India is one of the leading active members of the political game in the “extended” Asia-Pacific Region, which includes the area of the Indian Ocean. A short-term reduction in the intensity of India’s participation in this game in the first half of 2014 occurred due to an acute internal political struggle that accompanied the parliamentary elections in April and May.
This struggle ended with a triumph of Bharatiya Janata Party, that returned to power after a decade of downfall. Therefore it’s natural that the first months of his Premiership, the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated to the addressing numerous internal problems that have accumulated over the years, especially in economics.
This does not mean that during his election campaign and in the first months after his election success Modi ignored India’s foreign policy challenges completely. He has made a number of remarkable statements (both before and after coming to power), met the leaders of other countries, and went abroad on a number of trips to Bhutan, Nepal, Brazil, and to the BRICS summit. But his official visit to Japan in early September has been widely perceived as a milestone event, largely due its results, that underlined the special character of India–Japan relations.
During one of Modi’s speeches in Japan he mentioned “expansionism” and “assault on certain regional territories”. Those words were interpreted by Western experts in a very definite way. There was little doubt that Modi was refering to China, but since Xi Jinping’s visit to India was bound to follow, the new head of the Indian Foreign Ministery Sushma Swaraj stated that Modi’s words had been misinterpreted.
China did not respond to this situation, therefore Xi Jinping’s visit to India has apparently been a success. The two sides have signed contracts that imply China’s participation in addressing the key problem of India’s transport infrastructure. Xi Jinping has also agreed to increase the import of Indian products, mainly pharmaceuticals, to address India’s persistent trade deficit.
However, it was the “related” events that stayed in the media’s focus during this visit. These events have effectively highlighted one of the core problems of the bilateral relationship, which is the territorial claims. If the Indian military officials are to be believed a group of around a thousand Chinese troopers have entered the territory that India perceives as its own.
Negotiations on the settlement of territorial disputes that should allow the two states to execute a successful demarcation of a 4 thousand miles long border area are being held for decades, yet no result can be observed. The situation is particularly difficult on the Ladakh plateau, where conflicts between frontier guards (as of now without the use of weapons) occur once a month. However, the Chinese intrusion that started during the visit of Xi Jinping, stands out in the long list of borderland incidents.
Western experts have been questioning the ability of China’s civilian government to control its military for a long time. These discussions started back in 2007, when China shot down its own satellite. This step provided the United States with a pretext to dramatically intensify the military component of its space program. A number of experts expressed doubt at that time that this bold move was approved by the Chinese officials.
Today it’s believed that Xi Jinping has successfully established a tight control over the Chinese military command. But the Chinese press keeps on speculating about the Japanese “crazy dreams” of encircling China, which means that the Chinese government is taking this possibility seriously. In this situation it would only be logical that China may attempt to cross India off the “encirclement party” list. But this goal doesn’t correspond with the massive incident on the Indian border.
One thing is certain – India has got yet another pretext to deploy a total of 50 thousand mountain troops near the border with China, which will demand the creation of a sophisticated logistics infrastructure. And Japan is clearly willing to assist India in this quest.
On top of all, the above mentioned incident has reaffirmed Modi in his assumptions that India must continue developing strategic relations with the United States, that have been established in the middle of the last decade. It seems that the new Indian Prime Minister has decided to transcend his own dislike of the United States which has been manifested by his recent five-day visit to Washington, which he paid in late September.
The declared purpose of Modi‘s trip to the United States was his participation in the opening of the UN General Assembly. All through the summer journalists had been speculating about his chances of meeting Obama.
In an attempt to ease the bitter aftertaste of the previous “misunderstandings” with the newly elected Prime Minister, which took charge of a country that will be playing an increasingly important role in the United States foreign policy, Washington had been preparing a glossyreception for Modi all through the summer. In the middle of July, Barack Obama has sent Modi an official invitation to visit the United States.
Over the course of his visit, Modi addresseda prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, held a number of meetings with CEOs from the leading American companies, met Barack Obama twice and had a remarkable conversation with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
It’s remarkable that the two countries are planning to further increase the volume of bilateral trade, which has already hit 100 billion dollars, the official statement reads. Bilateral cooperation in the following fields: energy, climate change, health care, high technology and space exploration, would also be promoted. As for the security matters, both countries are preoccupied with Chinese moves so they would be ensuring the freedom of navigation in accordance with the international law.
The lack of predesigned agreements suggests that the main purpose of the high level meetings was the restoration of trust with a politician that has “suddenly” become a Prime Minister of an important ally. As for Modi’s meeting with Bill and Hillary Clinton, Hillary is now considered to be primary contender of the upcoming 2016 presidential election. So Modi seems to be laying the foundation of the future bilateral relations in advance.
It should be noted that a number of meeting that India’s Prime Minister of India held with the leaders of other major powers (Japan, China and the United States) is yet another step in the complex process of developing a new global political game that emerged when the Cold War ended.
It is clear that the next APEC summit, which will be held in early November deserves close attention. In fact, APEC summits are becoming one of the most important forums, which are directly affecting a new global game. But the importance of such events has little to do with their official agenda, it is the meetings of highest officials behind the curtains that matter the most.
Vladimir Terekhov, leading research fellow at the Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the Russian Institute of Strategic Research, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.