Bharat’s Dual Game in China-U.S. Rivalry

Kautilya, India’s ancient philosopher and political strategist writes that, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Indian foreign policy is a true depiction of this Machiavellian style statecraft.

At the backdrop of Sino-U.S. competition, India is the one country who benefits the most. India is at its ‘double play’ with both the U.S. and China. The country is taking advantage of the U.S. policy to counterbalance China and strengthening Indian military muscle under Indo-U.S. strategic partnership. In parallel, New Delhi is also seeking political and economic leverages from U.S. rival China. It is also expanding its military cooperation with another U.S. rival Russia. This raises a question: Is India a reliable partner to the U.S.?

In this regard, Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar in his book titled, “The Indian Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World” (2022), argues that the evolving collision between Washington and Beijing generates “a host of strategic challenges” for India. But the solution for New Delhi cannot consist of pursuing any simplistic alignment with one over the other. Rather, “developing the mindset to not only respond but actually leverage that [competition] is what could define the new India”. Another commentary by Happymon Jacob – an Indian Academician notes that, “for the U.S., Delhi is key to the maintenance of America’s global power in the face of a rising China”.

India knows that for U.S. it is the only available option with economic and military clout to counter China. Therefore, India is using this leverage and taking steps in this direction. Despite seeking major military equipment from U.S., India is also seeking military equipment from other states including Russia, France and Israel.

Most importantly, India is buying military equipment from Russia – an adversary of the U.S. Recently, Russia has provided India with three S-400 air defence systems. However, U.S. is putting sanctions on countries under Countering American Adversaries through Sanction Act (CAATSA) for buying military equipment from Russia but has exempted India from CAATSA. Similarly, India is buying discounted oil from Russia despite U.S. pressure on countries not to do that.

This shows that U.S. hands are tied when taking actions against India because it does not perceive any better alternative at the moment for countering China other than India. Therefore, it does not want to displease India.

Besides seeking leverages from the U.S., India is also maintaining its economic ties with U.S. rival China. Regardless of cross-border skirmishes, both sides have strengthened their bilateral cooperation. Literature review reflects that India seeks the highest trading record with China, leaving U.S. and Russia behind. For instance, the economic trade between both sides have increased from $135.98 billion to $136.2 billion in 2023.

At political front, India is also actively maintaining its diplomatic presence at groups like BRICS, G20 and G7. India develops converging interests with China on a wide range of issues including multilateralism, reforms for emerging economics at IMF and World Bank, and New Development Bank at BRICS. At the UN, India has also refrained from directly voting against China, instead preferring to abstain on issues like Uighurs and on Taiwan.

Furthermore, U.S. is also ignoring an alarming development that India is building the world’s third largest fissile material and missile inventory that has a global reach. India has also recently tested Agni V ICBM (5000km plus). The country is in a process of increasing its other ICBM missile range including Agni VI (10,000km – 12,000km). It should be point of concern that whether U.S. ultimately becomes the target of ICBMs with such longer ranges which goes beyond India’s purported threat perception from China.

Thus, U.S. should not ignore that India is more inclined on its vision towards seeking self-indigenization in military affairs instead of augmenting U.S. interests in the region. It is visible that India is fully exploiting all possible leverages from U.S.; and, at the same time, it is   availing all possible economic gains vis-a-vis China. Instead, U.S. has turned a blind eye towards India and is continuously preparing New Delhi as a counterweight to China that is directly causing security implications for South Asian region.

As a matter of long term policy that enables durable peace in South Asia, U.S. should play the role of a peace maker. Its policies should refrain from providing exceptional treatment to Indian strategic interests that are further enlarging New Delhi’s hegemonic designs beyond the region.


About Mahvish Malik 5 Articles
Mahvish Malik

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