Special Lecture during the Session on ‘Maritime Conflict and Co-Operation in Indo Pacific’, by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF, at the JNU, 20 Sep 2019

Thank you for inviting me to this national conference on theme of ‘India-US-China: Emerging Strategic Equations’. It is good to see a conference, which looks at India-US-China in a triangular setting. Perhaps a future conference will discuss Russia as well. Russia cannot be excluded from global power balance considering that it is also trying its level best to recover the lost ground and position itself as a Eurasian and an Asia Pacific power. The conference has also discussed strategic issues like technologies, defence cooperation, conflict and cooperation in Indo-Pacific, economic challenges in Indo-US relations and the role of media and diaspora.

The key question to me is what India should do to become a major power so that we are an equal side in the India-China-US triangle. No doubt, we should build our comprehensive national strength in all its dimensions. But even more important is the task of building an Indian narrative on our place in the world. India is rising. How will it shape the global agenda? Our task is to ensure that the rise is sustainable, non-threatening, and which contributes to stability. We will also have to build resilience against trends that are not in our control. For instance, how we must understand China, US competition grows. How do we inure ourselves against the fallout from U.S.-China competition? Can we benefit from this? We also should be in a position to contribute to the shaping of global agendas on different issues.

We need to take a long-term view of India, US, China. Otherwise, there is a danger of getting lost in day-to-day issues. What are the main trends. These can be summarize as growing turbulence and uncertainty in the relationship, shifting alignments, emergence of new geo politics such as that of Indo-Pacific. New alignment are taking shape in the backdrop of new challenges such as the emergence of new technologies, the dander of a global economic crisis, cyber terrorism and weaponisation of space. These trends would impact the India, US, China triangle.

In the last 20 years, India’s role in the world has certainly become more visible. This is because India registered a healthy economic growth. It also shed its inhibition and began to engage with other country more meaningfully and deeply. India’s vast economic potential, market size and diaspora have played a role in raising India’s profile. There has been reasonable consistency and stability in foreign policies. India has sought to engage with all countries, build its strength and increased its share in global parameters.

However, one has to acknowledge that India’s share in the global GDP and trade is still small. Nor do we export much of technology. On the contrary, however, dependence on imported high-technology products has been increasing. We have made impressive gains on the ease of doing business in India but much more needs to be done. Our industry is not globally competitive. These factors are important if we have to play a role in the emerging balance of power in the world. The asymmetry between India and China on the comprehensive national power (CNP) parameters has increased. China, on the other hand, is catching-up with the US on many fronts.

In the next 20 years, the situation will hopefully change. The situation is dynamic. Blessed with large and young population India will do better on the economic front. Many of our states, particularly in the south are doing well. Once India becomes a 5 trillion or even a ten trillion dollar economy, it will undoubtedly acquire global heft. Economic growth will easily translate into military and technological prowess. Therefore, the path ahead is through realizing a higher, sustained and inclusive economic growth.

That is where the major policy choices will have to exercise. How does India raise its economic profiles? Global factors are uncertain. Domestic economic is presently facing difficulties although this situation hopefully may not persist for too long. Nevertheless, the economic model we adopt to again a high unsustainable growth will be a crucial factor. We all are already witnessing the difficulties with respect to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Signing the RCEP in its present form may have an adverse impact on the Indian industry. Not signing the RCEP may have long-term negative impact. Such policy dilemmas will continue to occur regularly in the future. Missteps can prove to be costly. We need a clearer vision as to how we intend to proceed.

We have been copying the western economic growth models. This does not necessarily give us the necessary advantage. Sixty five percent of our GDP is contributed by non-corporate, family owned businesses, fifteen percent by corporates and the rest by the government sector. Entrepreneurship based on family ownerships has been India’s strength. Many economic clusters in the country run by local communities based on caste and family networks are doing very well. The present economic models, which we have copied from west, do not necessarily encourage or support the homegrown business practices, which have been in vogue for centuries. In looking at our future growth prospects, we must bring in the local and cultural factors, which are important for sustained, organic growth. We must follow policies to support policies native entrepreneurship rather than being bogged down by western models, which do not work for us. Developing Indian models of thinking and acting and harmonizing them with global practices to the extent possible is a way out.

India’s place in the world will also depend upon its technological prowess. Power equations of the future will be determined by technological capabilities. We have a lot to show that we can be proud of. Unfortunately, we have not mastered the art of commercializing scientific discovery and technological achievements. Our education system needs a complete overhaul. Not only should it incorporate values developed over millennia but also encourage innovation and ingenuity. Then only will we be able to develop technologies and convert them into saleable products. We must address this issue urgently as continued dependence on other countries for strategic technologies in the military and non-military sphere will prove to be detrimental.

A third important factor for India’s place in the world will be its youth. In the 21st century, driven by technologies, skills are very important. New technologies may not be able to create jobs in the numbers that we require. Skilling of youth will be a major challenge. The nature of the workplace will also change. Our policies on labour, employment will have to be relooked at.

Defence modernisation will be a key factor in India’s emergence as a major power matching that of China and the US. While India has developed close defence cooperation with several countries including the US, we cannot be comfortable with the fact of our dependence for hardware and equipment on other countries no matter how friendly they are. Our ability to indigenize defence production will be an important factor in the emergence of India. China has done a lot in this area and is now the second most military power in the world. India cannot afford to develop its military power in a similar way. Once we have the necessary wherewithal, we will have better room to maneuver vis-à-vis the major powers.

In the rise of India, the quality of leadership will also matter. We are fortunate that we have a strong and decisive leadership. But this has to be backed by deep strategic thinking and planning. Moreover, we will have to think of several layers of competent leadership so that we have bench strength for the next 50 years. Thus, our leaders should be encouraged to think strategically and long-term. Universities and think tanks can play an important role in this areas.

Equally important, our leaders should encourage policies which are not borrowed and which suit Indian genius. China is very conscious of the fact that it should have a Chinese narrative on global and regional issues. Americans have always set the agenda for rest of the world. India must develop the confidence to think and implement polices which are Indian in character. We must overcome the diffidence that is visible in thinking circles towards our own culture and ethos. We need Indian ethos in everything that we do.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
5 + 5 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us