Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

[op-ed snap] The world from Raisina.


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much.

Mains level: Paper 2- India's foreign relation with 'Middle Power' countries-Prospects and opportunities.


As the world is moving from an era of predictability to an era of unpredictability led by the US and China, a new Middle Power coalition is the need of an hour.

The “Rising India” narrative and challenges

  • The narrative was scripted over the two post-Cold War decades, 1991 to 2011.
  • Narrative of plural secular democracy: It was based on the improving performance of the economy and India’s political ability to deal with many longstanding diplomatic challenges within a paradigm of realism.
  • Three successive prime ministers – scripted the narrative of India rising as a plural, secular democracy, as opposed to China’s rise within an authoritarian system.
  • Opening of new vistas: India’s improving economic performance had opened up new vistas for cooperation with major powers and neighbours.
  • New challenges to the narrative: Now the economy’s subdued performance and domestic political issues have created new challenges for Indian foreign policy.
    • The new approach to relations with India adopted by both President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping has created a more challenging external environment.

Relations with the US

  • New demands from the US: Each time New Delhi has tried to meet a US demand, Washington DC has come up with new demands.
  • US-China dispute resolution and effects for India: Any resolution of US differences with China, can only reduce whatever little bargaining clout India has.
  • Complaint at WTO: The US has, in fact, actively lodged complaints against India at the World Trade Organisation.
  • Geopolitical effects for India:  On the geopolitical side, US intervention in West Asia has always imposed an additional economic burden on India.

Relations with China

  • Consistent policy: There has been continuity and consistency in India-China policy over the past two decades, with some ups and downs.
  • Effects of power difference with China: As the bilateral power differential widens, China has little incentive or compulsion to be accommodative of Indian concerns, much less the interests
    • China never fails to remind India of the growing power differential between the two.
  • Building strength to deal with China: In dealing with China, India will have to, paraphrasing Deng Xiaoping, “build its strength and bide its time.

Russia’s focus

  • It will remain focused on Eurasian geopolitics.
  • It will also be concerned with the geo-economics of energy.
  • Implications for India: Both these factors define Russia’s relations with China, and increasingly, with Pakistan, posing a challenge for India.


Way forward in the relations with Pakistan

  • The government’s Pakistan policy has run its course.
    • It yielded some short-term results thanks to Pakistan’s efforts not to get “black-listed” by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
    • But the rest of the world is doing business with Pakistan, lending billions in aid.
  • The global community may increasingly accept future pleas from Pakistan that terror attacks in India are home-grown.
  • related to the situation in Kashmir or concerns about the welfare of Muslims, unless incontrovertible evidence to the contrary is offered.
  • The need for a new Pakistan policy: Backchannel talks should be resumed and visas should be given liberally to Pakistani intellectuals, media and entertainers to improve cross-border perceptions as a first step towards improving relations.

The Middle Powers and opportunities for India

  • What are the middle powers?  It is a mix of developed and developing economies, some friends of the US and other friends of China.
    • It is an amorphous group but can emerge into a grouping of the like-minded in a world of uncertainty capable of taming both the US and China.
    • A new Middle Powers coalition may be the need of the year.
  • Which countries can be part of it?  Germany, France, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and perhaps South Korea. One could include Russia, Nigeria and South Africa also in this group.
  • Stakes involved but no influence: Like India, these countries have a stake in what the US and China do, but little influence over either.
  • What India can do? These countries which constitute the part of the Middle Powers should engage the attention of India’s external affairs minister.

Disruptive policies not an option

  • Adoption of disruptive approach: There is a view among some policy analysts that India too can adopt a “disruptive” approach as a clever tactic in foreign affairs.
    • Disruption is not an end in itself. It has to be a means to an end.
    • Powerful nations can afford disruption as tactics.
  • Unchanged strategic elements: The strategic elements defining Indian foreign policy in the post-Cold War era have not changed.
  • Not an option: India cannot risk such tactics without measuring the risk they pose to strategy.


With the changing geopolitical atmosphere particularly with respect to the US and Chiana, India needs to adopt a suitable approach to its foreign policy especially involving the Middle Powers.



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