Over the course of the last few decades, the unprecedented rise of China has become a matter of grave concern for great powers across the globe. China’s increasingly expansionist policies present a direct threat to India since it is a major Asian power in China’s immediate neighbourhood. Moreover, India has unresolved border dispute with China, which has been left over from history, and has significantly escalated of late. China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), according to the Communist Party of China (CPC), is merely a geo-economic endeavour to strengthen economic co-operation. However, it is perceived as a move towards establishing geopolitical dominance in the Eurasian and Indo-Pacific regions by analysts around the world. India’s anxieties about China has of late been further fueled by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that passes through India’s Gilgit-Baltistan territory occupied by Pakistan.

 

CPEC is perhaps the most prominent of initiatives coming under the BRI and has received fierce opposition from India as it compromises India’s territorial sovereignty. To make matters worse for India, Pakistan is not the only country in the subcontinent with strong ties with China. Nepal, a country with deep cultural and economic link with India, has drifted further and further away from its southern neighbour. The new Nepalese government has become outrightly pro-China and has been hostile towards New Delhi, even claiming parts of India in its new map. Yet another South Asian country with similar links with India is Sri Lanka, which was left with no other option than to lease its Hambantota port to China for 99 years in December 2017, owing to its inability to pay debts to the country. The countries in South Asia which are India’s neighbours have all, in short, beholden to China through its BRI, with the singular exception of Bhutan. The country’s proximity to India has remained largely unchanged through the decades.

 

Furthermore, the most recent border face-off between India and China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have only made the already tense relations even saltier, especially since India has been struck hard and deep by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the matter is under negotiation through diplomatic channels for now, there is clear animosity growing between India and China. Therefore, it is now more important than ever for India to counter China’s attempts at hegemony in South Asia and beyond, and to ensure a multipolar Asia as well as a multipolar world. In order to do so, India must strengthen strategic and economic partnerships with countries that share similar values and goals. This makes it essential for India to forge stronger relations with the United States and its allies such as Japan and Australia.

 

The shared concerns over China’s pursuit for hegemony is one of the biggest sources of support for India from the US. Moreover, both India and the US prefer a multipolar Asia, unlike China. As a result, the bilateral relations between India and the US have improved considerably over the past few decades. There has also been an increase in strategic collaboration between the two nations over the past few years. The current US government has been supportive of India amid tensions at the LAC. In fact, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even lauded the Indian government for banning Chinese apps earlier this year. Moreover, Pompeo also urged India to reduce its dependency on China. Even in the past, the US approved of India purchasing defence equipment from Israel while discouraging the sale of Israeli arms to China. Given the fact that China possesses massive strength in terms of military as well as economic power, America’s support becomes crucial for India’s attempts at curbing Chinese aggression.

 

While India’s growing relationship with the US is central in this regard, Japan plays a very important role because of it being an Asian power and one which is co-located with China in East Asia. Japan and India have always enjoyed a warm dynamic and share similar concerns in Asia. Just like India, Japan also has territorial dispute with China. In addition, the complementarity of the two states has played a massive part in further improving the bilateral ties. To top it off, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have developed significant personal rapport. The impact of this relationship is projected to continue even with changes in the Japanese leadership. On a strategic front as well, the Indo-Japanese relations are stronger than ever as Japan joined the India-US bilateral Malabar naval exercise on a permanent basis in 2015. Japan also agreed to collaborate with India for the production of US-2 amphibious aircraft with applications in search and rescue operation and gathering intelligence. The defence cooperation is an important part of the partnership, given the Chinese threat for both countries.

 

Japan is also one of India’s biggest partners under India’s ‘Act East’ policy framework. The two nations also share a similar vision for the Indo-Pacific with the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as the nucleus of the regional order. Furthermore, the Japanese view of the Indo-Pacific aligns with that of India as it also accommodates Africa, unlike the US and Australia. Additionally, the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) pioneered by Japan and India could help both of them to have a strong footing in Africa as the African nations have gotten cautious about Chinese investments. The two nations have found it essential to cooperate on a bilateral level and on the international stage, both economically as well as strategically to prevent China’s exercise of hegemony in Asia.

 

India has also been growing increasingly close to Australia. The recent India-Australia virtual summit was a step in that direction as the two nations agreed to upgrading the “2+2” bilateral meetings to a ministerial level. Even though the two states have tense relations with China, it was not something that was discussed. Despite an increase in strategic cooperation between the two democracies in recent years, India has repeatedly blocked Australia’s entry into the Malabar naval exercises owing to Chinese pressure. However, now with revival of the Quad and inclusion of Japan, Australia’s addition to the naval exercises seems like the right choice. It is important that India does not shy away from projecting military strength in the Indian Ocean if it wants to pose a serious challenge to China’s expansionist policies.

 

The revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the US-Japan-India-Australia in 2017 was perceived as a strategic alliance to counter China. However, the Quad countries continue to maintain that the minilateral aims for an open Indo-Pacific and have no military reasons. For Japan and India, it is important that the US has a presence in the Indo-Pacific, but President Trump’s “America First” policy is a hurdle in that aspect. The anti-globalist approach of Trump’s foreign policy has been a major blow to both India and Japan. Not much has been accomplished by the Quad so far due to the lack of clarity in their goals, but there is plenty of untapped potential.

 

If India wants to emerge as a force strong enough to counter Chinese aggression in Asia, it must collaborate with states that share similar concerns, values, and goals. An increase in cooperation with like-minded nations does not necessarily translate to an outright alliance or the abandonment of countries that do not share a similar view of the world order. There must be balance as there has been over the years, but not at the expense of the nation’s economic or geopolitical objectives on the international stage. If India aims to elevate its current status as a middle power in transition and become a great power, there must be an enhanced focus on economic, strategic, and military cooperation and formations of more complex and intricate partnerships. Stronger ties with the US and its allies are the need of the hour, and such ties can only be built though greater involvement across various fields. Since India is not comparable to China in terms of economic or military strength at the moment, the most effective way to maintain its sphere of influence during this transition is by partnering with powerful states with a shared cause.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are personal.