As in the Cold War, so in the current power play between the United States and China, the rest of Asia will simply not submit itself to the discipline of a bipolar framework. Asia will actively shape and be shaped by the emerging strategic dynamic between Washington and Beijing.
Asia is home to many large states that are wedded to nationalism and territorial sovereignty, opposed to local ambitions for regional hegemony,committed to a measure of autonomy from the great powers, and determined to promote greater economic integration with each other. These are competing imperatives that do not sit well with each other but do define the contradictory nature of Asia’s rise.
One of these important regional powers is India—the third largest economy in Asia, and the fourth biggest spender on defense in the Indo-Pacific after the United States, China and Japan.
India’s potential could contribute significantly to the new balance of power in Asia as recognized by both Washington and Beijing. U.S. Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, was in Delhi last June declaring India as a “lynchpin”in the U.S. pivot to Asia.
The Chinese defense minister Liang Guanglie was soon knocking at Delhi’s doors, trying to soothe India’s growing concerns about Beijing’s rise.
Delhi’s cautious response to America’s Asian pivot underlines India’s open-ended and deliberative strategy in dealing with the twists and turns in the U.S. strategy towards China.
India has had a complex and difficult relationship with China since they became neighbors in the middle of the 20th century. And it is only over the last decade that Delhi’s ties with the United States have begun to warm.
India has not had a direct conflict of interest with the United States during the Cold War, but the two have had deep differences on global and regional issues.