By Dr. D.K. Giri
India ups the ante against China. Beijing is ostensibly rattled. Although reports of a trade deal with Taiwan have not been officially confirmed by Indian agency, Beijing has issued a veiled warning to New Delhi. Obviously, it is not just India-Taiwan, Beijing is reacting to the latest development in the Quad, and the ensuing defence pact between India and the US. As New Delhi decides to take on China, the latter makes a desperate attempt to bully India.
Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson Zhao Lijian commented, “The one-China principle is the common consensus of the international community, including India, and also serves as the political foundation for China to develop relations with any country.” New Delhi has so far reconciled to and respected one-China policy. But, given China’s belligerence against India and its meddling in her internal affairs, New Delhi is seeking to pay back in its own coin.
Recently, India participated symbolically in the National Day of Taiwan drawing sharp response from Beijing. The Chinese embassy in New Delhi issued an advisory to the Indian media against felicitation of Taiwan on its National Day. The Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi rebutted by saying that media in India is free and vibrant unlike in China. Media follows its independent line on politics, national as well as international.
The cooperation between Taiwan and India is rising especially since a pro-independent Prime Minister took over in Taiwan. During the pandemic, Taiwan supported India with supply of critical medical items. Trade between the two countries is on the rise and Taiwan has a trade office in Mumbai. The growing proximity between New Delhi and Taipei is not lost on Beijing. Zhao sought to emphasise, “China is firmly opposed to any official exchange of any form and the signing of any agreement of official nature between Taiwan and any country have been diplomatic ties with China”.
On a serious note, observers interpret the Beijing’s diplomatic advisory to India as a military threat. The vibe emanating from China points to Chinese military taking action if New Delhi were to seal a deal of any sort with Taiwan. However, this was on cards. New Delhi has to take the bull by the horns and pitch for closer relations with Taiwan including a diplomatic contact in future.
Since containing China consists of a multi-pronged strategy it is in order that we factor the development in the Quad. New Delhi has invited, for the first time, Australia, the third partner in Quad to participate in the joint naval exercise along with Japan and the US. This exercise underlines the strategy of developing Quad into a real security grouping. Apparently, the rogue behaviour shown by Beijing at the time of a global crisis caused by the pandemic, which again was unleashed by China, has consolidated the Quad.
The partners in Quad have responded warmly to India inviting Australia to join the Malabar Naval exercise. The US Navy Chief of Information said, “Sea power x 4” with the flags of India, the US, Japan and Australia will be sailing together in November. The Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said in Tokyo, “If this is to be regularised, it will be welcomed by Japanese government”. Responding to the invitation, the Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said, “We have the invitation from India and Australia will participate in exercise Malabar 2020. The exercise will bring together four key regional defence partners in November 2020”.
Arguably, the United States views Quad as a countervailing body to China. May be other partners too see it the same way. But for long term partnership between these four democracies, Quad should mean more than China. It should be a partnership based on shared values and interests including rule of law, freedom of navigation, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, peaceful resolution of disputes and free trade.
India-Pacific region draws attention from other countries like Germany, UK and France. Germany, which is holding the EU presidency at present, is spearheading an-India-Pacific strategy for the European Union. Germany has hinted more than once that any engagement with India will always have the China angle in the equation. Out of all the four members in Quad it is India that shares a long border with China and is facing Chinese hostility for many years. So, the onus is on New Delhi to keep the Quad going for a secure and conflict-free India-Pacific region. The security and prosperity of many countries depend on it and China is the elephant in the room.
The third thorn in China’s flesh is the India-US defence deals in the forthcoming 2+2 ministerial meeting India and US are going to sign the Basic Exchange and Co-operation Agreement, which pertains to geospatial intelligence, and sharing information on maps and satellite images for defence. The BECA is sequel to LEMOA and COMCASA; these three defence pacts are considered to troika of foundational pacts leading to deeper military co-operation.
On the pacts, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) was signed in August 2016. It allows each other’s military to replenish from others bases: access supplies, spare parts and services from other countries land, air and ports which then can be reimbursed. The Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed in 2018 after the first 2+2 dialogue allows US to provide India with encrypted communications equipment and systems. In simpler terms it is like Whatsapp or Telegram for the two militaries.
While LEMOA lays the bases for mutual trust on exchange of valuable assets, COMCASA connects two militaries and BECA facilitates sharing classified information in real time without any risk of being compromised. All these pacts put together mean both militaries coming closer and building trust in the face of an increasingly aggressive China.
The sceptics might read a US strategy in these pacts to wean India away from its dependence on Russia. India was putting off US overtures because of deep-rooted links between Pakistan and Pentagon. The US was could still rely on Rawalpindi for access to an exit from Afghanistan. Both these premises have changed. The US is successfully nudging India to engage in Afghanistan, partly to replace Pakistan and the Chinese aggression has pushed New Delhi into America’s embrace.
Apparently, New Delhi has blown the bugle although not so loud, against China. The India-Pacific region manned by Quad is the real bulwark against Chinese aggression. New Delhi is the critical anchor in making India-Pacific a viable strategic instrument. Japan may have originated the idea and Washington may have given it a push but it is India that has made Quad happen while cautiously dealing with China. That caution needs to be thrown to the winds and New Delhi must embrace the challenge of sustaining the momentum in the Quad. Taiwan is a pinprick for China, but it should not become another Tibet. The countdown for China has begun and there is no turning back for New Delhi. —INFA
(The writer is Prof, International Relations, JMI)