In a widely noted and strongly criticised speech late last week, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, laid out two definitive propositions on China. One is that nearly five decades of US engagement with China have arrived at a dead-end. In the other, Pompeo recognised that the US can’t address the China challenge alone and called for collective action. He mused on whether “it’s time for a new grouping of like-minded nations, a new alliance of democracies.”
Pompeo, however, insisted that tackling China is very unlike the “containment of Soviet Union”. It is “about a complex new challenge that we’ve never faced before. The USSR was closed off from the free world. Communist China is already within our borders”.
While India must pay close attention to the unfolding China debate in the US, it must also note the structural changes in American engagement with China over the last two decades.
America’s political and institutional sentiment in favour of rearranging the bilateral economic relationship with China, resisting Beijing’s expansionism, and countering its influence in operations at home has gained steady ground. So has the idea of working with like-minded countries, especially large democracies, to balance China.
“Delhi will certainly demur at Pompeo calling the group an ‘alliance’. It would rather have it described as a ‘coalition of democracies’,” he states.
The idea of democracies working together has an enduring appeal for the US. That India figures in this American vision is relatively new. So is Delhi’s readiness to reciprocate.
“Constructing a global coalition of democracies will take much work and quite some time. But engaging with that initiative, amidst the rise and assertion of China, should open a whole range of new possibilities for Indian foreign and security policies,” concludes Mohan.
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