India's BJP adopts pragmatic policy towards China | Asia Pacific

India's BJP adopts pragmatic policy towards China

India's BJP adopts pragmatic policy towards China

Updated 14 April 2014, 11:37 AEST

It's been a week since India's Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party released its campaign manifesto.

Despite the document's heavy emphasis on economic growth and trade, it does however offer little glimpses of what the world might expect of a BJP-led government in India.

Asia's economic giant, China is likely to figure prominently in an administration led by Narendra Modi, as he seeks to build on 'Brand India' globally.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speakers: Danielle Rajendram, Research Associate in the International Security Program, at the Lowy Institute, in Sydney

RAJENDRAM: Foreign policy hasn't featured prominently in this election campaign, which has instead, focussed on issues of economic growth and governance. What we can tell about Narendra Modi's foreign policy is that economic growth is going to be his main priority, and this will weigh very heavily on his foreign policy decision-making.

Narendra Modi had made some statements about enhancing the ability of the Ministry of External Affairs, to negotiate trade agreements, and also, to enhance the ability of states to take foreign policy decisions. The manifesto that was released last week, was light on details, but it did advocate an emphasis upon engaging the region, building networks of allies and allowing states to take a bit more of a pro-active role in foreign policy as we had expected.

LAM: So it does seem that in foreign policy, a BJP-led government is likely to follow Mr Modi's domestic template, in putting economics and trade above all else. Does that mean that he'll perhaps focus on improving relations with neighbouring China, but put on hold, any possible rapprochement with Pakistan?

RAJENDRAM: I think we can definitely expect that Narendra Modi, if he does win government, will focus heavily on relations with China. As you noted, his term as Chief Minister of Gujarat has focussed quite extensively on building relations with East Asia. So not just China, but also Singapore and Japan.

China will be a really important economic partner for India, and despite the fact that Narendra Modi has made some strong statements with regards to territorial incursions in disputed territories, from China, Modi has also during his time as Chief Minister, made four separate state visits to China and has built up economic links between his state and China. I believe that he is unlikely to jeopardise the economic opportunities of engagement with China, regardless of his tougher stances on territorial disputes.

And he has spoken quite extensively about his natural affinity towards China and the Chinese people. So there is a very warm relationship between Narendra Modi and China at this point. That Modi has been quite vocal on his intentions, to make sure that China doesn't dominate India in foreign policy matters. He's been very critical of the previous government's approach to China, particularly on territorial incursions in disputed areas, across the Line of Control. So he has argued that the previous government remained weak when it needed to be strong.

I think we can expect to see a tougher approach in terms of rhetoric, but in terms of actual substantive changes in policy, I think we can expect to see some continuity with the existing government's policy.

LAM: During this campaign, Modi has been dogged by a reputation, where deservedly or not, for divisiveness and also intolerance towards Muslims. What impact will a Modi-led BJP government have on the relationship with neighbouring Pakistan?

RAJENDRAM: The fact that Narendra Modi does have this reputation as a divisive nationalist leader and also, as you mentioned, his anti-Muslim reputation, is going to make relations with Pakistan trickier to navigate. Modi's rhetoric on Pakistan, especially in times of crisis has been alota lot tougher than the existing government. At the same time, in the BJP Manifesto, it did note that the BJP does intend pro-actively with the region, and pursue friendlier relations with its neighbours, whilst at the same time, noting that it won't hesitate to take strong steps when required.

The manifesto also looked very strongly at its approach to cross-border terrorism and argued that a BJP government would deal with cross-border terrorism with a firmer hand. This will obviously be a large factor in the way that Modi deals with Pakistan, and Pakistan obviously is still really perceived to be a significant threat, within Indian at the moment. Lowy Institute polling has revealed that around ninety-four percent of Indians think that Pakistan will pose a threat to the security of India over the next ten years. And I think it's likely that Modi will continue to play upon this sentiment in his public rhetoric on Pakistan.

LAM: What about on the world stage - particularly closer to our region - in Southeast Asia? What will diplomacy look like under Modi and the BJP, because the region after all, does have the largest Islamic democracy in the world (in Indonesia)?

RAJENDRAM: Well, I think we can expect that in order to balance against China's influence in the region, the next government regardless of whether it's led by the BJP or the Congress, will continue to pursue India's Look East Policy, of engagement with Southeast Asia, with East Asia. Just last year, India stepped up its engagement with Indonesia and with ASEAN more broadly - partly due to the economic benefits, but also due to the security implications of engagement with the region. That, a Modi-led government will continue - to work quite closely with Southeast Asian partners.

LAM: It's been said that India's military and economic growth have not been matched by its ability to shape and influence world diplomacy. First of all, do you agree, and secondly, do you think a BJP government is likely to do something about this?

RAJENDRAM: I definitely do think that India has in many instances, punched below its weight in foreign policy matters.

The BJP does seem to have more of an ambitious foreign policy agenda, so looking more at India taking its rightful place in foreign policy, and in the comity of nations and international institutions, as it has state. I hope that regardless of the outcome of the elections, that the next government will look quite strongly at enhancing India's role on the international stage.

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