The United States and India have an opportunity to co-define and co-implement a geoeconomic vision for the Indo-Pacific, based on shared values of freedom and transparency. However, formidable obstacles remain to overcome. Efforts from the United States have been ad hoc and at times self-defeating, such as withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. Furthermore, India’s history and reputation in working with multilateral economic institutions has been mixed, to say the least.
It is in this context that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—a trillion dollar infrastructure strategy—has the potential to reshape the future economic and geopolitical landscape of the Indian Ocean rim and Eurasia. Both Washington and Delhi remain skeptical of BRI. Yet neither alone has the resources to effectively shape it, much less put forward a compelling alternative. Only by cooperating together—and with other likeminded partners—can the United States and India develop an effective response to BRI, one that incentivizes China to converge with global norms and standards, cooperates with China selectively, and competes vigorously and smartly where required, all with the ultimate goal of reinforcing the rules-based international order.
Despite some recent high-profile setbacks to several BRI project,1 China at present retains the initiative. Neither the United States nor India has yet to develop a coherent strategy toward BRI. The Obama administration’s regional connectivity agenda amounted to a piecemeal response. Whether the Trump administration will translate a growing focus on BRI into a systematic and appropriately resourced strategy remains uncertain. For its part, India largely views BRI as an extension of a long-term Chinese strategy of encirclement. It has responded by enhancing ties with states across the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and beyond, as well as by leveraging regional organizations, but these efforts to date are more opportunistic than strategic.
Read the full op-ed in The Asan Forum.