India-US strike balancing act following Blinken visit

Amid a maze geopolitical challenges such as the Israel-Hamas conflict, and China's military expansion in the Indo-Pacific, experts say US views its deepening partnership with India as crucial

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in New Delhi (photo: DW)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in New Delhi (photo: DW)


Reaffirming commitment to their growing partnership , and a shared focus on the Indo-Pacific, India and the US touched base on critical problems facing the world during high-level talks this week.

With the Israel-Hamas conflict raging, the Russia-Ukraine war grinding on, and China's assertiveness continuing in the Indo-Pacific, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met their Indian counterparts in New Delhi.

Blinken arrived in New Delhi from South Korea, the latest leg of a marathon trip that has included a G7 foreign ministers' meeting in Japan and a whirlwind tour of the West Asia.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's state visit to the US in June, which included deals to boost cooperation in key areas including defense, space and trade, has prompted closer ties between the two nations.

This week's discussions picked up the threads from Modi's visit to Washington and President Joe Biden's trip to New Delhi for the G20 summit in September.

"We're building on a rather remarkable year of engagement, and I think it's just evidence of the fact that we have not only the strongest bilateral partnership we ever had, but also a regional one and, indeed, a global one," Blinken said in his opening remarks.

Containing China

Former diplomats and experts believe the ongoing momentum can be leveraged to further strengthen bilateral ties and build strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific vis-a-vis China.

"Deepening India-US ties lay a favorable balance of power in Asia and keep a check on authoritarian China's push for hegemony in the Indo-Pacific. What is more, the US is expecting India to play an off-shore balancing role to shape and correct the regional architectural balance," Sreeram Chaulia, professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs, told DW.

"The US wants India to take a more active role in the sub regions where it expects it to be a moderator, an aggregator, and a connector. It wants India to be part of the 'hub-and-spoke' model," said Chaulia, adding the US is calling on allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific to help deter China's aggressive behavior.

Under the "hub-and-spoke" model, the US serves as the hub while Asian nations with military ties to it form the spokes. It is a system that helps the US consolidate its policy influence over Asian allies, supervise inter-alliance cooperation, and increase cooperation.

Israel-Hamas conflict looms in the background

As the Israel-Hamas conflict continues, India has urged both the sides to shun violence, de-escalate the situation and create conditions for an early reopening of direct peace negotiations towards a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue.

India has historically balanced its relations with the Israelis and the Palestinians. But after the horrific Hamas attack on October 7, India expressed solidarity with Israel, while also reiterating its support for a two-state solution.

"The subtle shift in India's position on the Palestinian issue which was on display is part of the more general shift in India's foreign policy in getting closer to the US and the West. And Israel has emerged as a trusted partner over the last few years," former Indian ambassador Mohan Kumar told DW.

The conflict has likely put new initiatives on hold, such as an envisioned India-Middle East Economic Corridor and cooperation among the I2U2 grouping of India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

"India is one of the few countries which can credibly talk to both the Palestinian Authority and to Israel. So, India can potentially play a mediation role. What remains to be seen is whether India will be asked specifically by the two sides to mediate and whether it has the 'agency' to do it," Kumar added.

Meera Shankar, a former envoy to the US, also maintained that while India has supported Israel's right to defend itself against terrorism, it has also reiterated its support for a two-state solution and for alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

"The impact of this crisis on the broader region and on the India-Middle East Corridor is likely to figure in the talks. India would also be concerned that in dealing with these crises, the US does not take its eye off the ball from the serious challenges in the Indo-Pacific," Shankar told DW.

Expanding US-India ties

"Both sides would also review their bilateral ties and the progress made on the important decisions taken by President Biden and Prime Minister Modi to strengthen their strategic partnership," Shankar added.

During Modi's visit to the US, an ambitious slate of agreements was unveiled, ranging from advanced technology cooperation to climate change and the production of fighter jet engines, to investments in semiconductors and countering terrorism.

"We are expecting progress in bilateral strategic defense partnership negotiations especially, by negotiating an early conclusion of security of supply arrangement and the reciprocal defense procurement agreement," K P Vijayalakshmi, professor and head of geopolitics and international relations at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, told DW.

"India seeks to balance the China challenge by stimulating its partnership with the US, with whom it has signed foundational agreements, enhanced commercial dialogue, and signed the initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET)," added Vijayalakshmi.

New Delhi has invited Biden for India's Republic Day celebrations, as part of its plan to host the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue leaders' summit in January 2024.

"The relationship will get a further fillip if Biden accepts. After that, both countries will be in election mode next year," said Chaulia.

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Published: 11 Nov 2023, 9:07 AM