US-China Ties | India’s Strategic Autonomy Ensures It’s Not A Geopolitical Pawn

Akshobh Giridharadas
4 min readApr 19, 2021

(Image Source: Reuters)

Summers in Washington DC are sultry, scolding and heated both for the weather and for the discourse emanating from think-tanks, academia and the embassies.

One such summer day in DC, an unnamed diplomat, at an unnamed event, unequivocally stated that India is not a strategic counterweight to China. India is one-fifth of China’s economy, and the only geopolitical power that can compete with China would be the United States.

Where does this kerfuffle originate from?

The robust partnership between New Delhi and Washington rests on the pillars of strategic partnership on defence and the union of foreign policy goals such as the Quad, on mitigating a belligerent Chinese threat, and on aspiring to a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’.

Other reasons for this growing US-India ties are India’s burgeoning economy, a strong diaspora connection epitomised by Indian Americans at the highest echelons of the public and private sector, and — the secret sauce — the understanding of shared democratic values.

Chinese Threat

Of course, there is no economic altruism towards India, apart from a quid-pro-quo for US exports and the elephant in the room, which is China. The US has had many adversaries in the past, from the British Empire, to Nazi Germany to Imperial Japan, to the Soviet Union, and then the economic competitor in post-war Japan. But neither of them came close to dislodging Washington from the economic totem pole.

China today, with its economy hovering near $14 trillion, is 60 percent of the US economy.

Beijing has steadily increased its portfolio of US Treasury securities over the last few decades. As of January, China is estimated to own close to $1.095 trillion, approximately 4 percent, of the $28 trillion US national debt, exceeding that of Japan’s possession.

It’s no wonder that in the television series Madam Secretary, Chinese Foreign Minister Chen, addressed his US counterpart saying “in the year 2000, China owned only 6 percent of US foreign debt, now Beijing owns more than 21 percent in US foreign debt. When China comes for you, it won’t be with missiles and cyber-attacks, but will come to repossess you”.

Tit For Tat

Akshobh Giridharadas

A journalist by profession. He writes about business & finance, geopolitics, sports & tech news. He is a TEDx & Toastmasters speaker. Follow him @Akshobh