Article originally published in the Diplomat on April 27, titled: India: carefully walking the line between China and the U.S.?
Earlier this month, when Indian and U.S. Defence Ministers agreed in principle to sign the Logistics Safeguard Agreement to advance military relations, many in India wondered if the pact would push the country into an unnecessarily tight embrace with the United States. More importantly people were anxious to know how an increasingly confident China will deal with this closeness. In this context many people thought that the India-China high level meetings that followed soon after were to assuage Beijing. But the result was far from it.
Soon after American Secretary of Defence Carter’s visit to India, the Indian Defense Minister visited China, Indian and Chinese Foreign Ministers met in Moscow and later India’s National Security Adviser came to Beijing to participate in India-China border discussion….however, the Chinese did not harp about the India-U.S. logistics agreement.
Beijing’s decision to underplay the pact is interesting, because, even if only in a limited sense, the LSA does have a bearing on Chinese strategic calculations. The pact will institutionalize India-U.S. military activities, particularly between the navies.This will certainly help the U.S. Navy, which plans to deploy its surface ships in the Indo-Pacific in the near future As far as India is concerned, the technology it receives from the US will be important for the Indian Navy in maintaining the asymmetric advantage against China.
So, why isn’t China raising a hue and cry over this? There are two reasons: first, the agreement is still in its infancy. Second, the very expectation that China will go ballistic (and perhaps retaliate) is overblown. A tiny nation like Sri Lanka, where China has made multi-million dollar investments, has signed the LSA with the United States without so much as a pipsqueak from Beijing.
In the last few years, India has been very careful with Beijing, but to no gain. The regime in New Delhi understands this, and thus the Modi government is trying to present China with a more confident and self-assured face. However, India should be careful. If New Delhi wants to play the big game, then it is important to focus on the big picture and think from a larger perspective. Did it make sense to invest so much precious diplomatic bandwidth in China on Masood Azhar, important as it may be to pursue the case against him? On the contrary, India should really be paying attention to the undergoing large-scale advancement reform in the Chinese military. The PLA is making determined preparations not only for the next war but also to bolster the country’s aggressive economic forays abroad, through its ambitious One Road, One Belt project. India needs a credible response, especially for the Indian Ocean region
(Author Mayuri Mukherjee, Qiao Hengyi)