India’s New Leadership and East Asia – 1

India’s election has produced a decisive majority for the political alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Incoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi promises to reinvigorate an economy whose annual growth rates have halved from near double-digit rates in recent years. He has pledged to tackle endemic corruption and create a slimmed-down, more effective state through what he calls “maximum governance, minimal government.” Modi cites his own record governing the state of Gujarat, which has grown faster than China for two decades, as an example of the pro-growth, no-nonsense management experience he would bring to New Delhi as prime minister. He has also promised to more forcefully pursue India’s interests abroad, including by responding more firmly to Chinese designs on India’s northeastern territories. East and Southeast Asian nations, as well as the United States, have high hopes for and high stakes in an Indian resurgence that could tilt Asia’s power balance in a democratic direction and further amplify India’s role on the global stage.

Election Overview: Domestic Drivers

Turnout in the 2014 election was higher as a percentage of eligible voters than in any election since 1984. Sample polls in the run-up to the vote by the Center for Developing Societies, Pew, and others as well as exit polling by a range of Indian media outlets, showed overwhelming demand for change from the 551 million Indians who voted. Pre-election polling revealed that voters preferred the BJP over the ruling Congress Party by more than three-to-one. The intensity of support for the BJP was also much higher, as attested by its performance—the party itself won 282 seats in parliament, and with its coalition partners it now controls 336 out of 543 seats—as well as by the wallop voters delivered to the ruling Congress Party, which won only 44 seats (it had previously held 209). Polls show Modi enjoyed majority support from upper- and lower-caste Indians, rural and urban voters, and Indians in the populous north and wealthier south. By more than two-to-one, voters polled rated the BJP tops in its ability to manage the key challenges confronting the country, from inflation and corruption to terrorism. This map1 shows the scale of the BJP’s victory across the vast expanse of the subcontinent:


Restoring economic vigor through good governance and decisive reform is the clear mandate of the new government. Economic growth is under 5 percent. Annual inflation is almost twice the rate of GDP expansion, hitting average Indians in their pocketbooks. As many as 800 million Indian citizens live on less than USD 2 a day. In the heady days of the 2000s, many Indians internalized the notion that their country was destined for economic and geopolitical greatness. They feel like the Congress Party let them down and voted in a prime minister who has managed India’s most industrialized and globalized state. Modi is the first prime minister to be born after Indian independence. His election is a metaphor for Indian voters’ declaration of independence from the Congress Party, which has ruled India for most of its modern history and has suffered its worst electoral defeat. As veteran party leader Jairam Ramesh put it on the day election results were released, “Our performance is worse than the worst-case scenario.”2

This election may prove a turning point in India’s political history. Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta describes the journey of the Indian voter since 1947 in three stages—from gratitude to the Congress Party to delivering India’s independence, to grievance as a result of underdevelopment and stifled opportunity, to aspiration for a better future under conditions of dynamic economic growth.3 Modi’s ascension represents the victory of the aspirational group, now comprising hundreds of millions of Indians and growing every day. Rajiv Kumar of the Center for Policy Research argues convincingly that this group seeking greater economic opportunity has replaced the “petitioning” one seeking government handouts as the prime force in Indian electoral politics.4

Indeed, judging by an election result that has delivered a stronger mandate for one party than at any time since 1984, several decades of rapid economic growth appear to have created a more unitary Indian electorate, whose aspirations for a middle-class future cut across lines of caste, region, religion, and the rural-urban divide. Half of Indians are under 25 years old and two-thirds are under 36. This emergent urban and suburban, youthful, middle class India—the India of 900 million mobile connections—is displacing the old rural peasantry as the decisive demographic. This massive constituency voted overwhelmingly for the change Modi promised. They have extraordinarily high expectations for his government. So, too, do India’s friends in East and Southeast Asia, in their own way stakeholders in India’s economic and geopolitical rise.

Foreign Policy and the Indian Election

If the new government can fire up the country’s economic engine—by rolling back antiquated restrictions on business, cracking down on endemic corruption, and creating a more open playing field for investment and job-creation—India’s return to dynamic growth will have international implications, irrespective of the country’s external orientation. But foreign policy will also be shaped by the ambitions of the man at the top. Modi said little about foreign affairs in an election centered on the domestic renewal agenda, one that played to his strengths as a chief minister who has not previously had responsibility for foreign affairs, but the hints he gave on the stump about his worldview are intriguing.5

The last BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, declared India and the United States “natural allies” after decades of alienation. His government conducted nuclear tests to balance China’s military power and opened the door to US-India defense cooperation. Modi has been alienated from the United States as a result of a visa ban, only recently lifted, stemming from a massacre of Muslims in Gujarat that occurred on his watch in 2002, an atrocity he is accused of having done too little to prevent. But he has also said India will do business with the great powers, including the United States, and that India’s resurgence under his leadership will naturally attract the support and encouragement of America and other friendly nations.

Indeed, while his vision for US-India relations remains opaque, he will certainly seek greater American trade and investment to catalyze Indian growth. This may be enough: the best way to restore momentum to US-India relations may be to get India growing again, making it a more attractive partner to the world’s superpower. The departure of the ambassador who oversaw the last phase of the visa ban on Modi also clears the air for a personal representative of President Obama to start afresh with a new Indian government. People-to-people ties remain strong and bureaucratic cooperation has grown dramatically; what is needed is energy at the top to move the relationship to the next level. That said, US interests will benefit even if relations with a Modi administration are not intimate, given the positive influence a more confident and dynamic India stands to exert on a range of issues in its Asian neighborhood.

While China is India’s central long-term competitor, next-door Pakistan plays the role of spoiler, which could continue to tie India down in its neighborhood, constraining its great-power rise. Surprisingly to some, Modi has cited the 1999 Lahore Declaration, a visionary statement by Indian and Pakistani leaders of support for a normalized relationship, as an example of how his BJP predecessor reached out to a hostile neighbor. Vajpayee’s search for detente with Pakistan was possible because he was bullet-proofed by his hawkishness against charges of appeasement—as will be Modi, whose outspokenness against the dangers of Pakistan-based terrorism is well-established. Modi has promised to get tough on terrorism. One way to do so will be to build bridges to Pakistani political forces who oppose militant violence against India—starting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who also happened to be the Pakistani prime minister who joined Vajpayee in making the Lahore Declaration. A thriving Indian economy more open to Pakistani trade and investment could help uplift all of South Asia and enlarge the Pakistani constituency for peace, if Modi is bold enough to move forward with an economic integration agenda that undercuts the power of the Pakistan army in the country’s political life.

With regard to India’s primary strategic competitor, Modi has promised to push back against China’s territorial claims to Arunachal Pradesh in India’s northeast. As prime minister, he says he will vigorously resist China’s “mindset of expansion.” He accused the outgoing government in New Delhi of pursuing too soft a policy. While there may be differences in tone, in fact, the Congress administration sought to build up India’s military power against China, including by stationing a new combat air wing along their contested border, standing up a new mountain division to help secure it, and improving the road infrastructure that would enable rapid reinforcement of Indian positions in the northeast against any Chinese incursion. The outgoing government also put in place a plan to develop three aircraft carrier battle groups by the 2020s—a larger number than China currently possesses—and tested missiles capable of hitting Shanghai and Beijing.

Modi is likely to continue these policies, and to accelerate them as a growing economy provides a larger resource base for military modernization. He has also made clear that India under his leadership will do business with China, given the development imperative. As chief minister of Gujarat, he visited China four times to generate trade and investment in his state. Global Times has predicted that Modi, often depicted as a nationalist firebrand in Western media, is “likely to be pragmatic towards China.”6 Chinese analysts expect him to take a tougher line on political disputes, including the border and the future of Tibet, even as he seeks to enlarge economic exchange. Like other Asian leaders, Modi will thus need to balance a growing security dilemma vis-a-vis China against the magnetic appeal of its market as a spur to domestic economic growth.

He is also likely to build on the new depth of strategic cooperation India’s current government has developed with Japan, which could be a game-changer for Asia. This year, Japan will join India-US naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, building on previous Indian participation in Japan-US exercises in the Western Pacific—and perhaps reigniting the kind of Chinese anxiety that became apparent when the first such exercises were held between this trio and Australia in 2007. In that year, during his first incarnation as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hosted then Gujarat Chief Minister Modi in Tokyo—a powerful symbolic gesture of support in light of the visa ban that prevented Modi from traveling to the United States or Europe. Back in office, Abe shares his counterpart’s skepticism of China as well as his agenda of reinvigorating economic growth. As Businessweek put it in a recent headline, “India Under Narendra Modi Could Be Japan’s Best Friend.”7

Modi’s appeal to the values underlying the previous BJP government’s foreign policy offers a positive vision for a new era of Indian engagement with the world, even if fleshing out the specific details was not a campaign priority. Modi has said admiringly that the Vajpayee government’s foreign policy got right its blend of shanti and shakti—peace and power. Its policy trifecta—strategic partnership with America, an opening to Pakistan combining political outreach with toughness against terror, and strengthened deterrence against China even as trade continues to grow—would be a neat hat trick for Modi to recreate, alongside expansion of the economic and security partnership with Japan. These policies would enjoy popular support: most Indians view America and Japan favorably, fear instability in Pakistan, and see danger in China’s growing power even as they support a globalization agenda that catalyzes economic growth at home.

East Asia’s Economic Stake in India’s Resurgence

The overriding theme of the Indian election campaign was the restoration of India’s economic vitality after years of drift that saw growth levels contract dramatically. East Asian nations have powerful stakes in the kind of Indian economic resurgence Modi has promised to deliver. Perhaps the primary East Asian stakeholder in India’s return to rapid development is Japan, whose corporate leaders have long understood India’s economic potential as a “second China” —and whose prime minister understands its potential role in supporting Japan’s economic renewal.

Japan is investing USD 10 billion in the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor—when it was announced, the single largest foreign direct investment in India—as the centerpiece of a plan to drive India’s infrastructural and manufacturing growth from their currently low baselines.8 It views India as a base from which Japanese companies can produce for the vast internal and wider Asian markets in ways that do not involve the political risks that have impacted Japanese companies in China. Japan is the fourth-largest direct investor in India and has accounted for close to 10 percent of FDI flows into India since 2000. Surveys conducted by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation show that Japanese companies rank India as the most important long-term potential market for Japanese overseas investment.9

The Japan-India trade and investment relationship is highly complementary: India’s vast human capital, cheap labor, and natural resources are matched by Japan’s leadership in technology and manufacturing. Trade is valued at some USD 20 billion annually and was growing 30-40 percent annually through 2012, when India’s growth slowdown had an impact. A Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the two entered into force in 2011 covering trade in goods and services and envisioning the abolition of 94 percent of tariffs on traded goods over 10 years.10

South Korea’s story is similar, although its companies were earlier to set up production bases in the Indian market than their Japanese counterparts. Samsung, Hyundai, LG, and other Korean corporations are large foreign investors in India. Korea-India trade totaled USD 18 billion in 2013, fueled by the same kind of synergies that characterize Japan-India trade and facilitated by a Bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.11 Korea-India trade expanded at double-digit annual rates before falling dramatically as a result of India’s economic deceleration of the past few years, attesting to the importance to the Korean economy of an Indian resurgence that could accelerate trade expansion once again. India has become South Korea’s 9th largest export market and will surely ascend further in that ranking as India’s consumer class, ultimately expected to emerge as the world’s largest, continues to expand.

China-India trade relations are more complicated. Trade totaled nearly USD 70 billion in 2012.12 China is India’s single largest trading partner in goods (the United States is India’s largest trading partner in goods and services combined). However, the composition of Indian exports to China is almost entirely raw materials, whereas Chinese exports to India consist mainly of cheap manufactured goods. This creates an imbalance that fuels political controversy within India as an element of growing security competition with China, exacerbated by nationalist rivalry between Asia’s preeminent civilization-states. India has raised steep barriers to Chinese direct investment in sensitive sectors such as telecommunications, again because of a perceived threat from a less-than-transparent China. Indians have protested at the importation of Chinese workers, rather than the hiring of Indian ones, for Chinese infrastructure projects in India. For all these reasons, Sino-Indian trade has been more a source of rivalry than reassurance.

Southeast Asian nations have looked to India as a way to reduce their economic dependence on China and have used trade agreements with it to further enmesh it in regional institutions. Indian companies form the largest foreign business community in Singapore, where some 5,000 Indian businesses have operations.13 This is partly a function of Singapore’s status as a gateway to Southeast Asia and partly the result of red tape at home that has led Indian corporations to identify greater opportunities abroad. ASEAN and India signed a Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation at the second ASEAN-India Summit in 2003. This was followed by the entry into force of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement in 2010. Trade relations grew by a dramatic 43 percent following its conclusion, to approximately USD 80 billion in 2012, surpassing expectations; the trading partners set a target of USD 100 billion by 2015.14 ASEAN and India are currently negotiating to enact a more comprehensive ASEAN-India FTA.15 India also plays an active role in ASEAN-led institutions, such as the East Asia Summit, at whose founding meeting the Indian delegation proposed an FTA spanning South and East Asia.

East and Southeast Asian capital, trade, and direct investment are central to India’s modernization drive. In terms of sheer scale and given its role as the least-developed of the major emerging economies, India has a greater requirement for infrastructure development than any other country. Japanese, Chinese, and Korean firms should be central to this effort, as should be financing from Singapore and other developed Asian financial centers. Given the many constraints on investment in India, Indian companies have invested more abroad in recent years than they have in their own country; outbound FDI now exceeds total inbound FDI from all foreign investors, a striking statistic for a country with such massive internal development opportunities.

The new Indian government will continue to deepen India’s trading relationships overseas, following a decade in which the Congress-led administration forged trade agreements with major East and Southeast Asian economies and launched FTA negotiations with the European Union. But it may be even more important to attract foreign, including East and Southeast Asian, capital and direct investment by rolling back restrictions on foreign ownership, land acquisitions, and hiring and firing. A dramatic reform agenda in India combined with new optimism about growth could see a tidal wave of foreign investment enter the Indian market after years of outflows under the Congress-led government. China’s growth slowdown and the disruptive effects of rising Chinese nationalism on business ties with other East and Southeast Asian economies will be further spurs to regional corporations increasing their stakes in the Indian market.

India’s long-term growth trajectory remains intact. Despite sagging growth over the past few years, India’s economy has expanded by roughly 8 percent annually for the past decade. In Purchasing Power Parity terms, India has already surpassed Japan to become the world’s third-largest economy.16 It is expected to achieve the same status at market exchange rates in the 2020s. The US National Intelligence Council predicts that India will be the lead driver of middle-class growth by 2030 and could emerge as the world’s largest economy by the end of the century.17 The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecasts that India could comprise nearly 20 percent of global GDP by 2060.1

India’s youthful population, with more than 600 million citizens under the age of 25, contrasts dramatically with China’s rapidly aging society, where worker numbers have already peaked and the future dependency ratio will spike alarmingly. But India needs to create as many as 20 million jobs a year over the next decade to employ all those young people entering the workforce. This is the challenge Modi confronts. His government’s success in reigniting economic growth will redound across Asia given the tectonic shifts in the balance of power associated with China’s rise, and the high hopes of regional states for India to emerge as a vigorous, but friendly, power alongside it.

Indian-East Asian Synergies in Shaping the Regional Security Order

An Asia that includes a weak, poor, and isolated India would be much more susceptible to Chinese hegemony than one in which India is strong, prosperous, and engaged. In its own ways, India has been balancing against China since their 1962 war, including through an internal defense buildup as well as clear tilts towards Chinese competitors the Soviet Union (in the 1970s and 1980s) and the United States since 1998. The countries share the world’s longest contested border; the Chinese army is occupying a substantial part of Kashmir, in Aksai Chin; Beijing has an active claim over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a territory the size of Switzerland; the countries are competing hard for access to energy resources and raw materials in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America; and India and China intensely contest each other’s influence in Tibet, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, the regions where their civilizational spheres have traditionally overlapped.19

The defining geopolitical competition of the 21st century may be between China and India, highlighting how sharp divisions among rising powers may be of more consequence than the anticipated contest between the West and the rest. But in light of its lackluster growth India has fallen further behind China; China’s economic size and military budgets are multiples of India’s, and the gap lately has been growing rather than decreasing. For this reason, the kind of economic restoration Modi has promised will have a direct impact on the nature of Sino-Indian competition in Asia, and on the external balancing options available to Northeast and Southeast Asian powers in their effort to constrain Chinese primacy. The geopolitical implications of Indian resurgence, should his government manage to lift the economy out of its self-induced doldrums, are enormous.

Both India’s outgoing prime minister and the current Japanese prime minister have declared that an Indo-Japanese axis of interests and values could redraw the strategic map of Asia, ensuring freedom of the sea lanes knitting the Indo-Pacific together and creating a democratic counterweight to authoritarian challengers.20 Japan’s investment in port, road, rail, and pipeline infrastructure in Myanmar is expressly designed to build a land-and-sea bridge connecting India and Japan across mainland Southeast Asia. The Japanese and Indian navies have exercised together in the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean, demonstrating how the power of nations commonly considered to be in different sub-regions of Asia transcends artificial dividing lines on the map. Partnership with an increasingly powerful India may, in fact, be essential to Japan’s continued leadership in Asia in the shadow of Chinese power, giving Japan a quasi-alliance option with Asia’s other emerging giant. The absence of such an alignment could, in the event of US retrenchment, relegate Japan to strategic isolation or Finlandization.

From New Delhi’s perspective, security partnership with Japan in particular forms a pillar of a “counter-encirclement” strategy that responds to China’s political-military penetration of South Asia and the Indian Ocean with a similar logic along the East Asian littoral. Outside North Korea, the top recipients of Chinese economic and military assistance include nearly all of India’s neighbors, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Myanmar. Indian strategists are acutely sensitive to China’s construction of port infrastructure along a “string of pearls” across the northern shores of the Indian Ocean, from Gwadar in Pakistan to Hambantota in Sri Lanka to Chittagong in Bangladesh and Sittwe in Myanmar.

Feeling strategically encircled on land and at sea by a Chinese strategy that appears to target India, even though it has multiple objectives, India’s security diplomacy has contrived to do something similar along China’s southeastern and eastern peripheries. Regular Indian exercises with the South Korean navy make sense in this light, as does India’s close engagement with Myanmar, which is expressly designed to offset Chinese influence along India’s vulnerable northeastern flank. The deepening economic linkages between Northeast and South Asia place a further premium on freedom of the sea lines connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Southeast Asian states also look to India to create strategic ballast and alignment options that help them preserve their freedom of maneuver in the shadow of the great powers. In particular, India enjoys close defense and diplomatic ties with Vietnam, and has stood with Hanoi and other Southeast Asian capitals in opposing Chinese revisionism in the South China Sea. A recent naval incident in those waters in which a Chinese vessel harassed an Indian warship en route to a Vietnamese port call highlighted that India’s interest in freedom of navigation in Southeast Asian waters is more than philosophical.21

Indeed, India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands place its territorial waters close to the very mouth of the Strait of Malacca, giving India a reach into Southeast Asia proper. Indian companies have explored for oil and gas off Vietnam’s territorial shelf. Its defense relationships with Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan all require naval freedom of maneuver through the South China Sea. These realities help explain India’s diplomatic solidarity with key ASEAN powers on South China Sea questions.22 Nor does India have any interest in allowing its successful “Look East” policy, conceived in the 1990s as a way to access Southeast Asian markets but now increasingly assuming a strategic dimension as New Delhi deepens defense relations with key Southeast Asian powers, to be displaced by a Chinese sphere of influence in Southeast Asia that limits Indian access to countries with which it boasts millennia of civilizational and trading ties.

India’s Resurgence and the US Role in East Asia

A strong India that is intimately engaged in economic and security cooperation with its neighbors is central to the future of the US position in the Indo-Pacific. Given China’s increasingly advanced precision-strike capacities and development of asymmetric weapons expressly designed to target US military vulnerabilities, the American military posture in the region is changing to one of greater dispersion of forces from a few traditional land bases in Japan and Korea, while requiring a fluidity of access to port and pre-positioning facilities across the region. This posture would benefit from a powerful India that complicated China’s ability to deploy most of its military assets along its eastern seaboard in ways that directly target US forces, by requiring China to disperse assets across the Tibetan plateau to balance Indian power there.

An Asian balance of power centered on great-power competition in the shallow waters of the East Asian littoral risks inherent instability, given Chinese proximity, the vast distances across which US forces must operate by contrast, and uncertainty about Japan’s future trajectory. A balance of power with both maritime and continental dynamics, with a resurgent India requiring China to manage a security competition along its southwestern border in Tibet, would arguably be more manageable from the perspective of the United States and other offshore powers, including Japan and the major Southeast Asian states.

From a maritime perspective, the center of gravity of threats to the Asian commons on which trans-Pacific prosperity depends has shifted southward, from northern Japan and the Korean peninsula toward the Ryukyus and the South China Sea. The Indian Ocean sea lanes that carry the preponderance of energy imports from the Gulf to Northeast Asia have assumed increased importance to US allies Japan and South Korea as their consumption requirements have grown, and hence to the United States itself. Clearly, a more robust Indian navy will be a central element in US, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese calculations about the security of the maritime routes that transport essential energy supplies across India’s home seas. As India’s economy expands and continues to globalize, its deepening trade and investment ties to the Persian Gulf, eastern Africa, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the West will propel its strategic engagement across and beyond the Indian Ocean littoral in order to protect its growing economic interests.

India’s new government, with its promises of greater reform and economic opening, should accelerate this process in ways that lead New Delhi to develop a more expansive external policy—one likely to be welcomed by a number of states that will look to India not only as a market and source of investment but as a diplomatic and security partner. In turn, the United States will look to India to play a more prominent role in managing security challenges in the Middle East, Southeast, and even East Asia. India is already the world’s largest arms importer, and the United States has emerged as its principal supplier of military hardware. The Indian armed forces exercise more with their American counterparts than with those of any other nation. Under a newly vigorous Indian administration, the United States hopes to intensify a defense partnership launched in 2005 with an eye on promoting India as a security provider across a wide region spanning Aden and Zanzibar in the west to the South and East China Seas. A faster-growing, dynamic India is also more likely to have the confidence to engage the United States as a partner, rather than retreating into the old shibboleths of non-alignment and third-worldism that may have been appropriate when India was poor and weak, but hold little water now that it is emerging as a leading global economy and military power.

1. Max Fischer, “India’s Election in One Stunning Map,” Vox, May 16, 2014,

2. “Election Results 2014: BSP, DMK, MNS, CPI, National Conference Score Zero; Congress Draws Blank In 7 States,” The Times Of India, May 16, 2014,

3. Shekhar Gupta, “Something is Working,” in McKinsey and Company, Reimagining India (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 56.

4. Cited in David Pilling, “India’s Congress Party Has Done Itself Out of a Job,” Financial Times, May 7, 2014,

5. For an excellent assessment see Dhruva Jaishankar, “Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Modi: Does India’s New Prime Minister Actually Have a Foreign Policy?” Foreign Policy, May 19, 2014,

6. Cited in “Narendra Modi Likely To Be Pragmatic Towards China: Official Daily,” The Indian Express, May 14, 2014,

7. Bruce Einhorn and Bhuma Shrivastava, “India Under Narendra Modi Could Be Japan’s Best Friend,” Bloomberg Businessweek, April 10, 2014,

8. “Japan Will Invest $10 Billion In Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Says Kamal Nath,” LiveMint & The Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2007,–10-bn-in-Delhi-Mumbai-Industrial-Corrido.html.

9. Embassy of India in Japan, India-Japan Economic Relations (Tokyo, Embassy of India in Japan, 2013),

10. Ibid.

11. Embassy of India in the Republic of Korea, India-RoK Trade and Economic Relations (Seoul, Embassy of India in RoK, March 2014),

12. Peng Gang, “Doing Business With China,” Economic and Commercial Counsellor’s Office of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of India, January 16, 2013,

13. Rasheeda Bhagat, “Why 5,000 Indian Firms Have Invested In Singapore,” The Hindu, October 28, 2013,

14. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN-India Dialogue Relations (Jakarta, Indonesia, Office of the ASEAN Secretariat, March 2013),

15. Brunei Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, The ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement (Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2012),

16. Chris Giles, “China Poised To Pass US As World’s Leading Economic Power This Year,” Financial Times, April 30, 2014,

17. US National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds (Washington, DC: Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 2012),

18. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Looking to 2060: Long Term Growth Prospects for the World (London: OECD, 2013),

19. John Garver, Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001).

20. For citations and more on this subject, see Daniel Twining, “The Indo-Japanese Strategic Partnership: Asia’s Response to China’s Rise,” The Asan Forum, December 6, 2013,

21. Victor Mallett, “Asian Jitters Drive Race For Strategic Ties”, Financial Times, December 26, 2012,

22. Zachary Keck, “India Rebukes China on South China Sea,” The Diplomat, October 12, 2013,


John Garver

Dan Twining is to be commended for a balanced and insightful analysis of India’s domestic and international situation. He is right too, I believe, about the stakes for greater East Asia in the success or failure of Narendra Modi’s projected drive to revive Indian economic growth and expand economic opportunity via a program of reform. If Beijing is able to continue its now-traditional growth rate for another decade or two while investing substantially in advanced military power, China will almost certainly become the dominant country in greater East Asia. Whether China becomes merely preeminent or hegemon of that pivotal region will depend to a considerable degree on the success of the economic reform efforts of leaders such as Modi and Abe Shinzo.

I may disagree with Mr. Twining, however, on whether Modi’s India will be willing to move quite far in aligning with Japan and the United States (and/or the Philippines, Vietnam, and Australia) to balance China. My sense is that New Delhi, even under Modi, will be careful in aligning with other countries to balance China. India’s objective, it seems to me, is to persuade Beijing to be more “friendly” to India. Such “friendship” may be operationalized to mean such things as: agreeing to a final, definitive settlement of the territorial issue; drawing away from Beijing’s entente cordiale with Pakistan; respecting India’s special security interests in Nepal and Bhutan; and limiting China’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean. Such Chinese policies would mark a major shift from previous ones that were premised on confronting India from a position of strength so as to keep it cautious and respectful of China. The reason Beijing might decide to adopt such “friendly” policies would be, of course, to prevent India from moving into anti-China alignment with Japan, the United States, or other regional countries.

The success of such a “friendship” policy toward China would require New Delhi to convince Beijing that it can actually be detached from an emerging anti-China coalition. If it moves too far too swiftly toward alignment with Tokyo or Washington, Beijing could conclude that efforts to draw India away from the emerging China-balancing coalition would be futile, or even that China needed to intensify its counter-encirclement efforts against India. Under such circumstances, not only would Indian hopes for much “friendlier” Chinese policies be doomed, India could be exposed as the weakest and most easily reachable (overland) of the several big powers “ganging up” against China. India might find itself the weakest link in the “anti-China encirclement” and the only one with Chinese armies right on its borders.

India currently enjoys an advantageous position in the greater East Asia diplomatic game. Sino-Japanese relations are at a nadir, Japan is abandoning its earlier deferential attitude toward Beijing, and it is courting India with programs designed to counter China’s growing web of power and influence. The United States is unwilling to abandon its alliance with Japan for the sake of staying in China’s good graces, is increasingly apprehensive about China’s future trajectory, and realizes that adding India’s weight to the balance will help make Beijing more cautious. Beijing’s more assertive efforts to expand control in the South China Sea are leading regional capitals to take more seriously the utility of collective efforts to resist China’s advances. In this situation Beijing will want to prevent or minimize India’s alignment with the gathering “anti-China coalition.” If New Delhi defends its national security interests and demands that China pay in politically substantial coin (and not merely with fine sounding rhetoric of joint declarations), India may be able to persuade Beijing to adopt more “friendly” policies. But it would also have to convince Beijing that such Chinese payment would be worthwhile, and not merely result in Indian gains putting India in a stronger, less vulnerable position--while India continues movement toward participation in the “anti-China” coalition. New Delhi must make sure Beijing fears Indian participation in such a coalition, but also remains convinced that India could be detached by gestures of “friendship.” Considerable Indian diplomatic skill will be required.