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Is India Tilting Towards Washington? Maintain Strategic Balance Between Russia, US, Analyst Suggests

© AFP 2023 / INDRANIL MUKHERJEEAn Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) of the Indian Air Force
An Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) of the Indian Air Force - Sputnik International
New Delhi (Sputnik): Despite India’s strategic alliance with Russia, some observers have suggested that New Delhi is shifting closer to the United States, citing its joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or QUAD and the close relationship that the Narendra Modi government has developed with the Trump administration.

The latest violent standoff between India and China and the emerging geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific region have seen New Delhi's resurgence independent of its traditional alliances. Notwithstanding indications of any tilt, India has preferred to leave multilateralism behind as External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said recently at an event.

India and China, despite the face-off in eastern Ladakh, have been trying to de-escalate the situation along the border through discussions between army commanders and diplomats. New Delhi has not sought any third party mediation to resolve the issue, though US President Donald Trump has offered his assistance.

Several countries in the Indo-Pacific region and in the South China Sea region have disputes involving Beijing, but India remained neutral despite its membership in the four-nation bloc QUAD.

QUAD, consisting of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, has a unified resolve to counter China's growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. But it has resisted openly identifying China as the target it seeks to rein in.

New Delhi-based independent foreign policy analyst Harinder Sekhon felt there was a desire to give more teeth to QUAD and India should endorse it, but at the same time maintain a strategic balance between its traditional ally Russia and the United States.  

"We are uncomfortable to be labelled as a US 'alliance' partner. A strategic partner is more to our liking and comfort", she told Sputnik. 

According to Sekhon, China has been seen as "aggressive" to India’s emergence as an economic power and wanted to curb it in one way or another.

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"But until Ladakh, the Chinese kept a veneer of civility and there was no loss of life for nearly 50 years on our borders. Restraint was maintained", adding that the standoff in Ladakh and loss of life might not have changed the geopolitical situation in South Asia, but it has come as a wake-up call to India that it needs to get its priorities straight.

"India can no longer be a fence sitter and we need to make clear assessments about our priorities and who best can help us realise those", she suggested.

India and China have longstanding disputes about their borders, but over the past 50 years they've never come to blows like the situation in eastern Ladakh on 15 June, in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives, including one officer. There were also a number of unverified casualties on the Chinese side as well.

While expressing his condolences about the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers in the Galwan Valley, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted "India is a rising US defence and security partner in the Indo-Pacific and globally".

"The US has been vocal about India's place in their strategic calculus for some years now - Bush, Obama, Asia pivot, etc. So Pompeo's statements seem to be a continuation of that policy", said Sekhon. She however, welcomed the US secretary's harsh words against China's aggressive behaviour in Ladakh.

The invitation for a strategic partnership comes at a time when trade still remains a sticking point in bilateral relations between India and the United States. The trade war between the two countries started when Washington revoked the facility of import subsidy, which affected Indian exports to the tune of $5.6 billion. New Delhi also slapped retaliatory duties on 29 US goods. 

"If the US is sincere in facilitating India's rise as a rebuff/counter weight to China, it must do for India in the economic and strategic domain what it's done for China since 1971", Sekhon suggested.

Sino-US relations improved following what is known as Ping-Pong diplomacy in 1971 when a team of American ping-pong players was invited to China for the first time since 1949. Since then, there has been political engagement between the two countries, culminating in full diplomatic recognition of China by US President Jimmy Carter.

An Indian Army convoy moves along a highway leading to Ladakh, at Gagangeer in Kashmir's Ganderbal district June 18, 2020.  - Sputnik International
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India and the US have been holding discussions on resolving the aforementioned trade disputes and a possible bilateral free trade agreement. Indian Trade Minister Piyush Goyal held informal talks with US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on a limited trade package last week.

On the other hand, Russia has been a key pillar of India’s foreign policy. Bilateral relations between New Delhi and Moscow have reached enhanced levels in all areas since both countries signed a strategic partnership in October 2000. The strategic partnership was further elevated to the level of a "special and privileged strategic partnership" in 2010 during a visit by President Vladimir Putin to India.

India's military modernisation plan worth $12 billion, including the acquisition of S-400 missile defence systems had also invited US threats. New Delhi signed a $5.43 billion contract with Russia in 2018 for the purchase of S-400s, despite the threat of sanctions by Washington under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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