China’s trade war with the United States couldn’t have come at a worse time — the country’s GDP growth has slowed over the past decade, exports, gradually fallen in the past two years, and there is a growing chorus of questions about the impact of its Belt and Road Initiative on poorer nations struggling to repay huge loans taken for mammoth infrastructure projects. Therefore, it makes sense that China would make an effort to have India in its corner as it faces off with the US. Almost a third of a statement on China-US relations issued by the Chinese embassy in New Delhi on Wednesday was devoted to wooing India to counter “unilateralism and bullying tactics”, to fight “trade protectionism” and to defend free trade.
The mandarins in Beijing clearly see the advantages of having New Delhi on their side — India is one of the largest markets close to China, with growing demand for a wide range of goods and services as more people join the middle class, and bilateral trade between the two countries hit a high of $84 billion last year despite the military standoff at Doklam and several other irritants. The balance of trade too is overwhelmingly in China’s favour, with Chinese exports worth almost $70 billion landing in India.
With the increasingly whimsical ways of the US administration under President Donald Trump, especially his attacks on long-standing global trade arrangements and his “America first” policy, India has a larger responsibility to protect an equitable multilateral trade order that helps its growth and the economic development of other countries in South Asia. Cooperating with China could be part of such efforts, although India will have to take care to ensure it is not seen as a member of some sort of club led by China. It should do everything to retain its options and strategies for independent action even as it works with other countries to protect and defend free trade.
First Published: Oct 11, 2018 19:17 IST
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