Where does India figure in the emerging global scenario marked by a gradual shift in economic equilibrium from the West to the East? There is no serious discussion on the subject within the country but it is being raised elsewhere.
According to World Bank data for 2010, India was the ninth largest economy – after the United States, China, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Italy. Its position must be one rung lower since Russia was dropped from the list due to absence of precise figures.
Everyone knows the picture is changing. The London-based Centre for Economic and Business Research says by 2020 India will become the fifth largest economy, after the US, China, Japan and Russia, and will be followed by Brazil, Germany, the UK, France and Italy in that order.
Last week conflicting signals emerged from Washington on India’s role in the emerging world.
In a document released after the Obama administration outlined a new defence strategy, the Pentagon said the US was investing in a long-term strategic partnership to support India’s ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the Indian Ocean region. In plain terms, this means the US looks upon India as an ally in its effort to contain China.
However, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in a television interview spoke of the challenges of dealing with Russia and “rising countries like India and others”. It was the second time that he had referred to India as a 21st-century challenge.
The new US strategy, which envisages a leaner but more agile force, focuses on East Asia. While noting that the US and China had a strong stake in peace and stability in the region and an interest in building a co-operative bilateral relationship, the Pentagon document said the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions so as to avoid friction in the region.
In a quick response, Xinhua news agency, which is controlled by the Communist Party and the government, said the US was welcome to make increased contribution to peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region but should not flex its muscles.
Xinhua made no comment on Washington’s concept of India as a regional economic anchor and security provider but this is a topic on which the Chinese authorities have spoken through the media repeatedly in recent months.
When Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda flew into India after visiting Beijing last month, party, government and military newspapers linked his visit with that country’s ‘arc of freedom and prosperity’ strategy aimed at containing China. Earlier, the party paper, the People’s Daily, had said the US was shoring up its ties with old allies like Japan and South Korea and ‘new giants like India’.
The bottom lines are clear. The US, while conceding China’s economic clout, wants to block its vaulting from the status of regional power to that of global power. China, while aspiring to be a global power, wants to hold India down at the regional level.
Xinhua and the China Daily recently reproduced a foreign commentary which said “there has been growing respect for, rather fear of, China because it is growing so fast and has become so big and powerful as to swallow the Western world in a decade or two.”
A Xinhua commentary at the same time said, “Today’s India is far from potent and prosperous to act of its own accord” and dismissed Indian “jitters” over China’s growing might as the result of “inferiority complex” and “loud jealousy”. The People’s Daily translated into English and posted on its website an article in the Shanghai party daily which described India as a “big regional power” whose “political influence and military strength are limited.”
While talks to resolve the long pending India-China border dispute, which precipitated a short war 50 years ago, are moving at a snail’s pace, new irritants are coming up.
China has frowned upon an Indian public sector firm’s agreement with Vietnam for oil prospecting in the disputed South China Sea. India has to worry about an unstable Pakistan becoming increasingly reliant on China in the wake of growing estrangement with the US.
Chinese Indologist Tan Chung’s suggestion that as cultural twins the two countries must explore the affinity between their ancient civilisations may appear to be a cry in the wilderness but the restrained handling of irritants by the two governments holds out hope of peaceful transition to a new order. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 9, 2012.