The UPA did not move forward at all on this strategic embrace during its decade in power. This is probably because it was caught up in the web of its own policy history on Nehruvian non-alignment, Indira Gandhi’s time as a satellite of the USSR, and pathological fear of Chinese umbrage carried over into the Manmohan Singh regime.
For, India, LEMOA, its own $150 billion defence shopping list inclusive of Make in India over the next decade and its Modi doctrine of “enlightened self-interest” puts it in a unique position. It’s the biggest defence purchase wish-list in the world.
Meanwhile, at this juncture of geo-political imperatives, a military alliance with the US acts as a great equaliser vis-a-vis China and gives India time to build up its independent military readiness. Besides, America is not willing, anymore than its NATO or ANZAC allies, plus the emerging realignments in South/South East Asia, to give China any kind of walkover in the world dominance stakes.
Instead, China will have to eat a little crow and re-evaluate its own options. It must realise that it is deeply isolated, with only a couple of unstable rogue states in the form of Pakistan and North Korea for company. China’s old “string of pearls” strategy of encirclement of India via inducements to Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Maldives, Bhutan etc., now lies in tatters. And Xi Jinping’s grandiose “belt and road” initiative, figuratively taking off from the Old Silk Route is viewed with suspicion in every part of its immediate neighbourhood.
As for India’s tried and tested ties with Russia, there will be no let up, and many military initiatives in parallel are indeed on the anvil. But yes, an edge of competition has already crept in and should work altogether in India’s favour. This has already been borne out in the nuclear power context, not only with Russia but also with France and the US—all supplying reactors and know-how.
China’s mandarin notions on diplomacy also embolden it to ignore the wishes of other members of the UNSC, such as Russia, Britain and France, thinking that being factory to 40% of the world’s manufactured goods is enough leverage.
It has been trying, preposterously, from before President Xi Jinping’s time to buy-off the US, purchasing its treasury bonds in trillions, while, sotto voce, threatening monetary destabilisation. It particularly wanted to take advantage of US’ economic troubles post 2008 by upgrading its claims, if not the balance of payments, while attempting to cede a sphere of influence to it. Take the other half of the world, China seemed to say: meaning the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the North Sea etc. That the ancient, but newly prosperous Chinese, do not understand the implications of trying to parley on the basis of riches acquired thanks to the Nixon-Kissinger tilt against the USSR, with the world’s most technologically advanced military power, seems amply clear.
The US, the fact the Chinese try to ignore, is sized at 17 times greater than the next military establishment in line. So, for India, it’s a good eiderdown to get under, while continuing to deal fairly with the rest of the world.