The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi meeting the Chinese President, Mr. Xi Jinping, ahead of signing of agreements, at Hyatt Hotel, Ahmedabad on September 17, 2014.
Kunal Singh
A “Right” Foreign Policy

India needs to ratchet up its relations in Asia. Modi has made a start with Japan. The Look East policy, another victim of Indian torpidity, is now being recast. The fast track diplomacy ushered in by the new government has to continue to make advances both in rhetoric and delivery.

Given that I am interested in foreign policy, I began to think what a right of centre approach to India’s foreign policy is likely to be. An easy answer would be to say that such an approach will be constructed around precepts of our national interests.

During the Cold War, Jawaharlal Nehru forwarded an argument to build a ragtag Non-Aligned bloc. Ragtag as India being a leader of the movement was herself leaning towards the Soviet Union. Rajaji, however, was a strong proponent of India embracing the United States. His views were strengthened by the lack of Soviet support while China was beginning to show its aggressive intent towards India. At the same time Rajaji was a vociferous critic of India’s nuclear policy. To him, ‘deterrence’ was ‘another word for a race in nuclear armament’.

Coming to the present context, what should be a right of centre approach in the foreign policy domain of India? In my opinion, the twin objectives of (a) security of India and Indians; and (b) achieving economic goals should be the cornerstone of any such foreign policy approach. The economic objective and foreign policy goals should be mutually reinforcing. Recent events have unequivocally proved that economic relations in themselves do not guarantee peace and security, especially if your neighbour is China. China is contesting territory claims with India, Japan and Vietnam while simultaneously being the largest trading partner of all three.

Rajaji was prescient and consistently accurate in deciphering the threats emanating from China. He believed China to be a much bigger threat than Pakistan. He favoured a détente with Pakistan to mobilize maximum resources to counter Chinese aggression. Whether his solution was practicable or not, his identification of Chinese threat was impeccable. His forewarnings came true in 1962 and continue to haunt us till today.

In our self-sequestered outlook we rise to the menace of China only if it comes too close to us. Our responses still carry the legacy of 1962. We call it ‘acne’ if China breaches our boundary or raise eyebrows when it pours heavy investments in other South Asian economies. We have boxed ourselves away from the fact that China now has increased manoeuvrability in Asia due to US-Russia standoff on the Ukraine issue which she has effectively demonstrated by signing a gas deal with Russia at reportedly cheaper rates.

The idea of G2 between US and China was first floated by the Americans. Given that interest level of US in disputes and disturbances in far off areas is waning, the Russians and Chinese are making the most of it by trying to redefine borders in their adjacent areas. Any reconciliation of a greater Chinese role by the US will necessarily involve China controlling its relations with immediate neighbours independently of US. Japan is aware of the receding political will of the US and its embrace of India is a part of adjusting to new realities in Asia. It is no coincidence that Japanese Cabinet has announced a reintepretation of its pacifist Constitution (specifically Article 9) which will allow Japanese Self Defense Forces to come to the rescue of allies under attack.

Chimerica was a term coined by Niall Ferguson and Moritz Schularick over the symbiotic economic relations between America and China. While there might be a debate on how correct Ferguson and Schularick were in the economic context, a Chimerica over strategic affairs is also no longer a chimera.

India needs to ratchet up its relations in the region. Narendra Modi has made a start with Japan. The Look East policy, another victim of Indian torpidity, is now being recast. The fast track diplomacy ushered in by the new government has to continue to make advances both in rhetoric and delivery. The tightrope walk is not easy as we cannot afford to lose out on Chinese investments in order to plug the yawning gap in our infrastructure. While US wants to build India as a counter-weight to China in the region, the US assistance in difficult times cannot be counted upon. Chuck Hagel on his recent visit to India said, “Just as America need not choose between its Asian alliances and a constructive relation with China, India need not choose between closer partnership with America and improved ties with China”. While the latter part of his statement was widely analysed in the media, the implications of former were largely ignored. Quite clearly, US is unlikely to have any views if the Sino-Indian border tensions exacerbate.

Our other neighbour Pakistan is not merely a foreign policy challenge but an impediment to the overall strategic thinking in India. The region of South Asia was never able to develop closer interdependence because of overarching perennial India-Pakistan hostility. Pakistan is not a problem that can be solved tomorrow and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Ignoring Pakistan diplomatically while not compromising the security at LOC is the best way to go about.

India’s relationship with its other small neighbours is even bigger failure than inability to douse the problems emanating from Pakistan. China is courting almost all of our smaller neighbours right now and building a position for itself in the India Ocean. In such a scenario a repeated affirmation of historical and cultural ties with the smaller neighbours is merely a hackneyed template and no more. The implementation of the projects we commit for hardly ever matches up to the agreements we sign.

A new dimension has now been added to the compendium of foreign policy challenges that the likes of Nehru and Rajaji did not have to countenance. It is the rise of global terror. ISIS and Al- Qaeda are both eyeing India for recruits as well as operational exhibition. While it is a success of our democracy that not many people from India have fallen prey to their propaganda, dropping caution at any moment will be doing what the enemy wants. The security and intelligence systems of India have to be beefed up to counter the newly emerging and multiplying nefarious groups that operate with unprecedented sophistication and unremitting impunity.

The new government has started with steps in the right direction. The visits by Prime Minister to Bhutan, Nepal and Japan have all been quite successful. A signal is being sent that India will now be more focussed on the implementation of its commitments. Sushma Swaraj on her visit to Vietnam spoke of upgrading ‘Look East’ policy to ‘Act East’ policy. The development of Chābahār port in Iran is being expedited to which we had committed way back in 2003. The visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, however, has left much to be desired. In all fairness, we should allow the new government more time on China. Overall the developments have been in the positive direction and India is looking more confident to assert its space in international order.