India’s growing nervousness over China’s behaviour in the region played a pivotal role in bringing it closer to the US, according to former US defence secretary Ashton Carter.
Carter, who in his various capacities at the Pentagon including as defence secretary played a key role in cementing India-US defence relationship, said in a major policy paper on Wednesday that China stands isolated and India has emerged as a key and dependable ally of the United States in the region.
India, he said, is an example of how the strategic benefits of the principled, inclusive network can overcome hesitation.
“Once deeply sceptical of US influence in South Asia, India became a more active participant in regional security during my two years as Secretary of Defence than at any time in its history,” he said.
Currently director of Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, Carter said many factors led to India’s decision to seek closer ties with the US: its growing economic and political confidence, its assessment of the strategic situation on the subcontinent, and the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.
“Growing nervousness over China’s behaviour from the South China Sea to the Himalayan border region played a pivotal role,” Carter said.
Under Modi, India was pursuing two major initiatives. One called ‘Make in India’ stressed development of indigenous technology and manufacturing.
“I called the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) our ‘handshake’ with Modi’s technology and industrial policy. India was also seeking to grow beyond its historic preoccupation with its neighbour Pakistan and follow a broader ‘Act East’ policy,” he wrote.
“At the same time, of course, we were looking to extend the Pacific Rebalance to the west. The result was something I referred to as the ‘second handshake’.
“The two handshakes together forge a partnership with the potential to be as important to our two nations and to the region’s network as our alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia,” Carter said.
Along with India, the US over the years has grown its network adding other countries in the region to its traditional allies of Japan, South Korea and Australia.
Countries like Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia also strengthened their commitments to the US-led network, he said.
“Clearly, the network is growing and strengthening. China, meanwhile, stands virtually alone,” Carter said.
“As I sometimes ask my students at Harvard Kennedy School ‘How many dependable allies does China have in the Asia-Pacific?’ Unless you think Kim Jong-Un is dependable, the correct answer is ‘zero’. This is a testament to wise US policy, to Chinese missteps and more than anything to the powerful idea of a principled network that bestows security and prosperity,” he said.
At the same time, Carter said that this progress does not mean that the rebalance to the Pacific was an unbroken chain of successes.
“If China has chosen isolation over partnership, the United States, too, has a choice. The Asian security network has served our interests well, and it can continue, but only if the US continues to believe in it.
“I fear our nation has lost confidence in the network approach. Over the last three presidential administrations, including the current one, we have struggled economically, diplomatically and militarily to muster coherent support for the principled, inclusive network,” Carter said.
Without US leadership and support, the network will be replaced by another, parallel network China is seeking to erect, he cautioned.
The China-proposed network would include such initiatives as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (IAAB) and One Belt One Road (OBOR), both of which would be detrimental to US interests, he said.
The IAAB, a potential rival to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, would not match the high standards of the WB and IMF in relation to governance, environmental and other safeguards, and OBOR is likely to extent China’s political influence more than it extends actual property, Carter said.
“The parallel network proposed by China would serve China’s interests, replacing principle with brute force and inclusion with dominion,” he added.