India’s foreign policy choices would be centring on getting accepted by the rest of the world as a responsible player and as a great power.

 

The recent stand-off with China and ongoing tension with Pakistan have led to serious debates on India’s foreign policy choices, on whether India has to take a hard position or manage these challenges through diplomatic manoeuvring. Nepal’s portrayal of a new map has also posed challenges to India’s foreign policy choices.

A robust national security doctrine and a sure footed diplomatic approach supported by a strong foreign policy are complementary to one another and form the bedrock of peace and stability. Both integrated security preparedness as well as the practice of foreign policy are put to test more during crisis than in times of peace. The pandemic of Covid-19, coming as a serious non-traditional security threat is posing a serious challenge to the economy and more prominently changing the internal fabric of India.

The coming months will most likely herald a new beginning for a radically changed world order. While dealing with the pandemic and laying a new foundation for economic revival, New Delhi has established contacts with the maximum number of world capitals through uninterrupted medical supplies and other medical essentials and deployment of Rapid Response Teams (RRT). Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated the SAARC engagement to deal with the pandemic in the region with the creation of a “Covid-19 Emergency Fund”. More than 100 virtual diplomatic meetings were held to share perspectives on combating the virus and tackling post-pandemic challenges, mainly with neighbouring and peripheral countries. This soft-power approach has elevated India’s standing in the world to the best of its advantage.

However, India needs to re-examine its strategy, approach, tools and tactics of foreign policy and diplomatic engagement, refurbish the fundamentals of national security doctrine to ensure lasting peace and uninterrupted progress. Amidst the pandemic, India has been tackling the threats to national security from across the western border and a standoff with China in the northern border. The “new map” controversy stoked by Nepal seems to be potent enough to be a spoilsport in India’s neighbourhood-first policy.

Meanwhile, as the standoff on the border is ongoing between the armed forces of India and China, both countries have said that the border issues should be resolved “bilaterally” and “peacefully”.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), “The two sides have established mechanisms…to resolve situations which may arise in border areas peacefully through dialogue and continue to remain engaged through these channels…At the same time, we remain firm in our resolve to ensuring India’s sovereignty and national security.”

Those at the helm of affairs in the South Block should know that this is not the first standoff and not likely to be the last. But, at the same time, such standoffs should not become a regular affair. There is a strong opinion among a large section of the strategic and academic community that the “not so peaceful” rise of China constitutes a larger part of security threat perception to many developed economies in general and India in particular.

China has successfully used its practice of foreign policy to achieve its national interests and make strategic inroads. During international negotiations on curbing the menace of piracy, China promised and began providing logistic and technical support to Indian Ocean Rim countries. It thus gained strategic space in Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar. But all the port building contracts are laced with clauses that would favour China’s security and economic interests.

In the northern sector, China strategically occupied large tracts of Indian territory in Ladakh area during the 1962 conflict. As Pakistan moved towards the US and lost half of its geography to Bangladesh, China quickly recalibrated its foreign policy to align with Pakistan, which illegally ceded about 5,000 sq km of POK in Karakoram to Beijing. China consolidated its position in this area, stationed its military there, widened the roads and used it as a launch pad for China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and connect it to Gwadar in Balochistan.

As an emerging economy India has to prioritise its options and also fulfil global expectations, without compromising with its inherent strength, values and capabilities.

In the post-Covid-19 situation, with a global coalition against China emerging, albeit hesitantly but surely, India should play its cards close to its chest. In a highly asymmetrical relationship with China it will be unwise to join a coalition against China but also distance ourselves from the rest of the free and democratic world, which is looking towards India as a potential manufacturing, trading and investment hub. India’s foreign policy choices would mostly be centring on getting accepted by the rest of the world as a responsible player and as a great power. India is in transition from a middle power to a great power and very soon will assume the responsibility to lead world affairs. The expectations of the members of international community have grown over the years and they would like to see India on the top of the radar screen of the international system. India’s rise is a win-win situation for all, seems to be emerging as the dominant understanding among a number of nations across the world. The big void created by both the United States and China has given sufficient space for India in fulfilling its ambitions.

India will very soon become an agenda setter in the global context, provided its foreign policy choices are calibrated in a manner which would reflect the larger interests of the international system.

Dr Arvind Kumar teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal. Seshadri Chari is a well known political commentator and strategic analyst.

 

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