Disturbing the Rhythm
China does not want the US to gain a stronghold in South Asia.
Conventional wisdom would have us believe that US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to India in June heralded a new chapter in foreign relations between the two countries. However, like all diplomatic arrangements, the recently-revived partnership serves a doubled-edged purpose and represents little more than a marriage of convenience between the US and India.
Earlier in the month, the news of Carter’s visit had set rumor mills turning about what the outcome of the meeting would be. More often than not, there was a wave of optimism surrounding the defence
Analysts believed that if the talks were successful, India would enter a new phase in its defence relations with America. A large fraction of the media insisted Carter’s decision to reach out to the country would help bridge the gaps that had grown over the years.
Initially, there were only a few people who vehemently opposed the decision. It appeared as if the promise of improvements in defence relations with the US had lulled people into a false sense of security. The main reason for this was Carter’s first-hand experience in bureaucracy. Moreover, the fact that he had taken a genuine interest in addressing the problems which plague India was welcome proof that he wanted to bring the country back on the road to progress.
The Indian government had also hoped US assistance would help add flesh to the bare bones of its own plans for development and prosperity in the country.
Fortunately, the expectations were not entirely one-sided. During his visit to Singapore, Carter had promised enhanced defence relations would increase prospects of maritime security, based on aircraft carrier and jet engine technology. Furthermore, he said the United States was working on creating new avenues to complement India’s “Act East policy.”
However, even before the visit, there were numerous stumbling blocks in the US’s commitment to the Indian defence strategy. For instance, there was – and still remains – an imbalance of power over the extent to which the India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) can go. Carter holds the reins and can make most of the decisions on the sharing of technology and equipment.
The likelihood that India will be able to reap any short-term benefits from the arrangement is also limited. In the past, the BJP-led Indian government has held countless meetings with the US over DTTI. However, the process is likely to take a year or more to reach fruition as the race for the US presidential elections is likely to assume center-stage.
Carter’s visit came at a time when other countries in Asia are threatened by China’s growing dominance in the region. During his time in Singapore, Carter had castigated the Chinese government for reclaiming land in the South China Sea to establish military bases. Under these circumstances, the defence secretary is likely to act with the intention of establishing stronger ties with China’s neighbors to thwart the country’s influence.
On the face of it, Carter’s visit to India led to the renewal of a 10-year defence cooperation framework to guarantee security and the ratification of a new defence pact. Under the partnership, co-production and co-development of naval defence capabilities will be enhanced and the US will help India design an aircraft carrier and jet engines. There are ample reasons to believe America’s mounting insecurities over China’s influences have fuelled these developments.
A few days before India signed an agreement with the US, Vietnam also established a partnership with the latter to seek suitable equipment to improve and protect its maritime assets. Some analysts believe these pacts and heightened cooperation between the US and military officials of various countries are welcome proof of an ongoing strategy to sabotage China’s plans to strengthen its military influence.
Similarly, Dean Cheng, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has insisted China does not want to see the US gain a stronghold in the region as it could pose a threat to its activities in the South China Sea.
Amid the growing distrust between both countries, there is a limited scope to develop a calm rhythm to foreign relations. Until this senseless blame game comes to a halt, peace and stability are unlikely to return to Asia.
This recurring battle for supremacy has raised the stakes of the US in most Asian countries. Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has gone on record to say most Asian countries are looking towards America to establish a firm leadership and strong partnership to deal with China’s alarming activities in the region.
If Carter’s promises to India are analyzed in light of these developments, there seems very little to rejoice over.
However, India is not a passive victim to this struggle for supremacy. To the contrary, it has only agreed to these arrangements because there is a strong possibility that they will bring progress and prosperity to the country.
At this critical juncture, India finds itself in a weak position in South Asia. Over the last few months, Pakistan and China have been contemplating new avenues for development. In April, the Chinese president visited Islamabad to chalk out the underlying basis of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The $46 million megaproject, if it materializes, is likely to change Pakistan’s fate and strengthen ties between both countries.
Recently, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj voiced reservations about the project and deemed it unacceptable. However, the matter did not end there. After receiving an appropriate rejoinder from the Pakistan government, India shifted its focus to Bangladesh and raised the specter of the East Pakistan imbroglio to win the heart of its neighbor. Both countries collectively blamed Pakistan for promoting terrorism.
Much to its own dismay, India’s veiled assault at Pakistan did not generate the desired impact as the latter has already launched a series of military offensives in North Waziristan Agency and Khyber Agency to stem the scourge of militancy.
Faced with a growing sense of insecurity, India might have perceived Carter’s visit as a means of restoring its strength in the region. At this stage, it is difficult to say if it blindly trusts the promises made by the defence secretary. However, the fact that the arrangement serves the sectional interests of both countries speaks volumes about the underlying intentions behind this partnership.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj voiced reservations about the project and deemed it unacceptable.