Author : Kabir Taneja

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jun 25, 2020

The middle powers are taking the middle path to dealing with the US and China, which may lead to significant challenges if New Delhi chooses to build international consensus and alliances as a main front to counter Beijing in the short to medium term.

Return of a new non-alignment?

The US and its institutions are in recession, and over the past four years have suffered blows that may require many years of recovery, if at all. The architectures of security and prosperity that many aspirational and democratic countries were able to develop under the US umbrella are set for structural renovations, forcing a rethink of security and foreign policies globally.

These new realities coincide with the single biggest development on the world stage, that of the unfettered rise of China, not just as an Asian power, but a ‘power’ in the international arena. Today, this is visible in Beijing’s aggressive maneuvers to create its own space and re-mold the international order, be it at the United Nations or the international trade architectures that it aims to replace using mechanisms such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The recent killing of 20 Indian soldiers by China at its contested Line of Actual Control status-quo with India in the region of Ladakh, perched up high in the Himalayas, has brought to light Beijing’s military capability now backed by its political willingness to strong-arm geo-political understandings to its own interpretations, grounded in realities that it deems fit. The Ladakh crisis is not an anomaly, but seems like a major part of a revisionist blue print. Beijing has raked up crisis with Taiwan, and South East Asian states such as Philippines and Vietnam over multiple territorial claims, specifically in the much-contested waters of the South China Sea where it is also building militarised artificial islands to solidify its hegemony.

"The Ladakh crisis is not an anomaly, but seems like a major part of a revisionist blue print."

In the wake of the Galwan Valley clash in Ladakh, for New Delhi to try and build any significant international consensus against Beijing may be an uphill task. Europe offers an interesting example, which regularly sees an amalgamation of thoughts on China presented as a smorgasbord of views, with often little to no central clarity between the European Union (EU) and its member states’ own views. Josep Borrell, chief of EU’s foreign affairs, a few days before the Ladakh crisis had said that China is not a military threat, and called Brussels’ view of Beijing as “realistic.” Borrell’s view of China is perhaps realistic only from the sense of EU’s views if they start and end at the geographic borders of the European continent, and its wish to remain ‘non-aligned’ in the various fracture points that China’s President Xi Jinping has aggressively pursued over the past few months, specifically in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which began in China itself. The EU’s official reaction on the Ladakh crisis was also subdued, and expectedly neutral, something that New Delhi is very familiar with as a policy that it itself dispenses when asked to take affirmative decisions on issues of global importance.

However, Borrell’s views of this reprised version of ‘neo non-alignment’ may not be a one off. Within the EU, countries such as Italy have signed up for China’s mammoth BRI project, and Beijing’s successful creation and expansion of the ‘17+1’ grouping, which has only ten less members than the EU itself, stands as a stark success of Chinese diplomacy. To illustrate further, while the recent rebuttal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to attend the G7 summit in Washington on US President Donald Trump’s invite was highlighted as fallout of COVID-19, reports have suggested that Merkel was also trying to avoid attending what was expected to be a largely anti-China template, specifically on trade.

Meanwhile, Russia, considered a reliable ally by New Delhi, has also been attempting to walk this trapeze wire, similar to those witnessed in Europe as far as China is concerned. While Moscow holds its relations with Beijing in very high regard, specially as one that works against global hegemon narratives of the US, the China–Russia dynamic is arguably tilting more towards Beijing’s power considering its overwhelming economic heft when compared to Russia. As per reports, to develop a counter to an increasingly lopsided relationship, noted Russian political scientist Sergey Karaganov presented a policy paper to the country’s foreign policy czars propagating that Moscow “champion a new non-alignment between the US and China.”

"While Moscow holds its relations with Beijing in very high regard, specially as one that works against global hegemon narratives of the US, the China–Russia dynamic is arguably tilting more towards Beijing’s power considering its overwhelming economic heft when compared to Russia."

While the LAC dispute is one that only India and China can resolve mutually through dialogue and diplomacy, the global reactions and calls for replacement of American influence by middle powers, specially in Asia such as Japan and Australia, will put India in the thick of things as far as countering the incoming Chinese hegemony in this region is concerned. The middle powers are taking the middle path to dealing with the US and China, which may lead to significant challenges if New Delhi chooses to build international consensus and alliances as a main front to counter Beijing in the short to medium term.

The return of a new era of non-alignment will largely be centered in the West, contrary to the original that was centered around the developing world, when India, along with others such as Egypt and erstwhile Yugoslavia decided to officially formulate an ‘alternative order’, one which would on the surface of things not take sides between the Soviet Union and the US. The ask off New Delhi today may not be herculean, that of a major power, but a steadfast and confident middle power with a penchant of stitching alliances, specifically within Asia, while managing its multiple theatres with Beijing diplomatically, militarily and perhaps most importantly, economically. India, the home of non-alignment, may be given a taste of its own expired medicine when it comes to China from this new global disorder, and New Delhi must prepare to deal with a revisionist Beijing on its own as a significant section of the world looks to install their own ‘neo non-alignment’ in 2020 and beyond.

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Author

Kabir Taneja

Kabir Taneja

Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...

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