India’s Role as Major Regional, Global Player: necessary for some, forced for others

By – Radomir Romanov;

What are India’s priorities and goals in its foreign policy today?

As Prime Minister N. Modi noted- the main goal of India’s foreign policy is to maintain the common good and to promote Delhi’s “soft power” through historical, religious and philosophical teachings. Moreover, India’s foreign policy focuses on building and developing economic partnerships through trade agreements and attracting foreign investments into the country. Despite its focus on common good and soft power, Indo-China relations in recent times have been strained, and Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan has put more pressure on China’s fragile relations with the United States.

In the context of growing confrontation with the United States, China is preparing for the possible imposition of Western sanctions against it and is trying to strengthen its political and economic rear. The latter is especially important in the light of American attempts to create an anti-Chinese front in the Asia-Pacific region, where India plays an important role. Trying to play on the contradictions between the two countries, Washington provokes a new Indo-Chinese conflict creating suspicion between New Delhi and Beijing. 

India has sent six divisions to the Chinese border, previously deployed to fight terrorism on the border with Pakistan. Two of the deployed divisions are deployed in the Eastern Ladakh sector, where the Sino-Indian conflict took place in 2019. Despite India’s partnership with the United States and pressure from their side, India does not show any hostility towards Russia.

At present, foreign ministers of both India and China are in close contact with each other, discussing ways to stabilize, develop and expand Sino-Indian relations. There are reasons for the observed optimistic assessment: bilateral economic ties are actively developing. In 2022, India’s bilateral trade with China was at $115.42 billion, while with the United States was at $119.42 billion. Hence, China should cooperate, explore and expand its ties with India as a legitimate and reasonable policy, and not as a strategic maneuver to deter threats and attacks. 

Should China take the first step toward normalizing relations with India, a Russia-India-Iran-China alliance may be formed. In addition, India will act as a serious counterbalance to China within this bloc, which is beneficial for Russia, as it will somewhat cool Beijing’s desire to become the only leader of countries that oppose US hegemony.

Moreover, these countries have close trade ties, and are keen on cooperating over Afghanistan. Russia can act as a mediator in the Indian-Chinese dialogue. Russia should actively participate in the Indo-Chinese dialogue, pushing both sides to cooperate. To paraphrase Kissinger: New Delhi and Beijing should be closer to Moscow than to each other, as I noted earlier.

India has long been a reliable partner and ally of Russia. Close cooperation between the two countries could create a powerful alternative to both Western and Chinese globalism. The normalization of Sino-Indian relations should become a condition for strengthening Russian-Chinese cooperation.

India’s Neutrality

India is too big a country to be a junior partner for global players. It sees itself as one of the geopolitical poles, and therefore Delhi wants to maintain strategic autonomy. India cannot join the position of any particular country, because it has national interests all over the world – with Russia, the USA, in the West and the East. India’s interests can best be served by maintaining neutrality and maintaining strategic autonomy.

At the same time, it should be noted that it is very difficult to maintain balance and autonomy in modern conditions. India is still under strong external pressure. As the Russian war on Ukraine continues, many countries realized that India would continue to remain neutral and would not take sides in the conflict.

Perhaps many states did not understand this, and some still have certain hopes and expectations about this, but I believe that the position was clearly and unambiguously stated by Indian Prime Minister N. Modi and other political leaders, for example, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor A. Doval. It was clearly stated that India would remain neutral in the Ukrainian conflict.

India’s quest for self-reliance

In the long term, India intends to develop its own search engine and national e-commerce platform, which will reduce its dependence on global e-commerce giants. As Delhi sees itself as one of the world’s poles, India is striving to achieve independence in the technological field, and gain freedom from technological giants, developing their own technological capacities.

Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnav has said that full-fledged 5G networks will be deployed in India by March 2023. By July, a corresponding competition will be held, the main criterion of which will be the domestic origin of technologies and equipment.

Also, the Indian authorities intend to invest $30 billion in their technology sector to achieve self-sufficiency in terms of semiconductor supplies and reduce dependence on foreigners. The ultimate goal is to become a global semiconductor manufacturing centre in the coming years, and at the same time increase the production of displays, network and telecommunications equipment, batteries and electronics. 

Some countries may use technological dependence as a bargaining chip. It is always better to develop your strengths and the current Indian government is putting a lot of emphasis on this.

India’s expectations from Russia 

Delhi expects Moscow to be sympathetic to its problems, especially in terms of relations with Pakistan and China. Moscow took a neutral position, keeping in mind the “sensitive” issues for India. The most striking example is the third Indo-Pakistani war in 1971, when the USSR supported India despite many circumstances. Of course, there are great opportunities in the area of economic partnership, and both countries must find ways to develop them, taking into account the existing restrictions due to sanctions. Delhi and Moscow should identify their strengths, and then work accordingly.

For Russia, cooperation with India will enable it to balance the growing influence of China in the region and within the SCO. India is also one of Russia’s key partners in military-technical cooperation: over the past 30 years, the Indian side has acquired $70 billion worth of weapons from Russia. For the same reason, India itself does place sanctions against Russia. Several important and large projects are currently being carried out between Russia and India within the framework of military-technical cooperation. In particular, the supply of S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems to New Delhi, the construction of project 11356 frigates for the Indian Navy, the opening of a licensed production plant for Kalashnikov assault rifles of the 200th series, and preparations for licensed production of Ka-226 helicopters in India are being completed. If India joins the pro-American bloc, military-technical cooperation with the Russian Federation will likely cease, causing New Delhi difficulties with the rearmament of the army, since it is not possible to quickly switch to NATO standards, which are used by other QUAD members.

An equally important area of Russian-Indian cooperation is energy. As is known, in 2021 Rosatom started construction of the 6th unit of the Kudankulam NPP. Moreover, with the onset of the current Ukrainian crisis, India increased the supply of Russian oil: in the context of India’s extreme dependence on imports of energy resources needed for power generation, as well as significant discounts on oil supplies. As of March 2022, the volume of Russian oil exports to India reached half of the volume delivered for the whole of 2021. We must pay tribute to New Delhi, where they are already tired of making calls not to politicize oil imports from abroad, including in Russia. Such political independence and consistency is now rare.

There are certain technological areas that India could offer Russia, but Delhi could also become a market for Russian products or technologies – for example, in the field of heavy engineering, shipbuilding, and manufacturing.

Radomir Romanov is Senior Officer of Asia-Pacific International Institutions and Multilateral Cooperation Studies Center at the Far Eastern Federal University. He completed his Bachelors in “Interpretation and Translation Studies” at the Department of Japanese Studies and Masters from School of International Relations at the Department of Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and Mongolian Languages.

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