(This editorial appeared in the English edition as well, on September 28, 2017 in a slightly modified form under the title “US should not determine India’s status in Asia”. The usual strikeout/italics format has been used below to afford a comparison between the two versions.)
US Defense Secretary James Mattis embarked on his New Delhi visit Tuesday, becoming the first cabinet-level official to go to India from US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Some Indian media outlets regard Mattis’ trip as evidence of Washington’s strategic attention to New Delhi. Some media are “excited” at “confirmation” of the strategic importance of India by Matiss’ trip. India’s International Business Times published an article with the headline “India-US ties slated for upgrade as Jim Mattis comes visiting: Bad news for Pakistan, China?”
The excitement shown by the Indian media is rather disappointing. Indeed, Washington is attempting to tie New Delhi to its chariot, but US intention cannot bring about India’s rise or act as a viable bargaining chip for India in handling its relations with China. India will have to rely on itself rather than a few weapons the US sells to it, for its ambitions.India needs to fly on its own (efforts), and not in the wrong direction.
Mattis aims to encourage India to play a larger role in the Afghanistan issue and meanwhile sell weapons to India. But Washington’s thinking of using India as a counterweight to China, and formulating a strong nationalist line with India, is a hide and seek relationship cleverer than any other.
The development of the US-India relationship is subtly connected to the development of the China-US and China-India relationship. But compared to New Delhi, Beijing is more determined and capable not to be manipulated when handling its relations with the two other countries. While Beijing has not considered India a factor in handling its ties with Washington, the Washington-New Delhi relationship has taken the need to contain China into account. In this transaction, the weaker party is destined to be a bargaining chip with the United States.
For Washington, the idea of China encircling India is a useful strategy to draw New Delhi to its side and an advertisement for American weapons. If India exerts itself addressing an alleged China threat, it will gradually evolve into a chess piece for the US and a source of funding for “America First.” This is not supposed to be the major power status that New Delhi is pursuing.
Washington is not going to do business at a loss. A $2 billion sale of Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial System drones that can be used for surveillance is reportedly the top priority of Mattis’ visit. India’s NDTV said that it would be “the first sale of an extremely sensitive US system under India’s major defense partner status.” According to the US, maritime security is a common interest due to Chinese aggression with submarines in the Indian Ocean. The sale of the updated F-16 fighter jets worth up to $15 billion also tops the agenda on Mattis’ trip. If New Delhi is incited to help Washington “balance” Beijing with these weapons, it will have a worrying financial condition and future.
Trying to join other powers to balance China will not be worth it for India ultimately. Because India can not deny the reality of China not only being its neighbor, but also the world’s fastest growing and most stable major power.
The lack of self-confidence is impeding India from sharing the development dividends of China’s Belt and Road initiative and depriving the country of the opportunity for development.
New Delhi’s status in South Asia and throughout Asia should not be determined by Washington’s China strategy. The peaceful solution to the Doklam standoff suggests that China and India have the capability to eliminate
exterior third party interventions and diplomatically handle crises.
India would be more mature and confident if it could view high-level exchanges with the US without regard for any perceived need to contain China.