AS India-China stand-off drags on in Ladakh, the US has thrown its lot with India. In recent days several top Trump administration officials have issued statements in favour of India. They include US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo. O’Brien has talked about China’s “territorial aggression” at the Indian border and Pompeo has said that China has amassed 60,000 troops along the Line of Actual Control. The two have also talked about supporting India in its fight. O’Brien has also argued that the “time has come to accept that mere dialogue and agreements will not persuade Beijing to change,” and Pompeo has rued that the “West allowed the Chinese Communist Party to walk all over us”.
Incidentally, these statements have come ahead of the visit of the US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun’s visit to India from Monday. Biegun’s visit will pave the way for the Indo-US 2+2 meeting between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and their US counterparts Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Mark T Esper later this month. Both the top US administration officials are also expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These will be last such high level meetings between the US and India before the November presidential elections.
The ongoing India-China stand-off is likely to be top of the agenda. Though the meetings between the two sides will make little difference as the US will be electing a new government in November, the growing closeness between the two democracies will not be lost on China. In case of Trump retaining his presidency, the October meetings and their outcome will be taken forward. Joe Biden’s takeover could be expected to usher in a minor shift and possibly certain nuancing of the US approach towards New Delhi.
So, as far as China, India will have to go it alone for some more time. At the same time, a closer cooperation with the US on Beijing may end up complicating the matters further than resolving them. For one, a closer alignment with the US will undermine India’s long treasured strategic autonomy. It will also mean closing doors on improvement in ties with China, not in the long term interest of India. A perpetual hostile relationship with the communist giant has the potential to keep India off-balance.
Under the circumstances, a sustained engagement with China is the only good option. External affairs minister S Jaishankar recently termed the situation in Ladakh “very very serious” that called for “deep conversations at political level” to be addressed. Though a series of dialogues between security and diplomatic personnel going right up to defence minister and foreign minister have not yielded desired result, there is no reason to give up yet. There is hope that things can still turn around. But this requires the two countries to stay the course.
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