In­dia play­ing wily game with US, Rus­sia and China

People's Review - - COMMENTARY - BY LIU ZONGYI

The twice-post­poned two plus two min­is­te­rial di­a­logue be­tween the US and In­dia took place on Septem­ber 6 in New Delhi, dur­ing which US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis held talks with their In­dian coun­ter­parts - Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj and De­fense Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man, over a string of is­sues in­clud­ing bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion, US sanc­tions against Iran and In­dia's pur­chase of Rus­sian air de­fense mis­siles. Be­fore the di­a­logue, many an­a­lysts thought the US de­mand to halt In­dia's oil im­ports from Iran and In­dia's pur­chase of Rus­sian S-400 air de­fense sys­tem, es­pe­cially the lat­ter, would hin­der the progress of the US-In­dia strate­gic de­fense part­ner­ship. Un­ex­pect­edly, Wash­ing­ton made con­ces­sions on these is­sues. An im­por­tant step for­ward, the US and In­dia signed the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­pat­i­bil­ity and Se­cu­rity Agree­ment ( COMCASA), and agreed to hold joint ex­er­cises in­volv­ing the air force, navy and the army off the east­ern In­dian coast in 2019. The di­a­logue yielded a sat­is­fac­tory re­sult for In­dia. The US-In­dia two plus two min­is­te­rial di­a­logue has a sym­bolic sig­nif­i­cance. It in­di­cates the build­ing of the strate­gic se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion mech­a­nism be­tween the two coun­tries has con­tin­u­ously strength­ened and grad­u­ally ap­proached the level be­tween the US and its al­lies such as Ja­pan and Aus­tralia. Al­though the di­a­logue was post­poned twice due to per­son­nel reshuf­fle in the US Depart­ment of State and some other is­sues in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, that it was fi­nally held demon­strates the ur­gent needs of both sides in deep­en­ing strate­gic de­fense co­op­er­a­tion. The Lo­gis­tics Sup­port Agree­ment, COMCASA, and Ba­sic Ex­change and Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment for Geospa­tial Co­op­er­a­tion are the three ba­sic agree­ments that the US signs to form mil­i­tary al­liances with other coun­tries. Now only the third has yet to be signed be­tween the US and In­dia. The two plus two min­is­te­rial di­a­logue mech­a­nism has long been es­tab­lished be­tween the US and its re­gional al­lies such as Ja­pan and Aus­tralia. With the es­tab­lish­ment of the one be­tween the US and In­dia, it's ex­pected the Ja­pan-In­dia and Aus­tralia-In­dia strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion mech­a­nism will be fur­ther up­graded. If so, the for­ma­tion of a quadri­lat­eral se­cu­rity di­a­logue com­pris­ing the US, Ja­pan, Aus­tralia and In­dia is not far away. One of the main rea­sons for the for­ma­tion of the US-In­dia two plus two min­is­te­rial di­a­logue and the ink­ing of the COMCASA is to coun­ter­bal­ance, even con­tain, China's rise. The US hopes to form mil­i­tary al­liances to con­front China and ex­clude it from the process of glob­al­iza­tion as it did with the Soviet Union. As seen in the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween In­dia and the US, there have been more and more con­ver­gences be­tween In­dia's China strat­egy and the US' Indo-Pa­cific strat­egy. In­dia views China as the main threat to its rise. It not only aims to coun­ter­bal­ance and con­tain China with help of US strength, but also wants to over­take China. There­fore, en­hanc­ing strate­gic de­fense part­ner­ship with the US is In­dia's es­tab­lished strat­egy. As In­dian Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj said dur­ing her meet­ing with Pom­peo, "In­dia at­taches the high­est pri­or­ity to its strate­gic part­ner­ship with the US. We see that the US is our part­ner of choice." The past few months have seen a rap­proche­ment in Sino-In­dian re­la­tions and sound in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the two. Chi­nese De­fense Min­is­ter Wei Fenghe con­cluded his In­dia visit just sev­eral days be­fore the US-In­dia two plus two di­a­logue. But from the In­dian side, this is just a tac­ti­cal ad­just­ment rather than a strate­gic one. Af­ter the China-In­dia Dok­lam stand­off, In­dia has been trapped in an awk­ward sit­u­a­tion - re­la­tions with China and other neigh­bor­ing coun­tries de­te­ri­o­rated; mov­ing closer to the US didn't ex­empt it from tar­iffs im­posed by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion but led to an alien­ated In­dia-Rus­sia re­la­tion­ship. The diplo­matic quag­mire un­doubt­edly would neg­a­tively af­fect In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi's elec­tion next year. In such con­text, Modi re­cal­i­brated his diplo­matic pol­icy, hold­ing an in­for­mal meet­ing with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Wuhan and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in Sochi re­spec­tively, and keep­ing a dis­tance with the US at the Shangri-La di­a­logue. This won In­dia diplo­matic ma­neu­ver­ing room and prompted the US to make con­ces­sions over a se­ries of is­sues in the US-In­dia bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. In­dia is play­ing games to gain ben­e­fits from all sides - China, Rus­sia and the US. (The au­thor is a se­nior fel­low of Shang­hai In­sti­tutes for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, a vis­it­ing fel­low of the C hong yang In­sti­tute for Fi­nan­cial Stud­ies, R en min Univer­sity of China and a dis­tin­guished fel­low of the China( Kun­ming) South Asia& South­east Asi­aIn­sti­tute.)

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