China, US & India’s Strategic Gambit
Ahead of the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s (NSG) crucial June 20-24 meeting in Seoul, China put member countries of the nuclear trading club under tremendous pressure by predicting that India’s entry into the Group will trigger an arms race in South Asia.
China’s state-run daily ‘Global Times’ recently reported that India’s NSG membership bid touched “a raw nerve” in Pakistan and a race for atomic power would be inevitable. Global Times noted: “India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers in the region, keep alert to each other’s nuclear capabilities. China’s concern about India’s inclusion in the NSG came out of the security dynamic in South Asia.” Describing Pakistan as China’s ‘close friend” in the region, the daily said that India’s NSG membership would certainly hurt “national interests” of the Asian giant.
In his article (published on June 14), senior Global Times columnist Wang Wenwen wrote: “India’s application for NSG membership and its potential consequences will inevitably touch a raw nerve in Pakistan, its traditional rival in the region. As Pakistan is not willing to see an enlarging gap in nuclear power with India, a nuclear race is a likely outcome. This will not only paralyse regional security, but also jeopardise China’s national interests.” Wang urged the NSG member countries not to drag two South Asian neighbours into a nuclear confrontation, stressing that New Delhi and Islamabad should concentrate on their non-proliferation commitments.
The columnist also criticised the US for supporting India’s NSG membership bid, saying that Washington should stop considering India as a balancing actor in its pivot to the Asia-Pacific strategy. Wang believes that the US, the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, backs India’s bid because it wants to sell nuclear technology to the South Asian country. “Its supply of nuclear technologies to enhance India’s deterrence capability is to put China in check,” he added.
Meanwhile, India countered Wang’s view, saying that a seat in the elite 48-member Group would help New Delhi address its concerns over uncertainty in the rules for global trade and technology transfer. India further said that the membership would not only strengthen its nuclear industry, but also help make atomic power more competitive globally.
Speaking at a press conference in Mumbai a couple of days back, Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that New Delhi has an ambitious programme to substantially augment its nuclear power generation. He stressed that India’s entry into the NSG would give the country a say in framing or of the rules for global nuclear trade. “A stronger Indian nuclear industry can help make nuclear power more competitive globally. Indeed, as our own nuclear industry expands and we go rapidly beyond the 140 nuclear-related export licences that we issued last year, it is also in larger interest that our practices are in conformity with global ones,” added Jaishankar.
In recent times, the Narendra Modi government in India has made the US the lynchpin of its foreign policy. Some senior Indian diplomats are of the opinion that it is a dangerous dependence in a fast-changing world. Modi has been the first Indian PM to visit the US four times and hold as many bilateral meetings with President Barrack Obama. Under the Modi government, India’s defence co-operation with America has increased significantly. Ending its past reluctance, India also signed the Logistics Assistance Agreement with the US that brought the two Navies closer. Even India’s increased engagements with Japan and other US allies in Asia (seen largely as a move against China) have prompted the US Congress to consider a move to give the South Asian nation the status of a NATO-like ally.
Now, the question is: how does it factor in India’s relations with China? The US has not yet come out in support of India’s position in its boundary dispute with China and there is no guarantee Washington will do so in future. The Sino-Indian boundary has been quiet for years unlike the one with Pakistan. The Modi administration should be aware of the fact that renewed tension can also make the Sino-Indian boundary active. India’s decision to host Chinese dissidents could also lead Beijing to host and encourage anti-Indian forces within China. As the US-initiated G-2 agreement with China is still on the table, India may find itself relegated to the sidelines, if the agreement is revived. Moreover, India’s growing closeness with the US, if turned into a military alliance, will also alienate its traditional ally Russia.
However, no one can ignore the fact that China has prompted India to strengthen ties with the US by making anti-India moves. Despite support of other countries, China has so far refused to back India’s entry in UN Security Council as its permanent member. China also blocked India’s entry in the NSG and demanded Pakistan should also be made a member of the Group. Beijing, which helped Islamabad develop its nuclear and missile programmes, continues to have a robust military co-operation with India’s “arch rival” in the region.
These moves have encouraged the Indian prime minister to openly criticise China for its “expansionist” tendencies in Japan. Unlike his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh, Modi is more vocal in demanding freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific region with an eye to pressurise China. The Modi government has also been more active and vocal in supporting Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines in their maritime dispute against the Asian powerhouse. Recently, Prime Minister Modi issued a joint statement with President Obama to join American efforts to promote peace, security and stability in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing may have considered Modi’s moves as provocation against China, but it is the Asian giant that has prompted the Indian premier to do so. Modi is playing a triangular balancing game with the US and China in order to find a legitimate place for India on the world stage. Only time will tell whether he will succeed.