New Delhi: India desperately needs an independent foreign policy founded on robust military power and advanced by redoubtable political will. All three elements have been found missing in the nine years of Manmohan Singh and the two United Progressive Alliance governments. They await the inauguration of a tougher prime minister which opinion polls say may be Narendra Modi. Meanwhile, the prime minister has embarked on a visit to Japan and Thailand to give, as he says, India’s Look East policy a “new meaning”. If containment of Chinese expansionism as lately evident in the Eastern Ladakh intrusion is what Manmohan Singh has in mind, alliance-building with Japan won’t necessarily assist, although general good relations with the Asian powerhouse with a strong economic accent and content can scarcely be discouraged.

As a rule, great powers do not accept the role or influence of a third party in bilateral disputes. This fierce independence is what defines and distinguishes great powers from others. One could argue that China’s acceptance or non-acceptance of a course should not matter so long it works. This writer does not believe that close ties with Japan would baulk the Chinese with respect to the border dispute with India. They may have rolled back the incursion in Eastern Ladakh a day after the prime minister’s Japan engagement was made public with an extra day’s programme in the island nation to advertise the newfound closeness. But this is thin ground on which to base a future strategy of countering China. India has to take on China on its own political, economic, military and diplomatic strength, or retire from battle. It would be dangerous to load India-Japan relations with a powerful anti-China bias which may not suit the Japanese after a point.

Without going into the complications of Sino-Japanese relations, what happens if the Japanese cry off at a critical moment for India? As a nation exhausted by World War II, its stamina for a prolonged rise is suspect. Japan cannot come into its own so long it shuns military nuclear power. The Japanese have never taken kindly to India as a nuclear power and any strategic ties would founder if the Indian establishment goes for further testing fusion warheads to give (the currently-absent) heft and seriousness to its long-range missile deterrents against China. Besides, there is no guarantee that Japan will support India on the border issue as solidly as it expects Indian backing on the South China Sea dispute with China. The difference between the two disputes is that one has bound together East Asia against China while India is alone on the second. The United States too has come on the side of Japan and the rest but not openly identified with India on the border problem although it has an interest in resolving the linked Tibet issue. India cannot, on one hand, seek a bilateral solution to the border conflict while, on the other hand, desiring a sort of quasi-alliance with Japan to counter China. Transparency is not required in the foreign policy realm for moral reasons but to reorder your own priorities with clarity and have a clear idea of the doable. Japan simply can’t be what the Soviet Union was during the Bangladesh War. And India is chary of too close relations with the United States which also is undecided about serious strategic partnership with this country. It is a case of slipping between multiple stools.

Telling all this to the Manmohan Singh government is pointless. His foreign policy establishment is filled with woolly-headed liberal internationalists who take fear at the suggestion of independent external action, proactive military strategy and display of political will, and seek sanctuary in partnerships that are grades below an alliance. This policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound won’t pay off. China will not be intimidated by close Indian ties with Japan. It will neutralize this partnership before long. India will have to go alone to counter China and it must be realistic about the necessary inputs and the chances of success. Over to Narendra Modi.