The geopolitical churning that the world is witnessing is likely to impact future policy moves by India. In its neighbourhood, India now fears Russia joining the China-Pak axis. But China is the key for India. In this story of shifting Asian alliances, C Raja Mohan, Director, Carnegie India, Delhi and consulting editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’ writes “Delhi and Beijing had one unchanging objective — to construct a favourable external balance of power. In pursuit of that, India and China found themselves, more often than not, on opposing sides..…

“Beijing’s GDP is nearly five times larger than India’s. Its military spending is thrice that of Delhi. In the last few years, India has struggled to cope with Beijing’s political expansion, military modernisation and power projection in India’s neighbourhood. India’s territorial disputes with China have also endured. After decades of negotiation, Delhi and Beijing don’t even agree on the length of their border. China says the border is about 2,000 km — the Indian count is nearly 4,000. Thereby hangs a tale of two nationalisms, so deeply attached to territory.

“The territorial question is further complicated by the disagreement over Tibet and its relationship to Delhi and Beijing. Delhi worries about China’s deepening alliance with Pakistan and frets over Beijing’s growing power in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. India has a massive trade deficit with China. Beyond the bilateral and regional, Beijing has tripped up India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and is unenthusiastic about India’s claim for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council”

The positive is that with the US, there is growing political convergence. India has a significant trade surplus with America; its dynamic IT sector is deeply connected to America’s Silicon Valley. The US ended its pro-Pakistan tilt some years ago and has moved towards neutrality; Washington is more forthcoming than China in helping India counter cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. Unlike China, America supports India’s membership of the UNSC and the NSG.

But, notes Mohan “there is much residual mistrust of Washington in Delhi. Some Indians are concerned about the unpredictability of US policies towards China and Pakistan…..The biggest problem, however, is the fact that Delhi has no control over all the variables in the rapidly shifting distribution of power in Asia, especially between China and America….

“Delhi is acutely aware that Washington and Beijing have a stronger economic partnership with each other than they have with Delhi. For the near future, therefore, Delhi’s emphasis will be on making the best of expanding the partnership with the United States while limiting and managing the differences with China…”