Journal : Global Times (Chinese) Date : Author : HU SHISHENG Page No. : NA

(This Huan Qiu Shi Bao Editorial of the 15th in Chinese has been carried by the on-line English language Global Times today, December 17th, under the title “India’s changes attitude toward multilateral mechanisms for its global ambition”. The English version omits several sentences from the Chinese original. These are highlighted below in italics font, while words/phrases/sentences in the English version not in the Chinese original are shown below in strike-through format.) 

India’s mentality toward multilateral mechanisms has been changing. The trend is particularly obvious this year.

On the one hand, New Delhi hopes to become a leading force to reshape the current international order, and does not want to be “dwarfed” by other countries, especially China, on global governance issues. On the other hand, its multilateral diplomacy has increasingly become pro-West and Sinophobic. India is less interested in multilateral mechanisms where China plays a leading role. And even accelerated its integration into U.S.- and Western-led multilateral mechanisms that exclude China’s multilateral or regional mechanisms.

There are multiple reasons behind the shift, but a most significant one is that the country is changing its identity.

To begin with, India wants to play a leading role. On the multilateral stage, New Delhi is gradually abandoning its previous postures of balanced diplomacy that successive Indian governments played in their foreign strategies during 1998-2014, i.e., it does not want to be a passive “geostrategic pawn” in the games of other powers. Instead, it has increasingly emphasized the pursuit of “world leadership” in the new international order, especially in the reshaping of the regional order. To this end, the Modi government has also reinterpreted “strategic autonomy” as “maintaining strategic autonomy in choosing allies”.

Since the outbreak of the new epidemic, the Modi government has held high the banner of “rules-based, transparent and reformed multilateralism”, saying that the epidemic has exposed the inadequacy of existing governance mechanisms, weaknesses stemming from the U.S.-China games and the necessity of reform of existing global and regional governance mechanisms, such as the United Nations, WHO, WTO and other international institutions. This with an eye on India playing a leadership role, even believing that India will “determine the future of multilateralism” (words of Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar).

To highlight its position as a leading force, New Delhi is increasingly unwilling to let China play an important role in any multilateral mechanism. India tends to disrupt China’s agenda in multilateral mechanisms with the excuse that China’s agenda cannot represent developing countries’ interests. In reality, it is in the service of forging a “leadership role” for India.

Clearly, India wants to prevent multilateral mechanisms from boosting China’s rise. In the BRICS and SCO, India rarely makes efforts to promote internal unity, but tries to dismantle aspects of them from within.

India also pulls out of deals/mechanisms that it cannot play a dominant role or are conducive for other major powers for taking a “leading” role, especially China.. For example, the Modi administration has withdrawn from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations at the end of 2019, seeking instead to actively build a “flexible supply chain alliance” with Japan, Australia and the United States.

Moreover, India wants to be the leader of the developing countries.

Since China became the second-largest economy in 2010, many developed countries have clamored to refuse China’s status as a developing country. India therefore hopes to replace China to become the leader of developing countries. New Delhi believes this is a natural return because India was respected as a leader of developing countries during the Nehru era.

China and India used to cooperate in the UN Climate Change Conference, the Doha Round of WTO negotiations, the World Bank and the IMF voting reform and other issues and work together to promote an international political and economic order that would be fair and benefit developing countries. But in recent years, the favorable atmosphere for China-India cooperation on multilateral occasions has gradually faded. The widening gap between the two countries’ development has led to growing differences in their demands the interests of the two countries manifesting themselves more and more and gradually eroded the foundation of China-India multilateral cooperation, especially on matters such as regional and global governanceFor example, at the BRICS summits in recent years, India has increasingly emphasized the “developing country character” of its trilateral cooperation with Brazil and South Africa, intentionally distancing itself from China.

Additionally, India wants to be the net security provider of the Indian Ocean.

Based on the unique geographical advantages, especially India’s unique geographical location and geopolitical advantages in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, Indian elites generally have a “Monroe Doctrine” complex regarding South Asia and even regard the Indian Ocean as its exclusive pondAs early as during Obama’s first term, the U.S. made it clear that India is not only the strategic “pivot point” of the “Asia-Pacific rebalance”, but also the “net security provider in the Indian Ocean” (i.e. the “Indian Ocean police).

With the continuous advancement of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, New Delhi feels it is difficult to maintain a dominant position in the region by itself. To this end, it has been building its own multilateral development mechanism in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region and worked hard to align itself with the US Indo-Pacific strategic framework.

India has also taken the lead in planning small-scale multilateral cooperation mechanisms in the Indian Ocean. For example, in September, India, France and Australia held the first trilateral dialogue to enhance strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. The three sides have agreed to hold annual dialogues. The Indian media also revealed that the three countries intend to sign a trilateral logistics agreement. In the same month, the Indian media revealed that India was actively engaged with Australia and Indonesia to hold a Foreign Ministerial dialogue and prepare for a “2+2” dialogue between Foreign Ministers and Defense Ministers. Australian Ambassador to India O’Farrell called on the three countries to become “guardians of the Indian Ocean region”.
Lastly, India wants to be a member of the so-called value alliance.
India describes itself as the largest democratic country in the world. It believes it has many connections with American and Western value systems.  In October, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar claimed that India is a “Southwestern country,” meaning to emphasize that India is both a country of the South (a developing country) and a “quasi-Western country” that shares “democratic values” with the United States and the West. Based on this, Indian political elites naturally tend to stand with the US and the West to launch an ideological offensive against China.
Indian elites tend to believe that multilateral cooperation with like-minded countries is bound to achieve long-term progress be “stable and far-reaching”. In India’s view, China is its top geopolitical competitor. Ergo, even China-India cooperation on development and international issues is not enough to change this fact. This explains why India has lost enthusiasm for small-scale multilateral mechanisms where China plays an important role and is more interested in promoting multilateral mechanism with the US and the West.
(The author is Director of the Institute for South Asian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.)
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