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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.

Download the rest of the article here

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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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

India and China’s Neighbours: Carefully Does It

(Published as जबिन टी. जेकब, “संबंधों में साहस और सतर्कता जरूरी,” Business Bhaskar, 24 January 2013, p. 4.)

The recent visits of Indian Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Vietnam are signs of a growing convergence of concerns that these countries have about China. China’s rapid military modernization and its assertiveness in the last few years on various territorial disputes have belied the hope that China’s regional and global economic integration would also ensure a more peaceful China.

In China’s own view, its actions are reasonable and justified in the face of provocations from its neighbours. Leaving aside the veracity of China’s claims, the object here is to examine the strategic coming together of India, Vietnam and Japan vis-à-vis China.

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Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Sino-Indian Cooperation: Will Oil Companies Show the Way?

(original version in English follows below Hindi text)

दक्षिण चीन सागर में स्प्रेटली और पारासेल द्वीप समूह पर कब्जे को लेकर चीन का अपने पड़ोसियों के साथ झगड़े के इस दौर में जो हलचल मची है उसमें भारत की क्या भूमिका रही है? भारत का मानना है यह विवाद शांतिपूर्ण बातचीत और अंतरराष्ट्रीय कानून के तहत सुलझा लिया जाना चाहिए। लेकिन वास्तव में इसमें इसकी भूमिका किसी दर्शक से ज्यादा की है।

भारतीय तेल कंपनियां दक्षिण चीन सागर में 1980 के दशक   के उत्तराद्र्ध से ही सक्रिय रही हैं।

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Foreign Policy War and Conflict

The Age of the Lilliputians

There has been a flurry of visits over the past few months by leaders of the smaller South and East Asian nations to either or both of the Big Two of Asia, namely China and India.

In the space of a few weeks, the presidents of Vietnam and Myanmar and the Prime Minister of Nepal have come visiting India. Pakistan’s top ruling elite have increased the frequency of their visits to China in recent years while in August, the Sri Lankan President made his second trip to Beijing in less than a year.

What is interesting about these visits as well as return visits by Chinese and Indian leaders is that the old paradigm of the smaller countries being the supplicants is changing.

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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.