As the Biden administration shapes its foreign and national security policy, a panel of experts and former diplomats have said that India is critical to the US' strategy in the Indo-Pacific as the two countries share a common strategic vision for it to be free and open, amidst China flexing its muscles in the region.
The experts, including former Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and President of Center for China Analysis and Strategy Jayadeva Ranade, made the comments during a virtual panel discussion organised by The Hudson Institute think-tank here.
Commenting on India's ties with the US, Menon and Ranade emphasised that it is a critical relationship. Menon said that the relationship between the two countries "will continue to grow because strategic congruence is growing, whether on climate change, China, Indo-Pacific, or maritime security.
India regards the US as an essential partner not only in its own transformation but as the only global superpower and the two countries have a common strategic vision for free and open Indo-Pacific, he said. US is our largest trading partner and while we have differences we know how to manage them," Menon said.
"Since 2012, China's active presence in South Asia, much stronger strategic commitment to Pakistan, playing a role in the internal politics of countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka and military buildup in the Indian Ocean region are problematic to India, Menon, a former Indian ambassador to China, said. Further, China's open opposition to India's rise, from the NSG issue to the seat on UNSC. All of these show China is openly opposing India and is willing to be such," said Menon, who also served as the former national security advisor under the then Manmohan Singh government.
India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China's rising military manoeuvring in the region. The Chinese military is also actively eying the strategic Indian Ocean region to step up Beijing influence. China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.
In 2017, India, Australia, Japan and the US gave shape to the long-pending proposal of setting up the "Quad" or the Quadrilateral coalition to counter China's aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific region. Speaking on the occasion, Ranade said that under Chinese President Xi Jinping, China's aim is to first establish itself as the premier power in Asia or Indo-Pacific, and second to take on and rival if not surpass the US.
India stands in the way of this Chinese goal," he said. Menon, according to a Hudson press release, pointed out that China's actions since 2012, under President Xi, were behind the change in how India's strategic community viewed China.
Looking to the future, Menon said, "not only has deterrence broken down on the border last year but that there is a much more assertive Chinese behaviour not just in the subcontinent and the Indian ocean region but in Asia. To reset the relationship will be a long hard process," he said, adding that resorting to the status quo would be one step and we need a regime to keep peace on the border.
His comment came as the armies of China and India have completed the disengagement of troops locked in over an eight-month-long standoff in North and South Pangong Lake in eastern Ladakh. A joint statement issued on Sunday at the end of a lengthy round of military-level talks said the two sides positively appraised the smooth completion of disengagement of frontline troops in the Pangong Lake area, noting that it was a significant step forward that provided a good basis for resolution of other remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control in the Western Sector.
"However, there are bigger issues and for that one needs a series of difficult conversations where we talk about our core interests, about how we adjust or manage or even settle our differences and how we handle the issues that divide us," Menon, who is also one of the independent directors of the PTI's Board of Directors, said.
Ranade said, "it is not a question of trust being hurt, but a question of absent trust. Frankly trust doesn't exist, we are trying to put it in place and Chinese need to realise that but they have blown it apart. We will need to build a new relationship and this makes things harder," Ranade said.