India’s China policy signals a shift post-Galwan
India-China ties will undergo rapid transformation with the narrative of China as a partner taking a backseat in India’s official parlance in the post-Galwan period.
The Galwan valley incident is the most violent clash to have taken place along the India-China border since 1975, and it marks a strategic shift in India’s perception of China. For long, India has approached China judiciously and tried to promote a ‘developmental partnership’ that dictates cooperation through both bilateral and multilateral engagements, aiming to benefit from each other’s association as emerging economies. Following the Galwan incident, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has stated that this “unprecedented development will have a serious impact on the bilateral relationship” between the two nations.
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Post-Galwan, a renewed thrust on India’s part to move away from its ‘China Connect’ paradigm can be expected. The conflict has emerged as a black spot in the India-China rhetoric and signals a growing discomfort, despite diplomatic redressals, in the ties between the two nations.
Power-partner contention will change
The conventional notion that China’s rise is ‘peaceful’ is fast receding in India. The People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) aggressive posturing during the recent India-China border dispute – especially the skirmishes in Galwan valley – even as the Covid-19 pandemic was raging has blunted the notion of China as a trustful neighbour in India’s strategic imagination. The conventional approach of managing a relationship with China under a ‘power-partner’ contention will perhaps witness a permanent change: China is being perceived now more than ever as a power that threatens Indian security and sovereignty.
The Narendra Modi-led government has, since the Doklam stand-off between India-China in 2017, gradually realised that China’s strategic posturing is becoming increasingly hostile. In light of the latest dispute, this realisation can be expected to pave way for stronger defence and economic policy reorientations along nationalist lines. In other words, a combination of hard economic measures vis-à-vis China and the promotion of strong defence partnerships across the Indo-Pacific would gradually emerge as flagship points in India’s foreign policy.
The Indo-Pacific move
India has gradually begun to shift away from its principle of strategic autonomy: a greater push towards security and defence cooperation with like-minded countries, such as the US, Japan and Australia (its Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – Quad – partners) must be explored. India is already contemplating including Australia in the India-US-Japan trilateral naval Malabar exercise.
In the Indo-Pacific, India must continue to strengthen its strategic partnership with the US and its allies, without worrying too much about Chinese apprehensions of an Asian NATO. In view of improved ties with the US, its Comprehensive Global Strategic partner, India must now pay closer attention to the India-US alignment framework that would promote an alliance based understanding rather than promoting a power-partner contention with Beijing. This is likely to send a strong signal to China regarding the emerging regional and global environment. Similarly, India must also strengthen its ties with Beijing’s adversaries like Vietnam and the Philippines especially in an attempt to create stronger maritime connections in the contested South China Sea (SCS).
New Delhi must revisit the One China policy along the lines of reciprocity. China has not only openly threatened India’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests but also thwarted many of India’s foreign policy objectives including the NSG and a prospective permanent membership in the UNSC. India for its part has been sensitive to China’s concerns about Taiwan and Xinjiang; in contrast, China has relentlessly pursued its claims on Arunachal Pradesh and has not kept Indian sentiments in mind in responding to the India-Pakistan border dispute.
In the post-Galwan and the post-Covid order, the anti-China sentiment in India will increasingly rise. It is thus the time for a government-wide push to move supply chain dependency away from China: Modi’s self-reliant India and Make in India has the potential to emerge as fitting mechanisms to face a rising Chinese clout. Deciding to take a stronger call on Chinese tech-giant Huawei’s inclusion in India’s 5G trials is another area of reconsideration post-Galwan. More importantly, it is now time for India to carry out reforms and modernisation in the armed forces, such as in the areas of defence technology, high-technology surveillance, logistics and defence imports.
Post-Galwan, India-China ties will undergo rapid transformation with the narrative of China as a partner taking a backseat in official parlance. The idealistic notions of Sino-Indian brotherhood will disappear and be replaced by more realistic perceptions of their ties that put India’s national security and sovereignty concerns over any economic or partnership-driven global interests. A confrontational approach towards China will no longer be a hesitant measure in India’s China policy. Rather, Indian foreign policy will imbibe the necessary characteristics to form new alignments of powers that boost India’s emergence as a power in the Indo-Pacific, inching more towards alliance frameworks that the US is aiming to promote in the region.
Dr. Jagannath Panda is a Research Fellow and Centre Coordinator for East Asia at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. He is the Series Editor for “Routledge Studies on Think Asia”.