A view in New Delhi’s strategic circle argues that China benefited greatly from its engagement with the US from 1972 to around the year 2000, and thus, India should learn from China to use the US chariot to achieve its own development.
There is no problem at all for New Delhi to strengthen its economic ties with Washington, as the US remains the world’s largest economy today. But there is a big difference between the India-US proximity now and China and the US moving close back then.
First, Beijing and Washington began their cooperation partly to jointly confront the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. The US almost had no economic exchanges with its then-rival, the Soviet Union. But now the Cold War has been long over, and China is not the new Soviet Union. China is still quite close with the US, especially economically. The large scale of trade between the two countries is self-evident.
Second, after China-US relations were normalized and Beijing and Washington began economic cooperation, many of the US’ low- and medium-end industries were transferred to China. But now, the US domestic manufacturing is facing a state of hollowing out. Washington now wants to bring the manufacturing back. It does not have much to transfer to New Delhi.
From 1972 to 2000, China and the US approaching each other objectively alleviated China’s security pressure, allowing China to concentrate more resources on economic construction. However, New Delhi’s approach to Washington today will do more harm than good to India’s security and economy.
In terms of security, India wants to take advantage of the US, but the US is also seeking to make use of India to contain and confront China. This will inevitably intensify the China-India confrontation, requiring India to invest more in the military field. As a result, it will squeeze India’s resources for economic development, which is not beneficial for New Delhi.
With the continuous rise of emerging economies, the US’ national strength is declining. Many actions of the US are based on its own interests. India now wants to get on the US chariot, but the present-day US no longer has the international status it had during the Cold War.
If there is a military conflict between China and India, the US will at best provide India with political and diplomatic aid, as well as weapons and intelligence. New Delhi must understand that Washington will not fight a war with Beijing for the sake of India. India will have to bear the price itself if it starts a military conflict with China.
India needs to understand that what India is facing is China, a country that currently plays the role the US played in the 1980s and 1990s.
When China started opening-up to the US, the US was a huge economic engine in the world, which objectively pushed China’s development. However, China is now the world’s second-largest economy, and it has regained its position as the top trading partner of India in 2020, while the US is in a phase of relative decline.
India’s approach to the US today and its resistance to Chinese investment have a great impact on the Indian economy. China’s all-round opening-up at that time was not limited to the US; it was open to all countries and regions. India’s current approach to crack down on China’s investment to get closer to the US has damaged India’s investment environment.
If the opportunity of achieving economic growth is missed, it will be very detrimental to India’s development. India will lose a historic opportunity to become a powerful country.
Therefore, the most sensible choice for India is to stick to traditional strategic thinking, which is keeping a balance. It’s no problem to have a good relationship with the US, but it cannot be done at the expense of the relationship with China.
New Delhi has made major mistakes in its strategic judgment of Beijing, perceiving that the latter has the intention of threatening it. However, if India continues with such a misunderstanding, it will spend a lot of economic resources on confrontation with China, which will hinder its own rise.
The author is a senior research fellow with the Academy of Regional and Global Governance at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, and president of the Chengdu Institute of World Affairs.