Values, Interests and India’s foreign policy


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By C. Rohan

The visit of the Prime Minister to Myanmar, the first after 25 years is marked a new chapter in India’s foreign policy. This visit is important primarily for three reasons. Firstly, India’s changing status as an emerging power and its increasing involvement in international politics; secondly, its global commitment to democracy promotion along with the United States; thirdly, to counter China.

India’s self claim and to some extent, its acknowledged status as an emerging power, its involvement in international politics is bound to increase. As U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to India pointed out, “For in Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging; India has already emerged.” A new approach to economics and development has turned India into one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Both the economy and the Indian society are witnessing rapid reforms within the context of a democratic framework. The international environment and the domestic environment have changed dramatically after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the changes in India’s economic policy respectively. Today the military power has been replaced by economic and technological power. Domestic politics has also changed from one party politics to multi-party politics. These changes made multi actor participation possible in India’s foreign policy, in contrast to one actor participation. (Nehru, Congress Party). These changes give wider approaches to domestic as well as international challenges. Old ideologies are getting competition from new ideologies. This challenge made impact on India’s foreign policy also. In this era foreign policy was represented as a value based phenomenon. After Soviet disintegration, economic reforms within India, nuclear tests in 1998 and changing positive relations with United States brought practical approach towards its foreign policy. In sum up this power comes with responsibility. It is India’s responsibility to assist its neighbour economically and politically. The Myanmar visit is the experiment of this responsibility.

After the collapse of USSR, India’s attitude towards the promotion of democracy at the global level was changed. India had joined with the US as a founding member of Community of Democracies (CD) in 2000 in Poland. There, India was also designated as a co-convener of CD. In 2004, India became a member of the newly set up Democracy Caucus in the UN and also joined the US in supporting the UN Democracy Fund, announced by the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on July 4, 2005. India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) acknowledged democracy as a foreign policy goal in its Annual Report 2000-01.The objective of the Report said: “To promote the cause of democracy and individual freedom to unleash the creative genius of peoples in all countries and to promote greater realisation that democratic governance and systems are essential ingredients of international peace and stability.”  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit came in the light of West Asian Political Transition and the path breaking reform measures taken by the Government of Myanmar towards greater democratisation and national reconciliation. He commended the on-going efforts at political, economic and social reform, which included negotiation of preliminary peace agreements with several ethnic groups as well as dialogue with various democratic political parties including the National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. India also moved from its policy of rhetoric to policy of commitment. The Prime Minister of India reiterated India’s readiness to extend all necessary assistance in accelerating the country’s democratic transition and developing the capacity of democratic institutions such as the Parliament, National Human Rights Commission and the Media. Through this act India sent a message to world that now India can use it democratic model to strengthen its relation with other nation.

India has its strategic and economic interest in Myanmar. The two nations share a 1,600km land border and a long maritime boundary in the strategically important Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. India’s four highly sensitive states in its Northeast share a common border with Myanmar. In these states, insurgency and ethnic unrest are constant problems and leading producer of drugs is concern for India’s internal security. Myanmar’s relation with China is also concern for India. The success of Chinese industry, dependent on a continual search for natural resources such as gas, oil, hydroelectric power, mining, and timber etc. Myanmar’s importance to China relates not only to these strategic factors, but also because access to these elements in and through Myanmar lessens Chinese dependence on the choke point of the Malacca Straits through which 80 percent of imported Chinese energy passes. China is building the pipeline from A1 to A7 blocks from Myanmar to China. For that, China to develop deep sea water ports on west Arakan alongside a petrochemical complex. In the context of this visit has a strategic dimension.

Despite this, the visit has two critical points to mention. Firstly, recalling US President’s speech before Indian Parliament, where he clearly stated, “When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed-as in Burma-then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent.” India has always been criticising for US influence on its foreign policy. In Myanmar, India should behave in terms of their defined values and interests, not in terms of US values and interest. So far India’s dialogue with President U Thein Sein and with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi India made balance between its interests and values. Secondly and most importantly, If India want to play a major role into world politics and particularly in Asia, India should use ASEAN visit not to counter China but to incorporate China as India has done in Afghanistan along with USA. India should response to China positively. China, who stated, “Beijing will be “happy” to see New Delhi and Nay Pyi Daw developing their relations as it would help regional stability.’ This gives India opportunity to maintain strategic autonomy in foreign policy, which India considered its values and it is in India’s interest to work along with China for regional stability.

C. Rohan, M.Phil, Political Science, Central University, Gujarat.

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