Will Competition with China Unite India and the U.S.?
By: Zahid Arya
At the height of the Covid–19 pandemic in 2020, Indian and Chinese soldiers engaged in physical conflict in the Galwan River region of Aksa, China. Many soldiers were killed or seriously injured as a result of falling off the mountainside. This conflict is considered to be one of the most significant since the 1962 war between India and China, in which India lost parts of the Ladakh highlands. Although there have been clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers since 1962, they have not been as noticeable as this one, as they were usually considered to be border skirmishes that were resolved after meetings between border commanders. This conflict is different, however, as since the beginning the Chinese have taken control of Indian lookouts and have prevented Indian soldiers from patrolling certain parts of the Galwan River. In the three years since the conflict began, India has lost control of 26 out of 65 zones in eastern Ladakh, and the Chinese army has established military bases in those areas.
At a time when the world is experiencing a new geopolitical polarization, the conflict is intensifying and the United States is at the top of the pyramid, attempting to bring together the powers of the region under one umbrella in order to reduce China‘s growing influence and prevent its expansion in the world so that it does not become a powerful force in global equations. To this end, the United States has created several agreements, such as the Australia, United States, United Kingdom Security Treaty (AUKUS) and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). AUKUS is a security and defense agreement between Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, designed to limit China‘s power in the Indo–Pacific region. QUAD, on the other hand, is a treaty between the United States, India, Japan, and Australia, which seeks to contain China in the Indo–Pacific region and the South China Sea. There are three reasons for the creation of QUAD. The United States, Australia, India, and Japan have all expressed an interest in upholding the rules and norms of the current order. To do this, they are reinforcing existing institutions, protecting freedom of navigation and trade, and encouraging economic development, connectivity, and security within the framework of existing laws and standards. Additionally, all four countries believe that the rise of China and the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a threat to them and the region. Australia and the United States are also concerned that China is attempting to establish a military base in the Pacific Ocean. As a result, these countries are attempting to create an alternative model for the loans that Beijing offers to the infrastructure projects of small countries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and to take the initiative away from China‘s Belt and Road Initiative in this region.
India, which has border disputes with China and is in geopolitical competition in the South Asian region, is interested in investing more in this pact. By doing so, India hopes to gain assistance in defense and technology from these countries, so that it can counter the increasing power of China in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, which India considers its backyard. This is because China has gained considerable influence in the region by providing large loans and creating economic corridors with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. India is concerned about the spread of this influence in its backyard, which could lead to more dependence of the region on China. This could result in India being politically blocked by China, and India‘s ambition of becoming a major power in South Asia being thwarted.
India has a long–term goal of becoming the sole superpower in South Asia, so that the major powers have their say in the region‘s affairs. To meet this challenge, India wants to engage with other countries that view China as a rival. However, one of the main obstacles to India‘s commitment to US–led anti–China pacts is the difference of opinion between Delhi and Washington. For instance, India and the US have different views on the Indian and Pacific Oceans. India is more focused on the Indian Ocean, while Australia, the US, and Japan are more concerned with the Pacific Ocean. India believes the Indo–Pacific region extends from the east coast of Africa to the west and south of the Pacific Ocean, and includes parts of the Middle East, while the US does not include Africa or the Middle East in its definition of the Indo–Pacific. As a result, despite being a member of the Quad agreement, India is very cautious and is not eager to openly declare its anti–China stance.
It appears that India has moved away from its policy of non–alignment since the end of the Cold War, but it is not willing to join any military alliance. India is aware of China‘s increasing power, but it also recognizes that China has become its main economic partner, surpassing the United States. India is also wary of joining a group of democracies, as this could lead to the perception that India is a strong supporter of democracy promotion abroad, which is not in line with its traditional foreign policy of avoiding democracy and democratic ideals. India is also very sensitive to any criticism of its internal affairs, as the rise of Hindu nationalism under the BJP has led to religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims, and the Modi government has been accused of violating human and spiritual rights in these conflicts.
In recent years, US–Indian cooperation in technology and defense has increased significantly. However, India is still wary of forming a long–term partnership with the US, as it is concerned about China‘s growing influence. India is cautious in its dealings with the great powers, as it does not want to be used as a pawn in the geopolitical struggle between China and the US. Indian newspapers, analysts, and writers are warning India to avoid getting caught up in the competition between China and the US, and to instead act in its own interests when interacting with the great powers.