Korybko To Patrick Mendis: India Won’t Ally With The US To Dislodge China From Sri Lanka
Patrick Mendis is originally from Sri Lanka but moved to the US at a young age, after which he quickly rose through the ranks of its elite according to the biography on his official website. It’s therefore understandable that he feels strongly about the US cooperating with India to dislodge Chinese influence from his homeland. He has the right to feel that way and lobby in support of his envisaged solution, though the points that he makes don’t stand up to scrutiny as will be proven in this piece.
Dr. Patrick Mendis, who’s a former American diplomat and a military professor in the NATO and the Indo-Pacific Commands of the Pentagon, published a response at The National Interest to Ashley J. Tellis’ piece in early May for Foreign Affairs. Titled “China’s ‘Blue Dragon’ Strategy in the Indo-Pacific Makes America and India Restless”, he argued India should ally with the US to dislodge China from Sri Lanka and then jointly challenge its designs in Taiwan, thus breaking Beijing’s maritime strategy.
Mendis is originally from Sri Lanka but moved to the US at a young age, after which he quickly rose through the ranks of its elite according to the biography on his official website. It’s therefore understandable that he feels strongly about the US cooperating with India to dislodge Chinese influence from his homeland. He has the right to feel that way and lobby in support of his envisaged solution, though the points that he makes don’t stand up to scrutiny as will be proven in this piece.
This expert’s thesis is that China is seeking to encircle the East-South China Seas via Taiwan and the Indian Ocean via Sri Lanka through what he’s termed its “Blue Dragon” strategy, which he considers to be an unprecedented global power play that poses a serious danger to India’s national security interests. So acute is this danger, Mendis believes, that it should prompt Delhi to abandon its multi-alignment policy that External Affairs Minister (EAM) Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar articulated in his 2020 book.
He’s convinced that China will inevitably militarize the Indian Ocean along the lines of what it’s already done in the East-South China Seas if it isn’t dislodged from its “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in Sri Lanka. Mendis warns that “if nothing changes, the Indian Ocean could eventually become China’s ‘Western Ocean’ as described in ancient Chinese literature.” The alternative, as he sees it, is “an Indo-Pacific region that remains safe for democracy by fully aligning India with the United States and its allies”.
Picking apart Mendis’ arguments isn’t that difficult since he ironically does so himself through the earlier praise that he gave to Tellis’ “perceptive analysis” as he rightly described it and the summary of EAM Jaishankar’s book about “The India Way: Strategies For An Uncertain World”. He deserves credit for citing these contrarian works, though he doesn’t challenge their precepts, instead taking for granted that China will militarize the Indian Ocean via Sri Lanka and can only be stopped by an Indo-US alliance.
His scenario forecast is flimsy since it assumes that a very specific state of affairs characterized by the following five factors is presently in place: 1) China is predominant in Sri Lanka; 2) it has expansionist naval plans there that pose an unacceptable threat to India’s national security; 3) Delhi is unable to stop them through intrigue or invasion; 4) that South Asian Great Power must thus ally with the US to remove the People’s Republic from this island; and then 5) they’d agree to replicate their success in Taiwan.
Fact-checking this premise, the reality is that: 1) Sri Lanka’s cascading crises have resulted in India restoring its role as that country’s top strategic partner; 2) China’s port in Hambantota appears to just be a “white elephant”; 3) Delhi has the diplomatic, intelligence, and military capabilities to thwart any foreign threat emanating from its neighbor; 4) the US wants submission as a vassal and not an equal alliance; and 5) India knows that meddling in Taiwan could lead to headaches in the Himalayas.
The abovementioned insight is derived from empirical observations of India’s regional neighborhood and reflections of its foreign policy as they objectively exist. Accordingly, Mendis’ scenario forecast is thus dismissed as fearmongering, and his assessment of India’s interest in abandoning its commitment to multi-alignment is discredited as wishful thinking speculation. Both analytical shortcomings are likely attributable to his personal interest in this subject, which makes it difficult for him to remain unbiased.
As a dual American-Lankan citizen whose professional career saw him play an important part in the US’ permanent policymaking bureaucracy in various capacities, it’s understandable that Mendis might feel passionate about getting India to work closer with the US after fearmongering about China in Sri Lanka. That said, it’s precisely because of his personal profile that he should have known better than to think that Inda would abandon its multi-alignment policy after the scenario forecast that he just shared.
In fact, it might even be that he does indeed know better than to expect that, in which case the purpose of his piece could have been to share some talking points that he’d hope diplomats might pick up and employ in whatever context they feel is most opportune with their Indian counterparts. At any rate, there’s no doubt that the policy proposal part of his piece reads like political fantasy despite his accurate summaries of Tellis’ article and EAM Jaishankar’s book that were put forth in the lead-up to that.
Under no circumstances will India subordinate itself to becoming anyone’s junior partner, especially not when the global systemic transition to multipolarity placed it the position over the past 15 months to informally lead the Global South as was explained in this analysis here. Absolutely nothing will convince it to give up on the promising trajectory of becoming a globally significant Great Power, with all such efforts like Mendis’ being doomed to fail no matter how much they might dupe some Westerners.