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A Glance at India’s Choice for Strategic Autonomy through Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan

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Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, who has been an influential figure in the United States (US) politics since the late 1980s and has been elected as the Senate member from the state of California since 1987, visited Taiwan on August 2, 2022. Her visit, both before and afterwards, became one of the most focused topics in international politics. In fact, this visit brought the Russia-Ukraine War, which was considered as the most serious problem and threat in the context of the Atlantic Alliance, to secondary importance on the agenda, albeit for a short time.

As stated before, this visit made the entire system and especially the states of the region deal with a high-level crisis, albeit for a short time, in which the risk of global conflict was calculated and considered quite possible. In this instance, while some states made statements supporting the visit; some states have expressed their concerns and reservations regarding the visit. Despite this atmosphere of discussion regarding the visit, most of the actors of international politics, including the US, made statements confirming that they adopted the “One China Principle.” At this point, India has drawn attention due to its regional and global strategic importance and its different position from other actors. What makes the attitude of the New Delhi administration remarkable in this regard is that it remained silent about the “One China Principle” in the context of the visit, and Beijing’s openly called on New Delhi to abandon their silence and make a statement confirming its commitment to the “One China Principle”.

In addition to the strategies of the US and regional developments to squeeze China with the developments in Asia-Pacific, which has become the center of military and political competition, especially the global economy, statements of the Beijing administration targeting New Delhi have made it necessary to evaluate India’s Taiwan policy and its relations with China and its regional policy. In this context, first, it is necessary to look at the India-China relations with a historical methodology.

India, which gained its independence from Great Britain in 1947, recognized the People’s Republic of China, which was established in 1949, in October of the same year. The most important aspect of this recognition in terms of the political structure and dynamics of the period is that India was the first non-communist state to recognize China. Although it recognized the communist regime in this period, New Delhi administration continued the “democratic” system inherited from Great Britain.

In this process, Pakistan by the disintegration of the Indian lands during the Great Britain period, and then Bangladesh states were established with the partition of Pakistan, due to the characteristics of its social and political structure, as well as colonial practices and inexperience in state administration.

As it is stated in the paragraph above, the main problems of India, which was under the colonial rule for a long time after independence, are the preservation of its territorial integrity, border problems and the need to build a state that preserves sovereignty and autonomy in the bipolar international system. The same is true for China. Although this common threat perception and reading of interests initially brought the two countries together within the framework of the “Non-Aligned Movement,” problems began to arise between the parties, especially due to the border conflicts in the 1960s.

Looking at that specific period, in 1962, the Beijing administration declared that they did not recognize the McMahon Boundary Agreement signed with India, and then war began between the two states. In October 1962, the Chinese Army attacked the Chip Chap Valley in the Ladakh Region and captured the valley within 48 hours. Although a peace was reached between the parties on October 24, 1962, China landed troops in the eastern region of India on November 15, 1962. The relations, which were quite tense until 1976, resumed in the same year with the ambassadors of the two parties and normalized in the 1980s.

Although “a process of normalization with the 1980s” was the expression that is used for the relations between the two countries; there were issues related to their lands and borders, that have not been resolved and kept frozen. In fact, until the last period, the two states experienced military tensions due to these conflicts, such that there were even soldiers injured or killed from both sides.

In the context of bilateral relations, the New Delhi and Beijing administrations, who could not establish a stable constructive relationship due to the issues in the context of border problems and territorial integrity, also differ in their reading of international politics at the regional and global level. At this point, while the USA which has good relations with India and New Delhi was perceived as the biggest threat by China, Pakistan was also perceived as a threat by India due to its good relations with China. While the factor stated in the previous sentence is the basis of the general positioning of the two states; in the context of Russia, for Beijing, both the need for Russian energy resources and the presence of the USA as their common enemy, are effective in the course of relations. New Delhi administration, on the other hand, tries not to antagonize Moscow in terms of its dependence on the Russian arms industry and balancing China in Asia.

India’s past “Non-Aligned Movement” which on the one hand aims to be the dominant power in the region for the short term and a central power in the global system for the long term, and on the other hand aims to maintain its autonomous foreign policy and balance China by establishing a win-win relationship with the USA and Russia. With an understanding like the “Non-Aligned Movement” of India, it should be stated that the economic-based foreign policy initiative BRICS (the economic initiative formed by the states of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) is an important and effective choice in today’s context.  Because it is obvious that the most important parameter for the change and transformation of the international system is the economy. In addition, on June 9, 2017, India became a member of the international organization called Shanghai Five in 1996 and named Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with the participation of Uzbekistan in 2001. Considering that Russia, China, Pakistan, and Iran are among the members of the SCO, it can be easily stated that New Delhi seeks to strengthen its current position by not staying away from both political and economic initiatives that will affect the regional and global equation.

As a result, in today’s conjuncture, where the unipolar structure of the international system is discussed and global competition is carried out in an Asia-Pacific center, the most important parameter in India’s foreign policy is to strengthen its hand against China by conducting a balanced policy with the USA and Russia. On the other hand, in a period in which multipolarity is a topic that is being discussed, India’s foreign policy is to become one of the global central powers through strategic and political autonomy. New Delhi, which partially implemented autonomous policies both in the first years of independence and during the Non-Aligned Movement, is trying to reconstruct a strategic autonomy in regional and global geopolitics, especially the “One China” policy that came to the agenda with Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Whether it is possible for India to maintain this positioning continuously and what kind of foreign policy preference and strategy it will act on the US-Russia-China line while creating its own axis in global competition are the two prominent questions about this issue.

Dr. Kadir Ertaç ÇELİK
ANKASAM Uluslararası İlişkiler Danışmanı Dr. Kadir Ertaç ÇELİK, lisans eğitimini Uludağ Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde, yüksek lisans ve doktora eğitimini ise Gazi Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda tamamlamıştır. Günümüzde Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü öğretim elemanı olan Çelik’in başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, Türk Dünyası, güvenlik ve stratejidir.