Although the Indian military has expressed its tough position, the Indian government remains hopeful that tensions could subside. India’s biggest crises lie at home with COVID-19 and economy putting considerable pressure on the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Due to India’s relatively weak medical system and infrastructure, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has been rising quickly. This is eroding Indian people’s faith and fostering mistrust of their government’s ability to manage the country effectively.
India should focus more on battling the epidemic, ensure economic growth, and stave off unemployment. India may take a tough stance to divert attention of its people. In this context of crises, it is impossible for India to engage in a military conflict or risk a war.
India is emphasizing “military options” in sharp contrast to China’s responsible call for communication to deal with differences. India’s tough stance toward China means there are divergences between the Indian government and the army. Indian military officials try to exaggerate the risk of the China-Indian border conflict in order to exert pressure on their government to allocate more military expenditures for weapon and equipment procurement.
China’s attitude, on the other hand, is completely consistent and crystal clear. China does not want conflicts with India to break out. It hopes to solve problems through peaceful negotiations. At present, the door for dialogue is open and the two countries are capable of managing and controlling the crisis under mutual efforts. There is no risk of war based on the attitude of both the Chinese and Indian governments.
India has been stepping up its military moves lately. It is reported that New Delhi will sign an important military logistics agreement, the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement, with Tokyo in September. New Delhi has already signed a military agreement with Canberra recently, and Australia reportedly will also be invited to participate in the Malabar naval exercises.
These actions might have an intention to contain China. But India’s muscular posture further hopes to attract more countries as part of its international image campaign to project power. However, it is aware of China’s national strength and will not take risks to confront a nuclear power rashly.
In general, India’s military strategy has deviated from the right path. India now hopes to have a good relationship with the US, build a quasi military alliance, and use the influence of Washington to check and balance Beijing in the Asia-Pacific region. But this approach is actually wrong. There can only be one hegemonic power in the Indian Ocean – the US will not really want to share this space with anyone, including India. Once India’s national and military strength enhances, contradictions between India and the US will eventually intensify.
But India won’t have such problem with China. In this respect, India should treat its relationship with China in a more objective and rational way. India has always been submissive to US’ hegemonic thinking and programs. But such compliance will turn India into a US pawn. The priority of India’s independent strategic choice should be properly handling relations with its neighboring countries. Military means won’t help, therefore, India should resort to communication, cooperation, and maybe also common development.
China and India have many common interests and they are complementary in terms of market and economic development. India should take advantage of the complementarities to improve its own competitiveness rather than bluffing. China and India should find more common ground. This is better in line with the development direction of the future Indian strategies. Therefore, by collaborating with the US’ strategy and even use US’ power to balance China, India will only go farther on the wrong path.
The author is a Beijing-based military analyst.