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India's bargaining power with US and China will fall in the post-covid world:Shashi Tharoor

India’s bargaining power with US and China will fall
in the post-covid world: Shashi Tharoor

10 June 2020, New Delhi

India should not put all its eggs in any basket, but the country will have to make a choice between the US and China if Donald Trump is re-elected in a few months, says Dr Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament and former Under-Secretary General of United Nations. He said that India’s bargaining power is likely to get weaker with both the US and China in the post-covid world.

Dr Tharoor was interacting with business leaders in a dialogue on post-covid geopolitics organized by All India Management Association (AIMA). The dialog, 17th in AIMA’s LeaderSpeak series, was moderated by Mr Sanjay Kirloskar, President, AIMA and Chairman and Managing Director, Kirloskar Brothers.

Dr Tharoor warned that if India ends up making a choice between the US and China, it will hurt India. “Trump is not a reliable ally,” he said. He added that if China sees India as anti-Chinese, it will double down on what it is doing in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

Dr Tharoor further warned that covid will inaugurate an era of deglobalization, and the entire edifice of international cooperation built since 1945 will collapse. “The law of jungle which led to two world wars, holocaust and Hiroshima will return,” he said.

Mr Kirloskar pointed to the geopolitical churn because of Donald Trump’s America First policy, Xi Jinping culminating China’s global engagement policy, and Russia reclaiming the great power status under Vladimir Putin. He expressed concern that China was becoming active on border with India and also in the South China Sea.

Dr Tharoor said that it was more likely that China will succeed in becoming more assertive than becoming weaker because of the decoupling by the US and its allies. He pointed out that China was the first country to recover from covid and it was talking about returning to 100% output in a couple of months.

Regarding the position of Russia in the new geopolitical equation, Dr Tharoor said that the positions of China and Russia were converging because of their worldview on authoritarianism and aggression in the neighbourhood. He said that India will have to maintain good relations with Russia because the country will remain dependent on Russia for its defence for a long time. India will have to buy spares and parts for much of its defence equipment sourced from Russia.

Regarding America and Brazil’s threat to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tharoor said that it would undermine the capacity of international institutions. He argued that WHO’s culpability in global spread of the virus by not intervening early has to be seen in the light of its dependence on the member countries’ permission. He pointed out that WHO wanted to send experts to Wuhan in the second week of January but they were denied visa by China. “We need reforms in the international institutions to make them more independent. We are better off renegotiating international treaties and agreements,” he said. India being the new chair of WHO’s Executive Board, it has to play a role in reforms, he added.

Regarding the domestic politics about covid, Dr Tharoor said that being in opposition was a thankless job. “Had we (Congress) been in power, we would not have been perfect and BJP would be criticizing us,” he remarked. However, he added that the migrant workers’ crisis was sole a consequence of the Prime Minister’s style of functioning, which is about giving only four hours’ notice. “People would have had time to make arrangements for lockdown if they were given four days,” he said.

On India reopening its economy, Dr Tharoor said that the country was in an invidious position where it had to open up when the infections and deaths were increasing. “India has to lift lockdown where possible; otherwise, the economy will collapse,” he said.

Ms Rekha Sethi, Director General, AIMA thanked Dr Tharoor. She announced that the next LeaderSpeak webinar would be on 17 June with the former World Economic Forum head, Mr Claude Smadja as the speaker.

The interaction with Dr Tharoor was broadcast on major social media platforms and more than a thousand people participated.