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India is, and will be a non-aligned power in the New Cold War

India is a non-aligned power; this move not only protects its own varied relations (as seen with India-Russia ties and even India-China bilateral) but also allows it to provide guidance and support to smaller economies in Asia and the Indo-Pacific

Jakub Kamiński: What term would fit best to describe current Indo-Chinese relations?

Dr Jagannath Panda: There were always ups and downs in India-China relations. In recent period what we have seen, the downward movements is more clearly visible. The Chinese are becoming more aggressive, and they are trying to change the status quo unilaterally through new claims. Even though we see that trade and economic ties are improving and growing, several factors will continue to harm relations in times to come. We see the rise of a nationalist trend in China. There is a lot of emphasis by top communist leaders about how China must look to engage with new maritime and land territorial expansion, including in South China Sea, Taiwan, and China-India boundary. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) remains a permanent source of tensions, and as seen with the time it has taken to finalize de-escalation from Galwan, neither side is keen to put aside even a fraction of territory, especially as Chinese claims remain far-fetched. Additionally, Xi Jinping’s administration is trying to derail negotiations on the boundary issue.

The Chinese are becoming more aggressive, and they are trying to change the status quo unilaterally through new claims.

Isn’t the rise of nationalism problem of both Chinese and Indian governments? BJP’s promotion of Hindutva, liquidation of partial autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir or, some might say, discriminatory approach towards Muslim-Indian citizens can be seen as having similar roots.

Comparison between the Chinese and Indian form of nationalisms is misplaced. India remains at its core a democratic, secular, and open country. Internal matters of the country have seen strong actions by the government to maintain peace, and while fringe elements in a multiparty system might create tensions between communities, the constitution of the land protects equality and religious freedom. These are age old values of India and will stay beyond government changes.

Let’s investigate the new National Security Strategy of the United States. In this document, Biden administration describe China not only as a strategic competitor, but also as a partner in dealing with a few global challenges, e.g. climate change or future new potential pandemic. Does India share similar philosophy?

Yes, both India and the US share some complementarity. As democratic countries, they see the rise of authoritarian powers like China as a threat. NSS also complements Indian strategy, especially by perceiving Beijing as a maritime aggressor. China’s territorial expansionism and revisionist approach, which is the most problematic trend that is seen in contemporary global affairs, has received due recognition. At the same time, New Delhi’s general view on China is relatively different. America sees China as a competitor and a country that can challenge their dominant position in the world. On the other hand, New Delhi’s qualms rest with the Chinese Communist Party, but not necessarily the rise of China. Chinese development is a positive trend from our point of view because India does see it as an opportunity for economic cooperation.

Comparison between the Chinese and Indian form of nationalisms are misplaced. India remains at its core a democratic, secular, and open country.

What is Indian perspective on the US goal to create a wide coalition of countries advocating the vision of rules-based global order and creating a democratic alliance against autocracies? Does India see itself as part of such alliance?

India has an interest in and responsibility to building a united worldwide democratic forum. In other words, New Delhi is on the side of countries protecting and promoting the rules-based order that safeguards the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations. At the same time, democracy is also a contesting forum, when it comes to systemic interpretation. To that respect, the kind of democracy India and many other countries are talking about is undergoing variety of interpretations in wider politics. Therefore, even as there is ’like-mindedness’, but there will never be full agreement.

To have such a forum is a great idea, but it does not mean agreeing to everything that other democratic countries are saying. India would like to position itself exclusively as an independent, non-aligned democratic country. Due of its scale and multireligious and multiethnic society, India’s domestic constituency does shape its own policy. New Delhi would like to establish its own strategic stance with western democracies, but not in a conformist tone.

Some analysts say, that in recent years we are facing the process of polarization in international relations, that leads us to some kind of “Cold War 2.0”. Does your answer suggest that India in such scenario would find itself in another Non-Aligned Movement?

India is a non-aligned power; this move not only protects its own varied relations (as seen with India-Russia ties and even India-China bilateral) but also allows it to provide guidance and support to smaller economies in Asia and the Indo-Pacific who would like to remain away from great power politics. India’s non-aligned stand is unlikely to change, even as it becomes more assertive in protecting its national interests and security.

India adopted its own development model, different from the Chinese one. Which one of them could be more attractive to adapt for other countries of the Global South? Can this model be seen as an example for others?

India’s model is not yet fully established, so it makes sense to wait and see how its economic power is evolving. It is still about India’s rising role in global affairs and how it will position itself. As India will rise, other countries will see it positively, but there will be a lot of expectations too. New Delhi will be much more forthcoming to invest in foreign affairs. Nevertheless, there are many domestic problems to solve before India become a great power.

India’s non-aligned stand is unlikely to change, even as it becomes more assertive in protecting its national interests and security.

How long will it take?

Maybe another decade or more. India is not a revolutionary revisionist power like China, instead it is evolutionary revisionist power, so it needs to buy time for itself. New Delhi has to first look at the interest of its own population and to build unity within India, in order to translate it into positive foreign policy propositions.

Contributor to the Nowa Konfederacja and the Boym Institute. Student of international relations at the University of Warsaw. Interested in, inter alia, the Indo-Pacific region and the transformations in China and its foreign policy. He has been associated with the third sector since 2017.
is the Head of the Stockholm Centre for South Asian and Indo-Pacific Affairs (SCSA-IPA) at the Institute for Security and Development Policy (ISDP), Sweden. He is also the Director for Europe-Asia Research Cooperation at the YCAPS in Japan; and a Senior Fellow at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS), The Netherlands. Dr. Panda has testified to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission of the US Congress. As a Senior Expert on Indo-Pacific and China, Dr. Panda leads a Books Series with Routledge and is the Series Editor for Routledge Studies on Think Asia. He is the author of the book India-China Relations (Routledge: 2017) and China’s Path to Power: Party, Military and the Politics of State Transition (Pentagon Press: 2010). Dr. Panda’s recent edited works are: Chinese Politics and Foreign Policy under Xi Jinping (co-edited), Quad Plus and Indo-Pacific (Routledge: 2021); Scaling India-Japan Cooperation in Indo-Pacific and Beyond 2025 (KW Publishing Ltd. 2019), and The Korean Peninsula and Indo-Pacific Power Politics: Status Security at Stake (Routledge, 2020); and co-editor of The Future of Korean Peninsula: Korea 2032 and Beyond (Routledge, 2021).

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