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India must overcome China syndrome, embrace QUAD | Analysis

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 25-10-2020 Shishir Gupta

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of Microsoft News or Microsoft. 

On October 27, India and the US will sign the Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement (BECA),the last of the four foundational military agreements which allows both countries to share geo-spatial data. The signing is a culmination of 13 years of negotiation, delays and reflects the mistrust between New Delhi and Washington in the past. The misplaced fear that the US will be able to access Indian data, which could compromise national security in the future, was used by South Block to object to the agreement . That India would be able to get geo-spatial data of the entire neighbourhood, including its adversaries, from the US was not considered.

NEW DELHI, INDIA - FEBRUARY 25: US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi greet each other after their joint statement, at Hyderabad House, on February 25, 2020 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images): File phot of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. © 2020 Hindustan Times File phot of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

That wasn’t surprising.

Since the 1960s, India’s policies and national objectives have been framed in such a way that strategic independence meant distance from America. The matter got compounded when a Republican administration under Richard Nixon feted China in July, 1971 and sent Task Force 74 led by USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal in December to punish India for liberating Bangladesh and deter New Delhi from taking military action against Pakistan. The Enterprise’s presence in the Bay of Bengal made such a lasting impact on young Congress politicians at the time that neither Pranab Mukherjee nor A K Antony could erase from their memory as defence ministers during the UPA I and II regimes. It was the Enterprise syndrome that sowed the seeds of suspicion between India and the US. Today, the US Republican administration under Donald Trump has taken a 180 degree turn from Nixon’s China move after 50 years by openly contesting the expansionist policies of Beijing.

If it was the Enterprise syndrome that hobbled India’s relations with the US, then Indian policy planners have, since 1962 border skirmishes, adopted an ostrich like approach towards China with all its foreign policy moves towards Beijing bordering on appeasement. The very belief that China will accommodate India if the latter reciprocates and that disagreements should be brushed under the carpet for the larger good of the relationship has not worked — at least for New Delhi. While China wants to deal with India bilaterally on the border issue, it had no compunction in bringing its all-weather ally Pakistan into the border equation when the latter illegally ceded 5180 square kilometres of territory in Shaksgam Valley to Beijing in 1963 and then allowed CPEC construction through Occupied Kashmir. It was China who bought Pakistan as a third party without any qualms. The fact is that China has encouraged Pakistan to punch way beyond its weight category with India in order to create hurdles in the form of terrorism, communalism and to globally entangle it on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. China has blocked India from becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group and has gone to the extent of conspiring with Pakistan to brand Indian engineers working in Afghanistan as global terrorists under the 1267 UNSC resolution.

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India, in the name of strategic autonomy and non-alignment, has always been accommodating towards China since 1950s Panchsheel Treaty, trying to ignore China’s unwanted comments on the status of J &K, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh in the past, even while maintaining a studied silence over its iron rule in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan. There was an initial attempt to downplay the Arunachal Pradesh stapled visa issue in 2010 and the denial of visa to the Northern Army Commander (Kashmir is under its protection) but India finally took a firm stand after the facts were made public.

China has been quite unforgiving towards New Delhi and has always been wary about the economic rise of India , a country with far more soft power and natural affinities with the West, especially the US. The on-going aggression in Ladakh is also designed to punish India for abrogating article 370, making Ladakh into a separate union territory and publishing a new Ladakh map on November 20, 2019 with both occupied Aksai Chin and Gilgit-Baltistan shown as part of it. The resurrection of the already rejected 1959 claim line by Beijing and declaring Ladakh to be under the occupation of India is also an attempt to test the resilience of the Narendra Modi government while at the same time asking New Delhi not to be part of any US alliance. Beijing has played its cards very cleverly. It saw a opportunity in the 2008-2009 world economic crisis . Today under the shadow of the coronavirus disease , which originated from Wuhan, it is again on the front-foot and has no qualms in even engaging Iran while pushing India on Ladakh, Australia on trade, Japan over Senkaku Islands, Taiwan with brute military force, and ASEAN countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia though sheer bullying over already rejected claims in the South China Sea.

Under the circumstances, as a rising power, India should not only protect its national interest but also advance it by aligning with other QUAD members in order to boost trade and connectivity; work together on counter-terrorism initiatives; and strengthen its financial status. QUAD should be seen as a stabilizing global order in an increasing multi-polar world and a counter to China’s expansionist moves under Xi Jinping. In its hey days, the US would have solely handled China but today with its declining heft it needs a rising Japan, Australia and India to restore the rule of law, trade and free and open sea lanes of communication. The third edition of the two-plus-two dialogue and the QUAD maritime exercises next month in Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea provide India an opportunity to synergise its hard security objectives with the US. QUAD is a reality now and not a pipedream.

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