Partnership not at the cost of autonomy - GulfToday

Partnership not at the cost of autonomy

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.


Donald Trump. File

Close on the heels of a meeting of Quad Foreign Ministers, the United States administration made a big push last week to elevate ties with India. Quad, short for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is a grouping of the US, India, Japan and Australia.

The idea of the four nations coming together was mooted in 2007 by late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the context of growing Chinese assertiveness.

At that time Japan and Australia already had long-standing military ties with the US which will automatically draw that country into any conflict they may have with China. Abe’s idea was to make India also a countervailing force against China.

For more than a decade the Quad project did not make much headway. Under President Donald Trump, the US kept pressing India to play a role in the Asia Pacific region, which it renamed Indo-Pacific.

The Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting, only the second so far, was held in Tokyo even as the four-month-old stand-off between Indian and Chinese forces at multiple points along the Line of Actual Control on the Ladakh-Tibet border was continuing with no end in sight.

Several rounds of talks between the two countries at military, diplomatic and political levels did not lead to lessening of tension. As winter approached both sides beefed up military strength along the long, undefined border, ready for a long haul.

Back home from Tokyo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a US radio programme that China’s growing might was at India’s doorstep. “They (Indians) absolutely need the United States to be their ally and partner in this fight,” he added.

Pompeo accused China of massing troops on the Indian border and said the US under President Trump “has now built out a coalition that will push back against (sic) the threat.”

Pompeo apparently went farther than India did at the Quad. So did US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

He appeared to be addressing the government and people of India when, speaking at a meeting in Utah, he said, “The time has come to accept that dialogue and agreements will not persuade Beijing to change.”

O’Brien said the US, under Trump,  had adopted a “competitive” approach to China with the objectives of improving the ability of US institutions and alliances to prevail against China’s challenge and imposing tangible costs to compel China to cease or reduce activities harmful  to the vital interests of the US and its allies.

He drew a sharp distinction between the ruling Communist Party of China, which he blamed for territorial aggression, and the Chinese people, for whom, he said, the US has deep and abiding respect, going back to the days of World War II.

O’Brien’s speech was devoted mostly to the US-China competition and advancement of American influence in the world. He said the partnership with India was thriving and it would be “one of the most key partnerships for the US in the 21st century”.

A charitable interpretation of the public statements of Pompeo and O’Brien is that they were speaking to domestic audiences in aid of their chief’s election campaign.

Four years ago, Trump had campaigned and won, vowing to make America great again. This time he is campaigning primarily on an anti-China plank.

In the circumstances, it is only natural that China’s aggressive conduct on India’s border figures in the Trump campaign. But India needs to be wary of US officials’ sly attempts to spread the impression that they are in the driver’s seat on the India-China border row.  

In the days of US-Soviet rivalry, the policy of non-alignment with either of the two power blocs did not inhibit India from taking or seeking military assistance from either side, keeping in view its own national interests, when the situation warranted it.

During the 1962 border war with China, Jawaharlal Nehru had accepted essential military aid from the US. Ahead of the 1971 war with Pakistan, Indira Gandhi had sealed a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union as a safeguard against possible US intervention.

Pompeo will be in India soon with the US Defence Secretary Mark Esper for the annual 2+2 meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

That offers the government an immediate opportunity to make it clear to the US that India will not be led by it on regional initiatives. Any strategic partnership with the US, or with any other country for that matter, cannot be at the cost of India’s strategic autonomy.

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