The dragon beckons again


The international backdrop:

  • The international backdrop is worrying in many respects. The face-off between the U.S. (and its allies) and Russia is arguably worse than during the Cold War. They confront each other, through proxy forces, in three active conflict zones — Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan. The recent U.S.-French-British missile strikes in Syria were a stark reminder.

Edgy confrontation:

  • Sanctions — particularly the new U.S. legislation, CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), under which it can impose sanctions on any company which engages with Russia in the defence or energy sector — impart a sharper edge to the confrontation.
  • This weapon was not wielded in anything like this form in the Cold War; its impact could be far more devastating in today’s globalised world.
  • Recent American sanctions on major Russian multinationals, whose stocks are internationally traded, widened the target beyond Russian oligarchs to a larger body of shareholders within and outside Russia.

Trade issues:

  1. India is being asked(by the US) to address its trade surplus of about $25 billion with the U.S
  2. The US has also asked China to reduce its massive trade surplus of about $375 billion with the U.S.
  3. The US’ decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade grouping excluding China, effectively benefited China
  4. India itself, running a trade deficit of over $50 billion with China, is in difficult negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

Effect of sharpening of U.S.-Russia acrimony on India

  • It has complicated India’s relations with both countries
  • Besides pressure to address the India-U.S. trade imbalance, India has been warned that its defence and energy links with Russia could attract U.S. sanctions under CAATSA
    (a development which could have a major impact on our defence preparedness)
  • Russia’s intensifying defence cooperation with China and its actions in Afghanistan and with Pakistan are areas on which serious and delicate high-level India-Russia dialogue is being pursued

The right way to deal with China

  • With a strengthening Russia-China axis and with the U.S. taking its eye off China to deal with Russia,
  • it is prudent for India to maintain a harmonious dialogue with China, even as we deal with the issues in our relations with the other two great powers
  • This is not to say that India should not stand firm on its core interests, political, economic or strategic
  • We cannot overlook Chinese designs in our neighbourhood — from Doklam to the CPEC, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives —
  • or ignore the larger geopolitical threat posed by the land and sea corridors of the BRI
  • It is just that circumstances may have opened up some space for furthering mutual interests, without compromising on our other interests

The need of the hour:

  • The course of India-China relations in the past couple of years had created a public narrative of bilateral frictions over CPEC, Doklam, etc., on which India had to take strong public positions
  • The transformation in the international environment, creating opportunities for non-confrontational dialogue, could perhaps have been better explained
  • Foreign policy can be pursued far more effectively when it is supported by public perceptions

The way forward

  • The reality is that India has to maintain a pragmatic balance in its relations with the three major powers, remaining conscious of the fact that elements of these relations will be continuously impacted by the dynamic flux of today’s global geopolitics.


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