Washington plays out 'Indian defense' in big chess game


Sean Kilpatrick / AP / File

In the fight against China, the Americans have decided to bet on India

During his most recent visit to Washington in June this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was received at the highest level, just as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was. He was honored with a speech at a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate, while President Biden hosted a gala dinner for him at the White House. In addition, representatives of leading American companies gathered to meet Modi. It is hard to even remember who else has been so pompously welcomed by Americans in recent times and why?

I think the key to this lies in the phrase that Modi uttered while addressing the Congress: "The dark clouds of coercion and confrontation are casting their shadow over the Indo-Pacific region. Stability in the region has become one of the central objectives of our partnership."

It is obvious that "under the dark clouds of coercion" Modi was metaphorically referring to China, and one must admit that the Americans, like him, are also wary of the Chinese clouds. And the desire to disperse these "clouds" pushes them toward each other.

One can say that the two countries are just having a candy-bouquet period of relations. As a result of the visit, America and India agreed on many things. These include an increase in the number of consulates in both countries, an agreement on energy minerals and solar energy, a decision to establish production of American engines for the Indian Air Force and drones, and space agreements.

In addition, the United States has unveiled agreements to sell arms to India and exchange classified military technology with India. Even the fact that a significant part of the American establishment has grievances concerning the development of democracy in Indian society did not prevent it.

Perhaps these countries have never been as close as they are now and so interested in each other.

It is not without reason that John Kirby of the U.S. National Security Council said, "There is no more important partner than India in terms of issues like artificial intelligence, supply chains, clean energy, semiconductors and climate change."

Why did the Americans suddenly receive the leader of India at such a high level? It is very simple. In its struggle with China, which has intensified in recent years, the White House saw India as a potential ally to contain China, which is seen as a dangerous rival. And not just because of Taiwan.

First and foremost, the White House is concerned about Beijing's growing economic power. Here are the impassioned figures that prove it: according to the IMF, in 2023, the U.S. GDP will amount to $26.9 trillion, while China's GDP will reach $19.4 trillion. The U.S. seems to have no reason to worry, but according to economists' forecasts, America's current 30% advantage is likely to diminish over the next twenty years.

Now let's look at the Indian economy, for which the White House has opened its arms wide. It is a rapidly developing country, the fifth largest economy in the world, and it sees Washington not only as a powerful counterweight to China's growing influence – but also as an opportunity, with U.S. help, to boost its economy even further. New Delhi sees Washington as a strong political and economic ally as it tries to take its rightful place on the world stage.

And it has a lot to show Americans as its successes. India's economy has grown 7.3 percent since 2018 and its GDP reached $9.45 trillion in 2017, the country ranked third behind the PRC ($23.16 trillion) and the United States ($19.39 trillion). Goldman Sachs Bank predicts that India's GDP will surpass that of the Eurozone in 2051 and America by 2075, this assumes growth of 5.8% over the next five years and 4.6% after 2030. At what expense are such rosy forecasts?

The population of this former British colony will reach 1.4286 billion in 2023, compared to 1.4257 in China. That is, India will already have more people than China. And a large number of labor force, and cheaper than in the Celestial Empire, can ensure sustainable development and economic growth in India. And India's population is mostly young labor force. Plus, a significant number of its citizens speak English, unlike the Chinese. It is not without reason that India has become a center where a large number of local programmers are concentrated, fulfilling orders from all over the world: they do their work quickly, qualitatively and cheaply.

For the same reason, quite a few international companies have moved their call centers to this country.

Let us try to compare the strengths and weaknesses of two competing countries: India and China. To begin with, the conflict between India and China is of a fundamental nature. Both countries are developing as global industrial producers, competing for the same markets and the same resources. Both countries have problems with their Muslim populations, both have atomic weapons, and both have powerful and wealthy diasporas abroad with which to expand their influence. That said, China is now in demographic decline, with its labor force past its peak, and India is booming. But of India's 900 million able-bodied citizens, only about half can be considered the country's real labor force, and more than a third of women are illiterate. In general, it must be recognized that the abject poverty and casteism of Indian society hinder the education of the population.

China's GDP is more than five times larger than India's and about 2.7 times larger in purchasing power parity terms. China's military spending is 3-4 times higher and its foreign exchange reserves are at least 6-7 times larger. China's trade volumes are about the same number of times higher, and its advantage in global development lending is astronomical. The Chinese are successfully developing Africa, Central Asian republics of the former USSR and other countries and continents. In this matter, India is far inferior to them.

And New Delhi realizes that China, whose economy is five times larger than India's, cannot be caught up without American help, if only because Beijing started its movement into the ranks of the largest economies much earlier. And those who catch up, relying only on their own strength, always lag behind.

And now, when Western companies are very wary of China, India, which has opened its doors wide to foreign capital, has a great opportunity to boost its economy, especially since it has set itself extremely ambitious goals – to take its rightful place in the list of the world's giant powers. And American business captains were quick to recognize the opportunities.

After talking to Prime Minister Modi, Elon Musk said, "It was a great meeting, I'm very excited about India's future. I think it is more secure than any other major country in the world." And Apple CEO Tim Cook, too, said he was awed by the dynamism of the Indian economy. And American corporation Micron is building a billion-dollar plant in India.

India-U.S. relations have strengthened to such an extent that America and India have agreed to end six pending trade disputes between them at the WTO.

In addition, by strengthening ties with this country, the White House is "punishing" Beijing, showing that it has found a worthy replacement for it. And India is raising its prestige not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but also on the world stage.

But India is pursuing a wise multi-vector policy. Taking advantage of opportunities offered by the United States, it does not rush headlong into the arms of Washington and the European Union, but cooperates with Russia within the BRICS framework. And after the U.S. and its Western allies practically blockaded Russia, India did not follow their lead, but rather strengthened its economic ties with Russia. It continues to buy weapons from Russia, has become one of the largest exporters of Russian oil, and has not condemned the special military operation in Ukraine. And it does not need at all that this situation may lead to even greater rapprochement between Russia and Beijing. So it is absolutely impossible to imagine Indians as unconditional allies of the U.S. as the British.

It is possible that New Delhi's membership in BRICS with Russia and China will make it pursue a more balanced policy and not become a tool in the fight against China, which is also a member of this organization. India has absolutely no intention of becoming completely beholden to American foreign policy. Although it is greatly frightened by China's growing ties with Pakistan, a country with which it has been in constant conflict probably since the two countries were formed. Moreover, one should not forget the unresolved territorial conflict with China over part of Tibet: the last time there was an armed clash not so long ago – in 2020. Then, by the way, the White House completely sided with India. Therefore, New Delhi sees the United States, with which it now conducts more joint military exercises than with any other country, as a counterweight to China's growing military power. And, in turn, the White House in confronting the "Chinese dragon" is very much hoping for the help of the "Indian elephant".