Rebalancing to Asia: A View From India

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Faced with the limitations of economic relations without political integration, Asian states have begun to reevaluate their prior relations and coalition structures to meet the demands imposed by U.S. rebalancing within Asia. Nowhere is truer than in the nuclear arena, where China, India, and the United States face questions over their ability to redefine their partnerships and the global nuclear order. Samir Saran, vice president and senior researcher at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, spoke in the twentieth session of the “China-South Asia Dialogues” seminar series for senior experts. This was followed by presentations by three Tsinghua University master’s degree students: Mao Keji from China, John McGowan from the United States, and Ece Duygulu from Turkey. The students’ presentations were part of the “China and South Asia’s Future” seminar series for rising scholars. Carnegie’s Lora Saalman moderated.

Rebalancing Within Asia

Saran noted that while the United States is often seen as rebalancing “to” Asia, much of this reorientation has actually occurred “within” Asia. Even as Washington seeks to redefine the role that it will play, regional powers have begun to delineate their own identity, he asserted. In doing so, economic integration has begun to “reach its limits” in the face of unresolved political tensions and obstacles. Without addressing political integration and rebalancing among regional players, Saran suggested that an integration project designed and implemented by Asians themselves would be difficult to achieve.

•U.S. Regional Role:

Saran asserted that one of the driving motives behind U.S. rebalancing within Asia has been China’s reluctance to enter into a G2 construct, under which Washington and Beijing would serve as the primary players. Rather than resulting in comity or competition in a bipolar order, Beijing and Washington are both jockeying for their own national interests, said Saran. However, he added, the United States maintains a strong isolationist streak that could result in significant drawdowns in how it engages the region and guarantees its security. In the face of this uncertainty, Saran maintained that regional players would be best served by coordinated political integration fashioned by capitals in the region.

•India’s and China’s Regional Roles:

The futures of China and India are inextricably linked, Saran said. Chinese refusal to sign onto the bilateral U.S.-China agenda, coupled with the fact that Washington has already made its unsuccessful play for a G2 construct, means that Beijing is in the driver’s seat. As a result, he maintained that the U.S. pivot to Asia will ironically be “made in China.” In looking further afield for energy stores and cooperation, Beijing and New Delhi will also be faced with the need to guarantee passage throughout the Indo-Pacific, Saran added. Beyond the bilateral, he noted that engagement at multilateral forums has proven to be most viable for China and India, since it obviates confronting mutual tensions. Enhancing Cooperation

•India’s Role in Security:

Saran noted that preoccupation with traditional security misses the economic fallout and necessity of integrating political, economic, and military solutions, particularly when faced with new territorial disputes, piracy, drug running, and other asymmetrical threats. To this end, Saran asserted that India has a role to play. However, when it comes to territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea, he remained reluctant to predict a role for New Delhi. When asked about ties between New Delhi and Tokyo by one of the Chinese participants, Saran responded that Japan and India have similar interests, which become all the more evident in the context of China’s regional rise.

•Identity Crisis:

One of the Chinese participants spoke of allegations of China’s aggressiveness when it comes to its neighbors and suggested that this was tied to internal shifts in how China defines itself. He questioned whether India is undergoing a similar case of self-reevaluation. Saran responded that part of Beijing’s crisis of perception comes from the fact that despite its growth and creation of regional dependencies through donations and economic benevolence to its surrounding countries, it has not changed its behavior towards these countries. Similarly, given New Delhi’s growth, it seeks accommodation on its desire to be a “global manager.” Unlike China, however, he noted that India has global aspirations, but continues to be bogged down by domestic issues. A Chinese expert added that he felt China and India have more in common with each other than with the United States, advocating increased interaction and exchange to build strategic mutual trust.

•Mutual Respect:

A Chinese participant queried what measures would increase China’s respect for and willingness to cooperate with India. Saran responded that people-to-people contact, expanded media interaction, and investments leading to greater integration between Beijing and Delhi on all levels are key. Mao, McGowan, and Duygulu offered their takes on how this dynamic has played out in the nuclear sphere, with India’s pursuit of a nuclear capability to solidify its status and respect from countries such as China. A Chinese expert noted that when it comes to multilaterally binding arms control treaties, India still has a role to play, particularly with the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). Saran responded that trust must be mutual; as such, India’s signing of treaties like the CTBT will be dependent upon the actions of China and its decision whether or not to ratify them.

•Demographic Pressures:

Much like “China’s Dream,” Saran cited “India’s Promise,” asserting that Beijing is waking up to New Delhi’s potential over the next ten to fifteen years. However, he cautioned that while demographic windfalls may shore up India’s production capacity in the short term, they are likely to pressure New Delhi to meet the employment demands of a young and disenfranchised population. As these numbers soar, Saran further predicted that the long-term implications of caring for the elderly would threaten the sustainability of India’s economic growth. Despite such pressures and the recent decline in Sino-Indian trade, Saran maintained that the two countries share common aspirations and challenges. More than simply reacting to U.S. rebalancing within Asia, Beijing and New Delhi should conduct their own regional recalibration, Saran concluded.

BRICS, In the News, Politics / Globalisation

U.S. Rebalancing to Asia: A View From India