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Vipin asked: Is US' pivots to Asia nothing but a strategy to contain china? How should India play out in this?

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  • Jagannath P. Panda replies: Asia vis-à-vis Asia-Pacific is the central focus in American foreign policy strategy currently. Often seen as the “centre of gravity” by many, Asia-Pacific has been in the news for some time, particularly for the renewed American focus on the region. While most countries in Asia vis-à-vis in Asia-Pacific, such as Australia, Japan and smaller South-East Asian countries do hold strategic relevance to America’s broader Asian strategy, it is perhaps India that tops currently the priority list in its strategic calculus.

    Among the countries in Asia, India has frequently been seen as a pro-Western country by many in the US. Whether among the Republicans or the Democrats, there has been greater focus on India in the US strategic circles in the last decade. The Indo-US relationship has seen greater ascendancy on every account, be it at the economic front or on various strategic issues. On Asia-Pacific policy as well, greater convergence of interest has emerged between the two recently.

    The recent set of events in the South China Sea, where the Chinese seem to be gaining ground as a central power, the ever-increasing vitality of the Indian Ocean in terms of energy resources, routes and power rivalry, and the non-traditional security threats in Asia-Pacific including terrorism, are some of the factors that have prompted the Americans to renew the focus on Asia vis-à-vis Asia-Pacific afresh, while taking India seriously. This renewed American focus is a result of the post-Afghanistan strategy, where it seems to focus its military resources more towards the Asia-Pacific.

    With India’s growing influence in Asia vis-à-vis the Asia-Pacific region, the US sees India as an alternative to the growing Chinese power and hegemony in the Asia-Pacific and in the broader Asian geo-politics. Indian economy is also seen in the American diplomatic circle as a beneficial economy for greater Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In these emerging situations, India must take serious note of the American strategy, and prioritize its foreign policy not only towards individual powers but also towards the sub-regional bodies and respective sub-regions. Indian interest does not always have to converge with the American strategy. Rather, Asia’s emerging situation and its various regional facets and politics should be the priority in India’s foreign policy approaches. That calls for some reordering of priorities. South China Sea, Indian Ocean and Afghanistan are indeed vital regions for India and require robust attention. But the (sub) regional bodies like the ASEAN, APEC, ASEM, SCO and the SAARC needs equal priorities. The geo-politics of the current century is more than a zero-sum game. Power rivalry and competing cooperation are the two most important aspects of Asian politics today. It would be best for India to aim for pan-Asian leadership at the regional level without conceding much of an option to others, at least not to a power like China.