A December 2006 US diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks has given valuable insights into what the Americans, at least the then US ambassador David Mulford, viewed as India’s role in the emerging political scenario in Asia.
Not only did Mulford see India as a counterweight to China, “which it can never match,” but he also felt India would become an unavoidable ally due to its rising economic clout.
India “is the secular home to the world’s second largest muslim population, a regional naval power whose interests in maritime security closely match the United States’, a growing economic giant, a nuclear power, an educational dynamo, a strategically located land and sea link for all Asia, an oasis of stability in a dysfunctional neighborhood, and a nation that is on its own actively seeking closer ties with Japan and Australia,” Mulford wrote in December 2006, days before the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to reach Japan on a diplomatic visit.
The primary thrust of Mulford’s advocacy of close relationship with India was geo-political. As China was not a democracy, there was a limit to how friendly the Sino-US relationship can ever be, but the US faced no such limitation on its relationship with India, the so-called world’s ‘largest democracy.’
“India may never have the military might of China, however, it will have significant power projection capabilities. What the U.S. stands to gain by adding India to the U.S.-Japan-Australia mix is essentially squaring the circle in the Asia-Pacific region, bringing a geometric and geopolitical connection for democracy that spans nearly half the globe. Whereas the U.S.-Japan-Australia partnership links the U.S. to the western edge of the Pacific Rim, the addition of India penetrates all the way through to South Asia,” Mulford pointed out.
He is not asking the US to trust India as much as it does Japan and Australia, its traditional allies stretching back half a century, Mulford clarified, but he wants the US not to ‘miss the bus’ on the fast-changing geo-politics of the region.
“Leaders from every country which seeks global influence are beating a path to New Delhi, and if we want the bilateral relationship to have value, it will be in leveraging India’s emergence as part of our global strategy. As India and Japan grow closer, the U.S. needs to pounce on this moment of opportunity to shape the direction diplomacy in this region takes in the coming decades,” he warned.
Mulford also dismissed those who felt closer ties to India may anger China into larger and larger spends on its military, making it difficult to ‘contain’ the country after a while. He said the Chinese have already increased their military spend by 10 fold in 15 years and are doing everything they can to project their power throughout Asia.
“The fact is while China is actively seeking to spread its influence through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, its “string of pearls” in the Indian Ocean or other diplomatic initiatives (none of which suggest China defers to American anxieties as it proceeds), a more visible U.S.-Japan-India friendship would signal that free and democratic nations, too, pursue their interests, along with partners who share our values. We will be offering other hopeful emerging nations on the continent a distinctly alternative model to China’s,” he pointed out.
“Ultimately, any threat from China is diminished — not increased — with greater U.S.-Japan-India ties,” he added.