On January 26, President Barack Obama will be the chief guest at India’s 66th Republic Day celebrations. His presence at the birthday party of the world’s largest democracy, just four months after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States, is highly symbolic. The visit is also expected to ramp up bilateral cooperation on economic growth, energy and climate change as well as address important differences such as intellectual property rights and civil nuclear liability law that pose a hindrance to taking the cooperation to the next level. However, the larger goal that the United States should be pursuing here is to convince India to join a coalition of democracies to balance China’s rise. Although it won’t be publicized, this topic will likely be ever-present in their private conversations.
Since the Second World War, the United States spurred global economic growth and made substantial investments in Asia. Deng Xiaoping’s opening up of China’s economy in 1978 began China’s full integration into the global economy and normalized its diplomatic relations with other countries. The resulting transformation of China’s economy allowed it to ultimately challenge the supremacy of the United States. China seeks to be the preeminent power in the Western Pacific and consolidate Asia into an exclusive bloc that is deferential to Chinese national and security interests. Although China’s military capabilities are not formally equal to those of the United States, it still is capable of inflicting sufficient damage to increase the cost of a conflict to the United States to an unacceptable level. China’s territorial disputes with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea and its actions in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with Japan illustrated to U.S. policymakers the dangers of China’s approach to its neighbors and the risks of a major conflict in the region.