The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on an Official State Visit to the United States from 21-24 June 2023. Official State Visit to US only occur when the President of the United States invites a foreign head of state for a formal visit. The invitation from the highest rank highlights the significance of this visit. While Washington and New Delhi have divergences over Moscow, the convergence of their interests are evident in their mutual antagonism towards Beijing and a shared long-term vision of the regional order.
Washington desires to advance ties with India while being indifferent to its cosiness with Russia to counter an increasingly assertive Chinese influence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The US’ invitation for the Indian PM, in this light, is to deepen ties with a country that also has hegemonic desires to ‘counterweight’ China in the region.
The recent visit by the Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, prior to Mr Modi’s visit to the US, also underscored boosting partnership with India in the backdrop of ‘coercive and bullying’ behaviour from China.
In order for India to counter influence and counterweight China in the Indian Ocean, commentators on Indian foreign policy suggest that the US should strengthening Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean. The objective of this support would be to disrupt China’s supply chain as this region is the main maritime route of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). While the proposal is commendable, it is miscalculated and out of the scope of Indian diplomatic and military endeavours. It appears that in a trap of mutual antagonism towards China, the US-India relations are caught up in mutual expectation trap too.
India is unable to counter active hostiles with China over territorial disputes at its northern border. This is where the highest stakes lie for India. In comparison, India has no active rivalry in the maritime domain, due to this, it is probable that India would neither counter China in the Indian Ocean nor the Pacific Ocean.
India is making its utmost efforts to resolve border tensions with China. For this purpose, India has taken three measures. Firstly, the Indian Army has trained its soldiers to contest in the rugged mountainous terrain of the north. Secondly, it is funding the construction of infrastructure in its underdeveloped northern region, which is still not comparable to the substantially vast developments by China along the border region such as highways, landing stripes and helipads. Thirdly, India has pursed diplomatic efforts to calm down rifts with the Chinese.
On border disputes with Pakistan and Nepal, India has acted with a strong vigour to spark further tensions. Whereas the case is opposite with China. India is rather inclined towards resolving issues with China as evident from several rounds of military talks between high officials of Chinese and Indian Army. China has undoubtedly pushed some of India’s buttons.
Furthermore, geographically, India is far from the Pacific Ocean, therefore, China in the Pacific Ocean does not pose a direct threat to India. Although India has been part of several defence drills and exercises in the Pacific Ocean led by the US, when the times comes to engage with China (maybe in Taiwan) militarily, India is likely to back out on the excuse of its non-alignment policy as highlighted in an article by Ashley Tellis.
Moreover, in order for India to have an influence in the Pacific and Indian Ocean, India would require a navy that is stronger than China’s. Presently, Indian Navy ranks 7th whereas Chinese Navy stands at 2nd just behind the US.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) delegation as the recent Shangri-La Dialogue asserted, “India’s military cannot challenge China as it is very ‘unlikely to catch up’ within the next few decades.” PLA delegation also highlighted that India’s current progress in defence and manufacturing is still weak and insufficient to counter Beijing. This shows why the US has stepped up its efforts to strengthen the defence and military sector in India. However, despite the upgrade of defence ties, after Mr Modi’s visit to the US, it seems an uphill battle to develop a martial plan for India that fortifies it to act as a counterweight to China.