­dling the con­cept of Indo Pa­cific part­ner­ship that in­cludes the Philip­pines and Ja­pan des­ig­nated, as quad is again a sig­nif­i­cant gain from In­dian per­spec­tive. The the US con­cerns em­a­nat­ing from the South China Sea prism lead to the de­sign of this quad. China’s mus­cu­lar pol­icy ob­vi­ously distress­ing the US, Ja­pan and even Aus­tralia. From In­dia’s point of view, get­ting F-16s, F-18 ad­vanced fighter air­craft or sin­gle en­gine fighter air­craft in droves should not be a big deal. In­stead, In­dia should press for the US mil­i­tary and aero­space in­dus­try man­u­fac­tur­ing these air­craft here, trans­fer­ring tech­nol­ogy to do­mes­tic in­dus­try and aid de­vel­op­ment of an­cil­lary units for spares and main­te­nance. Only then, In­dia’s mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties will go up vis-à-vis long time foe, Pak­istan and its trusted big brother ally, China.

Sec­ondly, In­dia can­not put all its eggs in one bas­ket and push China fur­ther away to tango with Pak­istan that could be a per­ma­nent ir­ri­tant on the western bor­ders. For­eign pol­icy man­darins will have to bal­ance out In­dia’s se­cu­rity in­ter­ests wed­ded strongly to the US mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment with con­tin­ued part­ner­ship with China on trade and in­vest­ment.

This bal­anc­ing act is the trick­i­est as­pect of In­dia’s en­gage­ment with the US, Ja­pan and the Philip­pines troika on one side and China on other end of the spec­trum.

In this back­drop, grow­ing en­ergy part­ner­ship be­tween In­dia and the US could be an eye­sore for China. Given that over half a mil­lion bar­rels crude was be­ing sourced from the US, half way across the globe, Chi­nese com­mu­nist oli­garchs are bound to view this as a very un­friendly act. Bei­jing in-house Com­mu­nist ex­perts may not be­lieve in In­dia–the US en­ergy deals as an in­sur­ance to grow­ing in­sta­bil­ity in West Asia and far east­ern oil rich re­gion.

China un­der Xi Jin­ping would con­tinue to be weary and sus­pi­cious of In­dia cozy­ing up to the US. Fit­ting Rus­sia into this whole puz­zle of In­dia- US- China see­saw re­la­tion­ship would how­ever be the big­gest chal­lenge for New Delhi. For Rus­sia re­mains In­dia’s great­est nat­u­ral ally.

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