NEED TO DECONSTRUCT THE INDIA-CHINA-US TRIANGLE
Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Diplomatist|January 2021
Since the turn of the millennium, coinciding with the realization that the Cold War had ended, the geo-political and geo-economic center of the world shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to what is now called the Indo-Pacific Region.
DR. SRIPATHI NARAYANAN

Since then, much of India’s worldview has been dominated either by the prism of the India-China-US triangle or what the India-US relationship means for New Delhi’s engagement with an assertive and once adversarial neighbor, namely, China, and vice versa. Deep-seated Indian suspicions were proved right with the Chinese aggression, first in Doklam (2017) and now Galwan (2020).

The genesis of the triangular discourse, though going back to the long lost pages of history, can be pegged to the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement of 2005 and the subsequent rewriting of the established global legal norms on nuclear trade, through an exclusive one-time waver in India’s favor. Prior to the rapprochement between New Delhi and Washington, the nature of the India-US bilateral relationship bordered on lukewarm civil cordiality and lacked real meaning.

Substantial Shift

The ‘Nuclear Deal’, as it is known. was not only a technical arrangement between India and the US to open up bilateral and multilateral engagement in what was otherwise a restricted club sans India, but it also marked a very substantial shift in the nature of bilateral political ties. Until 2005, India-US ties were seen within the larger context of South Asia and Washington’s role in balancing its relationship with India and Pakistan and also in playing the role of a self-designated referee or peace-broker with the aim of limiting hostilities between the other two.

The deal marked a new chapter in India-US ties, and more importantly, de-hyphened the US’s South Asia ties. Until then, the American outlook towards South Asia was to balance its engagement with India and Pakistan, and also maintaining parity between the two, as Washington saw fit from time to time. The Deal was also the first substantive step in which the US delinked the Pakistani factor in bilateral ties with India.

Compartmentalised Ties

Despite China expressing its misgivings while making a one-off exception for India and its veiled lobbying for Pakistan to be admitted into the exclusive global nuclear club, bilateral ties with India was to take a new turn. By the beginning of the new millennium, New Delhi and Beijing had compartmentalized their bilateral ties, wherein political disputes were set aside and cooperation in other areas were fostered especially economic and trade engagement.

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