China is India's primary security challenge: UK think-tank

29 September 2016

India's relations with Pakistan and Nepal have deteriorated in the past year but China remains the country's ''primary security challenge'', according to an annual strategic survey by an influential London-based think-tank released on Tuesday.

The Strategic Survey 2016: The Annual Review of World Affairs of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) reviewed India's troubled relationship with Pakistan and referred to the intensive ''retaliatory'' firing across the Line of Control under the Modi government, fluctuations in the dialogue process, the Ufa summit and the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase.

''India's major security threat remained the terrorism emanating from Pakistan, on which (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi took a tougher position than his predecessor,'' it said, but identified China as India's ''primary security challenge''.

The survey said the challenge from China was because of its assertiveness on the border dispute with India, exacerbated by Beijing's growing trade and defence partnerships with New Delhi's South Asian neighbours and by an expansion of Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean.

''For policymakers in New Delhi, this created fears of encirclement and hardened their attitude towards Beijing, even as China continued to be India's largest trading partner, and Modi sought to establish stronger trade and investment links with Beijing,'' it said.

Referring to shifts in Pakistan's policies, the survey said, ''As ever, the main driver of Pakistan's security policy was its rivalry with India. This consideration trumped all other factors.''

Rahul Roy-Choudhury, IISS senior fellow for South Asia, told The Hindustan Times, ''Instead of any 'knee-jerk' military-focussed reaction that will at best be symbolic rather than substantive, India needs a calibrated and sustained multifaceted approach towards Pakistan.

 ''This could seek to target Pakistan-based terrorist groups, effectively operationalise counter-terror cooperation with India's strategic partners in the Gulf region and the West, and highlight India's emerging economic and global influence with the international community.''

Roy-Choudhary, who contributed to the survey, said India also ''needs to ensure that its main constituent in Pakistan - the people - is suitably empowered through the democratic process''.

The survey further said that India's ''neighbourhood first'' policy has paid few dividends beyond Bangladesh and Bhutan.

''This was due to the complex domestic politics of countries in the region, their historical suspicion of India as the dominant regional power, the influence of India domestic and ethnic politics, and increasing Chinese engagement with the region,'' it said.

''Equally important was the failure to meet expectations generated by Modi's initial outreach to other leaders in the SAARC, after he invited them to his May 2014 inauguration ceremony.''

At the global level, the survey said, institutions and norms that dampen the risk of conflict are under assault from populism in developed states and the assertive behaviour of rising and reviving powers.

IISS director general John Chapman said, ''The underpinnings of geopolitics have splintered so much in the past year that the foundations of global order appear alarmingly weak. The politics of parochialism now mix with the instincts of nationalism, and both clash with the cosmopolitan world order so carefully constructed by the technocrats of the late 20th century.''

(Also see: India, China hold talks on jointly countering terror)

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