Strategic Autonomy


China won't like it." That has been a consistent refrain of the UPA government and the Congress party in shaping India's recent foreign policy. New Delhi's self-induced fear of provoking China has restricted the pursuit of beneficial engagement with other major powers and Asian neighbours. India's self-denial is hardly consistent with its proclamations on "strategic autonomy". But it is no secret that the UPA and the Congress deploy the argument of "strategic autonomy" only against the United States.

You don't have to be a genius to figure out that it is China's rising power that constricts Delhi's strategic policy in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. Even on the world stage, it is China that has made it difficult for India to pursue its aspirations. Beijing tried to block Delhi's historic civil nuclear initiative with Washington that sought to lift three and a half decades of international nuclear sanctions against India. China has also been the only permanent member of the UNSC that is unwilling to support India's membership of this exclusive club. Yet the Congress party wants Delhi to remain "equidistant" from Washington and Beijing.

The wide divergence between India and China does not mean Delhi should limit its engagement with Beijing. On the contrary, the rise of China demands Delhi intensify its cooperation with Beijing and prudently manage the multiple differences. What is baffling, however, is the UPA's perverse policy of limiting India's cooperation with other countries by citing Beijing's sensitivities. Defence Minister A.K. Antony, for example, has stopped the Indian navy conducting multilateral exercises in the Indian Ocean, slowed down military cooperation with the US and limited India's defence diplomacy with China's neighbours in the name of "strategic autonomy". China does not take India's sensitivities into account when deepening defence cooperation with Pakistan. As an exponent of realpolitik, China does not expect India to negate its own interests. But if the UPA offers such deference, why should Beijing complain?

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