The Delhi-DCBei­jing tri­an­gle

Use the US, but re­solve the dis­pute bi­lat­er­ally with China

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - COMMENT -

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and United States (US) Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took the op­por­tu­nity of the lat­ter invit­ing In­dia to the planned Group of Seven plus sum­mit to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion at the In­dia-China bor­der on Tues­day. The con­ver­sa­tion raises a ques­tion of how New Delhi should use geopo­lit­i­cal cards when play­ing yet an­other round of shot­gun poker with Bei­jing. Of their own vo­li­tion, US of­fi­cials have been vo­cal in call­ing out China dur­ing this cri­sis, con­flat­ing Bei­jing’s bor­der in­tru­sions with its stran­gu­la­tion of the South China Sea and Hong Kong. This may please In­di­ans, but an overt US role in a bi­lat­eral dis­pute may not nec­es­sar­ily make things eas­ier for In­dia.

New Delhi should not de­fine strate­gic au­ton­omy to be the ex­ter­nal re­la­tions of a her­mit. State­craft is about in­creas­ing op­tions, not re­duc­ing them. Deal­ing with China, a coun­try cog­nizant of its much greater heft, means all pos­si­ble diplo­matic, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary means need to be brought to bear. One mea­sure of a na­tion’s strength is how many friends it has, and be­ing able to say one of them is the US still counts for a lot. Bei­jing sees Washington as its only peer; so, bring­ing the US into a dis­pute can be use­ful. In a num­ber of past cases, whether bor­der ne­go­ti­a­tions in the 1980s or forc­ing China to stop sta­pling visas for In­dian Kash­miris, In­dia has used its prox­im­ity to the US to its ad­van­tage. In the in­stance of the Dok­lam stand-off, it worked bet­ter to keep the US at a dis­tance.

At the same time, an In­dia which han­dles such crises on its own builds ca­pac­ity within its in­sti­tu­tions and polity. Re­silience based on do­mes­tic strengths, in­de­pen­dent of the in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment, is the best means to de­ter trou­ble­some neigh­bours. Also, dis­putes over a dozen kilo­me­tres of bar­ren land are small enough; en­tan­gling them in su­per­power ri­valry will not make res­o­lu­tion eas­ier. In­dia’s in­ter­ests now range from the lo­cal to the global, and, so, a part of its skillset must be to judge when to use a scalpel and when, a broadsword. An emerg­ing power must recog­nise which ex­ter­nal crises can be han­dled at what level. At present, Gal­wan Val­ley is best han­dled at the bi­lat­eral level with the US’ sup­port be­ing used only as back­ground noise. There are other long-term is­sues re­gard­ing China, in ar­eas such as tech­nol­ogy stan­dards and mar­itime se­cu­rity, which can be taken up at venues like the su­per­sized G-7 sum­mit.

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