initiative – particularly the Maritime Silk Road and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor – was not welcomed by New Delhi, which saw this as a strategic project that lacked transparency, sustainability, and accountability, and violated Indian soviereignty. India boycotted the May 2017 Belt & Road Forum in Beijing. The trade imbalance continued to widen in China’s favour, with Indian firms becoming increasingly frustrated by lack of access to the Chinese market. Chinese political influence in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives – traditionally India’s back yard – was seen as nefarious and often conflicted directly with India’s desired political outcomes in these countries. The only silver lining was a noticeable increase in Chinese investment in India after 2014. The New Strategic Terrain Today, India’s relations with the United States and China look much more precarious than they have since at least the late 1990s. With the election of Donald Trump as US President, doubts began to set in – in India and elsewhere – about the United States’ commitment and ability to retain its role in international affairs. Such doubts were not simply a product of Trump’s presidential rhetoric, but reflected a growing scepticism among the US public and politicians from both major parties about the costs and benefits of global leadership. This could translate into a less open America, with direct implications for its trade and immigration policies, defence priorities, and outward investment. India, whose priority is to leverage its external partnerships to accelerate its own domestic development, will undoubtedly be affected by the closing off of America. Of greater concern is that few others can fill the vacuum. China, Japan, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and smaller countries like Canada, Australia, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel could increase in importance for India, particularly in niche areas. In the Asia-Pacific, Japan will likely gain greater salience for India. India will have to continuously engage with Washington in a bid to deepen cooperation on bilateral relations (including trade and investment), on multilateral affairs in a manner that facilitates India’s rise, on greater coordination and interoperability in the Indo- Pacific, and on counterterrorism cooperation. In terms of security, this will require continued consultations and information sharing, military exercises, and defence industrial cooperation (including possibly joint research and development) with an eye on interoperability. On the other hand, India is still sensitive to its sovereignty and the perception of its being undermined. It is also deeply sceptical of binding alliances, which it sees as constricting and impractical given India’s democracy.
PAGE 13 REALISING THE INDO-PACIFIC: Tasks For India’s Regional Integration I. Uneasy Triangle: India’s Evolving Relations with the United States and China Socializing the US strategic community to these realities will remain a preoccupation of India’s strategic establishment.
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