Logbook of an Ambassador
China’s expansion, regional reactions to it and India’s ambiguous maneuvering
In the field of competition for domination beyond national borders, one of the keys to strategic power is the capacity to project military power. For those who fear Chinese expansion, it is therefore relevant to look first at the development of China’s military means. From 2008 to 2018, China has doubled its defense budget. That budget is today still a fraction only of the USA defense budget, i.e. less than a quarter, but China’s defense spending is more than double the size of each of the other three biggest spenders in Asia, that is India, Japan and Russia, and it is still growing.
Russia’s policies and strategic moves in Asia: with or without India?
Russia, a big European power, is also an Asian power, in fact a genuinely Eurasian great power. Due to its conflict with its largest European neighbour, the Ukraine, Russia finds itself isolated at its European front. Having realised that a greater role in a European context seems unattainable for Russia, it is turning to the East for enhancing its political and economic potential in Asia. China and India have different roles in Russia’s strategy.
India’s current geopolitical positioning
India will soon be heading for its next general elections. Prime Minister Modi was brought into power with the general elections of May 2014. His first term, thus, comes to an end in 2019 and the country, as the world’s largest democracy, will be getting prepared to one more giant election process. Modi’s fate will be decided by domestic politics, not policies in the field of external relations. Assessing domestic politics is reasonably possible only from inside India. We, in this column, have been observing India from outside and would therefore not qualify for a domestic perspective. We have been looking at PM Modi’s achievements and positioning in the world. Now, we wonder whether India’s electorate will also take some of that dimension into account when choosing the next government.
India and Iran: the wider geopolitical context
US-President Trump’s unilateral sanctions on Iran have one useful side-effect: they shake other big players of world politics so much that their national strategies become visible to a wider audience of observers, either by way of being redefined or by way of confirmation. India, which does so little to impose itself on world affairs according to its potential, appears in shaken power equations as a possible core element of strategic networks.
The “Indo-Pacific”: a strategic concept gets concrete
We have introduced the notion of “Indo-Pacific” to our readers two months ago. The term is developing its international acknowledgment; Prime Minister Narendra Modi has put it at the centre of his strategic outreach. The US Secretary of Defence James Mattis has publicly recognized its relevance and the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command in charge of US military activities in the Pacific has been renamed “Indo-Pacific Command”.
China gets serious in the Indian Ocean
For India’s prestige and strategic image, the so-called Doklam standoff last year ended in a tactical advantage. Chinese troops and road construction teams had to withdraw from a contested corner at the Bhutan-China border. See our column of August 2017. Since, Indian armed forces have seemed to be able and willing to oppose Chinese attempts to challenge the common border in the Himalayans.
India’s Prime Minister Modi at the World Economic Forum in Davos
PM Modi was this year’s opening key note speaker at the WEF in Davos. You would have to go back 21 years to see the Indian Prime Minister come to Davos with a big government and business delegation.
The new “Indo-Pacific Region”: What is in it for India?
It was an Indian naval officer who coined the term “Indo-Pacific” in 2007. Now, US Government officials have switched to the term as a replacement for “Asia” or the usual “Asia-Pacific”. In most recent statements by the US President himself, it has systematically become the exclusive strategic term for “Asia-Pacific”.
When India meets China in Bhutan: the Doklam standoff
For a few weeks, India and China were engaged in a standoff in a remote Himalayan Valley on the border of China and Bhutan, the Doklam plateau claimed by Bhutan and China. Indian forces went there to prevent the Chinese from going on building a road on Bhutanese territory, as Indians and Bhutanese see it, while the Chinese claim to be building the road on Chinese territory. The least one has to acknowledge is that sovereign rights over that Himalayan corner are contested.
Does China’s new “Silk Road” matter for India?
China’s deep sea ports in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan have been considered by international strategists as expression of China’s desire to protect its international trade routes through the Indian Ocean. Among Indian strategists those ports are seen as elements of scaring “strings of pearls” encircling India. Eminent Indian Government Officials, however, deny the existence of such Chinese threats to Indian strategic interests. Nevertheless, India has sought a new partnership with Iran and concluded an agreement to develop the port of Chabahar in Iran’s South-East, in order to build its own trade route through Iran to Central Asia and thus bypassing Pakistan.