The 21st century will have to contend with China’s enormous geopolitical power.
The country’s rapid economic growth is now a clichéd story of the past. What the world must factor in urgently now is Beijing’s growing global influence and the rapid pace of its military modernization. These have implications for India.
The historical Saudi-Iranian geopolitical animosity is famous. Recently, China succeeded in brokering a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, a signal to the world that China is a power to contend with in the strategic and oil-rich Middle East region.
Beijing has sought to leverage its growing geopolitical clout in terms of striving to replace the US Dollar as the world’s reserve currency. China has Russia’s support in this endeavour, as Russia has faced the repercussions of crippling U.S. financial sanctions. Moreover, Russia’s war in Ukraine is faltering heavily and has led to unrest within Russia itself. If Russia descends further into chaos, China will consolidate its position further as the preeminent geopolitical power of the East.
If more and more countries around the world look upon China as the leading geopolitical power, it could embolden Beijing further in terms of border escalations, as it would be relatively certain that the rest of the world would turn a blind eye to forays into a localised border conflict. For example, India’s position on Aksai Chin could come under greater pressure. The Galwan clash of 2020 is still fresh in our memories.
Given this backdrop, a robust U.S.-India partnership is essential to pre-empt the domination of Asia by China. The larger Eurasian peace is also a concern, but more for Washington than Delhi. The threat of border skirmishes with China means Delhi must build strategic defence relationships with America, especially as the Russian state is struggling. The more Russia struggles, the greater the risk of it becoming a client state of China, potentially endangering India’s defence contracts with Moscow.
Russia has historically been a time-tested ally for India, right from the Cold War period. The ties span defence, oil and gas, nuclear energy, etc., but the space is getting complicated as Moscow struggles and attempts to build global geopolitical leverage by reaching out to its neighbour, China. India is already balancing its dependency on Russian armaments and diversifying its arms purchases in terms of buying more from America, Israel, etc. This trend will likely accelerate further.
A rising China necessitates a pragmatic and realistic foreign policy approach from India. India’s reliance on Russia will perceptibly slow down, and greater dexterity in terms of balancing strategic interests with America and Europe will be key.
Interesting times lie ahead.
This article is jointly written by M P Joseph IAS (R) and J. Sudhakaran