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India's Vision for Indo- Pacific (12th December 2020)

India's Vision for Indo- Pacific (12th December 2020)

Topics Covered:

  • China as a threat to the World and India
  • Role of QUAD/Indo Pacific
  • India’s vision of Indo-Pacific
  • India-Russia relation vis a vis Indo Pacific
  • Militarisation of Indian Ocean region
  • Best way to tackle China holistically

1. Context:

In Russian international affairs council, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had criticized the QUAD. He described new Delhi as an object of the west's persistent aggressive and devious policy against china in the Indo-pacific.

2. Background:

PM Modi had held during Shangri-La dialogue that India does not see Indo-Pacific as a strategy or a club of limited members or as a grouping that seeks to dominate.

Noting the rising challenges in the Indo-Pacific region chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat said that the world is witnessing a race for strategic basis in the Indian ocean region, there are 120 warships of extra regional forces deployed in the region in support of various missions.

 Panellists:

1. Ashok Sajjanhar, Former Ambassador  
2. Vice Admiral Satish Soni (Retd.), Fmr Commander-in-Chief, Southern & Eastern Command  
3. Maj. Gen. Dhruv C. Katoch (Retd.), Director, India Foundation

 

QUAD: INDIA + USA + JAPAN + AUSTRALIA

2007: Quad, the idea first came about in 2007 and as it happened that was also the first time that we had a multilateral Malabar exercise though Malabar started in 1992.

  • But governments of Australia and Japan and even India they took a step back and then

2017: The idea is reborn and rejuvenated.

2017-As far as the QUAD is concerned, though the work is in progress but a lot of progress has been made over the last three years since 2017. When it first came into position over two years it was meeting at very low mid-level officials for the first time.

2019- Quad met on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly at Ministers level

2020- during the pandemic in October all the four ministers travelled specifically to have this meeting in Tokyo so symbolic message has gone that these countries are very very serious.

2020 Onwards: they have decided that from now on they are going to be meeting every year at ministry level

  • They have developed a very strong powerful agenda they are talking about
    • PANDEMIC 
    • ECONOMIC RECOVERY 
    • CONNECTIVITY 
    • INFRASTRUCTURE 
    • 5G
    • CYBER SECURITY 
  • QUAD/Indo Pacific is on its way to institutionalization and formalization of the structure at foreign minister level.

3. China as a threat to World and India:

3.1. Vacuum as fundamental law of physics: When we are looking at the Indo-pacific, there is a fundamental law of physics, which says that a vacuum will be filled and the Chinese for very long are perceiving a shift in balance of power and they're trying to fill that vacuum.

3.2. Chinese Expansion instinct:

  • In Vietnam war when the French left, half was occupied by china because there was a vacuum and when the Americans left, they occupied the other half.
  • Chinese have always tried attempted to expand whenever they perceive a chance to do so. Other countries cannot let a unilateral expansion of power by china in this particular region.
  • Chinese want it to be unilateral that whatever china says must be accepted by all and that is certainly not going to be accepted by the rest of the world.

3.3. Violations of Rule based law by China:

  • We don't see the Chinese conforming to any rules as you can see what happened in the dispute between china and the Philippines where they refused to accept what the world body judgement (ICJ).
  • They still lay claim to 90 % of the south china sea now i think that is as absurd as it gets. So, in my view things have to change.

3.4. The world is definitely getting much more concerned, anxious and worried and particularly since the onset of the pandemic. One of course is in terms of the flexing of muscles by china against India on Ladakh border.

3.5. Weaponizing supply chains by China: China has also been weaponizing its supply chains. It refused to supply even PPE kit or the ventilators to countries which were suggesting that the Wuhan virus came out of china or see Coercive economic Action against Australia.

3.6. China Flexing Muscles: In south china sea, in terms of nine dash line claiming 90% of SCS claiming for a long time but now it is exercising that domination and that control and it is saying that the ships that go through it they will have to inform they'll have to seek permission also in terms of overflights also.

4. Need of QUAD/Indo-Pacific and Beyond:

4.1. Ladakh Border crisis: It was a unilateral, unacceptable action by china on Ladakh Border which has created the problem they are doing the same thing in the south china sea and they must be confronted because

  • If the bully is not confronted, he will continue to get away and continue his behaviour like that only.

4.2. Position of Quad: Quad has a potential from becoming a very loose structure to a very cohesive structure in a very short span of time. And this particular aspect is what concerns the Chinese.  

4.3. Aimed at China: We say that Quad is not aimed at anything, anyone in particular but the concern is china's assertiveness and china's coercive behaviour. Malabar and Quad are also not linked but again inclusion of Australia in Malabar seem to be sending a signal.

4.4. Military Face to Quad: There is going to be a military face to the Quad but a Quad is still a fledgling organization where it will lead, we can't really say.

4.5. Small Nations & Military commitment:  These smaller nations are very important, especially the countries of the ASEAN. There has to be a military commitment or there has to be a resolve to act militarily against a coercive activity of china.

4.6. Handle China Holistically: Time has now come when a very very overtly aggressive china needs to be addressed holistically.

4.7. Role of Quad against China: Quad countries must now get down to having a very simple agenda, put down that agenda and let all the four countries conform to it after that once this agenda is set up i have no doubts in my mind that every single country of ASEAN will jump onto that bandwagon.

4.8. At the moment QUAD is a developing situation but we cannot allow this to be a developing situation in perpetuity.

4.9. World’s reaction towards China and Indo Pacific:

  • Quad Plus dialogues: We going to see a Quad Plus dialogues as we saw when the Quad and few nations like south Korea etc met on the side-lines.
  • Quad plus structure: It was created with the Vietnam, south Korea, New Zealand. We were working with them at the foreign secretary level.
  • France, Germany have come with the indo-pacific strategy, United Kingdom is going to send its queen Elizabeth ship in in the south china sea waters.   
  • Unified Strategy at World Level: How does the world come together and create a unified strategy to deal with china is the big question.
    • Because if you look at the exports of china in November 2020, they have risen by 20% as compared to their exports in November of 2019
    • Which means that although the sentiments are there but there is at the moment no desire to take pre-emptive action specific actions. So the world really has to walk the talk. India is doing it to a significant extent. Our imports have come down from china but i think the world also needs to come together and that is where the success of the quad will also lie.
  • China-ASEAN Border disputes: ASEAN countries have borders dispute with china so once you have a border with China, China will exercise some level of control over them.
  • Hedging strategy: Now that is where the hedging strategy comes in, that is why the quad is very important. ASEAN need to hedge itself with QUAD against China.

5. Best way forward:

5.1 What QUAD Should do now?

  1. Geo Limit: QUAD should define the limits of Indo Pacific. All 4 are talking about different geographical area.
  2. Common Agenda: Make a common agenda. At this point of time, we do not have an agenda so we should get down to that agenda.
  3. Military component + Economic component: There has to be the military component because once you put the military component in and the economic component in then you will find a very strong force developing.
  4. European and ASEAN on board: Get the European powers on board. France is on board. I’m quite certain the UK and the European Union will get on board. So, once we have that that structure in place i see no reason why the ASEAN countries won't come on board.

5.2. Economic + Military backing: QUAD has to be based on economic and other parameters but that can only work if you have the military muscle behind it.  Without military muscle all other things will not work.  

5.3. Taking Others on Board:

  • ASEAN: Getting all the ASEAN together will not work.  We have to pick and choose which are the countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines. Countries which Laos, Cambodia and Thailand can be left.
  • Europe:  I think definitely we can get them on board.
  • Smaller countries in IOR: Once we start building on issues like infrastructure, connectivity which are of interest to these countries, there will be much greater interest.

5.4. If the bully is not confronted, he will continue to get away and continue his behaviour like that only.

 

India-Russia Relation Vis a vis Indo Pacific:

  • Strategic and very close relation b/w India and Russia.
  • Defence: After all, in a large number of areas whether it is defence equipment defence purchases, development of the defence platforms that is taking place in India. It is not only a buyer seller relationship but we are also manufacturing those in India also.
  • Nuclear: Very important partner, in fact Russia is the only country which has established nuclear power plants in India. We have the first three units of kudunkulam. Six more units should be coming up in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Energy: In the area of energy whether it is oil, gas or coal, we have very good relations.
  • Close-strategic-global partnership with Russia but as far as the whole issue of the Indo-pacific and the quad is concerned we've been trying to explain to them.
  • We have been trying to explain to them that it is basically to ensure that the global commons of this region whether it is south china sea or otherwise that there should be freedom of navigation that there should be resolution of disputes through dialogue there should be rule of law it should be observed an international rule of law.
  • Reason for Pro China and Anti India Stand: But at this moment Russia is being pressurized by the west, it finds that it has to go along with china. Although India and Russia have very good relations but at the moment Russia finds that its interests are with the china it would like to maintain its transactional ties with India but then its interests also are very strong with china absolutely.
  • On Russian reaction: When the Russians are claiming that Americans are wooing India away let us remember it was the Chinese which carried out aggression in eastern Ladakh which led to the problem and I’m sure the Chinese were not looking at American instructions.
  • So, it was a unilateral, unacceptable action by china on Ladakh Border which has created the problem they are doing the same thing in the south china sea and they must be confronted because if the bully is not confronted, he will continue to get away and continue his behaviour like that only.
  • Giving a clean cheat to china by Russia as far as this border is concerned when India has very clearly stated that it was a pre-meditated and a pre-planned attack by china, i think that definitely doesn't do justice to our very strong and strategic partnership.

Militarization of Indian Ocean:

The Indian ocean has been somewhat a zone of peace before the 15th century. There was a policy of live and let live. But with the arrival of Wasco de gama things changed and then ocean was dominated by the British and then after the cold war by USA but essentially there has been you know some kind of a maritime order.

China’s threat in Indian Ocean Region and Militarization of IOR:

  • But now a challenger has emerged in china and china in 2008 for the first time they came in with just two whole ships and an oiler and now 10 to 12 ships are always present over here.
  • Opened a base in Djibouti
  • A base coming up in Gwadar
  • Number of logistic bases sprinkled all over the Indian ocean u
  • They are not in a position as of now to keep the Indian ocean under surveillance as like south china sea and the western pacific so they are not asserting themselves.
  • But five years down the line, they will be in alliance with the Pakistan navy to dominate area in the western Indian ocean
  • Can announce their first overseas command based in Gwadar
  • So, the Indian ocean is certainly going to be militarized.
  • it is not only china but Russia also going to open a base in Sudan.

Race for strategic bases: Noting the rising challenges in the Indo-Pacific region chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat said that the world is witnessing a race for strategic bases in the Indian ocean region, there are 120 warships of extra regional forces deployed in the region in support of various missions.

Limitation for Indian Navy: India must realize that Indian ocean region comes first for us. At present we don't have a navy which can really assert itself to distant sea. In coordination with other navies like the US navy, the French navy, royal navy of UK, we can participate in exercises out of this area.

India as Net Security Provider in IOR: In Indian ocean region, smaller countries must remain on top of our list. We must make sure that they are dependent on us for their security and don’t give an opportunity for countries like china to come.

History lessons of Navy: United Kingdom or England was able to dominate the world backed on the strength of the royal navy and the USA dominates the world on the strength of the USA navy.

  • If countries like India and china were colonized it was because we did not give importance to our maritime spaces.
  • If china today is going to dominate and is emerging as a rival it is because they are concentrating on the navy.
  • We must invest in our navy. today our defense budget is very low and the navy's share in that defense budget has come down from 18 to some 14 %. Our acquisition programs are very low. We would need a strong navy and we must invest in it.

 

Important Points made by Guests

Ambassador:

Q. Russian foreign minister commented that India is playing to the tunes of its western allies. What do you make of that remark?

ANS:

  • Strategic and very close relation b/w India and Russia.
  • Defence: After all, in a large number of areas whether it is defence equipment defence purchases, development of the defence platforms that is taking place in India. It is not only a buyer seller relationship but we are also manufacturing those in India also.
  • Nuclear: Very important partner, in fact Russia is the only country which has established nuclear power plants in India. We have the first three units of kudunkulam. Six more units should be coming up in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Energy: In the area of energy whether it is oil, gas or coal, we have very good relations.
  • Close-strategic-global partnership with Russia but as far as the whole issue of the Indo-pacific and the quad is concerned we've been trying to explain to them.
  • India has been trying to reach out and explain to Russia at different for a, at different level whether it is through discussions in the think tanks or Official interactions.
  • We have been trying to explain to them that it is basically to ensure that the global commons of this region whether it is south china sea or otherwise that there should be freedom of navigation that there should be resolution of disputes through dialogue there should be rule of law it should be observed an international rule of law.
  • Reason for Pro China and Anti India Stand: But at this moment Russia is being pressurized by the west, it finds that it has to go along with china. Although India and Russia have very good relations but at the moment Russia finds that its interests are with the china it would like to maintain its transactional ties with India but then its interests also are very strong with china absolutely.

Admiral:

Q. As far as the Quad's potential is concerned, is that something that concerns those who are not part of the quad?

ANS:

  • Certainly, it does and to some extent that should be the aim.
  • Quad, the idea first came about in 2007 and as it happened that was also the first time that we had a multilateral Malabar exercise though Malabar is not connected to Quad and Malabar exercise started in 1992.
  • That was the beginning of quad and then we had the governments of Australia and Japan and even India they took a step back and then in 2017 as master stroke step, the idea is reborn and rejuvenated.
  • We say that it is not aimed at anything anyone in particular but the concern is china's assertiveness and china's coercive behaviour. Malabar and Quad are also not linked but again if the participation and inclusion of Australia in the last Malabar seem to be sending a signal whether we like it or not that.
  • There is going to be a military face to the Quad but a Quad is still a fledgling organization where it will lead, we can't really say.
  • We going to see a Quad Plus dialogues as we saw when the Quad and few nations like south Korea etc met on the side-lines.
  • Small Nations & Military commitment:  These smaller nations are very important, especially the countries of the ASEAN. There has to be a military commitment or there has to be a resolve to act militarily against a coercive activity of china.

General:

Q. India wants a free open inclusive freedom of navigation rules based order in the indo-pacific,  but what do you do when some of the stakeholders in the region actually don't go by these rules, when they don't believe in any of the rules? what options do India has? What is it that we need to focus on?

China as a threat to World and India:

Ans:  When we are looking at the Indo-pacific, there is a fundamental law of physics, which says that a vacuum will be filled and the Chinese for very long are perceiving a shift in balance of power and they're trying to fill that vacuum.

In Vietnam war when the French left, half was occupied by china because there was a vacuum and when the Americans left, they occupied the other half.

Chinese Expansion instinct:

  • Chinese have always tried attempted to expand whenever they perceive a chance to do so. Other countries cannot let a unilateral expansion of power by china in this particular region.
  • Chinese want it to be unilateral that whatever china says must be accepted by all and that is certainly not going to be accepted by the rest of the world.

So, in this context, India is looking at the Quad as a free and open indo-pacific very correctly as enumerated by the prime minister it must be rules based.

Violations of Rule based law by China:

We don't see the Chinese conforming to any rules as you can see what happened in the dispute between china and the Philippines where they refused to accept what the world body had said.

They still lay claim to 90 % of the south china sea now i think that is as absurd as it gets. So in my view things have to change.

Position of Quad: Now the quad is a very very loose structure but has a potential from becoming a very loose structure to a very cohesive structure in a very very short span of time. And this particular aspect is what concerns the Chinese. they know the potential of the Quad.

Handle China Holistically: Time has now come when a very very overtly aggressive china needs to be addressed holistically.

Role of Quad against China: Quad countries must now get down to having a very simple agenda, put down that agenda and let all the four countries conform to it after that once this agenda is set up i have no doubts in my mind that every single country of ASEAN will jump onto that bandwagon.

  • At the moment QUAD is a developing situation but we cannot allow this to be a developing situation in perpetuity.
  • On Russian reaction: When the Russians are claiming that you Americans are wooing India away let us remember it was the Chinese which carried out aggression in eastern Ladakh which led to the problem and I’m sure the Chinese were not looking at American instructions.
  • So, it was a unilateral, unacceptable action by china which has created the problem they are doing the same thing in the south china sea and they must be confronted because if the bully is not confronted, he will continue to get away and continue his behaviour like that only.

Ambassador:

Q. Are more countries now worried about china's hegemony in the region because Germans recently came out with the paper really as far as the Indo-pacific is concerned, the Europeans certainly seem to be concerned they seem to be rethinking their strategy?

ANS:

The world is definitely getting much more concerned, anxious and worried and particularly since the onset of the pandemic. One of course is in terms of the flexing of muscles by china against India on Ladakh border.

Weaponizing supply chains by China: China has also been weaponizing its supply chains. It refused to supply even PPE kit or the ventilators to countries which were suggesting that the Wuhan virus came out of china or see Coercive economic Action against Australia.

Giving a clean cheat to china by Russia as far as this border is concerned when India has very clearly stated that it was a pre-meditated and a pre-planned attack by china, i think that definitely doesn't do justice to our very strong and strategic partnership.

China Flexing Muscles: In south china sea, in terms of nine dash line claiming 90% of SCS  claiming for a long time but now it is exercising that domination and that control and it is saying that the ships that go through it they will have to inform they'll have to seek permission also in terms of overflights also.

World’s reaction towards China and Indo Pacific: France, Germany have come with the indo-pacific strategy, United Kingdom is going to send its queen Elizabeth ship in in the south china sea waters.  

Quad plus structure: It was created with the Vietnam, south Korea, New Zealand. We were working with them at the foreign secretary level.

Unified Strategy at World Level: How does the world come together and create a unified strategy to deal with china is the big question.

Because if you look at the exports of china in November 2020, they have risen by 20% as compared to their exports in November of 2019

Which means that although the sentiments are there but there is at the moment no desire to take pre-emptive action specific actions. So the world really has to walk the talk. India is doing it to a significant extent. Our imports have come down from china but i think the world also needs to come together and that is where the success of the quad will also lie.

 Admiral:

Q. CDS General Rawat said the race is on to militarize bases in the indo-pacific. What should India’s strategy be in the region?

ANS:

The Indian ocean has been somewhat a zone of peace before the 15th century. There was a policy of live and let live. But with the arrival of Wasco de gama things changed and then ocean was dominated by the British and then after the cold war by USA but essentially there has been you know some kind of a maritime order.

China’s threat in Indian Ocean Region and Militarization of IOR:

  • But now a challenger has emerged in china and china in 2008 for the first time they came in with just two whole ships and an oiler and now 10 to 12 ships are always present over here.
  • Opened a base in Djibouti
  • A base coming up in Gwadar
  • Number of logistic bases sprinkled all over the Indian ocean u
  • They are not in a position as of now to keep the Indian ocean under surveillance as like south china sea and the western pacific so they are not asserting themselves.
  • But five years down the line, they will be in alliance with the Pakistan navy to dominate area in the western Indian ocean
  • Can announce their first overseas command based in Gwadar
  • So, the Indian ocean is certainly going to be militarized.
  • it is not only china but Russia also going to open a base in Sudan.

Limitation for Indian Navy: India must realize that Indian ocean region comes first for us. At present we don't have a navy which can really assert itself to distant sea. In coordination with other navies like the US navy, the French navy, royal navy of UK, we can participate in exercises out of this area.

India as Net Security Provider in IOR: In Indian ocean region, smaller countries must remain on top of our list. We must make sure that they are dependent on us for their security and don’t give an opportunity for countries like china to come.

General:

Q. How difficult is it for some of these smaller countries including ASEAN nations really to be weaned away from china (cheque book diplomacy). What should be our strategy to deal with it?

ANS:

China-ASEAN Border disputes: ASEAN countries have borders dispute with china so once you have a border with China, China will exercise some level of control over them.

Hedging strategy: Now that is where the hedging strategy comes in, that is why the quad is very important. ASEAN need to hedge itself with QUAD against China.

What QUAD Should do now?

  1. Geo Limit: QUAD should define the limits of Indo Pacific. All 4 are talking about different geographical area.
  2. Common Agenda: Make a common agenda. At this point of time, we do not have an agenda so we should get down to that agenda.
  3. Military component + Economic component: Three has to be the military component because once you put the military component in and the economic component in then you will find a very strong force developing.
  4. European and ASEAN on board: Get the European powers on board. France is on board. I’m quite certain the UK and the European Union will get on board. So, once we have that that structure in place i see no reason why the ASEAN countries won't come on board.
  • Russia:  Russia is going to play its own game. Russia has got its own concern but leaving Russia out i think the rest of the world can unite and if the rest of the world unites ASEAN will be part of that grouping.

Best way forward:

Ambassador:

Agenda of Quad/Indo Pacific:

They have developed a very strong powerful agenda they are talking about

  • PANDEMIC 
  • ECONOMIC RECOVERY 
  • CONNECTIVITY 
  • INFRASTRUCTURE 
  • 5G
  • CYBER SECURITY 

QUAD/Indo Pacific is on its way to institutionalization and formalization of the structure at foreign minister level.

Taking Others on Board:

ASEAN:

Getting all the ASEAN together will not work.  We have to pick and choose which are the countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines. Countries which Laos, Cambodia and Thailand can be left.

Europe:  I think definitely we can get them.

Smaller countries in IOR: Once we start building on issues like infrastructure, connectivity which are of interest to these countries, there will be much greater interest.

Admiral:

History lessons of Navy: United Kingdom or England was able to dominate the world backed on the strength of the royal navy and the USA dominates the world on the strength of the USA navy.

  • If countries like India and china were colonized it was because we did not give importance to our maritime spaces.
  • If china today is going to dominate and is emerging as a rival it is because they are concentrating on the navy.
  • We must invest in our navy. today our defense budget is very low and the navy's share in that defense budget has come down from 18 to some 14 %. Our acquisition programs are very low. We would need a strong navy and we must invest in it.

General:

Economic +Military backing: QUAD has to be based on economic and other parameters but that can only work if you have the military muscle behind it.  Without military muscle all other things will not work.  

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