TCSS Security Commentaries #028

India has its independent standpoint and perspective on the world order. India’s policies will be defined by its own “choices, values, and interests.

Nihar K Kulkarni, University of Warsaw

Over the past two decades, India has gradually expanded and strengthened its defense and strategic relations with the West, particularly with the United States, France, Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The Indo-Pacific framework and Quad partnership signify India’s issue-based strategic alignment with Western countries. Countries like Japan and the US consider India a potential partner and counterweight to balance China. They expect India to take a stand against China and support Western countries. The overall narrative of ‘autocracy vs. democracy‘ has become popular in Western political discourse, creating expectations of India to be in the West’s camp against countries like Russia and China.

Indian EAM S.Jaishankar at Globsec 2022 Forum
(Source: Ministry of External Affairs, India)

Amid the war between Russia and Ukraine, global politics is taking a new direction. Perceptions of India have drastically changed in the Western world, primarily in Europe, due to India’s decision to abstain in the UN vote over the Russia-Ukraine war. Having expected India to vote in support of Ukraine, Western countries misperceived India’s abstention in the UN as a sign of support to Russia. Multiple non-Western countries from across the world prefer to choose neutrality; thus, the ‘West vs. Rest’ construct has emerged.

In June 2022, Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) S.Jaishankar’s visited two European countries, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. At the GLOBSEC 2022 Bratislava forum, his remarks on the Ukraine-Russia conflict and India’s strong position on the contemporary dynamic world order drew significant attention. Since taking charge of external affairs, EAM Jaishankar has emphasized India’s belief in the current world order as a multipolar one and does not engage in alliances to contain any country. India has its independent standpoint and perspective on the world order.

During an interview at GLOBSEC 2022 forum, when asked about choosing sides between the US and China, EAM Jaishankar reaffirmed that India’s policies will be defined by its own “choices, values and interests.” He refused the imposition of the ‘US or China’ or ‘West vs. China and Russia’ construct on India. He argued that India should not be considered a fence sitter as it has its stand on global affairs. By making the above remarks, India has shown that it will not adopt a ‘containing China’ strategy – a notion that carries a strategic mindset of the Cold War era.

China considers reconceptualization of Asia-Pacific into Indo-Pacific, and the emergence of the Quad grouping is to contain China. Due to such a geopolitical notion, the Quad is considered an ‘Asian NATO‘ by Chinese strategic experts.  Thus, India’s closer engagement with the US, Japan, and Australia in the Indo-Pacific is also perceived as anti-China, with negative implications for bilateral relations in India-China. Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov expressed similar concerns in January 2020 that the Indo-Pacific construct is to ‘contain China.’ Against this backdrop, India’s strong denial of the ‘US vs. China’ construct is intended to convey a clear-cut message to the Western world and manage Chinese perceptions about India’s Indo-Pacific policy.

India has never adopted a containing China narrative or any official stand against China. Indian strategic planners acknowledge that India and China are more than 5000-year-old civilizational countries and never fought a war against each other before 1962. The 1962 Indo-Chinese war, later border skirmishes on the Line of Actual Control, and ongoing border disputes between India and China emerged in the past 70-75 years, which is quite a short period compared to 5000 years of peaceful civilizational relations. India and China know they are neighboring countries with rich civilizational links. Thus, managing peaceful relations with China is one of India’s foremost priorities.   

Therefore, it will be truly interesting to see how Western countries and China will respond to India’s independent stand on the Indo-Pacific and the Quad in the coming period. By now, western countries will be sure that India will not abandon its ‘strategic autonomy’ at any cost. It will continue to pursue a multi-alignment policy by engaging with regional groupings within Asia, like ASEAN. However, India will continue to cooperate closely in the Indo-Pacific with Quad partners, SCO, and BRICS to mitigate Asian security issues, especially in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, India’s independent stand also means it will press Beijing to reformulate its perceptions and policies toward India. The Global Times noted that “S Jaishankar’s remarks showcased a rational voice in the complex international situation and once again proved that China and India are capable of managing their conflict through dialogue and there is no room for any country to point fingers.” India’s consistent approach will help China to manage its perceptions of India while creating a compatible atmosphere to discuss and resolve border disputes to rebuild Sino-Indian bilateral relations in the coming years.

Nihar K Kulkarni is a Ph.D. student at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies, University of Warsaw, Poland.