"More assertive India, a new geopolitical factor": Chinese scholar Zhang Jiadong

Zhang Jiadong is the Director of the Center for South Asian Studies at Fudan, China.
Image used for representational purpose only. (File | AFP)
Image used for representational purpose only. (File | AFP)

NEW DELHI: India is indeed a major power, rapid changes in internal and external strategies pose challenges to both itself and the international community. It appears that a transformed, stronger, and more assertive India has become a new geopolitical factor that many countries need to consider, said Zhang Jiadong, Director of the Center for South Asian Studies at Fudan, China.

Jiadong, in an opinion piece that he wrote for Global Times on January 2nd, said that he based these observations on his visits to India.

"During the trips, I found that India's domestic and foreign situations have changed tremendously compared to four years ago. India has achieved outstanding results in economic development and social governance, and its great power strategy has moved from dream to reality. However, potential risks and crises have also begun to unfold,’’ Jiadong wrote.

India is on its way to becoming the fastest-growing major economy, and its attitude towards Chinese scholars has become more relaxed and moderate – from being stubborn earlier, he said.

"For example, when discussing the "trade imbalance" between China and India, Indian scholars used to primarily focus on China's measures to reduce the trade imbalance. But now they are placing more emphasis on India's export potential, actively seeking to reduce the trade deficit with China by taking the initiative and increasing Chinese imports from India. Furthermore, with its rapid economic and social development, India has become more strategically confident and more proactive in creating and developing a "Bharat narrative,’’ Jiadong added.

He further stated that on the diplomatic front, India has rapidly shifted towards a great power strategy.

"Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed power, he has advocated for a multi-alignment strategy, promoting India's relations with the US, Japan, Russia and other countries and regional organizations. Now, India's strategic thinking in foreign policy has undergone another change and is clearly moving towards a great power strategy. Regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict, India has distanced itself from the West and aligned itself more closely with the developing world. At the same time, India's reservations about Western powers have significantly diminished, and its activities within Western countries have become more frequent, extending beyond organizing large-scale diaspora events,’’ Jiadong said.

The Chinese scholar also pointed out how India has begun to emphasize the Indian origins of democracy, the 'Indian version of democracy.’

"India not only seeks to escape the "political dwarf" resulting from its history as a colony, but also wants to act as a "world mentor", both politically and culturally. In December 2023, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations organized the first "Knowledge India Visitors Programme," which brought together more than 77 scholars from 35 countries. Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar emphasized the importance of building a strong "Bharat narrative" and explained the "Bharat narrative" in terms of economics, development, politics, and culture. India no longer only regards cultural tradition as a channel to achieve its interests or as a symbol to attract foreign tourists, but also sees it as one of the pillars of India's status as a great power,’’ Jiadong wrote in his article.

Changes like this in internal and external policy are in line with the logic of India's long-held policy. India has always considered itself a world power. However, it has only been less than 10 years since India shifted from multi-balancing to multi-alignment, and now it is rapidly transforming toward a strategy of becoming a pole in the multipolar world. The speed of such changes is rarely seen in the history of international relations.

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