Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

India needs an internationalism that is rooted in realism


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Evolution of India's approach to Asian regionalism and internationalism

The article analyses India’s approach towards regional integration in Asian unity and internationalism and its consequences.

Clash between internationalism and nationalism

  • Three current developments reveal the clash between grandiose internationalism and the intractable nationalism.
  • 1) India pulled out of the military exercise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which was to herald a new era of Eurasian unity.
  • Sharpening contradictions between India and China comes in the way of uniting such a large geopolitical space.
  • 2) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s claim to leadership of the Muslim world that has run into resistance from a large section of the Arab rulers.
  • 3) The tension between the globalism of the US foreign policy establishment and Donald Trump’s “America First” nationalism.

Internationalism and threats to it

  • Western liberalism has had more power than anyone else to promote internationalism.
  • But the liberal internationalist effort at constructing supra-national institutions now faces big setbacks.
  • The greatest resistance to the liberal internationalist vision has not come within the US.
  • Trump channelled the American resentments against the globalist excesses of the Wall Street, Washington and the Silicon Valley.

India’s nationalism

  • Indian nationalism was inevitably influenced by liberal internationalism, socialism, communism, pan-Islamism, pan-Asianism and Third-Worldism to name a few.
  • Both the Asian Relations Conference (Delhi 1947) and the Afro-Asian Conference (Bandung 1955) showed up the deep differences among the Asian elites.
  • India then turned its back on Asianism to claim the leadership of the broader Non-Aligned Movement.
  • After the Cold War, India re-embraced Asianism in the 1990s when it unveiled the Look East Policy.
  • India also joined the Asian regional institutions led by the Association of South-East Asian Nations.

RCEP joining issue

  • Few could have anticipated that Delhi would walk out of one of the most consequential agreements negotiated by the ASEAN — the RCEP — that sought Asia-wide economic integration.
  • Delhi believed that the contradiction between India’s domestic commercial interests and a China-led Asian economic regionalism was irreconcilable.

India’s approach toward Asian regionalism

  • Eurasian regionalism led by Moscow and Beijing is also facing tensions and there is deepening conflict between Indian and Chinese interests.
  • India’s diplomatic finesse on the SCO has become increasingly unsustainable after Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh.
  • India underestimated the economic and political consequences of China’s rapid rise while seeking economic regionalism in East Asia and the multi-polar world with Russia and China.
  • India took a benign view of Chinese power and has been shocked to discover otherwise in 1962 and in 2020.


India today needs more internationalism, than less, in dealing with the Chinese power. But it must be an internationalism that is rooted in realism and tethered to India’s economic and national security priorities.

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