​India seeks neutrality in Sino-American trade clashes

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, April 19, 2018
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New Delhi, capital of India [Photo/Xinhua]

India is seeking to maintain neutrality and hedge its bets in a coming potential Sino-American rivalry. Recent changes in Indian foreign policy hint that India has realized, it is too early and imprudent to take sides in a geopolitical rivalry that may very well shape the future of the region. 

During the strategic economic dialogue with Beijing, NITI Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar said that India has been a supporter of rule-based order and does not want to take sides either way. This is a new direction in Indian foreign policy and shows signs of rapprochement after long tensions last year at the border. 

India has always taken a relatively independent trade position, and in the middle of the tariff war between the U.S. and China, it has become imperative for India to continue to maintain that it won't take any side in a great power rivalry. In a way, it is a new maturity in the Indian position after brinkmanship. 

India realizes that the Indian position and relative power must be commensurate with Indian foreign policy, hence this recalibration. Trump's erratic trade salvos are also on the mind of Indian entrepreneurs, who don't want to end up in the cross hairs. The Indian share of the market is also smaller, hence it won't be prudent to try and shape the rules. 

That's not the only instance of Indian realism. A few months back, it looked like India would have to intervene in the Maldives, but despite the insane pressure from the nationalistic media, India resisted the urge. That was a remarkable change in India's foreign policy especially after strikes in Myanmar, Kashmir and addition to the northern border standoff. 

The reason for this rapprochement is twofold. India is urgently needing Chinese investment in infrastructure within India. An example of that is India's seeking of Chinese assistance to speed up railway corridors in the South of India, as well as parts of the North. A proposal was passed on to the Chinese who are now supposed to work alongside India to speed up important cargo corridors all across India's aging railways. High speed trains are a major concern for India, as they are urgently needed to tally with economic growth, and the first such project went to Japan. 

A Bangladesh-Myanmar-India-China corridor is on the cards, as is the idea of an international solar development panel. Proposals to export Soya and sugar to China was also a hint – not just to Beijing that India seeks rapprochement, but also to the West over the idea that India is opposed to further protectionism. New Delhi fully knows that in further protectionism, the Indian agricultural sector would be hit as well. This is also a tremendous opportunity to increase Indo-Chinese trade. 

Likewise, India is seeking to ally with China to face off OPEC and raise the issue of the "Asian premium” being charged by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, against countries like Korea, China, Japan and India. As these countries are the primary consumers of energy and oil, India maintains that there should be reasonable prices for reasonable consumption and needs of other Asian giants to face off the oil exporting powers. 

There are however points of differences. Indian naval developments give a highlight as to the future strategic thinking. The Indian Navy has increased patrolling from Aden to Malacca and started new regions and theatre level operational procedures. India is still conflicted about the Belt and Road Initiative. 

However, that pales in comparison to the idea that India is trying hard to realign and maintain a balance between geopolitical giants. And broader geopolitics favors both these countries, as they are both opposed to international military interventions, and supportive of sovereignty and oppose trade protectionism. The interests in these matters align. It is imperative that this continues. 

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


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