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India-U.S.-China Strategic Triangle

by Adam Segal
October 25, 2010

Statue of Indian Elephant


After a week of meetings with Indian academics, think tank analysts, and government officials, I came away with a clear sense that there is a great deal of concern about China in Delhi these days. There was not a lot of talk about opportunities in the bilateral relationship, and I lost count of the number of times I heard the phrase “new aggressiveness”. Other popular expressions included “pushing at our borders” and “spreading influence throughout South Asia.” More people at the Ministries of External Affairs and Defence, I was told, would be spending more time on China issues.

It was also hard to escape geopolitics. Indian interests now extend from Aden to Singapore, from the Straits of Hormuz to Malacca. Delhi will economically integrate with Asia, and work closely with Hanoi and Tokyo. China, in turn, is exploiting the chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan to extend its influence in the region and into Central Asia.

In this context, the idea of securing the global commons—the air, sea, space, and cyber domains that are the “connective tissue of the international system”—is an attractive big idea to many Indians and Americans (see this excellent piece by C. Raja Mohan) and it is likely to be part of any joint statement issued during President Obama’s upcoming visit. Cooperation is already well developed in the maritime arena, and progress is likely in defining some common norms of state behavior in space and cyber.

There is a risk of expectations getting too far ahead of reality. The United States and India still have serious differences of opinion about Iran, Burma, and Pakistan; on issues of sovereignty, Delhi has traditionally been closer to Beijing than it has been to Washington. Indian capabilities remain underdeveloped and trust, especially surrounding technology issues, lacking. Both sides have internal preoccupations: the economy in the United States, domestic security in India. But all signs point to the two cooperating more closely. India wants to make sure that it is working with the United States, not to contain China, but at least to shape the regional security environment and make it harder for Beijing to push at borders and spread influence.

Photo courtesy of Adam Segal

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Don

    Under the pretext of economic development, PLA troops have recently entered the Gilgit-Balistan region in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This could potentially turn out to be more than what meets the eye, but the intent (as shown by China) is merely building a road / rail link from China to Pakistan’s Gwadar port. Our think-tanks have proposed making the line of control (LoC) as an agreed international border between India and Pakistan. This is not going to work. Kashmir is a much more geopolitically complex issue than what meets the eye. It is the center of the storm so to speak, especially when you take into account that Kashmir is also where the the interests of the US and China collide.

    Kashmir is not about Islamic birthrights nor UN resolutions. Status quo is not the solution either. Leaving any part of Kashmir in Pakistan’s hands would be THE strategic mistake of the century and China is counting on us that we make the wrong move. Opening up China’s access to energy resources of the gulf and the warm waters of the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean is not in the interests of the US, India, or Pakistan. Furthermore, if Pakistan shares a border with China, it will never ever give up its nukes. But if it didn’t, it is more likely to agree to nuclear disarmament in the future. Thirdly, from a post Af-Pak perspective, the US is geographically isolated from the region, China isn’t, and it can come up with a Tibet-like surprise move anytime. Fourthly, if it is the water situation that’s bothering Pakistanis, that should be worked out under a brand new water treaty between India and Pakistan.

    There is clearly broad convergence of interests between the US and India. If we want to make the 21st century an American century, we need to use all possible diplomatic back channels to ensure that Kashmir is decisively made a part of India. Pakistan did not share a border with China at the time of its creation, neither should it have one. A pre-emptive solution is better than trying to resolve an international migraine later on.

  • Posted by hughes

    In “Asia Times”‘ I read an article about how the Indian Prime Miniter went to Japan and asked the Japanise to come to his country and build Highways, Railways, and every other transportation facility for India. I have to say that I was made ill by this development. Becauese what this says to me is that while the Chinise are able to built highways, railways, and all other transportation facilities on their own, the Indians are so primitive in all these areas of development. On top of all that, look at their abject failure at CMG. In western mythology and media , China is more unstable than India.But according to Arundhati Roy (a booker award winner), India is a much more brutal and an unstable country than China. To confirm this fact, please read an article about Roy in today’s UK Guardian paper (10-26-10). She talks about an Indian society that pulls fingernails from distents so as to compel their rayality to India. Indian brutality and oppression against its minority people are well known in the west, but are ignored by the western media and governments, in favour of the mild Chinise oppression of its minorities. Another westerm myth that drives me nuts is the idea that there is less curruption in democratic societies than in autocratic societies. If this is true, then why is that India, Mexico, and the Philippines are more currupt than China. The transparency curruption index came out today in the BBC. In the index, China did better than the other three democratic countries. But you will never know this fact by reading the western media. Lastly, I have been to both China and India. And this is what I observed: “China builts highways that work while India does not; China builts railways that work while India does not; and China has manufactured and built more miles of high speed railways than the rest of the world combined while India does not have a single mile of high speed railway”. Infact, the primitivity of the Indian condition tells me more about why the US wants India rather China as an ally. In this context, the US sees China as an advanced form of Japan, while being aware of the limitations and primitivity of India.

  • Posted by Samind

    US wants to remain the sole superpower and the road to staying so passes directly through Pakistan, India and China.

    In Pakistan as the author stated lies a potent nukes that expose both Ind-China and US would like control of it.

    All countries since 2008 have changed strategy..India has woken up to dangers of Uncle Sam and will build bridges in the east and west and ‘manage; US one way or the other. Second, it will make peace with Pakistan for the next 5 yrs and keep the status quo in Kashmir.

    China has a more ‘proactive’ policy to disputes than it did earliar.

    Pakistan will use every ounce of goodwill with the O-Admin till the GOP upstages them on Nov 2..ie today (after this date it will be Iran…all the way).It will resist India and get closer to China.

    The elephant in the room is the economy..of US & China and if I was the Indian PM ..would love to upset this applecart which keeps US-China in power…but then thats unlikely as India doesnt want to lose its focus from 8% growth rate for the next 10 yrs…one way or the other.I predict a stalemate.

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