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The Bi-Multipolar Worldview Brings India & ASEAN Closer Than Ever Before
From a grand strategic perspective, India has the chance to become the geostrategic fulcrum capable of shaping the trajectory of the bi-multipolar intermediary phase of the global systemic transition towards more complex multipolarity by multi-managing the emergence of tripolarity in Eurasia vis a vis Russia and in the Indo-Pacific with respect to ASEAN.
India hosted a special Foreign Ministers meeting with its ASEAN partners last week to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their dialogue relations. It flew under the radar of most observers since there wasn’t any dramatic outcome after the only thing of substance to emerge from the gathering was a perfunctory joint statement about the need to continue comprehensively expanding their cooperation, but the top Singaporean diplomat’s opening remarks hint that the parties have recently been brought closer together than ever before.
The island-state’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that “The sharpening superpower rivalry between the US and China has direct implications for all of us in Asia. These developments, if left unchecked, can threaten the old system of peace and stability, which we have been dependent on for the basis of our growth, development, and prosperity over many decades.” This is an obvious nod to Indian thinker Sanjaya Baru’s bi-multipolarity concept from a few years back which posits that the American and Chinese superpowers shape the evolving international order more than anyone else.
Below them, he said, is a growing number of Great Powers while the bottom rung of the international order is occupied by comparatively medium- and smaller-sized states that have practically no role in the global systemic transition to more complex multipolarity. Baru identified India as one of the world’s Great Powers while it can be argued that ASEAN as a whole can also be regarded as one as well. Foreign Minister Balakrishnan’s acknowledgement of America and China as superpowers sets the conceptual basis for cooperating more closely with India via their tacitly shared bi-multipolarity worldview.
To explain, Baru elaborated that the international order will be defined by the second and third rungs of his theoretical hierarchy actively balancing within and between one another as well as with the two superpowers. The end goal is for all parties to maximally benefit from their partners, with a particular objective of the Great Powers being to continue their rise to the point of gradually eroding the superpowers’ influence so that more complex multipolarity could follow the tripolarity transitional stage that’ll come after the present bi-multipolar intermediary one.
With a view to this end, India decisively intervened after the start of Russia’s ongoing special military operation in Ukraine to become Moscow’s irreplaceable valve from Western pressure and thus preemptively avert its partner’s potentially disproportionate dependence on China that could have reshaped the New Cold War in Beijing’s favor and thus destabilized the continent in Delhi’s estimation. Some American-aligned ASEAN states like Singapore are reluctant to cooperate with Russia out of fear of angering their patron so the bloc as a whole shouldn’t ever be expected to join the Neo-NAM.
That concept refers to the new Non-Aligned Movement that Russia and India jointly hope to build in order to create a third pole of influence for transitioning the present bi-multipolarity phase into tripolarity and thus facilitating the emergence of more complex multipolarity with time. Nevertheless, Delhi can decisively intervene in becoming ASEAN’s irreplaceable valve from the superpowers’ pressure similar in a sense to the role that it’s playing with Moscow in order to provide them with a balanced third option instead of feeling forced to choose between Washington and Beijing.
The devil is in the details as for how this could unfold in practice since India lacks the appeal of America’s security guarantees in the South China Sea and doesn’t come anywhere close to exerting the economic influence that China does over Southeast Asia, but it can still continue closely cooperating with ASEAN in increasingly creative ways in order to maximize the bloc’s geostrategic flexibility. Since both sides agree that America and China are superpowers, it naturally follows that ASEAN is already well on the way to embracing India’s bi-multipolarity concept and all that it entails.
It's therefore incumbent on Delhi to expand its balancing act from Eurasia to the Indo-Pacific, learning from its recent experience with Moscow in order to replicate its success with ASEAN. Both pairs of partners are completely different with practically nothing in common apart from their shared desire to maximize their strategic autonomy in the New Cold War’s present bi-multipolar intermediary phase, but it’s here where India has emerged as their partner of choice since this South Asian civilization-state is the only Great Power capable of helping both achieve these ends.
From a grand strategic perspective, India has the chance to become the geostrategic fulcrum capable of shaping the trajectory of the bi-multipolar intermediary phase of the global systemic transition towards more complex multipolarity by multi-managing the emergence of tripolarity in Eurasia vis a vis Russia and in the Indo-Pacific with respect to ASEAN. This ambitious task requires unprecedented diplomatic skill to pull off but it’s already reaped impressive dividends with Moscow as proven by it having avoided the fate of becoming Beijing’s “junior partner” unlike many earlier expected to have already happened.
So too can India do the same by strengthening ASEAN’s strategic autonomy so that the bloc as a whole doesn’t become either the American or Chinese superpowers’ “junior partner” even if some states within it opt for that fate if they conclude that it’s in their objective national interests to do so. What’s most important from Delhi’s perspective is that this regional integration platform remains neutral in the New Cold War so as to avoid giving an edge to either of the superpowers. This can in turn buy the strategic time that India needs for replicating its Russian-perfected balancing act with ASEAN as a whole.
In the best-case scenario, India will ultimately end up in the center of a transcontinental mainland-maritime integration network stretching from Russia in Eastern Europe through Iran in West Asia and to Indonesia in Southeast Asia in the event that it can successfully multi-manage the emergence of tripolarity in Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific by using Baru’s bi-multipolarity conceptual formula. There’s of course a lot that could happen to throw these plans off course, but generally speaking, India’s already on the path to achieving this to different degrees so it might only be a matter of time before it succeeds.