World politics and India’s strategic challenges

In the rapidly shifting sands of global political chessboard, India needs to maintain its firm footing.

An evolving chessboard


The world political scenario is becoming pretty complex, dynamic and challenging. New alliances are arising and old ones breaking apart. In today’s world politics, there are neither permanent friends nor foes. This is evident from the stand taken by China and Russia on the issue of terrorism despite India’s strenuous efforts.

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On the world stage, the sands of power are shifting rapidly. America (USA) is no longer the sole superpower, undisputed in stature. Its power and perspective is being challenged in different ways by different emerging powers – China pushes its industrial might its own way, Japan plans to perhaps militarise citing security concerns, the EU does not believe in the methods of America especially regarding IPR & Technology companies and as evident in heavy anti-Trust fines on US giants, Russia is creating its own power equations, and so on. India has had cozy relationships with some over the decades, but is now forced to recalibrate much of its foreign policy needs.

[Read this Bodhi in Hindi, here]

The last decade has been quite challenging for India’s strategic position on the domestic as well as international fronts. On one hand, India has dominated the world IT sector, and established brand India, but on the other hand, we have failed to keep pace in the deployment of our fast growing productive population.

Despite these, and many other challenges, our democratic set up has stood us in good stead in overcoming contradictory voices and creating an inclusive society. But today we stand at crossroads where it has become imperative for us to take firm and hard decisions, both internally as well as externally.

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We need to take care of both our internal prosperity and stability, and external security and strategic reach. One of India’s biggest and complex challenges today is the one posed by the People's Republic of China (PRC). In a confusing strategic situation, China seems to be our friend, foe and mortal enemy, all rolled into one!

The China variable


China’s hardline political stand since 1949 – adopted by Mao – changed in 1976 with the emergence of reformist leader Deng Xiaoping who focussed on three things -  (1) Bringing maximum possible foreign capital into China, (2) speedy growth of army and weapons, and (3) developing technological power. India, on the other hand, has tried to preserve its democratic institutions, its citizens’ fundamental rights and the freedom of constitutional institutions. As a result, the speed of our reforms has been comparatively very slow. That has been a major reason for the wide gap between the two countries. Unfortunately our own analysts totally overlook this democracy bonus that they are enjoying!

For academic interest, the global economic history throws an entirely new picture the moment one digs deeper into the centuries. India and China, it turns out, ruled the roost. The modern generations may find it tough to believe this! In fact, the ancient Indians (Indus-ians!) had built an entire civilisation of 1000+ urban centres by 3000 BC! Alas.

[इस बोधि को हिंदी में पढ़ें, यहाँ]

Noted economist late Dr. Angus Maddison's pioneering research brought this out.


Angus Maddison


[ This picture taken from The Economist, here ]

Today, China is using its amassed foreign exchange reserves to dominate the world in general and regional countries in particular. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the recent $ 40 billion financial assistance to Bangladesh are glaring examples of the same. We fear that our friends may shift sides. So we need to be more careful.

It is time India takes a re-look at its external and internal policies. We need to exclusively think about ourselves, our economy and our security. Make necessary changes in the policies on both. We need to give a re-look to more and more reliance on Chinese products. Develop our own manufacturing and technological capabilities. It is not going to be easy, but it seems to be the way forward.

On the security front, we should redefine our previous policy. Strengthen our internal and external security position, rely more on indigenous manufacture of security items. Hopefully, in the coming decades, our strategic position will strengthen to the level where no one can take us for granted at all.

[ Running updates - International Relations, here]


The Tibet angle


India has faced continuous friction from the ambitious Chinese, on multiple fronts. 
Since 2014, the Modi government has tried to mend relations with China. But China has turned down the three major requests from India - (1) India wants to isolate Pakistan internationally as the "mother-ship" of terror, (2) China should help India, and not block her path, in the pursuit of big-power status, and (3) China should not push into the Indian Ocean Region as that is India's sphere of influence. Due to lack of Chinese understanding of Indian aspirations, India has been inviting Uighur, Falung Gong and Tibetan separatists to India. In 2017, the government may be readying the so-called “Tibet card” against China. The Chinese rile at any global recognition for the Dalai Lama, and India wants to now treat him as an asset, and not a liability. In December 2016, the Chinese bitterly criticised India for allowing the Dalai Lama to attend a function at Rashtrapati Bhawan (President Palace) New Delhi, and also closed their borders with Mongolia as Dalai Lama had visited there (Mongolia) for 4 days, thereby badly throwing Mongolian commodity exports off-balance. Looking at this prickly behaviour, it is not unlikely that the Chinese may make a sudden move some day. To ensure India is not caught unprepared, the governments over the years have been preparing since long. [Read about Indian military preparedness, here]

Asia's geopolitics - from terror to OBOR


The entire set of geopolitical equations in Asia have undergone a rapid change. We capture the essence of a complex story below. Extremely useful for quick grasp over a huge topic!



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    •  America, China, Russia, Pakistan, Taliban, and India - a complex story 
      • Analysts feel that America had pushed a global consensus on terrorism after 9/11 (Twin Tower attack in 2001), but that is now fragmenting. In 2001, the UNSC Resolution 1371 declared a global consensus to fight these terror groups (Al-Qaeda, Taliban, allied groups). Slowly, over the years, the Taliban have wriggled free from many restrictions. Back then, even President Putin of Russia showed solidarity with the US, and ‘allowed’ them to open bases in central Asia, and enter Afghanistan in a full-fledged manner. Now that era of bonhomie is finished – Russia questions NATO, EU, and US itself. Its 'illegal' involvement – through cyber-attacks – in American Presidential elections 2016 is being questioned! Russia has changed in other ways too – closeness with China due to commodity trade, and growing ties with Pakistan (ostensibly under Chinese pressure). The regular meetings of Russia, China and Pakistan in Moscow regarding Afghanistan are designed to ensure closer talks between Kabul and Taliban. China needs stability as its ambitious One Belt One Road projects – put forward by China’s current leader Xi Jinping as a strategic outline to encourage new trade and connectivity throughout Asia with road and maritime links to Africa, the Middle East, and towards Europe! So, it wants Taliban to stay away from attacking it. U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2011 announcement, and action later, of drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan has changed the equations rapidly. Under the OBOR, and as US has been withdrawing from Afghanistan, China hopes to exert influence over Afghanistan. China has been engaging the Taliban (and other Islamist groups) since 1980s, when Islamic militants resisted the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Chinese arms were provided to Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviets (China and Soviet Union had parted ways early on in 1970s). During the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, China wanted a relationship with the Taliban govt. to get a promise from them not to assist the “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” (ETIM) or other Islamic extremist groups that aimed to target China inside Afghanistan. China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Lu Shulin had met Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but it was unfruitful and China distanced itself from the Taliban regime and cut ties with Afghanistan. China’s concern is based on security threats that may radicalize Xinjiang, where members of the Uyghur Muslim minority group are located. Xinjiang is vulnerable to terrorism and extremism from Afghanistan. From the mid-1990s to 2001, ETIM had training camps in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan-Xinjiang security nexus is seen by China in particular in the close linkage between the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and finally the Islamic State with Uyghur terrorist groups. Afghan Taliban delegations have visited China in 2015 and 2016. In May 2015 also, China had organized a secret meeting between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Urumqi, the capital city of China’s Xinjiang Province. Taliban may have promised to “not attack” infra projects in the vast OBOR. For India, this overall development is not good news as China has turned south Asia into a zero-sum game against India, knowingly or unknowingly pushing Pakistan against India often. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which aims to turn Gwadar into a major and much shorter trade bypass, has seen heavy action. For India, the bad news also is that both China and Russia have not allowed Indian to have tough statements on cross-border terrorism issued – neither at the BRICS summit (Goa, Oct 2016) nor at the Heart of Asia summit (Amritsar, Dec 2016). And finally, India’s proposal on “Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism” is not going anywhere. Now all this, coupled with Chinese aggression on the borders and with Arunachal issue, has forced India's hand to invest heavily in securing its Eastern borders with strategic military assets. [We cover that part in this Bodhi, here]  Clearly, the global jigsaw puzzle is shifting shape. But winds of change can themselves suddenly change direction, and nothing is forever in this game.  


Trump sets the tone


The coming of the Donald Trump administration in America will bring four immediate changes: (1) The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a mega-trade alliance proposed in the Pacific region not including India, is dead, (2) The NATO may also weaken considerably, (3) China may face the heat in trade and strategy matters, and (4) India or Pakistan may benefit asymmetrically (nothing is sure). So, turbulent times ahead. We have analysed many news articles on this topic separately in our Bodhi News portal, which you may check here.


The Modi Doctrine - India's foreign policy


In August 2016, PM Modi summed up Indian foreign policy approach with the phrase "
India First”. This showed India's commitment to protect its strategic interests and a search for greater prosperity and development at home. The Modi doctrine is led by vision and implemented through delivery. The diplomatic engagements are being leveraged to advance domestic flagship programmes like Make in India, Digital India, Skill India or Smart Cities. A tight meshing of domestic and diplomatic goals is a hallmark of the Modi Doctrine. As per the External Affairs Minister, it has led not only to flagship programmes accessing greater technology, capital and best practices but also to a marked improvement in FDI  flows.

The first diplomatic move on its inauguration day by inviting leaders of neighbouring nations, was later expanded into a ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy that stresses cooperation, connectivity and greater people to people contacts. By visiting virtually all our neighbours himself, PM Modi has articulated a strong message of regional prosperity. The global order has not just become more multi-polar, but an overall loosening of relationships has happened and even countries that are formal allies are now hedging. Though the world as a whole is more globalised, distinct regional dynamics have also emerged. The arrival of a strongly nationalist Trump administration is the recent example. As a result, effective diplomacy increasingly calls for simultaneously engaging competing powers. It is now an exercise to manage differences and expand areas of agreement. Consequently, remaining passive to international developments is no longer an option. Hence, the ideological baggage of Non Aligned Movement is now dumped, and India confidently engages other major powers.

An India aspiring to a greater global role must necessarily have a larger diplomatic footprint, either through more Embassies and a larger foreign service, or more immediately by broader and frequent engagements with other leaderships. The impact of a high-frequency global visit calendar has been dramatic on the world’s perception of India, as many earlier gaps were filled. Both bilaterally and multilaterally, many developments happened. The Indian Africa Summit was expanded from the earlier 17 nations to its full complement of 54. For the first time, a summit of Pacific Island states with India was held, not just in that region but in India as well. The BRICS meet (Goa) and the Heart of Asia Conference (Amritsar) continued the engagement. In an era where global issues are talked about regularly, Indians representing one-sixth of humanity must do their utmost on challenges that will determine the future of our planet. India had a key role to play in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and also took the lead in creating the International Solar Alliance. To counter the menace of cross-border terrorism, India has unrelentingly put the spotlight on early conclusion of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, though with stiff resistance from some big powers. 


The Indian diaspora wields considerable influence in many nations. Our country makes as much by services and remittances as it does by trade in Goods. The Modi Government has broken new ground in appreciating their contribution, enhancing their standing and protecting their interests. The government has tried to bring about a change in systemic attitudes towards them – whether it is in faster issue of passports at home, better consular responses abroad, or even in major evacuation operations like Yemen, Iraq, Libya or South Sudan. The completion of the Parliament building and the Salma dam in Afghanistan, the Duriappah stadium in Sri Lanka, the Petrapole integrated check point with Bangladesh or the Trauma center in Nepal are some notable milestones of Indian action abroad. 



Live and let live has always been the Indian guiding principle, but it has to be reciprocated fully by others too.


[Solve Bodhi Prashn ##question-circle##]



This Bodhi will be regularly updatedKeep visiting. And do share your thoughts in the Comments thread.


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    • Bodhi Links (for deeper study; Caution: some may be external links, some large PDFs)
      •  ##chevron-right## EU hits Google with anti-Trust charge  here ##chevron-right## What is a superpower? here ##chevron-right## List of modern great powers - past 200 years  here ##chevron-right##  US versus USSR here ##chevron-right## Latest analysis of Angus Maddison's work pdf here  ##chevron-right## Emerging Asian mega-struggle here  ##refresh## Running updates on International Relations here 



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Bodhi Booster: World politics and India’s strategic challenges
World politics and India’s strategic challenges
In the rapidly shifting sands of global political chessboard, India needs to maintain its firm footing.
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