EEven though prime-time television remained busy – with dozens of ‘experts’ lively debating the unfortunate death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput or the upcoming Bihar assembly elections – India skipped another important meeting of the RCEP regional trade bloc on August 26, 2020. The meeting was essential as it aimed to finalize the deal by the end of the year. Even developments related to Quad, the Indo-Pacific security architecture, and the emerging global coalition against China, especially at a time when the People’s Liberation Army refuses to retreat an inch into the Valley of Galwan, are not mentioned in any debate. The opposition, too, is silent on these issues. Perhaps they do not fit into the electoral equation of garnering votes. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s planned visit to Japan next month is an opportunity for India to start something that was both pending and now inevitable: to become active in the Quad group and lead the anti-China front.
Read also : Australia toughens up with China, blocks Beijing influence via Belt & Road
India must pick up the Japanese signal
Almost 13 years after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered the famous “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech in the Indian Parliament on August 22, 2007, India and Japan are still looking for ways to strengthen the Quad, or the quadrilateral dialogue. security, including India, United States, Japan and Australia. Although none of the Quad’s four partner countries openly admitted the Quad’s anti-China coalition agenda, the posture is crystal clear. Abe’s description of Quad as a “diamond of democratic security” in his 2012 Quad formalization speech leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to the anti-Communist China coalition.
The “Greater Asia” Abe spoke of is poised to become a reality in an emerging post-pandemic security and world order. Little seems to have been done in all these 13 years to forge a strong security and economic alliance in the region, especially to counter a bellicose Beijing. The coronavirus pandemic, which emanated from Wuhan in China, presented a whole new situation to the world. As a “reliable trading partner,” China’s active pursuit for greater influence in the Indo-Pacific has been identified as a threat to Australia’s strategic interests. Australia’s Defense Strategy Update and Force Structure Plan viewed the US-China power struggle as having a negative impact on Australian national security.
While Tokyo had serious unresolved border issues with Beijing, the pandemic forced Japan to reconsider its trade ties with China. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan, which would have been a game-changer for relations between the two countries, has been canceled. Ironically, on the day the cancellation of the visit was announced by Japan’s Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Abe expressed deep concerns about China’s induced supply chain disruptions. This was followed by the announcement of an additional $ 2.3 billion fund offering to help Japanese companies leave China and settle in other Asian countries. Unfortunately, India was not a favorite destination for these companies.
Read also : India, Japan and Australia work on supply chain pact to counter China
India must step up
Quad should be used by New Delhi to increase engagement with other partners, seek more opportunities outside the coalition, especially in Quad plus countries such as Vietnam, South Korea and New Zealand . India should also take advantage of this situation to reach out to countries under the Indo-Pacific, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and South East Asia which are all victims of the pandemic and are wary of aggressive measures by China. Abe’s “Greater Asia” dream is an ideal plan for India to implement and use as a force multiplier for the anti-China coalition.
But, that’s easier said than done. The perception that Quad is essentially an institution to forge an anti-access strategy to contain China needs to be dispelled. There is no doubt that a new Beijing-sponsored power equation is emerging that denies the rules-based framework and seeks to promote a system where power, both economic and military, will be right. India is committed to promoting a rules-based international order that will seek collective growth and peace without hegemony. Although there is sufficient understanding and appreciation of India’s position, each country in the region and under the geographic influence of the Indo-Pacific and IORA has different equations and formulations of contradictory foreign policies with the two competing power blocs jostling for the first position on an equal footing.
Read also : US Senate condemns Chinese aggression against India at LAC, calls for diplomatic solution
How India can do it
The perception that India is reluctant to forge or form alliances and prefers to chart a lonely path should be corrected. Although New Delhi has withdrawn from the RCEP negotiations, despite our objections, we can still enter the negotiations, given the evolving geopolitical situation. Teaming up with Japan and FTA countries other than China will give us a new platform in the region.
The Indo-Japanese 2 + 2 ministerial-level dialogue and military exercises have paved the way for greater cooperation. Japan’s 2019 defense white paper reveals concern about China’s defense capabilities in space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum, as well as increasing military activity in the Indo-Pacific region.
Australia also reiterated its full commitment to Quad. It is up to New Delhi to take a more proactive role and use the platform to the best of national advantage. Japan faces serious maritime security challenges and needs help reaching Africa with its development partnership agenda, two areas where India can help. Quad, Indo-Pacific and business relocation from China are some of the issues that Japan has set as priorities.
The pandemic will bring about a paradigm shift in the world order that will present new challenges. India may never have such an opportunity to show its capabilities and take the lead. New Delhi must get out of electoral mode and set its priorities with an action-oriented plan and time-bound implementation.
The author is a member of the BJP National Executive Committee and a former editor of the Organizer. Opinions are personal.
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