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India’s purblind opposition to Belt and Road Initiative

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China intends to host second global Belt-Road-Initiative (BRI) meet next month. China expects delegates from over 100 countries to attend the moot. The initiative has become the world’s largest platform for international cooperation. Some 123 countries and 29 international organisations have signed the BRI agreements with China. To extract `extra mélange’ from China, India and USA have expressed reservation about the imminent meet. The BRI includes US$ 60-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which India opposes as it traverses through Azad Kashmir (Freed Kashmir).  India calls Freed Kashmir Pakistan-administered or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The so-called `constitution’ of the India-occupied Kashmir (valley, Jammu and Ladakh), provides seats for Azad Kashmir area. This gimmick is purported to convey the impression that Azad Kashmir is also part of India-0ccupied Kashmir. Practically India can’t trespass into Azad Kashmir as the Line of Control is heavily guarded by the two neighbours, at daggers drawn. Crossfire among bunkers is an everyday phenomenon.

The first BRI meeting was held in 2017. It was, among others, attended by 29 heads of state and government, the United Nations’ Secretary General and heads of World Bank. After dilly-dallying on various pretexts, India boycotted it. India and the USA have a mélange (sovereignty, debt trap, etc.) of objections against the BRI.

Geographic structure

The BRI initially included six corridors with landmass connectivity besides proposed Maritime Silk Road (MSR):  (a) New Eurasian Land Bridge, running from Western China to Western Russia through Kazakhstan. (b) China–Mongolia–Russia Corridor, running from Northern China to Eastern Russia. (c) China–Central Asia–West Asia Corridor, running from Western China to Turkey. (d) China–Indochina Peninsula Corridor, running from Southern China to Singapore. (e) China–Myanmar–Bangladesh–India Corridor, running from Southern China to Myanmar, and (f) China–Pakistan Corridor, running from South-Western China to Pakistan. When India decided not to participate in the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s inaugural Belt and Road Forum held in 2017, there emerged a dominant feeling among the supporters of BRI that New Delhi would be isolated. India never hesitated to share its concerns and always stood the ground.

No veto power to China

China despite being a stakeholder has no veto power. India is sanguine that Chinese initiative in Indian Ocean region (IOR) will not succeed unless and until India supports the BRI, even if in a piecemeal manner.

EU’s Perspective on BRI

China is an extremely important economic and trade partner for the European Union (EU). The EU is currently China’s largest trading partner, while China is the EU’s second largest trading.  Italy supports BRI. According to informed estimates, China’s Navy, for instance, plans to build 400 warships and 100 submarines by 2030.

India’s qualms about BRI’s impact on Indian Ocean

India is fearful that BRI would exacerbate Sino-Indian tension in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean region.  India is worried about four specific corridors that constitute major components of the BRI and run across India’s South Asian neighborhood.  BRI includes the Trans-Himalayan Economic Corridor, Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor (1990s), Twenty-First Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR), a combination of bilateral infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean region, besides the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. India perceives these corridors and the associated infrastructure projects are detrimental to India’s strategic interests. They run close to India’s continental and maritime borders and may affect its security interests and strategic environment.

As an example of strategic implication, India quotes strategically located Sri Lankan port of Hambantota. The port was built using Chinese loans but, due to the high interest rates, Sri Lanka was unable to repay and incurred a burgeoning debt burden. Unable to pay debts, Sri Lanka was forced to lease the port to China for ninety-nine years in 2017 (lease rescinded under pressure prematurely).

Indian Ocean in a state of flux

Recent International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Chagos Islands has catapulted Indian Ocean into limelight. The `advisory’ is a blow to UK’s forcible occupation of Chagos Islands, including the strategic US airbase of Diego Garcia atoll. Many countries, including India are trying to dominate the Ocean

India’s interest

Forty seven countries have the Indian Ocean on their shores. The Indian Ocean is the third largest body of water in the world. It occupies 20 per cent of the world’s ocean surface – it is nearly 10,000 kilometers wide at the southern tips of Africa and Australia and its area is 68.556 million square kilometers, about 5.5 times the size of the United States

India’s motto is ‘whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia’. US Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan says that ‘this ocean is the key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century; the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters’. This Ocean includes Andaman Sea, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Flores Sea, Java Sea Great Australian Bight, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Savu Sea, Timor Sea, Strait of Malacca, Bay of Bengal, Mozambique Channel, and Persian Gulf.

Indian Ocean is rich with living and non-living resources, from marine life to oil and natural gas. Its beach sands are rich in heavy minerals and offshore placer deposits. India is actively exploiting them to its economic advantage. It is a major sea lane providing shipping to 90 per cent of world trade. It provides a waterway for heavy traffic of petroleum and petroleum products from the oilfields of the Persian Gulf and Indonesia, and contains an estimated 40 per cent of the world’s offshore oil production.

Admiral Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914) of the United States Navy highlighted strategic importance of the Indian Ocean in these words: “whoever attains maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean would be a prominent player on the international scene. The Indian peninsula (i.e. the Deccan and below) juts 1,240 miles into the Indian Ocean. 50per cent of the Indian Ocean basin lies within a 1,000 mile radius of India, a reality that has strategic implications. India possesses the technology to extract minerals from the deep sea bed. Under the law of the sea, it has an exclusive economic zone of 772,000 square miles. Chennai is a mere 3,400 miles away from Perth in Australia, slightly more than the distance between New York and Los Angeles.

The Ocean is a major sea lane connecting Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These ‘chokepoints’ are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them.

Any disruption in traffic flow through these choke-points can have disastrous consequences. The disruption of energy flows in particular is a considerable security concern for littoral states, as a majority of their energy lifelines are sea-based. Since energy is critical in influencing the geo-political strategies of a nation, any turbulence in its supply has serious security consequences. Most of the ships approach the straits through the 10 degree channel between the Andaman and Nicobar islands. To dominate these straits, India established its Far Eastern Marine Command at Port Blair in the Andamans. It has developed Port Blair as a strategic international trade center and built an oil terminal and trans-shipment port in Campal Bay in the Nicobar islands.

China’s interest

In view of the spiraling demand for energy, China is sensitive to the security of the sea lines of communication and choke- points of the region. Sixty per cent of China’s oil supplies are shipped through the Straits of Malacca.

India and China: Eyeball to eyeball

Indian Ocean is fast emerging as the new hot-spot of Sino-Indian rivalry. Indian desire to expand its navy manifold to dominate the Indian Ocean has triggered shockwaves to China and other littoral states. Whether it is controlling piracy or use of sea resources, boats of the two countries face each other eyeball-to-eyeball. As is obvious from capital outlays in India’s defence budget, India wants to convert its navy into a blue-water navy as early as possible. The first item on Indian-Navy agenda is getting new aircraft carriers. In their media interviews, the chiefs of Indian Navy have lamented ‘dominance of smaller ships in the naval fleet imposes limitations of reach’. He asserted that ‘the Navy had to be built around three aircraft carriers, at least 30 destroyers and frigates, 20 submarines and replenishment ships’. The present Navy chief’s plans are no less grandiose.

One chief said, “We are looking at a fleet of 140 warships and 300 aircraft” (The News behind the News, April 6, 2009, pp.14-15). What the chiefs of Indian Navy said in the past, or the present chief says is no swagger. Dominating the Indian Ocean has been India’s long-cherished dream since its independence. George K Tanham, in his Indian Strategic Thought, a RAND research, observes that India wants to establish its hegemony over Indian Ocean by establishing Pax Indica, on the lines of Pax Britannica. He adds, India wants to ‘approach world-power status by developing nuclear and missile capabilities, a blue water navy, and a military-industrial complex, all obvious characteristics of the superpowers’ (page vii).

Commodore (Retd) Uday Bhaskar of the Society for Policy Studies says, `India needs to project itself as a credible and long term partner in a more persuasive manner, than what has been the experience in recent years’. He added, `Islands in the Indian Ocean Region have acquired distinctive strategic relevance and India will have to step up its appeal and comfort index, more so since it is pitted against China’s deep pockets.

Barry Desker, Director Institute of defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore says, `The emergence of new powers like China and India is expected to transform the regional strategic landscape in a fashion that could be as dramatic as the rise of Germany in the 19th century and the United States in the 20th century’.

To counter Indian hegemony, China is intends to have six aircraft carriers. When New Delhi deployed one ship in the Gulf of Aden in October last year with great fanfare, China deployed two warships to the same area. The presence of the Chinese and Indian warships underlines Beijing’s and New Delhi’s intense economic and strategic interests in the world’s third largest ocean.

India is acquiring several nuclear-powered submarines to augment its 155 military vessels in the ocean that it calls its property. India has transformed its Karnataka Bay into an advanced naval installation. To counter New Delhi Beijing is constructing naval stations and refueling ports around India, including in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

As is obvious from capital outlays in India’s defence budget, India wants to convert its navy into a blue-water navy as early as possible. India wants to ‘approach world-power status by developing nuclear and missile capabilities, a blue water navy, and a military-industrial complex, all obvious characteristics of the superpowers’.

The Ocean is a major sea lane connecting Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. It has four crucial access waterways facilitating international maritime trade, that is the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These ‘chokepoints’ are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them.

Any disruption in traffic flow through these choke-points can have disastrous consequences. The disruption of energy flows in particular is a considerable security concern for littoral states, as a majority of their energy lifelines are sea-based. Since energy is critical in influencing the geo-political strategies of a nation, any turbulence in its supply has serious security consequences.

India is acquiring several nuclear-powered submarines to augment its 155 military vessels in the ocean that it calls its property. India has transformed its Karnataka Bay into an advanced naval installation. To counter New Delhi Beijing is constructing naval stations and refueling ports around India, including in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

India’s troubles in Maldives, Seychelles and Agalega Islands

India denies that its projects in Indian Ocean neighbourhood have never been acquisitive or “colonial”. However, it faced severe resistance, for instance, in Seychelles and Maldives and the Agalega Islands. After facing resistance over placing its helicopters in the Maldives’ Addu atoll and the virtual cancellation of its project to develop the Assumption Island in the Seychelles, New Delhi moved swiftly to ensure its US$87 million project in the Mauritius does not run into trouble. The project involved constructing a jetty, rebuilding and extending the runway, and building an airport terminal. Mauritian vice prime minister explained in the parliament that `the jetty is being improved to be able to receive ships and to extend the runway, which is in very poor condition, from the existent 1,300 metres to 3,000. At present, `only emergency medical evacuations are allowed due to the poor surface of the runway’. While the vice prime minister claimed ` she did not know “of India’s military plans, Indian Naval sources confirmed their involvement in the project. Mauritian opposition members point out lack of transparency in the project.  Mauritian government is still to answer why it has exempted the project from any Environmental license process (EIA clearances).

Indian view is that `unlike the military bases run by other countries [like Diego Garcia], the Indian model is of a soft base’. India does not ` bar locals from moving through any Indian-made project’. So `these governments get more control over their domain, without diluting their sovereignty’. Even when AFCON and RITES engineers visited the islands `they are greeted by the locals, who took their boats up to the ship that brought them in and even accommodated and feed them during their stay’.

Mauritian prime minister faced tough questions in the National Assembly over Indian involvement in the project, its costs and military implications. Mauritian vice-prime minister had to declare, `Agalega is and will remain a Mauritian territory’. `This is an important project. We don’t want the jetty and the airstrip to remain in poor condition,” she added. Even local people protested when they saw Indian naval and coastguard’s setting up transponder systems and surveillance infrastructure. Several Islanders, including some from Agalega, which has a tiny population of 300, formed the “Koalision Zilwa Pou Lape” (Islanders Coalition for Peace), to lobby against the Agalega project.

A similar situation led to Maldivian President’s decision to cancel the loan of two Indian military helicopters and the visas of about 28 naval personnel. `The Agalega islands, with land of only about 25 square kilometres is now in the crosshairs of similar concerns, although most officials aware of developments believe India’s “softer” methods will ensure the success of the project.

Adversaries’ view of `debt trap’

Smaller countries who received China’s bounteous loans are incapable of paying them back. India thinks BRI may militate against India’s strategic interests. India mulls connectivity offers a set of tools to influence other countries’ foreign policy choices

China’s view of BRI benefits

Chines aid helped build East Africa first-ever expressway, and Maldives’ first-ever inter-island bridge. Belarus was enabled to produce sedans, Kazakhstan connected to the sea, and Southeast Asia provided a high-speed railway (being completed). Eurasian continent gifted the longest distance freight train service.

China’s predecessors Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom, the United States have played role in development of Asia. They were the primary donors for development projects in Asia since World War II The Asian Development Bank estimates that between 2016 and 2030 developing countries in the region will need to spend $1.7 trillion per year to build the infrastructure required to “maintain its growth momentum, eradicate poverty, and respond to climate change.”

One Belt One Road was announced by Chinese President Xi Jinxing in 2013. It envisaged constructing a continental road (or the economic belt) connecting China to Europe through South and Central Asia. In addition, it envisioned creating a sea-corridor between China and Europe by way of the Indian Ocean. Regarding the continental route, India’s primary concern is the CPEC and increasing unease about Chinese connectivity inroads in Nepal. The MSR horrifies India as this project could dilute Indian influence in the Indian. China’s  

 connectivity and infrastructure involves  four areas: transport infrastructure, port infrastructure, aviation infrastructure, and energy infrastructure. Besides, it includes Information Silk Road through the construction of “cross-border optical cables,” “transcontinental submarine optical cable projects,” and “spatial (satellite) information passageways.”

China answers suspicions

China says there is no hidden strategic agenda to use this initiative as a means to gain sphere of influence, or to violate other’s sovereignty. Aside from verbose statements, US, Japan or India has not offered any BRI-alternative. Some estimates project that China will invest up to $4 trillion to realize its vision for the BRI. Some of India’s neighbors were among the countries that thronged the forum (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Afghanistan).

The China-Pakistan Economic corridor

The US $62 billion CPEC begins at Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and ends at the port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province. It would build  a network of highways, roads, railways, pipelines, ports, and information technology parks along the route. It would facilitate movement of Chinese goods from China’s western provinces to the Arabian Sea across the Indian Ocean.  Karakoram Highway between Pakistan’s Punjab Province and Gilgit-Baltistan will be modernised. The corridor aims to connect Gilgit in northern Pakistan to Gwadar in the south. Chinese entities have invested approximately in the CPEC.

India’s narcissist objection to  Karakoram Highway

Earlier, India ineffectually objected to construction of the Karakoram Highway through Gilgit –Baltistan that India described as Pakistan occupied Kashmir. India’s then defence minister A. K. Antony noted in 2012, “Indian territory under occupation by China in Jammu & Kashmir since 1962 is approximately 38,000 [square kilometers]. In addition to this, under the so-called China-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 [square kilometers] of Indian territory in [Pakistan-occupied Kashmir] to China.”  

Speaking at the seventieth session of the UN General Assembly in 2015, the Indian representative noted, “India’s reservations about the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor stem from the fact that it passes through Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan for many years.” India alleges allowing the CPEC to continue would undermine India’s sovereignty and bolster Pakistan’s claim to the disputed territory.

So-called sovereignty over disputed territories?

India’s real bogeys are denial of Kashmir, and Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territories.

Mythical militarisation of  Gilgit Baltistan and Gwadar

Without corroborative evidence, India claims that there are 30,000 Chinese army personnel to protect its economic interests in occupied Kashmir. Any further increase in Chinese troops along India’s borders would further jeopardise India’s security.

New Delhi expects Gwadar to emerge as an important naval base for China. If this turns out to be the case, Chinese access to Gwadar’s port would allow the Chinese navy to sustain a presence in the Indian Ocean, threatening pax indica.  Similarly another

Corridor would connect the Chinese city of Kunming with the Indian city of Kolkata through Dhaka in Bangladesh and Mandalay in Myanmar, seeking to boost trade, build infrastructure, and foster connectivity among these nations.

Pulwama ploy

India’s prime minister Narendre Modi pounced upon Pulwama-suicide attack (February 14, 2019) to project it into international limelight. With general 2019 elections in his mind, he pandered to voter’s sentiments, blaming Pakistan. As a ploy to show India’s chagrin, it launched a `counter-terror’ air strike in Balakot on February26, 2019. The strike foundered as Pakistan Air Force downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured its pilot the very next day (handed back on 1 March, 2019).

India attributed Pulwama attack to Masood Azhar (Jaish-e-Mohammad). China blocked India-sponsored effort, spearheaded by the US, the UK and France, to get Azhar declared ` a global terrorist’.

India-China-Border (Doklam) standoff

In June 2017 Chinese troops were spotted extending a road through a strip of land disputed between China and Bhutan. India perceived this as an unacceptable change to the status quo and crossed its own border to block those works. The Doklam plateau slopes down to the Siliguri Corridor, a narrow strip of Indian territory dividing the Indian mainland from its north-eastern states. Were China able to block off the corridor it would isolate India’s north-eastern region from the rest of the country, a devastating scenario in the event of war. The Doklam standoff ended with disengagement on 28 August. Troops from both countries remain in the area, but are now separated by a few hundred metres.

Myth of India’s sovereignty over Kashmir

Kashmir is a simmering cauldron. For about seven decades, India denied Kashmiris’ their right of self-determination. It claims that the occupied Kashmir’s constituent assembly has voted for accession of disputed Kashmir to India. As such, it is no longer necessary for her to let the promised plebiscite be held in Kashmir. Is India’s argument tenable? Does history or documents corroborate India’s stand? Let us look a bit closely at India’s stance.

Kashmir’s accession to India

It is the Treaty of Amritsar (1846) which entitled Gulab Singh to rule Jammu and Kashmir State. This treaty stands lapsed under Article 7 of the Independence Act. The Act was passed by British Parliament on July 18, 1947 to assent to creation of independent states of India and Pakistan. The aforementioned Article 7 provides that, with lapse of His Majesty’s suzerainty over Indian states, all treaties, agreements, obligations, grants, usages and sufferance’s will lapse.

Mountbatten deliberately kept mum about this reality for considerations of political expediency. The Independence Act required intention of accession to be absolute and crystal-clear. But, a stray glance at the ‘Instrument’ would make it clear that it is equivocal. The ‘Instrument’ expresses ‘intention to set up an interim government and to ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry the responsibilities’ with maharajah’s prime minister. The last sentence in the ‘Instrument’ is ‘In haste and with kind regards’. Handwritten corrections on the text of the ‘Instrument’ speak volubly about the wavering state of the maharajah’s mind. The instrument, extracted under coercion and duress, is invalid under law.

Subsequent accession resolution, passed by the occupied Kashmir’s ‘constituent assembly’ is also void. This resolution violates the Security Council’s resolutions forbidding India from going ahead with the accession farce. Aware of India’s intention to get the ‘Instrument of Accession’ rubber-stamped by the puppet assembly, the Security Council passed two resolutions to forestall the `foreseeable accession’ by the puppet assembly. Security Council’s Resolution No 9 of March 30, 1951 and confirmatory Resolution No 122 of March 24, 1957 outlaws accession or any other action to change status of the Jammu and Kashmir state.

Renowned journalist Alastair Lamb also regards the Instrument of Accession, ‘signed’ by the maharajah of Kashmir on October 26, 1947, as fraudulent (Kashmir – A disputed legacy 1846-1990). He argues that the maharajah was travelling by road to Jammu (a distance of over 350 km). How could he sign the instrument while being on the run for safety of his life? There is no evidence of any contact between him and the Indian emissaries on October 26, 1947.

Actually, it was on October 27, 1947 that the maharajah was informed by MC Mahajan and VP Menon (who had flown into Srinagar) that an Instrument of Accession is being fabricated in New Delhi. Obviously, the maharajah could not have signed the instrument earlier than October 27, 1947. The instrument remains null and void, even if the maharajah had actually signed it. The reason, as pointed out by Alastair is that the `signatures’ were obtained under coercion. She points out Indian troops had already arrived at and secured Srinagar airfield during the middle of October 1947. On October 26, 1947, a further airlift of thousands of Indian troops to Kashmir took place. He questions: “Would the maharajah have signed the Instrument of Accession, had the Indian troops not been on Kashmiri soil?”

It is eerie to note that India has never shown the original `Instrument’ in any international forum. If India was truthful, it should have the temerity to present the document to Pakistan or to the UN. Isn’t it funny that, in the summer of 1995, the Indian authorities reported the original document as lost or stolen? This fact further beclouds authenticity of the document. India took the Kashmir issue to the UN in 1948 under article 35 of Chapter VI which outlines the means for a peaceful settlement of disputes. India avoided presenting the Kashmir case under the UN Chapter VII which relates to acts of aggression. Obviously, it did so because it knew that the Kashmir was a disputed state. And, issue of its integration with India or Pakistan remained to be resolved.

From the foregoing, it is evident that the Instrument of Accession does not exist. The `accession’ of the disputed state, through a resolution of the puppet assembly, is null and void. This `resolution’ violates the Security Council’s directive forbidding India to forge unilateral ‘accession’ of the state.

India’s connectivity alternative

Chinese initiative is backed up by her surplus capital.  But rueful India has not been able to dangle an alternative to the BRI. Italy’s endorsement of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) hasn’t had much impact on Indian officials, who have long objected to the initiative, as media reports said the South Asian country signaled it might boycott the upcoming second Belt and Road Forum, to be held in Beijing.

In fact, the United States, has responded to BRI by launching similar blueprint by recruiting Japan and any other country who feel less comfortable dealing with China.

China, the new global hegemon

Historians, like Ibn-e-Khaldun, Toynbee, and Arrighi, have postulated a life cycle for fall of nations. For instance, Arrighi thinks wealthy hegemonic centres of civilisation last for about a century and then collapse.  If USA collapses, China is likely to take her place. Much to India’s chagrin, Pakistan would remain her steadfast ally.

India’s myopic efforts to isolate Pakistan

India has now publicly stated its intention to isolate Pakistan in comity of nations. An isolated country is a weak target. India made holding the SAARC conference in Pakistan impossible.

India’s developmental assistance to six neighbouring countries in South Asia over the last four fiscal years amounted to over Rs 211 billion. The countries are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.   India extended developmental assistance to six neighbouring countries. The total aid to Afghanistan from 2014-15 to 2017-18 was Rs 22.32 billion, to Bangladesh it was Rs 5.14 billion, and to Bhutan it was Rs 156.8 billion. The developmental assistance to Maldives during the same period was Rs 2.7 billion, to Nepal it was Rs 13.22 billion, and to Sri Lanka it was Rs 10.8 billion. India has built a dam in Afghanistan and making 11 more there. She has committed Rs 45 billion for Bhutan’s 11th Plan – about 68 per cent of the total external assistance received. Another Rs 5 billion came in from India as part of the economic stimulus plan.

Modi visited only such countries that benefited India internally or externally. Between 2014 and 2018,  over Rs 2,021 crore was spent on chartered flights, maintenance of aircraft and hotline facilities during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits to top 10 countries from where India has received the maximum FDI inflows. Foreign Direct Investments grew from USD 30,930.5 million in 2014, to USD 43478.27 million in 2017. A total of Rs 1,583.18 crore was spent on maintenance of Modi’s aircraft and Rs 429.25 crore on chartered flights during the period between June 15, 2014 and December 3, 2018. The total expenditure on hotline was Rs 9.11 crore. Modi visited over 55 countries in 48 foreign trips since taking over as prime minister in May 2014. Over Rs 1,346 crore was incurred on chartered flights, maintenance of aircraft and hotline facilities during Manmohan Singh’s foreign visits from 2009-10 till 2013-14 during UPA-II. The cumulative FDI inflows between 2014 and June 2018 stood at USD 136,077.75 million, compared to USD 81,843.71 million recorded cumulatively for the years between 2011 and 2014.

Kashmir’s current inferno is of India’s own making

While India blames Pakistan for her Kashmir troubles, it is pertinent to recall what India’s former defence minister George Fernandez (June 30, 1930 to January 29, 1930) said about Kashmir. I quote from Victoria Schofield on page 293 of her book Kashmir in the Crossfire (IB Taurus, London/New York, 1996.). `I do not believe that any foreign hand engineered the Kashmir problem’, stated George Fernandez in 1990. `The problem was created by us, and if others decided to take advantage of it, I do not believe that one should make that an issue; given the nature of the politics of our subcontinent, such a development was inevitable’. (Source:  George Fernandez. 12 October 1990, India’s Policies in Kashmir: An Assessment and Discourse, in Thomas, ed. Perspectives of Kashmir.).

Pacifist Kashmiri

An adage about pacifist Kashmiris reflects how timid they were. A Kashmiri youth joined army but never fired a shot. Asked by a Punjabi sikh (assumed to be scion of a martial race), he replied tapsi tey thus karsi.  That is, when my gun heats up it will automatically fire.

How the pacifist Kashmiri is turned into human missiles?

Humiliation

`Credit’ goes to reign of terror by 7,80,000 Indian forces in disputed state for punishing Kashmiri stone pelters with live bullets or pellets that blinded them (Washington Post July 12, 2016, New York Times dated August 29, 2016) . William Lukens, Bluemont (USA) clarified in Washington Post `To most Americans, a pellet gun is an air-powered pistol or rifle firing a single pellet. It is rarely able to kill or even wound a person hit with the pellet. As used by Indian police, “pellet gun” is a 12-gauge shotgun using shells that contain dozens of pellets propelled by gunpowder. There is a huge difference. When Americans read “pellet gun,” they think of “you’ll shoot your eye out.” Even girls and babies in laps are not spared.  Most of the pellets, fired from a high-velocity pump-action guns (outlawed by Amnesty International) hit above chest, usually face. India’s ladla (pampered) army chief (a general’s son) has so far displayed a fight-or-flight response to insurgency rooted in Kashmiris ’multifaceted deprivation. Just recall Indian army chief awarded commendation certificate to Major Leetul Gogoi who drove his jeep with a Kashmiri protester, tied to his jeep front. Gogoi was later caught red handed with an 18-year-old girl in a Srinagar hotel. (The Hindu dated September 19, 2018).  The ladla let the offender off the hook by charging with mild charge `fraternization with a woman’. The army chief is a misogynist who publicly rebuked women and declared them unfit for military service.

Humiliation of Kashmiris motivates them to become human missiles. The Pulwama Fedayeen, a schoolboy, was forced to rub his nose on ground by a `soldier’.

Roads were blocked to prevent mourners from attending funeral prayers of Pulwama bomber. Even dead bodies of stone-throwers are mutilated, paraded unzipped in body-packs, and photographed by way of memorabilia. Renowned writer Barkha Dutt reminisced (Outlook India dated February 20, 2019) a sensible local police officer’s directive `Bodies of those killed in encounters were to be properly zipped in covers and not paraded. At post-mortems of killed terrorists, no photographs were to be taken or distributed.’

A Kashmiri newspaper reported that army mercilessly beats even peaceful Kashmiri `for not hoisting Indian flag on their cars, bikes and even bicycles’, `even for selling or buying a pencil battery for a radio or wall clock’ .The presumption is that  `these batteries will be used in the wireless sets or bombs’.

Persecution of Kashmiri students and traders in Indian states

Kashmir students and traders are being attacked or looted in schools and colleges, at bus stops and in railway apartments throughout India. About 700 students, including girls, fled to Valley. Even holders of PM Modi’s merit-based competitive scholarships had to rush back to Valley for safety.

Some retired generals and RAW’s former chief AS Daulat cautioned Modi against brutal use of force India stayed united while Pakistan broke apart for lack of resilience and political myopia. At the time of partition, India was embroiled in many virulent insurgencies: Dravidian South movement, seven angry sisters of North East, Khalistan movement. India overcame the insurgencies through talks with Laldenga, Master Tara Singh, Dr. Phizo and others. It accepted demand for creation of new states. Gradually the incendiary states merged into Indian Union. But, India stands alienated in Kashmir. Lest India breaks up into `a congeries of states’ (Sir John Winthrop Hackett, The Third World War), it should free Kashmiris before next war with Pakistan.

India buckles on issues

Taiwan

China considers self-ruled Taiwan as a breakaway province that it has vowed to reunite with the mainland even if it has to resort to force. China warned the US, India and other countries against transferring defence technology to Taiwan for producing submarines. Air India even removed logos showing Taiwan as an independent entity.

Boycott of Chinese goods

Following Pulwama incident, India’s Confederation of All India Traders, which represents 70 million traders, said it would burn Chinese goods on March 19 to “teach a lesson” to China. Swadeshi JagranManch, the economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group with close ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also called for a boycott of Chinese goods. Chinese products like mobile phones made by companies such as Xiaomi Inc and toys are ubiquitous in India. 

Trade between the countries grew to nearly US$90 billion in the year ending March 2018. Aside from gung-ho, India’s trade ministry said in an email the country can’t take any unilateral punitive action against a fellow member of the World Trade Organisation.

India could not boycott import of China-made transistors that accounted for 81.9 percent of India’s transistor imports in 2017. The transistors are an input to almost all Indian electronic goods and machinery. India cannot afford to switch to home-made expensive alternative. These imports also contain embodied technologies, particularly semiconductors, fertilizer and pharmaceutical.

CPEC

India is yet to snatch back the Kashmir territory that China has occupied. No strike on Gwadar so far.

Inferences

Sagging US support

India can’t rely on Trump as bulwark against China. Trump values economic issues more than strategic issues. It may even slap tariffs on imports from India. Then there is the Afghan-exit nightmare.

No aid

There is no alternative to BRI for smaller countries. Gone are UNCTAD (UN conference on Trade and Development) or Lester Pearson’s trade, not aid, days. Countries are fighting for economic survival.  Like it could not stop BRI in other countries, India can’t stop CPEC.

Kashmir is not an intractable problem. Soon, India will have to revert to its foreign secretary Jagat S Mehta’s Kashmir proposals (soft borders). Trade across divided Kashmir, was agreed by India and Pakistan’s Musharraf within Mehta’s framework. It flourished until Modi recently stopped it to convert Kashmir into a veritable prison.. Mehta’s proposals are contained in his article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (quoted in Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press). India’s sovereignty mantra is a hoax to disguise its weak case on Kashmir and Arunachal Pradish.

WTO and BRIC

China’s role under World Trade Organisation and in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) would force India to shun its spurious repugnance to BRI. In 1990, BRIC countries accounted for 11% of global gross domestic product (GDP), by 2014 nearly 30%. These countries are not a political alliance, like the European Union or a formal trading association. Yet they have power as an economic bloc.

By 2050 (with China as a sole hegemon), these economies, including India, would be wealthier than most of the current major economic powers. Columbia University established the BRICLab, where students examine foreign, domestic, and financial policies of BRIC members. China and India are destined to become the world’s dominant suppliers of manufactured goods and services by 2050. Brazil and Russia will become dominant suppliers of raw materials. BRIC expanded to include South Africa as the fifth nation in 2010.

Writing on wall

Advice to India

India’s ambition to dominate the Indian Ocean does not augur well for the region. It should let Indian Ocean remain the zone of peace.Besides, India should mend its fence with Pakistan, sincerely support BRI and BRIC, or economically perish.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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South Asia

Looming Humanitarian Crisis – Millions May Die in Afghanistan

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A mother and her child in the Haji camp for internally displaced people in Kandahar, Afghanistan. © UNICEF Afghanistan

There is a dire need for massive funds transfer to Afghanistan in present circumstances where banks and businesses have collapsed, the hunger crisis is also rising while the prices of basic commodities like shelter, fuel, and food have increased. There is a clear warning from World Health Organization (WHO) that within one year over 3 million children may suffer from malnutrition. UN World Food Program has also issued multiple warnings of deteriorating food insecurity in Afghanistan. The Winter season will also become too risky for the survival of one million children as the temperature will drop to an extremely low level. 

There are numerous cases of acute shortage of money, where families are compelled to even sell their babies and daughters as child brides. Public hospitals are facing a shortage of medical equipment; the nurses and doctors are not paid prompting them to quit. The majority of Afghans want to move to other countries for life security and a better future. Heavy human traffic from Afghanistan has gathered on borders with Iran and Pakistan. UNHCR has called on authorities of Afghan neighboring countries to cease the forced return of Afghans, noting that many of them may require refugee protection.

The private sector, which works for the progress of the country, has halted due to uncertainty. There is a serious and shocking analysis by UNDP that by July next year 97% of the Afghan population may fall under the poverty line. Millions of people are living hand to mouth and will face harsher economic crises due to troubling economies. 

Even $1.29 billion aid, recently announced from US and EU for Afghanistan & its refugees living in surrounding countries cannot solve the economic crisis permanently. This aid will only be able to postpone the human disaster for some time but it is not a permanent solution.

The world’s best economists are constantly warning that the present economic situation will lead to anarchy and chaos in Afghanistan. Abdallah Al Dardari, UNDP’s Afghanistan head, said, “I’m comparing Afghanistan with Venezuela, Lebanon, and so on; we haven’t seen such an immediate, abrupt drop”.

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the first step by the Biden administration was to freeze the $9.5 billion foreign reserves. Taliban recently called on the US delegation in Doha for the unconditional and immediate unfreezing of Afghanistan’s financial assets.

IMF has also warned that this year Afghan economy will get contracted to 30%. During Ghani’s government, US aid accounted for 75% of the government budget and 45% of the country’s GDP. The majority of sectors of Afghanistan were run by foreign aid including a majority of public-sector jobs in the medical, teaching, policing, and legal sectors.

From the last few months, the life of millions of daily wagers/ working class has become hopeless. They gather in various downtowns for the sake of work but as the construction industry has halted so they get back without getting any work. They are unable to buy food for themselves and their families and live miserable lives. Another fact of the matter is that Afghanistan has long been dependent on imports of basic utensils.

In Ashraf Ghani’s government, the Afghan economy was fragile because of poverty and corruption. Customs, administration, and traffic officers, who have gone unpaid for months, are asking for more bribes. Things have become highly disorganized in all segments of the country.

Taliban have placed withdrawal limits on currency ranging from 200-400$ per week to counter complete currency collapse. Taliban have appealed to fill its billions of dollars vacuum from Qatar, Turkey, Pakistan, and China. Taliban are also pressing the US for the release of its frozen funds and they think that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is increasing as a result of their frozen funds. Afghans are facing a shortage of crucial goods due to trade disruptions and the collapse of financial services which have supplemented traders’ woes that depend on U.S. dollars and bank loans for imports. Issuance of sanctions’ exemption, by the Biden administration at the end of September to ease out the process of aid, is still not enough.

Afghan interim government has to find the best economic team from inside and outside the country which should be able to bring some fruitful strategies and planning to solve this economic crisis. The International community needs to come together to join hands with the Afghan interim government to avoid the worst-case scenario in Afghanistan. The international community should also play its role in bringing “explicit humanitarian exemptions” for the delivery of aid to prevent a “catastrophe”.  Watchdogs like UNSC and the US government should do their utmost to raise the living standards of the Afghan people.

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South Asia

What ails Modi’s relations with its own people and neighbours?

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The veneer of “democracy” cloaks “autocratic and hypocritical” style of Modi’s government. Modi first tried every Machiavellian trick to suppress the farmers’ protest movement against the three farms laws. He tied to sow seeds of discord among them by portraying them as “Khalistani” through a multitude f fake social media accounts.  He then tested the protester’s patience by letting the movement linger on for a years. He allowed police to beat them mercilessly. Tried to turn the Supreme Court hostile to them. And finally a farmer was mowed down under a vehicle (Lakhimpura incident).  About seven hundred farmers including some women lost their lives. But, Modi shrugged off the claim saying their deaths were due to natural causes. He kept insisting that the laws were enacted for farmers’ welfare. And they would repent their repeal. The farmers saw through the ruse and stayed put. The laws were finally withdrawn without any discussion. This gesture strengthened the opposition’s allegation and farmers’ perception that the laws were meant to surreptitiously benefit the crony capitalism (Adanis, Ambanis, et al).

Modi deprived the disputed Jammu and Kashmir of even its nominal statehood without caring a fig for sentiments of the common man or the politicians. He is unwilling to repatriate the Occupied Kashmir widows or wives of so-called militants. Instead of repealing draconian laws, he is killing innocent Kashmiris in fake encounters (Hyderpora encounter being the latest). In 1990s, India’s reign of terror forced large number of Kashmiri natives to cross over into the Azad Kashmir.  India launched operation ‘Sadbhavana’ to lure back the refugees. Some refugees even married the Azad Kashmiri nationals.  Those who returned mostly wives or divorcees had been suffering immeasurably being without nationality documentation. Indian government could have deported them back to Azad Kashmir. But, India flouted its own promise of rehabilitation and international norms by denying them nationality.  Defying restrictions, hundreds of wives protested in Srinagar and held a press conference (November 21, 2021) to highlight their plight. Modi is unwilling to repatriate the widows or wives. Be it observed that Pakistan immediately returns innocent border crossers back to India.

Modi imposed a corrupt friend (Patel) as governor of Lakshadweep (32 square kilometers), a predominantly Muslim archipelago of 36 islands (10 of which are uninhabited). It is sparsely populated with population of 63000, growing at about six per cent against national average of 17 percent.

The governor issued many orders which were perceived as anti-Muslim. For instance, no-one could slaughter a cow without a permit but liquor was allowed in all the islands ostensibly to promote tourism. The government could acquire any piece of land from inhabitants in national interest.  The isles are in COVID grip and the people used to airlift the sick to nearby Kerala. The governor ordered that no sick shall be flown out without the governor’s permission. The people interpreted the governor’s move s as an effort to impair their life style and links with Kerala. He wanted to facilitate the isles link with Mangalore (Karnataka). The islanders are convinced that the Centre is trying to depopulate the island and convert into a naval base. Within framework f QUAD, the Modi government wants to strengthen “Chagos-Lakshadweep-Maldives choke”.

India’s volatile North East

At the time of partition, India was in grip of countless insurgencies and separatist movements (Dravidstan, Khalistan, Bodo, Nagas and Mizos). It is still a simmering cauldron. India’s north east was a porous border. Through deceit, coercion, and financial incentives, India mellowed some of the insurgencies. Ambushes and confrontations still take place in some north eastern states. Indian bowed to insurgents’ demands for the creation of new states. And, insurgency leaders became chief ministers! India forgot yesteryear when they used to burn to ashes copies of the Indian constitution and uproot rail tracks. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland and East Punjab merged into the Union.” India has become synonymous with a thousand insurgencies waged by mysterious outfits, known only by their acronyms. It has become synonymous with grandiose announcements by successive prime ministers of many thousand crore packages that disappear without trace, leaving a handful of political brokers very rich. And in the Indian bureaucracy, a posting in the Northeast is treated on par with incarceration in Siberia” (Swapan Dasgupta, India’s Siberia, Rediff dated October 2004).

Neighbourhoods

Pakistan

Modi‘s “might is right” style is conspicuous from India’s policies towards her neighbours. India’s former foreign secretary Shyam Saran (How India sees the World) thinks none of the disputes with Pakistan are intractable. They were almost solved except for lack of political will to sign the final draft deals. To pander to the galleries, India’s home minister Amit Shah roared in Parliament that “Aksai Chin and POK (Azad Kashmir) are part of India. And we would lay down our lives to get them back”.

Nepal

To topple KP Sharma Oli’s government, Indian embassy in Nepal had been bankrolling corrupt politicians and other members of Nepalese society. Oli was ultimately ousted by Supreme Court of Nepal and appointed the new prime minister until the next elections. Oli

debunked India’s conspiracies during a ceremony to commemorate sixty-ninth anniversary of the Party’s popular leader Madan Bandari. He claimed, `Conspiracies were being plotted against him since the constitutional Nepali map amendment’.  No-one thought that a prime minister would be removed from office for printing a map’.

Be it observed that Nepal amended its map when its objections fell flat on India. India’s defense minister Rajnath Singh, went ahead to inaugurate an 80-kilometer-long road connecting the Lipulekh Pass in Nepal with Darchula in Uttarkhand (India). Indian army chief insinuated that Oli was being prodded by China against India.

After being ousted by the Nepalese Supreme court, Oli continued to criticise India’s machinations. Inaugurating the 10th general convention of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) in Chitwan, Oli claimed if his party comes back to power it will “take back the disputed territories such as Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek from India through dialogue”. The Lipulekh pass is a far western point near Kalapani, a disputed border area between Nepal and India. Both India and Nepal claim Kalapani as an integral part of their territory — India as part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district and Nepal as part of Dharchula district. (‘Will ‘take back’ Kalapani, Lipulekh from India, If…’ KP Sharma Oli. One India, November 27, 2021).

Maldives

Indo-Maldivian relations are no longer hunky-dory. They are rather in a state of flux. India reneged on contract to supply a hundred thousand doses of corona virus vaccines to Maldives. So did India despite that fact that it views the current president Solih as pro-India as compared to Yameen the previous president. India withheld supplies thoughMaldives had already paid the cost.  In perhaps a tit-for-tat, Maldives banned all Indian tourists including films stars.

Fluid political situation in Maldives

There is a widespread impression in Maldives that India has subjugated the country’s sovereignty through a host of treaties. The present president Solih is perceived as an Indian stooge. People resent granting immunity to Indian forces in Maldives and allowing construction of military infrastructure. The subsurface resentment led to “India out” social media campaign. The Indian High Commission became terrified of the ferocity of the protests. And, it sent a note verbale to the Maldivian government for protection of its staff.

President Solih is up against opposition from within his party. Through a tweet, Nasheed, the former President and at present Parliament Speaker, has highlighted corruption scandals against President Mohamed Solih9 (‘ventilator-import scam). Nasheed tweeted “I see the government colluded in this… I do not want the MDP to stand by a government that steals,” adding that he would ‘not budge’ against attempts to put a lid over the scandal.  He alluded to the Health Ministry  MVR 34.50 million (US$ 2.2 million) contract to Dubai-based Executors General Trading to procure 75 ventilators. The Auditor General’s office found out that nearly 90 percent of the contracted amount was paid in advance without any ‘performance guarantee.’ It was found that only 15 of the 75 ventilators were received.

The ruling party’s internal rift portends that it may be ousted in next general elections. Mr. Nasheed is likely to put himself as a presidential candidate. Already, the -ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) could not sweep the municipal elections. It  secured 43 percent of all seats, with opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) having won 34.9 percent.

Bangladesh

India is not sincere even with Bangladesh. At India-Bangladesh Business Forum, in Delhi, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina expressed grief (Oct 4, 2019) on the onion crisis in her country. Hasina taunted, `We are facing crisis on the onion issue. I don’t know why you have banned onion export. Maine cook ko bol diya ab se khana mein pyaaz bandh kardo. (Indian Government had banned export of Onions on September 29).

India is the biggest supplier of onions to Bangladesh, which buys a yearly average of more than 350,000 tons. India abruptly slapped a ban on onion exports to Bangladesh. Following the export ban, onion prices in Bangladesh jumped by more than 50 per cent, prompting the government to procure supplies from elsewhere.

In retaliation, Bangladesh’s involved the Chinese in a proposed $300 million project in the downstream of Teesta River.

India claims that Bangladesh is her close strategic and economic friend within its `Look East, neighbour’s-first policy”. But, the history of broken promises indicates that India looks to its own interest. A raft of issues from water disputes to religious tension mask mistrust in the relationship.

India backed out of its agreement (December) with Bangladesh to supply 30 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by Oxford University in cooperation with the Pune-based Serum Institute of India. The Institute announced that India had barred Serum from selling doses on the private market until everyone in India had received the vaccine.

Later, Salman F. Rahman, a Cabinet minister and co-founder of the Beximco Group, a Bangladeshi conglomerate, took over the responsibility to distribute three million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Bangladesh.

Concluding remark

Modi government is insincere not only in dealing with its own people but with also its neighours. 

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South Asia

China’s rise in power and India’s rise in fear: Strategic hedging amidst growing threat

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modi xi jinping sco

India, the nation long being under colonial oppression started its journey of foreign policy with the ideology of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s Non-Alignment; abstaining from taking sides of the bipolar power blocs and securing its newly gained national sovereignty and independence. But soon after, it realised the crux of surviving in the internationally interlinked world that the countries were fast approaching towards. Therefore, in 1971, India joined hands with the Soviet Union in a Treaty of Friendship, but with the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991 and the United States emerging as the sole superpower, India felt back into the state of isolation and helplessness.

As the famous saying goes on to say “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, India soon learnt from its mistakes to not put all its might and trust into one entity as concepts such as ‘trust’ and ‘no strings attached’ are non-existent elements of global politics and international relations.

Today, the 21st century is largely seen as an ‘Asian century’, the century where Asia’s burgeoning economy and demographic dividend will make it rise to everyone’s notice and be the talk of the center stage. This is what is envisioned by experts and to no surprise it is what is slowly molding to be the fact; a fact that is greatly favoring the People’s Republic of China.

Despite the pandemic’s birth from Wuhan and the global economic stagnation in 2020, China managed to log 2.3 percent growth for 2020, becoming the only major economy that grew during a year when the virus exacted a devastating global toll (Gerry Shih, 2021). This shows the success rate of the country into turning its far-sighted ‘China Dream’ a reality. It is of no surprise that the rise of China is rampant, aggressive in some instances, strategic and far-sighted into changing the existing world order; posing a threat to the rest of the major power houses today.

India, being the largest rival neighbour to China has a lot at stake, for which it has shifted its foreign policy from hedging for to strategically hedging against the collective threat imposed by China. Contemporary geopolitical and strategic circumstances present a multifaceted challenge to India’s foreign policy, with regards to its neighbourhood, border and the Indian Ocean region, for which incorporating a pragmatic realpolitik approach is the need of the hour.

What balancing China means is to strengthen India’s capacity and linkages in order for it to be well-equipped to counter Chinese aggression. India has been working towards this aspect in the following ways-

-India has embarked on its own “Diamond Necklace” policy to counter China’s ‘String of Pearls’ through which it is building ports in strategic points such as Singapore, Indonesia, Oman, Seychelles and Iran and strategically cooperated with Mongolia, Japan, Vietnam and the Central Asian regions.

-India-Russia and Indo-Pak relations although sour, have been tried to reconcile in the recent past as maintaining a somewhat cordial relationship with China’s ally should be one of India’s priority as both the nations are militarily heavy. India has built its defence cooperation with Russia and Putin recently told that “there is no contradiction in the relationship with India”, giving it a stronger tie. Russia has also managed to show great support to India during its fight for Pandemic. Maintaining this cordial relationship is of great benefit to both and is a way towards balancing relations.

-In addition to all this, what is more important today to withstand international threat is the coming together of like-minded states that are willing to support each other and target China with a common motive. India has therefore, signed bilateral and multilateral agreements on different fronts to achieve its hedging goals, which will be further looked upon ahead in the paper

-Along with external ties, India needs to be well-equipped domestically as well by building up its defence capabilities. It is here that India’s ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) initiative plays importance.

However, on the flip-side, India cannot manage independently without China. The two being giant players in Asia with the two largest populated countries in the world and more so, being geographically in close proximity and economically dependent on each other, it is inevitable for them to have zero contacts. Therefore, whilst battling China’s String of pearls and border disputes, India must also be wary of having a middle ground with China wherein it can conduct its peaceful coexistence and continue its trade relations.

Overall, it can be said that New Delhi’s policy of strategic hedging works on a mode of attempting to find a modus vivendi with Beijing, while also slowly moving towards building security and political links with other regional and international powers as an insurgence against China. The Modi government has adopted a mixed strategy towards asymmetric rival China by maintaining a relationship of cooperation at the regional level (the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), competition at the regional level (Indo-Pacific), rejection of China’s unilateral initiatives (Belt and Road Initiative), and deterrence along the Himalayas and in the Indian Ocean (Manjeet S. Pardesi, 2021).

When the survival of a state is threatened by a hegemonic state or a coalition of stronger states, they seek to join forces with other states and establish an alliance to preserve its own independence by keeping in check the power of the other state. This is the Balance of threat theory (Stephen M, 1985), wherein the threat levels can be affected by geographical proximity, offensive power, and aggressive intentions and when all this is together met with one nation alone, the severity of forming coalition and strategically hedging speaks for itself.

The United States

If the rise of China poses a direct threat on someone, it is United States’ hegemony. US being the super power in the globalized multipolar world, while India being the largest democracy, an emerging economy and a key important player in Asia proves both the states to be in a mutually benefitting coalition.

The two biggest democracies have joined hands on various fronts such as pursuing the joint interest in freedom of navigation in the highly contentious South China Sea where China has shown a great deal of interest as well. The US recently has shown a shift in their focus to the Asia-Pacific region through its new policy of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its decision to station 2500 marines in Australia. This has been regarded by China, who staked claim over South China Sea, as a hedging strategy if not outright containment by the USA. In 2020, Indo-US ties have elevated to a “comprehensive global strategic partnership”. This has been a great achievement in India’s vision for development. Moreover, both the nations have successfully concluded three 2+2 dialogues, wherein USA reiterates to support India in defending its territorial sovereignty against the “greater threat”, referring to China. In addition to these, the highlights also follow the four foundational agreements between the two nations, which are – Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) and Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). The two nations have also released a Joint Statement on shared Indo-USA goals in the Asia-Pacific region. The developments so far have been quite beneficial on both sides and are a great strategic hedging handling on India’s part. And to top this policy of strategic hedging is the establishment of QUAD (Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue) between the four members- United States, Japan, Australia and India with their common vision of securing global order, liberal trading and freedom of navigation between the countries. The informal dialogue between these four nations has seen to be a driving force is curtailing a ‘rising China’.

Japan

India’s foreign policy is built on its three foundational pillars, which are security, economic development and status and Japan plays quite a significant role in all three aspects. This bilateral relation is of great benefit to India. Japan and India’s upward trajectory gives it a status of being ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’, transforming the relation into a ‘cornerstone of India’s Act East Policy’. The relationship between Asia’s largest democracies is deemed to be Asia’s fastest growing relationship as well. Japan was the first country with which India held its 2+2 ministerial level dialogue which along with military and defence talks, also shared concerns of China’s rise in the region.  As Japan acquires world class navy and high-tech capabilities; if the two countries continue to add concrete securities, a high hope is instilled in this strategic relationship of becoming a game-changer in Asia. The two countries have already deepened ties in the field of maritime defence and infrastructure such as the construction of India’s first high speed railway corridor between Mumbai and Ahmadabad.

Australia

The two nations have had a cordial relationship even before independence and continue to share common interests in trade, sustainable development, and student-to-student ties. It has been building its strategic partnership and recognizes India’s critical role in the Indian Ocean and therefore, the two nations are committed to working together to enhance maritime cooperation, along with engaging in a naval exercise called AUSIDEX since 2015. Trilateral engagements with crucial nations like Indonesia and Japan, deeper engagement with regional groups like the Indian Ocean Rim Association and East Asia Summit and the very efficient quadrilateral dialogue with Japan and US have all contributed in strengthening the ties between India and Australia. A cordial relation with Australia will help India in the long run as by 2027, India is expected to have world’s largest population and henceforth require the up-skilling of 400 million people. Australia is well-equipped to assist with this huge need for knowledge-sharing, education and skill development. The two countries also have enormous potential to build on their people-to-people links and thus their soft power influence (Parakkal, 2018). India is the third largest source of immigrants to Australia and the second largest source for skilled professionals. The pandemic is seen to have exacerbated Sino-Australian relations and this further strengthens Australia’s relations with India is managing China.

European Union

The recent past has seen a reboot in the relations between India and EU which have both embarked on the journey of resuming the long stalled talks on a free trade deal with an aim to strengthen their economic cooperation in the face of an increasing Chinese assertion.

In 2013, trade talks suspended between the two nations but today it rises together to hedge strategically amidst the pandemic. The nations aim to double the trade by 2030 which shows the optimism it withholds for the future endeavours.

In a speech, Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar highlighted how the pandemic has shown the necessity of diversifying supply chains, especially for the EU.  He says “Europe is looking at strategic autonomy, looking at a multipolar world, which is actually hedging its risk” (Jaishankar, 2021). This was told in the backdrop of repercussions faced by EU and more so, for the majority of the world for being overly dependent on China for trade. Glorifying on this aspect, India has an edge to build connections in the European world and sustain Chinese growth.

In addition to the trade boon, EU countries also signed the “Indo-Pacific Strategy” that aims to impose greater European influence in areas of Chinese superiority. Keeping this in hand, the two nations remain steadfast on building infrastructure across Europe, Asia and Africa in the name of “connectivity” partnership. It doesn’t brand it to be an “anti-Beijing” plotting, but a mere alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative of china, a way of disallowing Chinese investments.

Conclusion

Today it can be said that the world has come up together, galvanised in order to counter China in the changing world order. This pushback against China has been manifesting itself in multiple ways and in particular, by the regional players who have been successful in persuading more coordinated actions along the way so as to create a more stable balance of power in these highly tumultuous world that we live in.

The complex rivalry between India and China has led to hedging strategically by a mixed approach of cooperation, deterrence and balancing, which is seen to be working efficiently for India till now. After all, India’s ultimate aim is to build its own capabilities without overtly provoking China and silently transform itself to be a competition. To achieve this, India is building its relation with China’s neighbours such as South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, along with maintaining a cordial relationship with Russia and mending relations with Pakistan and ultimately gaining support from the western nations in strategic cooperation with a common aim.

It is evident today how China’s belligerent agenda on regional states has caused it a greater pushback with the unity of the rest of the world against it. The BRI is confronted with numerous fault lines, the Indo-Pacific is well-established, QUAD resurrected and various regional players are beginning to engage with each other much more cohesively.

The only concern that remains today is the growing influence China has over India’s neighbours through its ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ and its ‘aggressive wolf-warrior diplomacy’, for which India needs to make sure to make the neighbouring countries believe in the hidden agenda and bring unity with India in countering the spread and rise of China. India’s ‘vaccine-maitri’ initiative was a good way of handling the neighbourhood, but more needs to be done in this aspect.

The way forward is to accept each other’s legitimacy in certain aspects and hedge accordingly in others. Military escalation such as in 2020 Ladakh is to be prevented in order for both to maintain its relations. To paraphrase Deng Xiaoping (1988), “unless China and India are able to co-exist peacefully, “there will be no Asian century.”

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