Taming the dragon, softly

Taming the dragon, softly

Now that the euphoria over President Barack Obama’s unexpected remarks on Pakistan and India’s permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has died down, it may be a good moment to take stock of the subtext of the joint communiqué.

As Mint pointed out on Tuesday, the American embrace that will expectedly enhance India’s global prestige will come at a price; or as a senior functionary of the Indian foreign office candidly admitted: “As India takes it place at the high table it must be ready to face the slings and arrows of fortune." Equally important is the unsaid reference to China, the global power in the making that is not well disposed to the US and has simmering differences with India.

By making a case for India’s candidature for a permanent seat on the security council, after already having backed Japan, the US has clearly sought to diplomatically isolate, if not upset China’s diplomatic arithmetic. The wording of the communiqué says as much: “The United States welcomes, in particular, India’s leadership in expanding prosperity and security across the region. The two leaders agreed to deepen existing regular strategic consultations on developments in East Asia, and decided to expand and intensify their strategic consultations to cover regional and global issues of mutual interest, including Central and West Asia."

This tells us two things, both of which are to India’s advantage. One, this is a tacit acceptance of a weaker US. Two, it creates the diplomatic wherewithal to bring China to the negotiating table. While the former makes it easier for India to deal with the US, the latter gives it the backing to put pressure on China on contentious bilateral issues.

The biggest benefit India will derive from this strategy, if it succeeds, will be in terms of containing China’s growing belligerence and ensuring that its rise is benign and hence beneficial to the region and the world. At the moment, it is very often in conflict, as was demonstrated in the recent spat with Japan, rumblings with the US and growing posturing on border issues with India in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. Its refusal to play by global rules was beginning to be more than just an irritant—as was demonstrated by its role in clandestinely assisting Pakistan in acquiring missile systems and technology to make the nuclear bomb.

Clearly, the first steps have been taken to check China’s aggressive moves. The trick is ensuring its follow through.

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