The 'Morning Consult' report shows how India’s middle-ground positionality – decision to not align with global powers – affects foreign investment, trade, and security manoeuvres

New Delhi: A report by defence and intelligence research group Morning Consult shows that 43 percent of Indians see China as the country’s biggest threat, followed by nearly a quarter (22 percent) who think it is the US, while Pakistan comes a distant third – with only 13 percent of respondents perceiving the country as India’s foremost threat.

This sentiment indicates “public wariness of being drawn into a conflict between the global powers”, the report says.

It further outlines how India’s middle-ground positionality, decision to not align with either global power, or Russia, affects foreign investment, trade, and security maneuvers. The example it gives is that India’s “top trading partners are also its top security concerns”.

In 2022, trade with China touched an all-time high, hitting $135.98 billion. Yet, the possibility of armed conflict remains a reality, as seen through the rising frequency of clashes.

In spite of terse military relations, the report points out that India is part of the China-Russia backed Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, described as an “anti-US bulwark” in the region.

The report highlights that forging a middle ground comes with allies, enemies, and policy decisions that are woven together. “India cannot afford an unchecked alliance between Russia, China and Pakistan, and it relies on positive relations with Russia — which supplies India with affordable energy and military hardware — to help temper Chinese aggression and expansionism,” it says. Public opinion too mirrors these dynamics. Indians view “Russia as the country most allied to its own”, followed by the US, with China and Pakistan as “enemies”.

Inter-Connected Foreign Relations

The invasion of Ukraine furthers India the liminal space India is carving for itself. While 38 percent of Indians hold Russia responsible for the war, a combined 44 percent hold the US and NATO culpable for the ongoing conflict.

India’s pledge to continue buying Russian oil may have raised eyebrows in the international community, but the report iterates that the country is acting “pragmatically, not idealistically”.

“Russia is an indispensable source of munitions and training, supplying around 90% of India’s military equipment. Even against the backdrop of the invasion, the Indian public narrowly prefers Russia to the United States as a military equipment provider,” says the report.

The US’ need for a bulwark against China will trump its resistance towards an India-Russia relationship, which it will “tacitly” accept, alleges Morning Consult.

India’s endorsement of Russia exists in tandem with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity in the US, says the report. The dual nature of India’s geopolitical relations is a positive for the global supply chain, “as the West continues to rely on India to counterbalance Chinese influence in Asia”. But, there is competition from other Asian economies, namely Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

However, these supply chains are also subject to certain constraints, the report also says. For example, India’s ambition to advance in the innovation sector could be undercut by Western powers, who are vying for market share in the same sector.