US Secretary of State Colin Tillerson made some remarks on Wednesday disparaging China and flattering India, proclaiming a relationship between the United States and India befitting “the next century.” He praised India and the United States for their common democratic values and common vision, saying that the United States and India are stable forces, two beacons at two ends of the globe, as the world’s two largest democracies. He criticized China for not being responsible like India, alluding to the South China Sea and other places to ascribe damage to the international order. He said that although the United States seeks a constructive relationship with China, it can not develop a relationship of the US-India kind with non-democratic China.
Tillerson also said that US-India cooperation in the Indian Ocean – Pacific region will not make it a disorderly, conflict ridden one with predatory economics the way he believed and implied China was doing to the region through economic plunder.
There is a strong “US- India” color to the conversation at the present time when Tillerson is due to make his first visit as Secretary of State to India and Pakistan before the impending visit of United States President Trump to China. Tillerson’s “flattery (of India)” is to appease India because he has been to China twice, and Trump also chose to visit China first (between China and India).
Of course, Washington at this stage will indeed feel that New Delhi “is far closer than” than Beijing. This is mainly because China has risen, Its GDP exceeds 10 trillion dollars, and is the “bite behind the United States,” with all kinds of predictions about China’s GDP growth in the foreseeable future compared to that of the United States. Many American elite will be viewing China as the largest strategic competitor. In other words, the United States feels pressure from China.
India makes Washington feel much easier. India’s GDP is only a fifth of that of China,The first impression of a Westerner visiting India is a feeling of being in a “dirt and mess.” Most of them feel that India’s rise will have nothing to do with (will not affect) ” their own life”, so tend to exaggerate India’s potential. To the point of making Indians as comfortable as themselves. Praise for India as “the largest democracy”, is patronising, akin to adults touching a child’s head and blessing with pleasant words such as “you have great promise”.
There is an inevitability about the United States extending an olive branch to India. It is an idea that Washington conjures up in the wake of China’s rise. But now is not the Cold War era. The US India strategic approach is more imaginary than real, unless India follows Japan in becoming an ally of the United States, toes its strategy as a younger brother and obeys its commands. But New Delhi obviously would not want to put itself in that disadvantageous (position)..
The United States and China are the largest trading partners in the world. US India trade is less than 1/8 of US China trade. The number of American students studying in China is more than 10 times that in India. God only knows how long it will take America to reverse the scale of its cooperation with China and India. During the Cold War, there was no trade between the United States and the Soviet Union, so the United States can no longer reproduce the situation/pattern) of comprehensive opposition between the United States and the Soviet Union.
India has some nationalists who fantasise hysterically about “aligning with the United States against China”, but most of New Delhi’s elite knows that is unrealistic. China is a neighbor that India can not wish (move) away, and India maintains a friendly normal relationship with China which is more vital than its close relationship with the United States because the India-United States interaction cannot by any stretch make good the losses India would suffer from a deterioration in India-China relations.
For New Delhi, the most cost-effective way is to preserve its concord/rapprochement with Beijing on the strength of arbitrage from the pressure Washington faces as a result of China’s rise. This way not only will the two positives get added (reinforce each other), but New Delhi would retain the initiative. Once it falls prey to the United States’ moves to foster enmity with China, it will be reduced to hanging on to the coat tails of Washington (clasping its thigh), and pass from (possessing) strategic initiative to (being) strategically passive.
On this side of the Asia-Pacific, there is only Japan that is a “chummy buddy” with “total allegiance to Washington”, for even the two American allies, Korea and Australia have “live consciences”. India and China are neighbours that recently went through the Doklam crisis. New Delhi should remember how much force it had to expend. It absolutely cannot expend such strength repeatedly, (especially) in the service of American interests.
Then there is Pakistan too. If China and Pakistan join (hands) to counter India, this “go (wei chi chess)” board will become even more complicated.
Tillerson’s “a hundred years bonhomie” call to India is a pledge even less reliable, by far, than the youthful youngster’s professions of life-long love that fail to fly. If India really rises, India US relations will (necessarily) change. In fact, the strategic subtext of Tillerson’s (invocation) is an India that remains “poor for 100 years”, or to put it another way, it is that India will remain the “apple of the eye” ( “meat and potatoes.” ) of Washington so long as it remains poor.