The Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) co-hosted a webinar with the World Trade Center Kochi and Indo-American Chamber of Commerce focusing on the global dynamics revolving around the ‘Future of India–US Relations and the Role of China in the Changing Global Order’. The keynote speaker was Ambassador TP Srinivasan, former Ambassador, educationalist and foreign policy expert. The session was moderated by Dr Dhanuraj, Chairman, CPPR.

The session commenced with acknowledging the redefinition of the world order and the Trade war between the US and China being the most important bilateral relationship of the century thus far.

Ambassador Srinivasan began the discussion by drawing a parallel between the havoc that was wrecked by the incident of 9/11 and the pandemic pandemonium being faced today. Much like how the only aftereffect of 9/11 is increased security at airports, he stressed on how things and events today will also churn their way back to normalcy, in anticipating the aftermath of the pandemic.

With the definition of success being ever dynamic, according to him, ‘survival’ is the success in today’s definition. Amidst this existential crisis and uncertainty, countries are finding their place in the world order. India–US relations have changed for the better in the past few months. While India had a good relation with the US under the Obama administration, the bilateral relations have seen a new ‘symphony’ under the Trump Administration. He traced how India was in a balancing act of diplomacy in resettling relations with the US, China and Russia, before it found itself in the clasp of the pandemic. Dr Dhanuraj further iterated how the axis of India-US-China relations has evolved asymmetrically.

Ambassador Srinivasan revisited his diplomatic tenure in the United States and traced its diplomatic relations from 1997 up to the present scenario. He mentioned how the Modi government accelerated the diplomatic process by entering the arena with four top priorities—security, economic development, Indian diaspora, neighbours—and lucky enough, Indo-US relations improved. Re-election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister saw the birth of the slogan ‘Howdy Modi, Namaste Trump’, which reflects the larger picture of an unpredictable relationship with the US.

He also noted how the pandemic has set the centre stage for the future of the world to pan out. He shed light on the recent developments of the Indo–China relationship until the stand-off at LAC, and how this only brought India closer to the US. While China’s intentions stand unclear, he noted that the recent ban of 59 Chinese apps could at least make an impact on China. According to the Ambassador, there are three ways of dealing with China—by negotiating with top officials of the PLA, through economic actions or by stretching our military capabilities.

Discussions around the struggle for dominance by countries included mentions of the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston. He stated that since Europe is not united, the US cannot depend on NATO for establishing a united front to the world. Therefore, for the US, establishing relationships with India and Australia looked more fruitful than the European Union.

China’s desire for world leadership makes expansionism an important task for Xi Jinping, and he stated that the LAC standoff was more about creating chaos than about conquering Indian land. It cannot be denied that India is indeed holding multilateral engagement with the participation in SAARC, G20 and G7 meetings, but it still keeps us in a tight corner just like China, and India cannot afford to have any internal conflicts during this time.

Talking about Joe Biden and the US Presidential election, Ambassador Srinivasan claimed that the prospective Democratic Nominee may not abandon multilateralism and thus would not abandon China, but may manage ties with both India and China.

Extending the conversion, Dr Dhanuraj posed a question regarding the possible changes as a result of a change in US leadership. To this, Ambassador Srinivasan responded that surpassing the US would not be easy because even post pandemic, the public will prefer the US over China. The pandemic has built for China a very suspicious global image. America has not justified its image as a world leader either; it has not successfully utilised its governance, technology, research and development for leading the fight against the virus.

Furthermore, during the Q&A round, discussions around a prospective cold war era’s approach were held. However, these were debunked by Ambassador Srinivasan stating that even though being rivals, the US and China did not wish to destroy each other.

To a question about India’s relationship with both the US and China, he responded that the India–China relationship is deep rooted economically, with China providing India around 70–80 per cent of its pharmaceuticals.

Quoting ‘Chanakya’, Ambassador Srinivasan also mentioned that ‘neighbours cannot be friends.’ This has been made clear by the recent India–Nepal diplomatic tensions. He concluded the discussion by deeming ‘online diplomacy’ the new normal.

The report is compiled by Ashwati and Jessica Research Interns, Centre for Strategic Studies.

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