Delhi on duty

The re-election of Barack Obama as president of the US suggests that the American pivot to Asia will continue. In his first trip abroad after the election, Obama is travelling to Cambodia to attend the EAS and making stops in Myanmar and Thailand, two important continental neighbours of China. The US is quite clearly unwilling to let China neutralise its Asian periphery. Undoubtedly, the smaller nations of Asia are caught in a bind. They desperately seek a balance among the great powers, but are wary of a potential confrontation between China and the US.

Until now, India's discourse has been limited to assessing the political costs and geopolitical opportunities that it will accrue from the rise of China and the US pivot to Asia. The focus in Delhi has been on the merits of strategic autonomy and geopolitical balancing. While this debate on national options must continue, India can't afford to ignore its larger political obligations to the rest of Asia. Six decades ago, with little power and even less economic clout, India was offering ideas on how to make Asia an area of peace.

India today, with one of the biggest economies and largest militaries in the region, has the responsibility to mitigate great power tensions and defuse regional conflicts in Asia. It must also enhance the security of small states through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms. India's independent foreign policy was never simply about looking after itself. It was always about shaping a sustainable order in Asia and beyond.

As the rest of Asia looks up to Delhi, Manmohan Singh needs to articulate in Phnom Penh a substantive Indian approach to peace and prosperity in Asia and signal the political will in Delhi to help calm its turbulent waters.

The writer, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, is a contributing editor for 'The Indian Express'

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