Editor’s note: Teresita Schaffer has started work on a book called “India at the International High Table.” The book, co-authored with Howard Schaffer, will examine how India sees its role in the world, and how this translates into India’s negotiating style. This article, originally published in The Hindu, one of India’s leading English language newspapers, discussed U.S.-India interaction in East Asia.
On a table in the office of a senior Indian diplomat sits an unusual piece of memorabilia: a baseball bat. It is signed not by members of the official’s favourite baseball team, but by the U.S. officials who participated in the inaugural session of the now well-established consultations between India and the United States on East Asia, in 2010. This bat and the similarly adorned cricket bat kept by the Indian diplomat’s American counterpart are an apt symbol of how the United States and India have deepened their common understanding of the strategic stakes in this critical region. Now they need to deepen their economic ties across the Pacific.
The geopolitical shifts that shaped the expanded U.S.-India relationship changed the way both related to East Asia. India’s Look East policy expressed New Delhi’s intention to expand its footprint in East Asia, after decades of thin relations with China and relative neglect of the rest of the region. India’s economic opening to the global economy made its Asian orientation a tangible reality. India has signed three free trade agreements, all with East Asian partners: Japan, Korea, and ASEAN. Participation in several ASEAN-centred institutions underscored the political dimension of India’s Asia-wide ties.
The Obama administration has intensified a decades-long shift toward Asia in U.S. economic and foreign policy. The heart of U.S. Asia policy traditionally lay in the military anchor in Japan, the security challenge of China, and the enormous economic relationship with both. These factors are still important. But with the “pivot” or “rebalancing” that administration spokesmen have been talking about for the past two years, look for three new markers: deeper U.S. engagement with Asian regional institutions; a modest shift in the centre of gravity of U.S. military assets toward the Indo-Pacific region; and, significantly, the decision to treat India as part of a larger Asian region, a decision made more important by the growing prominence of U.S.-India ties.