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Carving its Own ASEAN Path: India in between America and China

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Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini and Maithili Parikh

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap] ndia has invested immensely to strengthen its economic and strategic ties with South East Asia, over the past decade Japan and South Korea specifically but not exclusively, and the current government under Narendra Modi has sought to only further consolidate relations with the countries of South East Asia.

In general, Washington has supported India’s greater role in the Indo-Pacific. Before commencing his India visit in April 2016, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter categorically stated, “India is already a very influential and powerful force in the whole Indo-Asia-Pacific region, starting with the Indian Ocean.” In meetings between the US President and Indian PM Modi, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region has been accorded high priority. In fact, President Obama, who was accused of neglecting India in his first term, has invested significant capital in strengthening the strategic partnership with India and seems to have found common ground with India’s Act East Policy.

India has responded by joining the Malabar Exercises with Japan and the US. India’s maritime diplomacy has been quite pro-active recently, with almost 50 visits and bilateral exercises conducted in the past year alone. New Delhi did not shy away from signing LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement), which has been criticized by some strategic analysts for favoring the US too heavily. The agreement was first proposed by the previous Manmohan Singh government, but due to opposition from within the Congress Party it was scuttled. It would be important to point out that Washington has supported a greater role for India in the India-Pacific region, not only in the strategic sphere, but also in terms of enhancing connectivity between India and South East Asia through the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor which will run through Myanmar and Bangladesh. India has finally embraced the relevance of stronger connectivity with ASEAN countries, beginning with Myanmar. During Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw’s visit to New Delhi in August 2016, expediting the India-Myanmar-Thailand highway (which marked the upgrading of 69 bridges and the Kalewa-Yargi road) was one of the most important issues. Indian PM Modi also spoke for the need of setting up of a joint task force to extend this corridor to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.

Considering all of this, New Delhi, while strengthening its strategic ties with the US, should closely watch recent events across ASEAN countries as they may have reduced Washington’s leverage and strengthened China’s position. Economically speaking, Beijing has always been heavily invested in the region. But certain developments have given it much more leeway and leverage in the strategic sphere.

First, one must consider the anti-US posturing of Philippines president, Rodrigo Duterte. The President recently stated that military exercises conducted on October 4th would be the last. “You [the United States] are scheduled to hold war games again, which China does not want. I will serve notice to you now, this will be the last military exercise.” Perfecto Yasay, Duterte’s foreign secretary denied this, of course, but subsequent engagements and comments coming out of Manila do not contradict this strategic shift perception. Many believe that Duterte is just playing the US against China and is using this as a means to encourage greater Chinese investment in Philippines. Regardless, these events have significance for Indian foreign policy and must not be ignored.

Second, while Vietnam and China have had recent tensions, India has sought to strengthen strategic ties with Vietnam. The latest iteration being the 500 million USD defense credit offered during the Indian PM’s visit to the country in the first week of September 2016. Out of this amount, 100 million USD will be used for building patrol boats. It was also decided that India would further increase assistance to Vietnam in the sphere of military training. Not coincidentally, less than 2 weeks after the successful visit by Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Vietnam and spoke about the importance of their bilateral relationship. Interestingly, in spite of the tensions between both countries, bilateral trade is estimated to be increasing to over 65 billion USD.

Third, President Obama has not been able to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership back in the United States, a cherished project of the administration. President Obama acknowledged the opposition to TPP during a joint press conference on August 2, 2016, conducted during Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong’s state visit. Said Obama:

“There’s a real problem but the answer is not cutting off globalization. The answer is how do we make sure that globalization, technology, automation—those things work for us, not against us. TPP is designed to do precisely that.”

The Singapore PM, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in March 2016, alluded to the possible lowering of US influence in ASEAN if the agreement does not go through. Said the Singaporean PM, ‘I think it is important you do ratify this and not either let it stand for years unsettled or, worse, at some point, say “We are not satisfied, let us come back. I am asking for an even better deal,” because that would considerably undermine American credibility and seriousness of purpose, and confidence in America all over the region.’

So the chief question that remains is rather simple: if Washington’s leverage continues to reduce in the region, then what does New Delhi do?

First, India should continue to woo CMLV countries in ASEAN which have been on the margins for far too long. Today these countries are the drivers of growth and true economic motors for the region. This is why India must continue to strengthen economic and strategic ties with both Vietnam and Myanmar. Apart from India’s pro-active outreach to these countries, both in the economic and strategic sphere, it is important that India focuses on strengthening construction projects such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand highway, which needs to be expedited and extended all the way to Cambodia and Vietnam. This will help the long-term influence of India’s Act East Policy. Bolstering projects like the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor falls into this same category.

Second, while India may be no match for China in terms of investment and bilateral trade for the time being, India should build on its own strengths in areas like capacity-building and promoting a more transparent and efficient private sector. While India has been assisting CMLV countries in IT, English-language training, and agriculture, it should increase the number of scholarships for students from these countries. There is also a need to further enhance people-to-people contact and reestablish long-dormant historical links.

In conclusion, India has its own unique strengths and opportunities in ASEAN. And while finding common ground with the US in the Indo-Pacific is an important aspect of India’s Act East Policy, it needs to create its own niche and play to its own strengths without being unduly obsessed by the China factor or by the American alliance.


Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonipat. One of his areas of interest is India’s Act East Policy.

Maithili Parikh is a student at The Government Law College Mumbai.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India

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South Asia

Yaum-e-Takbeer: Recounting Perceptions, Ideas and Resources

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Enwrapped in a whirlpool of desire and compulsion, to achieve the ideals, is a key determinant in security perceptions of the two major powers of South Asia. One limited itself to history and conflicted with the present and the other’s compulsions dictated its forward-looking consistency and adaptability to change in policy formulation. In Indo-Pak rivalry India desired and Pakistan was compelled…one acted and the other reacted. The words of Alberuni“ we believe in nothing in which they{Hinduism} believe. Their {Hindus}fanaticism is directed against all foreigners. They call them impure and forbid having any connection with them” is truer today with ever growing Hindutva wave.

Recounting the political history of the Sub-continent in the post-World War II era, India’s size and strength, population and problems, location and ambitions, all helped her earn a place in the arena of regional and international politics. Professedly a democratic and a secular state in the times of Nehru and his personal role of a moderator between the Super Powers in 1950s while condemning the use of force, was either a sincere effort for AHIMSA (peaceful co-existence) and non-alignment or using the ploy of pacifism due to inefficient military abilities, particularly vis a vis China. The Indian defeat in 1962 war against China was nonetheless, well comprehended.

On the other hand, the pace of development ensured by science and technology, particularly nuclear, to build its harbours, water reservoirs, dams and electricity projects were either well-nigh impossible or of probative cost for a newly independent India. Nehru, in his speech at Lok Sabha on May 10, 1954, said, “Atomic energy for peaceful purposes is far more important for a country like India, where power resources are limited, than for a country like France, an industrially developed country.”One gram of uranium was equivalent to 3 tons of coal or 12 barrels of oil.

The developing world missed the industrial revolution but didn’t want to miss the bus once again by distancing from the nuclear world despite seeing the harrowing effects in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, by then nuclear weapons had already become the status symbol of power. They were a reality of legitimacy in terms of deterrence and potential use in the industrialized world. Further on, the radioactive isotopes and radiation was already being used successfully in the fields of agriculture, industry, medicine and natural resources worldwide during 1950s.

India was fortunate to have inherited the prerequisites of developing a nuclear programme with a broad base of scientists, engineers and technologists. Its sound industrial infrastructure was also sufficiently supportive with adequate thorium reserves. Thorium has a tremendous capacity of conversion to energy and fertile to U-233. Though handicapped, yet the uranium reserves were at 60%, gold at 40%, 98% of global diamond supply and rich oil reserves and India’s geo-strategic configuration, all provided reassurance to its leaders to follow discreet power politics for manipulation.

At the same time, the scientific research which had started in the Bose Institute, set up by J.C.Bose in 1917, provided an adequate ground work. Further on, setting up of the TATA Institute for Fundamental Research by Homi J. Bhabha, the father of India’s nuclear programme in 1944, with a belief that “there is no form of power as expensive as no power,” became a cornerstone of its aggressive nuclear development strategy in three phases:

I.The development of natural uranium heavy water reactors.

II.To make Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR)

III.To produce Thermal Breeder Reactors

In order to acquire self-reliance in nuclear technology with a minimum loss of time, the policy of ‘leap-frogging’ was adopted. Divided on four phases; from 1947-1956, from 1956-1966, from 1966-1970 and 1970- 1980, India was able to demonstrate its nuclear explosive ability in 1974 through an underground explosion. It made India the first amongst the developing world to join the nuclear club.

This gate crashing nuclear explosion under the garb of “Smiling Budha” left the region with three major options;

•Scare of India’s bomb in the South Asian region and its nuclearization. It however encouraged nuclear proliferation in a development starved and poverty stricken South Asian region.

•In reaction Pakistan developed its nuclear programme in order to ensure its security. It however encouraged nuclear proliferation in a development starved and poverty stricken South Asian region.

•And the third one was for its own nuclear programme since the supply of nuclear aid from Canada and America was suspended, but temporarily.

Though set up in 1972, by the initiative of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, after the breakup of East Pakistan with Indian subversive support (this was confessed by the Indian Prime Minister Modi himself in an intimate swipe  with the Bangladesh’s Prime Minister), the Indian explosion gave a new momentum to Pakistan’s nuclear programme. By the coming of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan in 1975, and under his direction, Pakistan also employed an extensive network in order to obtain the necessary materials and technology for its developing uranium enrichment capabilities.

In 1985, Pakistan crossed the threshold of weapons-grade uranium production, and by 1986 it is thought to have produced enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Pakistan continued advancing its uranium enrichment program, and according to Pakistani sources, the nation acquired the ability to carry out a nuclear explosion in 1987.

Known as Pokhran –II, India once again brought the two warring nations of South Asia, at the brink of nuclear competition by conducting the nuclear tests involving five detonations in May 1998. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared India a full and openly a nuclear state. He even challenged Pakistan’s control of parts of Kashmir. This invited a compulsive response from Pakistan. On May 28, 1998 Pakistan announced a successful detonation of five nuclear tests with a seismic signal of 5.0 on the Richter scale. The total yield of the bomb was up to 40 KT (equivalent TNT). According to Dr. A.Q. Khan one device was a boosted fission device and the other four were sub-kiloton nuclear devices.

On May 30, 1998 Pakistan tested one more nuclear warhead with a reported yield of 12 kilotons. The tests were conducted at Balochistan, bringing the total number of claimed tests to six. It has also been claimed by Pakistani sources that at least one additional device, initially planned for detonation on 30 May 1998, remained emplaced underground ready for detonation.

Both the countries had to face international denunciation. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the tests and renewed efforts to pressure the two countries to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In fact, the United States tried to dissuade Pakistan and urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not to react. Several nations reacted with their own sanctions and condemnation.

The nuclear programme of both India and Pakistan supported by their successfully designed scientific auxiliary nuclear delivery systems and nuclear doctrines and recounted with the hostile and xenophobic political history has maintained the required equilibrium, yet has a clear tendency to debilitate any peace effort. History has proven that pacifism, secularism, democracy and non-alignment was conveniently but deceptively postured by India. This has kept the world guessing while keeping the world-wide opposition unfortunately, to its minimum. It is being repeated in Kashmir once again. India has folded the issue into immeasurable and innumerable asymmetrical steps of state terrorism by sabotaging its constitutional right given in Article 370 while keeping the world conjecturing once again.

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South Asia

Youm-e-Takbeer: When A Responsible Nuclear Power Was Born

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Youm-e-Takbeer is a day of greatness when Pakistan already a responsible country was transformed into a strategically mature regional power. It sensibly understood the management and liability of having nuclear weapons for security. Ever since independence, Pakistan is neighbor to a hostile state – India, ruled by extremist Hindutva ideology that has threatened Pakistan’s sovereignty and existence. In 1948, India forcefully occupied Kashmir, Hyderabad, and Junagadh areas by massacring people who did not want to annex with India.

In 1971, Indian subverting and destabilizing activities resulted in disintegration of East Pakistan. India till today is covertly sponsoring terrorism through its agents in Iran and bases in Afghanistan to weaken Pakistan. In 1998, India tested nuclear weapons while openly threatening to sabotage Pakistan. Therefore, on 28 May 1998 Pakistan as a direct response also tested nuclear weapons to deter Indian aggression at any cost. Pakistan annually commemorates this day as the National Science Day and also as a reminder of the struggle and great odds it faced in order to defuse Indian threat.

“If India had not exploded the bomb, Pakistan would not have done so. Once New Delhi did so, we had no choice because of public pressure” – Former Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif.

Acquisition of nuclear deterrence capability was also necessary to project Pakistan’s self-sufficiency in defense against any territorial threat. Pakistan’s nuclear tests made it clear that when it comes to national honor and survival, Pakistan would maintain a balance of power against its adversaries. Indian acquisition of nuclear weapons compelled Pakistan to build its nuclear muscle for improving national security, otherwise it had no intentions to do so. India’s covert pursuit of weapons of mass destruction had drastically heightened the security perception of Pakistan.

South Asian strategic dynamics were changed forever with the advent of nuclear weapons. Former Indian Home Minister L.K. Advani warned Pakistan that it should “realize the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world” and Pakistan must submit to Indian dictation otherwise “will be futile and costly for Pakistan.” So, the hostile hegemonic plan of India had to be neutralized by Pakistan through reciprocating nuclear tests. Since then, nuclear dissuasion has played a critical role in political security and strategic stability of South Asia. It is pertinent to note that Pakistan has always been hesitant to engage in the nuclear weapons race in South Asia.

It is quite obvious that Pakistan’s decision makers are well aware of repercussions of military conflict and escalation as well as nuclear arms race in the region. Pakistan on numerous occasions has bilaterally proposed India to limit the manufacturing or acquisition of nuclear weapons in order to strengthen arms control and disarmament in the region. India, though, has always declined to sign any disarmament or restraint agreement with Pakistan.

So, it is India, which is to be blame for triggering the nuclear arms race in the region. For instance, following are the occasions when Pakistan proposed restraint solutions to India:

1974 – The establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in south Asia.

1978 – A joint Indo-Pakistan declaration renouncing the acquisition and manufacture of nuclear weapons.

1979 – Mutual inspections of nuclear facilities.

1979 – Simultaneous adherence to the NPT.

1979 – Simultaneous acceptance of full-scope IAEA safeguards.

1987 – An agreement on a bilateral or regional nuclear test ban treaty.

1991 – Commencement of a multilateral conference on the nuclear proliferation in south Asia.

1993 – Creation of a missile-free zone in south Asia.

1998 – A strategic restraint regime aimed at ensuring a nuclear restraint, establishing a conventional balance, and resolution of all disputes between the two countries.

2004 – A joint agreement to reduce the threat of nuclear war and a missile race.

2006 – A prohibition on development of missile defense systems, and restraint in deployment of nuclear weapons and missiles.

2011 – Again a Strategic Nuclear Restraint Regime (SNRR) pertain to Missile Restraint, Peaceful Resolution of Conflict and Conventional Balance.

2016 – A bilateral arrangement on non-testing of nuclear weapons.

These propositions, however, were met with cold feet by India, which not only decreased nuclear weapons control possibilities in the region, but also pressured Pakistan to enter the nuclear arms race. Unlike India, Pakistan has no offensive strategic approach or aggressive hegemonic design rather, its nuclear capability is purely defensive. A nuclear conscious Pakistan has a strong understanding of the sensitivities involved in military adventurism.

Youm-e-Takbeer has helped Pakistani leaders in making wise decisions to consistently support nuclear nonproliferation. Pakistani scientists and engineers have employed research and development of nuclear technology for peaceful uses. For instance, power generation, agriculture, medicine, and environment. Pakistan believes in peaceful coexistence and as a responsible nuclear country, it has put serious efforts to settle longstanding disputes. If the international community would force India to follow the same, South Asia could not go into nuclear brinkmanship.

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The U.S Lauded Pakistan’s Assistance in Fighting COVID-19

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The United States has thanked Pakistan for its donation of protective gear and surgical masks to support the fight against coronavirus. In a Tweet, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appreciated Pakistan’s goodwill donation of surgical masks and protective suits to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said this delivery is a symbol of Pak-US solidarity in the fight against COVID-19 and termed it a “partnership for the prosperity of the two countries.”

Meanwhile, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells, in her tweet, also expressed gratitude to Pakistan for the goodwill donation. She said our countries’ health partnership and the coordinated response would help defeat this virus and rebuild our prosperity.

Earlier, the consignment of Personal Protective Equipment from Pakistan via a C-130 flight from Islamabad landed at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. The equipment was also handed over to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency for onward delivery to the US armed forces.

Pakistan values its Seven Decades-long friendship with the US.  Although, it is meager Medical Supplies, yet as a token of friendships values a lot. Pakistan is also facing a huge challenge of the outbreak, and the rapid growth is alarming in Pakistan. Nevertheless, Pakistan is a responsible nation and always willing to share its part of responsibility in any part of the World. Either it is a natural disaster or warlike disaster, Pakistan always played its role on the front line as a volunteer. Pakistan is a country with the highest number of philanthropists per million population.

The US was one of the few first countries that recognized Pakistan in 1947 after getting independence from British rule. Pakistan was a close ally with the US in the cold war era and the Afghan War. Pakistan was a frontline ally with the US in its War on terror. Pakistan enjoyed non-NATO close ally status. Definitely, Pakistan was also beneficiary of US AID and assistance. Either it was on Economic front, or S&T, Defense or Education, Military or civilian, Agriculture or Industry, almost all areas witnessed the US assistance in the past. The US is a major trading partner with Pakistan too.

Pakistan has no objection if the US changed its priorities and aligned itself with India. The US is aiming to strengthen India to counter China, but India used all of the American assistance to counter Pakistan. The US may keep balance and restrict its assistance to India to a condition not to use against Pakistan. There can be designed a monitoring and tracking system to check that American assistance is not used against Pakistan directly or indirectly. A close monitoring system may be deployed on India and verifiable by any third party. I believe “there is the way if there is a will.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan is a visionary leader and peace-loving in nature. His declared-policy  to be a partner in peace with any country in any part of the World is well appreciated widely. Pakistan was a victim of the Afghan War for the last four decades and learned a bitter lesson. War means disaster; War means a net loss of human lives and economy; War means no victory for either side. Pakistan will be no longer partner wth any one in War with any country.

Pakistan’s strategic location, where it connects almost half of the World and at the major trade route – Middle-East to rest of the World, is vital for maintaining peace and stability of this region as well as the whole World. Pakistan is a nation of 220 Million, with its 70% population of youth under the age of 40 years. Pakistan is a resilient nation and can survive under any circumstances.

Pakistan wanted to keep traditional friendship with the US and strongly wish an early resumption. Pakistan wanted to contribute its potential to global peace and stability. In the past, especially in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Pakistan kept close alliance with the US while maintaining its strategic relations with China. I hope the US may not object to Pakistan’s strategic interest with China or Russia while restoring traditional friendship with Pakistan.

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