Quad partners should temper Indian expectations

Hamish McDonald is a former New Delhi correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and author of “Mahabharata in Polyester” on the Indian Ambani family.

Take a look at the medal tally at the Tokyo Olympics and spot the big anomaly: After 12 days of competition, India – soon to have the largest population in the world – had only one silver medal and two bronze medals.

It’s not that Indians can’t be good at sports, as any cricket fan will tell you. It’s just that India can’t bother to focus on this quadrennial competition and probably places more emphasis on literary nominations for the Nobel and Booker Prizes. India is leading its own race.

For those who see India as a strategic counterweight to China, what they see is either encouraging or infuriating, or both.

India’s demographics suggest resilience to the potential decline in China’s population. Its business model is based on its huge, low-income domestic market rather than the manufacturers looking for export dollars that have given East Asia its decades of rapid growth.

India’s complicated electoral politics and traditions of dissent are slowing policy changes, as evidenced by the turbaned Punjabi farmers who recently blocked New Delhi in protest against liberalized grain prices. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not had a real election to the Economic Reform Council since the introduction of a national goods and services tax in 2017. As COVID-19 has shown, pollution, extreme heat and flash floods, the country is vulnerable to pandemics and climate change.

Yet India continues to rebound. As the saying goes, its economy grows overnight while the government sleeps. Indian political pluralism is also an asset. China’s economy grew fastest when its Communist Party retreated. Fearing alternative power centers, the party now controls its most prominent technological champions.

India’s foreign policy always refers to the non-aligned movement that Jawaharlal Nehru helped formulate in the 1950s. Its large armed forces rely heavily on combatants, missiles, warships, sub – Powerful but relatively inexpensive Russian navies and tanks.

But during his two-day exploratory visit at the end of July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reportedly found India more eager to engage with Washington than it was several years ago, and more ready to rely on the Dialogue. quadrilateral security, or Quad, with Japan and Australia as well as the United States

The scuffle between Chinese and Indian troops massed on their disputed Himalayan border has turned Indian sentiment strongly against China, with India now sending tens of thousands of troops to reinforce the 3,440 km border.

Protesters shout slogans during an anti-China demonstration near the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi in June 2020: the fight between Chinese and Indian troops has strongly transformed Indian sentiment against China, © Sipa / AP

New Delhi does not seek conflict there, where it faces severe supply constraints due to the winding roads of the Himalayas. But more active participation in the Quad, especially in joint naval exercises, is one way of shaking hands in Beijing.

India has just announced that its annual Malabar exercises with the other quad navies, normally held in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, will be transferred to the Western Pacific this year. Its four participating warships will also conduct bilateral exercises with Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia in the South China Sea and other regional waters.

This is unlikely to lead to a prolonged Indian naval presence in the South China Sea. Instead, Quad’s other partners will work to strengthen India’s maritime control in the northeastern corner of the Indian Ocean while seeking other ways to bolster India’s might.

Although India’s trade with China has reached record levels, New Delhi has blocked some Chinese high-tech investments and imposed a silent ban on Chinese firm Huawei Technologies.

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar carried out a radical restructuring of the ministry, occupying the most senior positions with experienced officers in Washington and Beijing instead of the previously favored diplomats who were stationed in Moscow. One of the results is that New Delhi has become less suspicious of the post-war US-led international order and less obstructionist in multilateral settings.

But expectations regarding India’s role among its Quad partners may be ahead of reality. New Delhi values ​​its strategic autonomy and will continue to maintain other relations, including with countries hostile to the United States.

The use of cheaper Russian weapons is considered a restriction on Quad military interoperability. But if the Quad is really just a dialogue, not an alliance, it might be better to accept the Russian military connection, however unwanted it may be. If India remains a good defense client with Moscow, it will help balance Russia’s relationship with China.

India’s relatively warm relations with Iran, Central Asia and Myanmar become increasingly important as Afghanistan’s neighbors tackle the withdrawal of US forces and the world deals with the takeover Myanmar military. India is also offering Africa alternative partnerships to China to the extent that its more limited funds allow.

A quadrilateral has four corners. Like Japan and Australia, India has its own web of relationships which can be a force multiplier in its soft and hard power.

However, India’s commitment to diversity and freedom of expression under Modi’s leadership raises growing concerns, with increased harassment of the large Muslim population and attacks on press freedom. . The result is that India has become less of a democratic beacon, reducing its ideological contrast with China. In New Delhi, Blinken made a point of meeting with civil society leaders to stress that the United States is monitoring.

Like Chinese President Xi Jinping, Modi can look back on millennia of civilizational greatness. But it would be unwise for him to follow Xi in narrowing definitions of national culture and identity, or dismissing institutions of accountability. Pluralism and liberalism have put India ahead in the competition that matters, and it should remain so.


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