By Liu Lulu (Global Times, 15 Nov 2017) – “Two of the world’s great democracies should also have the world’s greatest militaries,” US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi resolved Monday on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in the Philippines.
Washington’s military pledge is undoubtedly encouraging to New Delhi. India has long regarded China as its potential rival, insisting that Beijing’s growing military strength is “threatening” its strategic security and negatively affecting its control of border issues and regional affairs in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Some Indians have interpreted China’s road construction in Doklam as a strategic move that may pose a threat to India’s Siliguri Corridor. This eventually resulted in the standoff between Chinese and Indian armies, jeopardizing bilateral Beijing-New Delhi relations. Washington clearly understands how to flatter India by offering to help expand New Delhi’s military capabilities.
India’s aspiration to become a military power is well known. The country hopes strengthening its military capability will improve its regional influence. However, the experience of other developing countries shows that improving a country’s economic base is a prerequisite for enhanced comprehensive strength and economic well-being. Without a sound economic base, military development is like an empty shell that may collapse over time. Instead of swooning over Washington’s military pledge, New Delhi should focus on economic development and actively seek economic cooperation with other countries. This is how it can improve its regional and international status in a fundamental way.
New Delhi regards its Western democratic system as its best advantage, believing it allows the country to sit as an equal among developed countries. This is surely why India appeared overly proud at being included in the quadrilateral meeting that included the US, Japan and Australia last week. However, the superiority of India’s political system has not been realized. Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of the Indian National Congress, wrote in the Financial Times earlier this month that compared with China, which creates an average of 50,000 jobs every day, India “manages only 500.” Meanwhile, the heavy air pollution in New Delhi has attracted widespread attention from the international media. Whether the system’s superiority will be realized sometime in the future is still unknown. India must improve its economy, get air pollution under effective control without suspending its industrialization process, and refrain from puffing up its chest with false pride.
Some Indian media started to boast about New Delhi’s strategic significance to Washington after the quadrilateral talks, arguing that Trump’s decision to shift his attention from the Asia-Pacific to “Indo-Pacific” is a signal that Washington was elevating New Delhi to the center of its Asia strategy. No matter how Indian media reports US-India relations and the country’s democratic system, economic development is the determining factor for India’s regional and international influences.