East or West? Who should India side with, US or China?
by Swaraj Singh Dhanjal
Category Strategy

India today finds itself in a very precarious situation. USA, the eminent superpower has been steadily growing its relation; be it through arms deals or helping India gain access to nuclear tech through the nuclear deal. On the other hand there is China; a country which feels it’s time has come to become the next superpower. Though China has always seemed somewhat hostile towards India; recent developments suggest that China has started to understand that the more India leans towards the US, the more difficult it will be for China to flex its muscles in Asia. Historically India has followed the policy of non-alignment, but those were the days of Cold War. Today’s India is a more outward looking nation, which itself wants to make a mark on the world. So is it possible for New Delhi to remain aligned in today’s world?

Leon Panetta, US Defence Secretary, on his recent visit to India said that US is keen on allowing India access to cutting edge military equipment and it is also considering joint development of arms and ammunitions with India. Panetta was on a weeklong Asia tour to meet allies and spell out the new US defence strategy which seeks to shift US strategic focus towards Asia-Pacific. The US considers India as the linchpin in this strategy. US sees India playing a major role in strategic affairs of south and south east Asia. Both countries have been working hard on improving their military relationship. The annual naval exercise ‘Malabar’ has become one of the key areas of co-operation between the two countries navy’s. On the arms sales front, US knows how important a market India is for its companies. India happens to be the world’s biggest arms importer and plans to spend around $100 billion over the next ten years to modernize its armed forces. US realizes that arms deals are a key way to win India’s support and hence it considers this as a priority area of cooperation. US is going all out to woo India on this front by promising access to hi-tech arms as well as cutting the red tape.

On the same day when Leon Panetta, met with Defence minister A K Anthony; the external affairs minister S M Krishna was away in China holding talks with Vice Premier Li. Krishna assured Li, who will soon become the Chinese premier, that for India better bilateral co-operation with China is of utmost importance. The duo discussed trade and how economic co-operation between the two Asian neighbours can be increased. Krishna had met Li on the side-lines of the Shangai Cooperation Organization meet (SCO). Krishna also expressed India’s interest in joining the six nation SCO.  As India plans to give a major push to its infrastructure development plans it will need significant investment from abroad and Chinese companies might play an important role in this. India’s investments in South China Sea are also a reason why it wants to improve its relation with China. In a sign of growing momentum of bilateral ties, four Indian naval ships will dock in Shanghai. This is being seen as a positive step in building trust between the two nations.

Both US and China have realized that India will play a major role in tomorrow’s world order and hence both are focussing on improving ties with it. The US already has good relations with India, China on the other hand has had a very shaky relation given its hostile nature. Border disputes, trade imbalance and now the South China Sea issue, all these issues are possible impediments to any positive progress that the two nations might embark upon. Washington has already expressed its keen interest in helping India achieve its economic potential. Beijing, tough a little late, too wants to partner with New Delhi as much as possible. New Delhi, in the times to come, will have to take a tough decision. If it wants to continue with its age old non alignment policy then it may have to carry out a difficult balancing act between the two superpowers.


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