New Delhi: Is India doing a course correction of sorts by strengthening ties with the time-tested friend Russia and giant neighbour China and moving away from the United States under the unpredictable Trump Presidency?
This seems so, given the events of the past few weeks. Till two months ago, India seemed to be on the course of further continuing with its proximity to the United States. Ties with Russia appeared somewhat shaky with a peeved Moscow softening its stance towards Pakistan. Relations with China were not warm either following the Doklam stand-off last year.
However, somewhere along the line, New Delhi seems to have realised that some recalibration was needed. The US under a mercurial President Donald Trump was publicly voicing its discontent against India on alleged trade barriers. The review of the H1B and H4 visas by the Trump Presidency was also being seen to adversely hit Indian techies and their spouses. The US had also resumed its hostility towards Iran where India has strategic interests in the Chabahar Port development. On the other hand, China was standing rock-solid behind all-weather friend Pakistan, with Russia too showering words of praise on Islamabad.
The perceived re-positioning started with the informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan. The two leaders looked set to foster bonhomie and put the unpleasantness of the Doklam episode behind them. By all accounts, there will be increased trust and understanding on border issues and aggressive patrolling on the border will cease by both the armies. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had stated on Monday that both the leaders had decided that they would speak to each other directly on the phone in case either sought the views of the other on any issue. The message was clear—India and China would do all they could to increase trust. It is a win-win situation for China too which fears emergence of a quadrilateral comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia.
The next bold Indian initiative was the informal summit at Sochi between PM Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin last week which was a huge success. A crucial part was the re-emphasis on the decades-long strategic bilateral defence ties and India’s move to acquire the S-400 missiles from Moscow despite US sanctions on Russian military exports. Just ahead of the Sochi summit, sources had made it clear that New Delhi is “not going to allow our defence requirements to be dictated by any other country”, a veiled reference to US pressure. India’s firm resolve to go ahead with the S-400 missile deal with Russia even if it means inviting American ire is being seen as a clear signal to Washington.
Also, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had stated on Monday that India recognised only the UN sanctions on any country, thereby making it clear that New Delhi did not recognise or abide by American sanctions on either Iran or Venezuela.
Further, if there was any doubt left, PM Modi and Russian President Putin agreed at Sochi “on the importance of building a multipolar world order” and deciding to strengthen co-ordination in the Indo-Pacific region. This was seen by foreign policy watchers as a clear signal that New Delhi may be trying to distance itself from Washington in the current scenario.