Beyond Containment: The Role of India in American Plans to Confront China

American policies and plans to contain Chinese power and ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region have not fully materialized. She has now added a policy of active confrontation with China using naval projection and frontline states key to which are Australia, Japan, and India. The outcome of the Indian elections is critical for American planning, for she took India from Britain through the Bharta Janata Party (BJP) whose electoral success and loyalty is now critical as India is America’s pivotal state in her enhanced policy to aggressively confront China.  This article explores the reality of American policy and whether India has the capabilities to fulfill this role.


The United States is working to curb China through countries which surround her in the Pacific region, particularly in the Eastern and Southern China Seas. Consequently, it is building various forms of alliances and partnerships and strengthening relations with countries in the region. This policy was initiated more than a decade ago when America realized that the policy of containing China had reached its limits. Under the containment policy, America had drawn closer to China by allowing it to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO), increased trade relations with her, and consequently a U.S.-China Strategic Dialogue was no longer perceived as sensitive. Despite this, China did not fall into America’s orbit let alone become an ally under the policy of containment as America had hoped. Furthermore, America was unable to limit China’s ambitions and curtail her dominance in the East and South China Seas.

Instead, China has managed to maintain her integrity, coherence and independence as a major regional state working to strengthen her power, both militarily and economically. As a result, China began to exploit its economic power in some areas for political influence, and not just for profit, and is working to strengthen her influence in the region, which has in turn endangered American influence and interests.

China has ambitions to dominate the region and is not content with its own considerable landmass and economy. America also considers China’s maritime area vital to it and is also not content to be confined to the Americas. Rather she considers the whole world to be part of her sphere of control and influence.  Consequently, she has planned to compete with China in its region in order to expand American international dominance. Thus, the policy of containment in drawing closer to China in trade relations and strategic dialogues failed to capture China and push her into Americas orbit, not even to the extent of becoming an ally in the common sense of the term, and instead China’s regional policy became a serious concern to her.

As a result, the policy of containment no longer became effective on its own, and America began to institute a new plan for the Asia-Pacific region, which required the deployment of about 60% of its naval force in the region. This is in addition to the policy of encirclement which requires the mobilization of regional countries to act as a country, the prominent of these being India, Japan, and Australia.


As for India, it has a border with China of 3488 km long, with unresolved issues still outstanding relating to them. For decades, various rounds of talks have been held, with the latest being the fourteenth concerning demarcation.  Then they stopped, and the fifteenth round did not occur due to the events on the 15th April 2013, when Chinese soldiers stormed the border with India and entered the Indian territory of the Ladakh region. They erected their tents, but then they withdrew after three weeks.

This was a display operation by China, which wanted to send a message to India that China is ready to cross the border and enter a war with it as happened in October 1962, where the Chinese army launched an attack on the Arunachal Pradesh area and expelled Indian troops. After a month of this operation, Chinese forces launched a second attack on Indian territory, killing approximately 2,000 Indian personnel. This issue remains unsolved and is called “The Line of Actual Control”. It is a hotly contested issue between the two countries and a source of constant escalation. This is in addition to the tension caused by the problem of the Tibet region, occupied by China in 1950, which is adjacent to the Indian border. India cooperates closely with America in raising this problem by embracing the Buddhists of this region and their leader Dalai Lama by establishing the Central Tibetan Administration for him as a government in-exile.

America has consistently moved to exploit these tensions between China and India by driving India to confront China or stir up trouble between them in order to occupy China with this issue. Nonetheless, India fears facing China overland and the China’s offensive posture on the borders is aimed to remind India of this fact.

For this reason, America has attempted to tempt India into adopting a more aggressive posture in order to subsume China with border conflicts and issues. Hence, America initiated a strategic partnership with India as well as a nuclear cooperation agreement. This is in addition to signing several economic and security agreements between the two. America and India concluded a defence pact in 2005 and a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2008., thereby expanding the horizon of security cooperation between them. The two countries are currently engaged in several unprecedented joint military exercises, with a sizeable growth in the sale of American armaments to India.

So when the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army General Deepak Kapoor stated at the end of December 2009, that, “The Indian army is preparing to fight a two-front war” (The Economist, 15/2/2010), America pressed Pakistan to reduce its forces on the Eastern front with India, and instead to focus its forces on the Western front to fight the Afghan mujahideen, who are battling America from within Afghanistan and in the Northern tribal areas of Pakistan. The reason for this pressure on Pakistan is to allow India to focus on her northern front with China.

America has also worked to increase trade with India, as in the last five years, the volume of U.S. exports to India outstripped that of any other country. According to estimates by the Confederation of Indian Industry, the bilateral trade in services is likely to rise from 60 billion dollars to more than $150 billion in the next six years.

However, the problem which America finds is that India is too frightened of a land conflict with China. For this reason, America is trying to focus India’s attention towards the sea, specifically the East Pacific and especially the South China Sea. The aim being to tempt it through notions of solving her energy security dilemma by luring it to the potential of oil and gas in order to push her towards confrontation and competition with China as part of America’s Asia-Pacific Strategy.

America found success in this strategy as India formed an agreement with Vietnam for offshore drilling around the disputed Spratly Islands with China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Weimin stated after that: “We do not hope to see outside forces involved in the South China Sea dispute, and do not want to see foreign companies engaging in activities that will undermine China’s sovereignty, rights and interests”.(The Middle East 28/11/2011). Earlier, the People’s Daily Newspaper that speaks on behalf of the Communist Party, slammed both India and Vietnam for their irresponsible attempts to confront China.

America continued her attempts to encourage India in direction when on the 22nd July 2013, the U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden visited India and before leaving Washington made remarks paving the way for and tempting India to go to the East Pacific. He said, “…that India is increasingly looking east as a force for security and growth in Southeast Asia and beyond. To us that’s welcome news… We welcome India’s engagement in the region and its efforts to develop new trade and transport links by land and by sea in the area.” (IIP Digital 23/07/2013). A month earlier on the 24June 2013, John Kerry met with his Indian counterpart Shri Salman Khurshid in New Delhi where they jointly chaired the fourth round of the US-India Strategic Dialogue. “They reaffirmed their shared vision on peace and stability in Asia and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, as well as emphasizing the continued support to strengthen regional communication and reaffirmed the importance of maritime security…” (IIP Digital 24/06/2013). These political statements and initiatives clearly demonstrate the America’s interest in pushing India to the East in the Pacific Ocean, specifically to the South China Sea.  


As for Australia, the United States began working on activating her role as a state which sits in America’s orbit. Hence, promoting cooperation with her in the fields of economic and security in order confront China within the US Strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. For this purpose, high level U.S. officials, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, and former Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey travelled to Perth, Australia, for a meeting with their Australian counterparts. Clinton said on the day during the launch of the Asian American Centre at the University of Western Australia in Perth, “Australia is a gateway to the vibrant trade and energy routes that connect the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, energy resources produced in Australia are flowing through those routes to the entire world.” adding, “It is not surprising that foreign investment is souring in Australia, including more than 100 billion dollars from the United States, because these increasingly waters are at the heart of the global economy and a key focus U.S. expanding engagement in the region, what we sometimes call our pivot to Asia”. She also stated, “The United States never actually left Asia, the United States is still a Pacific power, which is here to stay.” adding, “The way of thinking of the United States about the Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific region will be crucial to the future of the United States as well as to Australia.” (IIP Digital 11/15/2012). At this Centre, Clinton also mentioned America’s view of India and what it wants from it, she said, “One of the United States strategic priorities is to support India’s look East policy and to encourage New Delhi to play a greater role in Asian institutions and affairs.” Furthermore she said, “The United States welcomes the joint Australia-India naval vessel exercises in the future, and is eager to work together the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation which Australia will chair in 2013, and which the United States has now joined as a dialogue partner”. (ibid.) These ideas demonstrate the American way of thinking concerning the region. She wants to harness Australia as an active player in countering China’s moves in the region. It also shows that it did not achieve its objectives through India, a country which neighbours China by land. Hence it is looking for Australia’s engagement with India in the waters of the South China Sea and is seen as closer to implementing the U.S. policy than India.  


With respect to Japan, America is working to boost her strength with a greater role in defending the region against China. America announced on 6 April 2014 that she was sending additional missile defence ships to Japan. In a statement by the US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, “the United States is planning to forward-deploy two additional AEGIS ballistic missile defence ships to Japan by 2017 and this step is a response to provocations from North Korea that threatened to carry out a new form of nuclear tests.” He also warned China not to abuse her considerable strength saying, “Great nations must not use coercion and intimidation, because this leads to conflict.” Hagel said that he “wants to hold talks with China about its use of military power and to encourage transparency” (Reuters 6/4/2014). He pointed to what Russia had done in Crimea and warned China of similar actions in the contested islands with Japan stating:

“You cannot go around the world and redefine boundaries and violate territorial integrity and the sovereignty of nations by force, coercion or intimidation, whether it’s in small islands in the Pacific, or in large nations in Europe… Something else… that I will be talking with the Chinese about is respect for their neighbours. Coercion, intimidation is a very deadly thing that leads only to conflict.” The American Secretary of Defence met last week with Defence Ministers of the South-East Asia states where he warned of the increased American concern over the South China Sea stating;, “It is likely that the US Secretary of Defence and the Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera will discuss the issue of allowing Japan to exercise the right of self-defence by modifying the Japanese constitution. In addition, Onodera will discuss the issue of transferring arms and defence equipment in his meeting with the US Secretary of Defence, and the two sides could reach an agreement to strengthen their cooperation in the area of defence equipment” (Kyodo News 5/4/2014). This means that America would like to give Japan a role in defending the region against China and to her own burden by arousing the nationalistic emotions of the Japanese who aspire to have self-power in their name and protect themselves independent of America.

As for the influence of American policy in the victory of the Congress Party or the Janata Party pertaining to its plan dealing with Asia – The Pacific Ocean, it no doubt has an effect, because the Congress Party is a party that has long been loyal to the English, and it has political wit that is somewhat taken from Britain. Therefore, it is troubling to America, and at the same time it is elusive to it as Britain is. Hence, Congress carries out some military agreements and trade relations but at the same time disrupts some political relationships and strategic issues. For example, the Congress Party issued a statement in its election campaign, in which it won power in 2004, clarifying its stance on America, and criticizing the policy of the Janata Party that was previously in power. This is what came in the statement: “It is sad that a great country like India has declined to the level of having a relationship of adherence to the United States of America, where the government of the United States of America considers the adherence of India a given. This has led to the BJP government being prepared to adapt to the priorities and policies of the United States of America without due consideration to India’s vital foreign policy and national security interests.” It is clear from this statement just how troubling the Congress Party is to America. Nevertheless, it did not cut off strategic dialogue and returned to it in June 2010, which had begun in the era of President Bush in 2004. It described the Secretary of State Clinton, the head of the United States delegation at the India dialogue forum, as “an indispensable partner and a trusted friend.”

 Therefore, since the Congress Party’s rise to power after the defeat of the Janata Party which is loyal to America), it has become difficult to keep India in line with the implementation of America’s plan to confront China except if America puts forth great temptations as was previously mentioned. However, India’s reluctance to contend with circumstances is nothing new, it happened in the time of the Janata Party, and nevertheless the Party did not raise the issue while implementing American policy. It should be known that Britain had made the Congress Party completely loyal to them, and handed power over to it when it departed, and had not budged from it, not even partly, except for a short time from 1998 to 2004 when the Janata Party (which is loyal to America) won, and then the Congress Party overturned the BJP in the 2004-2009 elections.

As for the current elections, which began on 7 April 2014, the results are to be announced on 16 May 2014. It was reported by various pollsters that their results indicate that the BJP and its allies are expected to win in this election, if the expectations of public opinion are true, and the electoral opinion monitoring institutions in India, that Janata will by a majority form a government alone.

if so, the policy of America to harass China through India will be more realisable than during the time of the Congress party rule for when the Congress Party came to power in 2004 they began a policy of derailing American policy in India, but it still had to achieve advantageous agreements and hence later took steps to help America in her policy.

Comparing China and India

China no longer carries an ideology (Communism), through which she institutes her foreign, economic and financial policy, or as a guide in other areas of life. Instead, she merely maintains Communism in her political apparatus, ruling by the Communist Party name only, in order to maintain the interests of the party and that of its followers as well as for the cohesion of the state and its independence. This has enabled her to move independently and develop a resistance to becoming a subordinate state or an orbit state that revolves in the orbit of a major country like America. It became a state that aspires to become a major power in the world. Liu Mengo, a Chinese colonel and professor at the National Defence University, who trains young officers, expressed this in his book, ‘The China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-American Era 2015’. He called on China to develop the strongest army in the world, and to move quickly to overthrow America. He invited them to give up humility with respect to shunning global objectives and to jump, in order to become the foremost power in the world. He said if China is incapable of being the primary power in the world in the twenty-first century and becoming a global super-power, she will inevitably become marginalized. China possesses a sense of strength and challenge, her objectives should not be limited to maintaining her territory, and confronting America only as a response to her political moves towards her territory. China needs to venture out to challenge America in her respective areas of influence (Mengo, 2015).

As for India, it holds no ideology and remains in subordination to the West, especially America. It is like the other countries in the region that still have the force of force of colonial power. That is why she is not rushing to become independent and has little motivation to work strongly, swiftly, and self- consciously with self-direction. India remains a subordinate state; its policy is not independent, and it is noted that it is moving slowly in the political arena because she is always under the influence of either Britain and now more so America, which wraps her arms around India and helped to establish the ruling force in the country. That is why India is different from China. India is intellectually backward, undisciplined by any specific intellectual basis, as are those working in the political field and hence financial and political corruption is rife and moves to include all the politicians. It is difficult to for India to become a major international or even a regional power, and the most it can become in the future is an orbit state orbiting other major country, whether America or Britain or both.

This is in political terms, but in economic terms, China’s economy is four times India’s economy. While China has been able to reduce the level of poverty in the country, the 66% of the world’s poor are from India. India cannot compete with China economically. China has developed a large industrial sector, which led to the possession of large cash reserves allowing her to affect the global economy. Manufacturing in India is still far from the level of China in terms of the production, processing, and, heavy machinery and modern technology. This does not mean that India is free of these things, but lags considerably behind the level of China.

As for the military aspect, China’s official military budget amounts to $119bn representing more than three times the defence budget in India which amounts to $38bn. China has made significant progress in modernizing its armed forces, they are now creating their own storage (massive warehouses for military equipment industry such as ships, tanks and fighter planes) and the expansion of its fleet, as its active steps to control the region. However, India has recently begun to develop their capacity to finance military modernization program which still suffers from many problems. As India is still one of the largest importers of military equipment in the world. Despite two decades of efforts to develop its internal military capability, it failed to develop the shelves of value. Peter D. Wiseman, a senior researcher at the Institute for International Peace Research in Stockholm said, “I do not think that there are other countries in the world tried seriously to manufacture weapons and failed entirely, such as India.” (New York Times, March 2014).

 In conclusion, the United States has worked to direct India towards the northern front of the conflict with China after it secured its western front with Pakistan; whose leadership offered major concessions to India in the reign of the pro-American BJP. When the Congress Party returned to power, there was a decline in the work on this front, also called the Actual Line of Control because of India’s fears of confrontation with China. It is also because Congress remains close to Britain who does not encourage India to follow in the American plan. America directed India to what it calls the trend towards East or towards the Pacific region and specifically towards the South China Sea and tempted it with the presence of energy sources of oil and gas convincing her that it has the right in this share, pushing her to cooperate with Vietnam which also has a dispute with China over the Spratly Islands .

The United States has also encouraged Australia towards her plan to form a conglomerate of several countries to counter China. America worked to give a more active role for Japan to ease the burden off its defence. If the BJP is successful in the elections, which are currently underway and it reaches power once again, it is likely to see an increase in the activity of India with America in the East, the area of the South China Sea. As for the comparison between the strength of China and India, the differences are major and exponential. As Mengo correctly observes, if China’s objective is not limited only to maintain its territory, and confronting America only as a response to American policies and plans towards its territory, and China does not venture out to challenge America in her respective areas of influence, she will ultimately become marginalised.

Copyright © LCIR 2014

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