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13 Aug, 2013

Asian Century Rising: Will India become a “strategic vassal” of the U.S.?

By Fu Xiaoqiang

Beijing, (Global Times), August 12, 2013 – US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to India in late July has moved New Delhi closer toward an alliance between these two nations. Although the US and India share common interests in containing China, their strategic goals and policy paths are quite different.

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

To a large degree, to shape an alliance between the US and India is wishful thinking from Washington.

Admittedly, Biden made some achievements in his recent visit. In strategic aspects, India was officially invited to the “chain” of containing China.

Biden mentioned directly that India is to play an indispensable part in the pivot.

Biden also talked up the two nations’ promising future in economy and trade, which he claims is set to reach $500 billion by 2020. Biden also pushed India to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks.

At first appearance, the historical opportunities of relations between the US and India are plentiful, but it is not the case. Biden’s good wishes may soon be derailed by reality.

Currently, India’s economy is slowing down. To a large degree, the fast development of bilateral trade between the US and India over the past three years has been triggered by trade and economic relations between China and India.

It is true that the US may soon replace China as India’s biggest trade partner, a fact that is also being used by the US to persuade India to become its strategic ally.

However, the goal of reaching $500 billion in 2020 seems too ambitious to really stand a chance. Apart from trade barriers and other practical problems, China shares more common interests with India than the US in multilateral trade terms.

Americans in industrial and commercial circles also complain about India’s infrastructure and investment environment. India’s intellectual property protection has proved irksome to US enterprises, especially pharmaceutical companies.

Some experts think the US has not been well treated by India after Washington ratified a civil nuclear agreement in 2006. US companies haven’t received their big share of India’s nuclear market as expected.

There is even no effective bilateral investment agreement between the US and India yet. TPP talks don’t stand a chance in the near future.

According to US geostrategic desires, in order to push India to integrate into its system to contain China, the US not only encourages India to move east but also brings up the concept of an “Indo-Pacific” to justify India’s intervention in Asia-Pacific affairs.

However, India still has various concerns over the US rebalancing strategy for the region.

On one hand, New Delhi worries this may stimulate China to develop weaponry and draw India into an open confrontation with China.

This is obviously far from India’s interests, since India prefers balancing China naturally by ensuring peaceful and fruitful competition. India has no intention of becoming a regional test balloon by going against China.

New Delhi also worries that small countries, incited by the US, may confront China openly, worsening regional conflicts as well as damaging regional stability.

Moreover, India is afraid of being reduced to a strategic vassal of the US, which will block its path to becoming a great power in the world.

Some Indians are concerned that the US pivot to Asia is only a temporary measure, and that the US may reconsider the G2 concept as China gets stronger.

The US regards India as a regional power worth winning over.

However, India cares more about drawing practical benefits from its relationship with the US, such as getting advanced military equipment and dual-use technology.

No matter how many promises the US has made to India, it is hard to change India’s strategy of being independent and remaining non-aligned. On the base of shared democratic values, the “natural alliance” between the US and India needs time to reach its full potential.

The author is a research fellow of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn