The U.S., China and India could find common ground in creating better cybersecurity, says Shivshankar Menon, a Brookings Institution analyst of the region, but there is little evidence of a triangle relationship for now.
“A key opportunity for trilateral cooperation is cybersecurity,” Menon says in a recent online Q&A session with the National Bureau of Asian Research. “There are high levels of mistrust and lack of transparency in this new domain, where the rules and nature of contention are still very opaque. There are optimists who feel that an international attempt to develop ‘rules of the road’ would be useful. It may well be useful in provoking us to think through these issues. But so long as there is no common understanding of what is acceptable behavior in this domain and cyberwarfare is regarded as a force multiplier and even equalizer by many states, we are unlikely to see meaningful international agreement on rules of the road that will be respected in practice.
“Despite these difficulties, it is worth starting a conversation even without the expectation of immediate results or solutions,” Menon says. “If all these issues are taken together, there is an agenda for what a regional security architecture should address. Whether as track 1.5 or track 2, this trilateral dialogue is worth initiating with an eye toward more institutional, official structures.”
But on other fronts, Menon says, “I am not really sure you can think of the relationship between India, the United States, and China as a triangle, weak or otherwise, for several reasons. First, there is an evident asymmetry in the relationships and relative power between the three. Second, both China and India are more comfortable talking to the United States. India is not a major issue in China-U.S. relations, and I do not think China is a key driver of India-U.S. relations, although it is an issue discussed bilaterally.
“While security is a subjective concept without an absolute metric, I do not see the next 10 years as a period of strategic vulnerability for India; in fact, I believe Indian vulnerability has reduced over time in every respect,” Menon says. “From the Indian point of view, India-U.S. relations primarily are about bilateral actions and the ways this relationship assists in the transformation of India.
Nonetheless, there is no question that there is increasing strategic congruence – India and the United States share fundamental values, including the desire for an open and inclusive security order in Asia. All that is true, but I do not see a U.S.-India-China triangle yet.”