Recently, India’s foreign policy has shown clear signs of adjustment: first, it is moving closer to the United States and Japan, and the possibility of raising India-US relations to the level of quasi-alliance is not ruled out any longer; second, it has become tougher on China in border disputes, actively implementing a “new forward policy”; third, India is more proactive in playing the “Taiwan card” against China. These significant policy changes have affected relations between India and China and (their respective relations with) some of their neighboring countries, and border confrontations and conflicts have occurred from time to time, not excluding extreme incidents. Behind these adjustments, are three major changes that Indian foreign policy has undergone since the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) assumed power in 2014, .
The first change occurred after the Indian Party came to power in 2014
Compared with the National Congress Party, the BJP puts more emphasis on the profile of Hinduism, nationalism and national interests. On the one hand, the BJP seeks to practise a “Great Power Strategy” and strives to realize India’s great power dream. And, for this reason, began to move away from the Non-Aligned Movement, and changed the ” balanced multilateral strategy” of the past, of equidistance from the major powers, to a new strategy of “multilateral alliances”, seeking to develop closer relations with all countries, especially the major powers, regardless of conflicting interests among the big countries. On the other hand, the BJP is also more proactive on the question of China policy. Soon after assuming office, Indian officials proposed to the Chinese side that China should adhere to the “One India” principle, just like India adheres to the “One China” principle. Under the “One India” principle, China was expected to accept India’s occupation of Southern Tibet and recognize India’s actual control of the Jammu-Kashmir region. After China declined these new demands of India, India began to make small moves on the border and on Taiwan related issues. A serving senior official from Taiwan was invited to attend “Vitality Gujarat”, the world’s largest investment promotion conference.
India also became extremely “active” in border disputes. Before Premier Li Keqiang visited India in 2013, there was a large-scale confrontation between China and India. However, the National Congress Party was in power at that time, and the two countries could end the confrontation before the visit. In 2014, India tried again to use the opportunity of a major diplomatic event to make tangible gains. After the Chinese refused, India simply carried on with the standoff, largely undermining the atmosphere and outcome of the summit diplomacy between China and India. After U.S. President Trump came to power in 2017, India once again saw it as an opportunity for the development of India-US relations. The confrontation between China and India in Donglang in 2017 took place in this background. Not only was this a serious border dispute that pulled down China-India relations to a new low, it was actually a strategic test for India.
The second adjustment occurred after setbacks and rebounds in India-US relations
After India deviated from the traditional principle of neutrality and non-alignment policy, it soon faced new challenges. On the one hand, although the United States has worked hard to win over India, its stymeing and suppression of India have not stopped. Especially in the big and small trade wars launched by the Trump administration, India has not been given concessional treatment, which has hurt India’s face. On the other hand, the rapid approach of India and the United States towards each other also made Russia, India’s traditional strategic partner, dissatisfied, and once led to a warming trend in relations between Russia and Pakistan. Under these circumstances, India adjusted its foreign policy, shifting from the United States to the direction of multilateral balance. In April 2018, the leaders of China and India held their first informal dialogue in Wuhan. In the following June, Indian Prime Minister Modi kept a distance from the US “Indo-Pacific Strategy” in his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and reiterated India’s independent diplomatic tradition. In this policy atmosphere, despite some frictions between China and India, the leaders of the two countries still had a second informal dialogue at the end of 2019. China and India worked together to find a new communication channel for China-India relations.
The third adjustment took place against the background of the epidemic and continued deterioration of Sino-US relations.
Since China put forward the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, the “Chinese factor” in India’s foreign policy has continued to rise and has become the dominant factor in India’s foreign policy. At present, the epidemic has caused India to face severe economic and social difficulties in the country, which can get transformed into political pressure against the ruling party. This led to the political motivation of the Indian Government to use diplomatic contradictions internationally to ease domestic pressure. At the same time, the deteriorating Sino-U.S. relationship has given India a new “opportunity.” On the one hand, India took the opportunity to shift to the United States and its allies, and continuously deepened its relations with the United States, Japan and other countries, with the intention of using strategic choices to promote economic development. On the other hand, India has changed its traditional policy based on the principle of “maintaining peace and tranquility in the border areas” and replaced it with a new policy that uses its geographical and human resources advantage to pressurise China in a bid to force China to make concessions.
There is no problem in reorganizing domestic and foreign resources in order to maximize one’s national interests. But for large countries, the complex, diverse and diverse nature of national interests also makes the calculations about policies more complicated. Policy choice is the way to choose, and there is no policy choice without cost. In the short term, there are many problems between China and India, and some contradictions still are very acute. India’s policy of suppressing China together with other countries might seem reasonable. But, in the medium and long term, the triple attributes of China and India as developing countries, neighboring countries, and large countries will not change whatever the short-term policy choices.
From a historical point of view, no matter how acute the contradiction is at the moment, the relationship between neighbors must be stabilized, because there is no choice in respect of “relationship with a neighbor”. If you want to develop yourself well, the best choice for China and India is still a competitive partnership. Hostility or even direct conflict will not benefit China and India, but will only disrupt the pace of development of the two countries. In this sense, India’s policy adjustments still have room for readjustment.
(The author is the Director and Professor of the South Asian Research Center of Fudan University)