The partition of British India in 1947 marked the birth of two independent states, India and Pakistan. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru adopted a non-aligned foreign policy during the Cold War and was vocal in his criticism of U.S. policies. This stance, coupled with Pakistan’s close ties with the United States, led to strained relations between India and the U.S.
Pakistan, looking to build its military strength against its more populous neighbor, joined both the Baghdad Pact and SEATO, cementing its alliance with the U.S. This further isolated India from the U.S. and pushed it closer to the Soviet Union. However, in the late 1950s, the Eisenhower administration sought to improve relations with India by providing aid to address its economic crisis in 1957.
Survival of Indian democracy was a key priority for the Eisenhower Administration, despite their repeated disagreements with Nehru’s views. Eisenhower and his team understood that non-alignment was a necessary strategy for India to maintain a diverse set of allies, and saw it as a pragmatic necessity rather than a choice between good and evil.
Despite Nehru’s moralistic rhetoric criticizing both the Soviet bloc and the U.S., India received foreign assistance from both countries during its Second Five-Year Plan aimed at developing the economy. While Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles also used moralistic rhetoric to attack communism, the U.S.-India relationship remained strained.
In an effort to ease tensions, Eisenhower sent John Sherman Cooper as ambassador to India from 1956 to 1957, and Cooper developed a positive relationship with Nehru. By the end of Eisenhower’s term, relations between the U.S. and India had moderately improved, but Pakistan remained the U.S.’s primary ally in South Asia. Today, the U.S.-India relationship has grown significantly, with the two countries cooperating on various issues ranging from defense and security to trade and commerce.
Nixon, on the other hand, was a staunch critic of non-alignment and held India responsible for the 1971 war with Pakistan and for complicating his opening to China. He went as far as to exaggerate claims that India was planning to invade West Pakistan, and encouraged China to get involved militarily. Official Indian records show that these claims were false. Nixon’s personal animosity towards Indians and Mrs. Gandhi, in particular, was revealed through declassified documents, as was Kissinger’s hostility towards India. This led to a significant deterioration in US-India relations, with economic and military sanctions being imposed by the US.
Fast forward a couple decades, India and the United States enjoy very close relations and have often seen eye-to-eye on issues such as counterterrorism, and Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific.
As the world continues to navigate an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape, it is becoming clear that the Indo-Pacific region will play a critical role in shaping the future of international relations. With the rise of China and the continued growth of India, the region is becoming a focal point of economic, political, and strategic interest.
The United States (US) has finally stepped up to take on China with the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) by President Biden in Tokyo on May 23, 2022. This initiative is a long overdue response to China’s predatory economic practices in the region. With four pillars — trade, supply chains, clean energy, decarbonisation and infrastructure, tax and anti-corruption — the IPEF will provide much-needed support to countries in the region to counter China’s aggressive expansionist policies.
While Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar chose to stay out, the majority of Southeast Asian nations have agreed to be part of the IPEF. However, it remains to be seen whether this initiative is a complete strategy or just a token policy package to confront China’s increasing economic dominance in the region. Nevertheless, the fact that most Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries agreed to join the IPEF despite their apprehensions about the Quad’s involvement is a good start.
It is high time that Asian countries take a stand against China’s bullying tactics, and the IPEF provides an opportunity to do so. With the US leading the charge, it is time to make it clear to China that its aggressive behavior will not be tolerated any longer. The IPEF is just the beginning of a more assertive approach to counter China’s expansionism, and the US will not back down until China is forced to play by the rules of fair competition.
Against this backdrop, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) represents a significant opportunity for the United States and its allies to promote a vision of regional economic integration and cooperation that can help to address some of the pressing challenges facing the region. By bringing together countries such as India, Japan, Australia, and the United States, the IPEF has the potential to promote a rules-based order that can help to ensure regional stability and security.
However, it is important to recognize that the IPEF is not just an economic initiative. It is a strategic initiative that seeks to promote a vision of regional cooperation and integration that is anchored in shared values and a commitment to the rule of law. As such, it is a critical component of the United States’ broader strategy of promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Of course, there are many challenges that must be overcome if the IPEF is to succeed. One of the most significant is the need to build trust and confidence among the various countries in the region. This will require a concerted effort to address longstanding disputes and tensions, as well as a commitment to dialogue and engagement.
Another challenge is the need to ensure that the IPEF is inclusive and transparent, and that it benefits all countries in the region, regardless of their size or level of development. This will require a careful balancing of competing interests and a commitment to ensuring that the benefits of economic integration are widely shared.
Ultimately, the success of the IPEF will depend on the willingness of countries in the region to work together in pursuit of a shared vision of regional cooperation and integration. As it is often said, “The test of diplomacy is not whether we can eliminate all differences, but whether we can manage them effectively and in ways that promote our common interests.” The IPEF represents an important opportunity to do just that, and I am hopeful that it will continue to gain momentum in the years ahead.