It looks like the U.S. is starting to work harder to bring India into a network of alliances that can stand up to China. Last month, we heard that India and the U.S. had discussed joint South China Sea patrols. Indian officials sort of denied that such discussions had taken place, and flat-out denied that they were going to enter into such an arrangement. But Washington isn’t giving up according to the New York Times:
The chief of the United States Pacific Command, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., on Wednesday proposed reviving an informal strategic coalition made up of the navies of Japan, Australia, India and the United States, an experiment that collapsed a decade ago because of diplomatic protests from China.
The proposal was the latest in a series of United States overtures to India, a country wary of forming strategic alliances, to become part of a network of naval powers that would balance China’s maritime expansion.
The American ambassador to India, Richard R. Verma, expressed hope in a speech that “in the not-too-distant future,” joint patrols by navy vessels from India and the United States “will become a common and welcome sight throughout Indo-Pacific waters.”
India seems more comfortable opposing China than it was ten years ago, largely because of Beijing’s own aggression in the South China Sea. But it’s not yet clear if New Delhi is comfortable enough to join a coalition of this sort—even an informal one.
“The last thing India wants to do is accidentally make itself into a front-line player in the South China Sea,” said Nitin A. Gokhale, a security analyst, adding that “the best U.S.-aligned players can expect” is for India to remain active in regional forums, and shore up smaller navies like those of Vietnam and the Philippines.
“I don’t think India will be a front-line state,” he said.
Watch this dynamic. The extent to which Washington manages to have Delhi come around to its maritime strategy for the region will be a good proxy for telling just how poorly China is managing to calibrate its own stance.