India’s Strategic Articulation: Shift in Thinking

India Strategic Relations

Significantly, for the first time, India has very firmly articulated its concerns over geopolitical flash points in Asia when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the Combined Commanders’ Conference on 22 November. While underling the impending strategic threat scenarios affecting India, PM significantly hasn’t mentioned China but emphasized on the global surveillance operation by the US National Security Agency as a factor for Indian planners to consider. PM also made it clear that the increasing contestation in the Asia-Pacific – the US ‘pivot’ strategy is a ‘development fraught with uncertainty.’

For over two decades, China threat loomed large in India; analysts debated over impending competition. China was seen as inexorably exploiting India’s vulnerabilities in South Asia to ensure it is surrounded by inimical neighbours. The idea of China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy – building roads, railways and ports – was seen as encircling India. China’s deepening economic influence in South Asia, its maritime ambitions in the Indian Ocean remained points of concerns. China frequent display of aggressiveness along borders and India’s possible counter moves to block the Malacca Straits worsen the mistrust.

All these came against the backdrop of China’s rapid ascendancy and amidst changing international environment in China’s favour. When India’s rise too became a reality, other global powers tried to pitch India against China as a regional countervailing force. Japan, South Korea and ASEAN countries, fearing China’s regional dominance, encouraged India’s participation in the East Asian affairs. Various strategic constellations were sought including a coalesced ‘US-Japan-Australia-India’ alliance to encircle China. China also made no secret of its displeasure over the changes. As Indo-US strategic ties ascended, analysts rejoiced over the US ‘pivot Asia’ announcement and its intended aim to make India a linchpin in the Asia-Pacific theatre. Thus far an illusionary ‘Indo-Pacific’ idea currently in the offing – is being viewed with excitement.

Surprisingly, India’s strategic perception seemed to have altered dramatically in the recent years. Interestingly, the new pronouncement comes within a month after PM returned from his China visit. It also comes at a time the US is preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan. Significantly, it also comes when a decade-long hyped prospect of the Indo-US relations and the impression of America propping up India’ rise to counter China is getting feeble. It also comes when America is facing economic downward spiral and risk for decline in power. To be sure, it is correctly noticing that the role of the US on the global stage is narrowing down.

It may also be a sign that India’s Strategic and Cooperative Partnership with China, in fact, is producing some substantive and enduring results. Not conveyed clearly, there are clear signs of India having achieved a level of confidence with the new leadership in Beijing. Though, Prime Minister has been making the point in the past that there is no inevitable conflict of interests between India and China….continues on next page

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