China’s ongoing aggression and ambitions across the Indo-Pacific has caused India to move closer to the United States and Europe militarily and economically, according to Asian security experts.
China has tested India’s borders, threatened Taiwan’s democracy and made aggressive territorial claims in the region that have influenced India, calculus, the experts argued last week at the Brookings Institution online event.
Garima Mohan, senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund’s Indo-Pacific program, said China is India’s “consequential challenge.” While for decades Indian governments viewed the United States as the “spoiler,” Tanyi Madan, director of the India Project at the Project on International Order and Strategy, said Washington is now considered the “enabler.”
India’s determination to retain strategic autonomy “does not rule out alliances and partnerships,” C. Rajua Mohan, senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute in New Delhi, added. New Delhi has “major power ambitions like the U.S.” and wants to see a multi-polar Asia, rather than a region dominated by a single nation.
China’s bullying and threats has created “a new template” for India’s relations with the United States and Europe, he added. “The U.S. needs India too,” as both nations are interested “in producing a better order” for trade, development and security in the Indo-Pacific.
The “Quad,” the informal economic and security relationships India has with the United States, Japan and Australia, is an example of India working together with like-minded countries on critical issues.
Leaders from the four nations planned to meet last month, but the meeting was canceled after President Joe Biden had to head back to the U.S. early for discussions over raising the American debt ceiling to prevent a U.S. default. The leaders of the four nations were supposed meet in Sydney, Australia May 23.
Madan said questions for India include “how far and fast you partner with the U.S.,” and noted that Russia, which India has historically maintained a close relationship with, is drawing closer to China. Moscow remains India’s largest supplier of military weapons; France is second, several panelists said.
The jointly termed “no limits” partnership between Moscow and Beijing moved further ahead this week. The two nations signed a new set of economic agreements that will assist Russia, which is suffering under sanctions imposed following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
The closer relationship between China and Russia “is going to be a fault line” for India, said Madan.
“India-Russia has been very much part of that diversified portfolio” of security, trade and economic relations that New Delhi has pursued since independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, she added.
“You see a lot of convergence with the U.S.” and France on trade, technology and innovation, Madan said. But there are differences over the direction of New Delhi’s internal development and concern over its relative silence over the war in Ukraine.
Raja Mohan saw the differences arising from India’s policy that insists on non-interference by other nations in what New Delhi views as internal affairs. It’s a policy India has followed since 1948.
Although India’s outreach economically to Europe started several years earlier, the European Union’s “new recognition” in 2018 of India as an important nation has grown. The new ties also helped New Delhi develop national capabilities, Garima Mohan said. As a result of this greater engagement, she added: “Taiwan is discussed [as a serious security issue posed by China] like never before in Europe.”
Raja Mohan noted that India, now the largest nation in terms of population, could in the near future become the world’s third largest economy.
As India and the United States grow closer together, Madan said the two governments must explain why to their citizens and not hide the importance of the relationship.