Dragon’s folly: China drives India back into the western camp

One of the key principles of a country’s foreign policy is to everything to drive a wedge between your enemies and prevent them from ganging against you. An overconfident People’s Republic of China (PRC) may have forgotten this basic rule of diplomacy and defense. In just one year, it has successfully forced India to almost abandon its “Look East” policy and drive New Delhi into the western camp that now also includes Australia and Japan from the East.

For instance, China’s short-sighted invasion in East Ladakh, followed by a bloody conflict, a prolonged standoff, empty threats and warnings, culminating into a humiliating meltdown of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in February 2021 convinced New Delhi that the Dragon was, at best, an unpredictable beast best kept at bay. That is when India began to actively participate in the revived Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) with the USA, Australia and Japan. This group is seen as a pilot project for the establishment of an ‘Asian NATO’.

The Quad leaders’ virtual Summit in March 2021 sealed the new-look India-US relationship, and determined how India sees its future with China.

India did not stop at that. In April, it went ahead with a post-Brexit relationship with the United Kingdom and moved closer to the European Union—using trade as the cement in both the cases. The enhanced trade partnership between India and the UK will start with market access to confidence building measures (CBMs) before graduating to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

India is also set to resume work from 2013 to align with the EU in the same spirit.

Given its historic relationship with London, the India-UK deal is expected to come faster because of vested interests involved on both sides. The EU’s case is rather rigid and more demanding of reciprocity.

India’s western tilt is not surprising. For long, India built independent ties with major European players like France, Germany, the UK etc, rather than with the EU as a unit. In particular, Paris became India’s go-to partner in Europe, cutting across sectors like defence, strategic, nuclear and multilateral spheres, to the extent that France can now almost replace Russia. The Nordics of Northern Europe are India favourites in areas like smart cities, 5G, AI and semiconductors. Outside the EU, the UK, with which India never quite severed its umbilical ties, holds enormous promise, media reported.

Global politics makes an interesting read. Some four decades ago, the US and Europe gave muscles to China against the USSR. The West believed that transformation of an impoverished Communist China into a prosperous one would make it more democratic and accommodative. The reverse has happened. China is now a global pariah and threat to the planet.

That is why an EU-China trade deal is hanging fire. Now the West is trying to support India, but cautiously, to balance China out. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is reaching up to Europe’s door and dividing the Continent, the way Warsaw Pact did.

Once bitten twice shy. The West would, of course, not repeat the mistake it did with China. India will have to work hard to convince the West that its transformation as a result of its engagement with the EU, US and UK will not be threatening the way China’s has become.

But India has an ace or two up its sleeves. One is human rights about which the West is very sensitive, particularly after the Dragon’s threats. This, India hopes, will ease its dialogue with the EU much easier. The other is climate change and preference to renewable energy sources which India plans to tap to generate 150 GW of electricity.

Plus India has some attractive offers, too, it can use to leverage its strengths: the world’s largest democracy, the second largest market, English language users’ pool, technology advances, talented youngsters and a climate change believing masses.

And China’s suspicious role in the Covid-19 pandemic has also come as a booster shot for India. It sent billions of Covid-19 vaccines to nearly 65 countries early this year, earning their goodwill in return, as a dependable democratic ally.