Sino-India Standoff. Can India rely upon the United States as its’ ally?
The deterioration in China’s relations with the United States and India have not entirely uncoincidentally been accompanied by the growing ties between the latter. Nevertheless, as India looks down through the barrel of a military confrontation with China, as a consequence of the China’s aggression in Ladakh, there has been some scepticism in the country about the military support that it can bank upon from the US of A.
This fear is essentially based on the legacy of long standing suspicions about the USA letting down friends and fears that a change in US Administration would drastically alter the current China policy. Whether or not such scepticism is warranted demands a rigorous examination which must equally take note of the heights to which Indo-US military ties have soared and the depths to which Sino-US relations have plummeted.
Before dwelling into the nitty gritty of such issues, it is given that in case of a full fledged war with any (or both) of the neighbors, India would not invite US boots in Indian soil. Today’s India does not require and will not ask anyone to fight its wars. India’s expectations would be more modest and be limited to looking for diplomatic support, intelligence sharing, military supplies and logistics and possibly naval deployments in the Pacific and South China Sea to contain possible Chinese deployments in the Indian Ocean Region.
The relationship between India and United States witnessed an upturn post 9/11. During the last two decades, the Indo-US ties only deepened. The civil nuclear co-operation agreement marked a journey among India and the United States and by 2018, India imported military hardware to the tune of $18 billion from the US.
Additionally, the two countries conduct more bilateral military exercises with each other than with any other country and have developed a robust arrangement of multifaceted dialogue between their militaries. India has also signed three of the four foundational agreements with the USA.The fourth one notably the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) is expected to be concluded when the next 2+2 dialog are held among the two countries.
In December 2016, the US conferred India as a ” Major Defense Partner” and as a result thereof in 2018, India was moved into Tier-1 of the US Department of Commerce’s Strategic Trade Authorization license exception which enables India to access the most sensitive of US weapon systems and technologies available to only the latter’s closest partners.
So, it came as no surprise that the US was ready to sell its’ armed predator drones to India. If media reports are to believe, the United States looking to ramp up defense sales to India and laying the groundwork for them which go ‘above and beyond’ what previous administrations considered, including longer-term weapons systems with higher levels of technology and sophistication, such as armed drones.
It is no secret that with the advent of the Trump administration, Sino-US ties have been on a sharp downward trend. While initially tensions between China and the United States took the form of a trade war, today these are all encompassing. The strains in Sino-US relations are rooted in the fact that for all his failings, Trump more than any of his predecessors was quick to realise that China posed a grave threat to the global clout of the United States.
In December 2017, the National Security Strategy document put out by the US government which assessed that “China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor.”
Since then the deterioration of Sino US ties has escalated and the divide between the two appears simply unbridgeable. Over times, many important office bearers of Trump administration made no holds barred and highly critical speeches against China while underlining the dangers it would pose to the USA and around the globe.
The US Sectary of State, Mike Pompeo said “the only way to truly change communist China is to act not on the basis of what Chinese leaders say, but how they behave. Accordingly, in dealing with China one must insist on reciprocity, transparency and accountability“. He felt, that it would require a collective effort, “a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies” to address the China challenge.
According to Robert O’Brian, the current NSA of the United States, China’s ambitions for ideological control were not merely internally focussed but extended beyond its borders and dwelt on how it was so doing through aggressive propaganda, economic pressure, and massive data collection on individuals often illegally, if not by outright theft, in order to influence it’s neighbours.
Accompanying this verbal onslaught on China, the USA sanctioned Chinese officials for human rights abuses, blacklisted Chinese companies, arrested Chinese spies, ended special privileges for Hong Kong, rubbished China’s claims in the South China Sea, condemned their actions in Ladakh and claims on Bhutan, closed China’s consulate in Houston, and sent its Secretary of Health on an official visit to Taiwan, the first such high level visit in decades.
In view of the foregoing it is imperative to conclude that US military support for India would be more or less a given under the Trump dispensation in the event of a Sino-India conflict. However, the impending US elections in November 2020, one must, also assess the likely stance of a Biden Administration on this issue.
At a quick glance, the softer Democratic line on China in the past could lead one to feel that a Biden Administration would be reluctant to be as supportive of India as a Trump Administration. But much has changed over the past few years. In a recent article published in ‘The Diplomat’, the Team Biden signalled a ‘tectonic shift’ in Democrats China policy which has become much tougher particularly in regard to China’s human rights violations and its strategic competition with the USA. Biden is also critical of China’s new ational security law in Hong Kong and was one of the first prominent U.S. politicians to congratulate Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on her election win in Taiwan.
According to a recent Pew survey, two-thirds of Americans currently hold a negative view on China, compared to 47 percent in 2017.Indeed, more and more Americans harbor a negative attitude towards China today than at any other point. Under such circumstances, the United States, whether under Trump or Biden Administration, is likely to provide military support to India against China should the need arise. If we consider a Democrat President came forward to help a non-aligned India in 1962, why not support today’s India when ‘non-alignment’ is all dead but just a name and Indo-US ties are its’ peak.
So, India stands nothing to lose whether Trump gets re-elected or Joe Biden takes over. The support which India is currently getting would continue to grow and India could rely upon the United States as a strategic partner and a big exporter of sophisticated defense technologies to India. In an unfortune event of a war with China (or its’ stooge Pakistan), India can rely upon its’ new-found allies to secure its’ borders and teach China a lesson or two.