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Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Let the Quad Die: Towards Greater Indian Leadership in the Indo-Pacific

The Indian invitation to leaders of the BIMSTEC grouping to attend the second swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a number of significant implications. For one, it is a sign that the current Indian establishment thinks that the SAARC framework continues to underperform and is simply not enough to facilitate India’s ambitions. For another, the attention to BIMSTEC, with location around the Bay of Bengal as its central organizing principle, can also be read as a sign of the return of a maritime focus in Indian foreign policy.

The challenge, however, is to ensure that any renewed focus on the maritime domain does not go the way of the ‘neighbourhood first’ approach of the first Modi administration.

To this end, it is important to consider afresh some of the approaches the Indian policy establishment has adopted to maritime concepts and groupings over the past decade and more. In recent years, the Indian government has been part of significant maritime groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) including its earlier iteration as the Quadrilateral Initiative, and begun using concepts like the ‘Indo-Pacific’. While these initiatives could form part of New Delhi’s ‘Act East’ Policy, it must be noted that neither the QSD nor the concept of the Indo-Pacific, as currently promoted, have India in a leadership role or even as an enthusiastic partner. Even as large sections of the strategic community in India see great promise in the QSD, there is an equally great reluctance by the government to actually declare any consistent or regular interest in the initiative.

This essay argues that rather than form groupings based only on India’s comfort level with certain countries or individuals leading them, as is the case now, New Delhi must push to create, as well as institutionalise, groupings based on certain clear principles. While membership can be ‘open’, it is only if these principles are accepted that membership should be possible. And the central organising principle of any new grouping in the Indo-Pacific must be that of respect for the idea of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, which, in turn, must be based on respect for international law, including UNCLOS. The essay uses a Chinese prism – specifically, Chinese views of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad – to argue why such an Indian approach will be more effective in deterring aggressive Chinese behaviour in the region and perhaps, even further afield.

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This article was originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Let the Quad Die: Towards Greater Indian Leadership in the Indo-Pacific’, National Maritime Foundation, 17 July 2019.

A shorter version of this article was also published earlier as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘India must create and lead a new regional grouping to replace Quad’, Moneycontrol.com, 12 June 2019.

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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy

Modi’s Indonesia Visit: China in the Mix

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia at the end of May 2018 followed that of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to the Southeast Asian nation earlier the same month.[1] The Modi visit is a significant step not just for the bilateral relationship but in clarifying what India’s strategy is in the region. It is, therefore, important to both understand China’s impact on the India-Indonesia bilateral relationship and what it is that India is up against in converting the rhetoric into action.

As important as practical immediate-term outcomes are – as on counter-terrorism, for example – a long-term vision should also animate the relationship between India and Indonesia that has for long been consigned to a secondary or tertiary status in both capitals. One Indian official on the eve of the visit said that he expected the visit to be ‘forward-looking’. But he also set its foundation very low by noting the obvious that ‘India and Indonesia do not share any territorial disputes, which is significant to add momentum to the relationship’.[2]

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Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Divide and Rule: China Woos Southeast Asia

At the 17th China-ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Naypyitaw, Myanmar in November 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for the formulation of a Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (2016-2020)[1] to ensure good neighbourly relations. A Global Times commentary has pointed out that while the Chairman’s Statement of the 24th ASEAN Summit on the South China Sea disputes ‘expressed serious concerns over the ongoing developments in the South China Sea’, the statement at the 25th Summit that concluded in Naypyitaw on 13 November, only mentioned that it was ‘concerned over the situation in the South China Sea’.[2] Clearly, the Chinese are working on the ASEAN members to moderate their views on the seriousness of the impact of the South China Sea disputes, and by extension, China’s actions, on regional stability.

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Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Hillary Clinton’s India Visit: Chinese Elephant in the Room

During her visit to India for the 2nd Indo-US Strategic Dialogue, last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon India to “not just to look east, but to engage east and act east as well”. But the problem in New Delhi might well be an incapacity to ‘think east’ beyond the boundary dispute with China or trying to retain a toehold against Chinese dominance in Myanmar.  What engagement there is occurs in the economic domain but India remains overcautious in its political and military outreach to the Asia-Pacific.

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy

Will Emerging Powers Promote Democracy?

Original Article: Oliver Stuenkel and Jabin T. Jacob, “Rising powers and the future of democracy promotion: the case of Brazil and India,” Portuguese Journal of International Affairs (Lisbon), No. 4, Autumn/Winter 2010, pp. 23-30.

Extract: The decline of Western dominance, symbolized by the financial crisis in 2008 and the rise of emerging actors such as China, India and Brazil, will fundamentally change the way decisions are made at the international level. Power, and the responsibilities that come with it, will be more evenly spread across a larger number of stakeholders, creating potentially a more equitable world order. Power not only allows rising actors to participate in international negotiations but also increasingly allows countries such as China, India and Brazil to frame the debate and decide which issues should be discussed in the first place. In other words, rising powers will increasingly turn into global agenda setters. Apart from changing the way decisions are made, the rise of non-established powers such as India and Brazil on the one hand and China on the other, will also have an impact on the international discourse on political values and systems of governance.

In the short-run, it does seem likely that the rise of emerging powers will contribute to the decreasing importance of democracy promotion in the international political discourse. African dictators will show little inclination to accept loans laden with conditionalities if they can opt for Chinese, Indian or Brazilian loans without any strings attached and Central Asian despots will seek to take advantage of instability in their neighbourhood or the fear of possible chaos in their own country to play one power against the other. But in the long-run, as they grow and become more confident of their positions in the world order, at least some emerging powers might see that they have little to from kowtowing to dictators. They might also seek increasingly to distinguish themselves not so much from the West as from each other. And at least Brazil and India could well find that their democratic nature is an important marker also of their global identity and that democracy promotion is an useful tool of their national interests worldwide.

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