The UPA 2 government, in its final lap of governance and unmistakably under siege from a vociferous Opposition, could take some credit for its foreign policy formulations during its tenure.
The UPA dispensation did succeed in fostering an Indo-US strategic relationship including the nuclear deal, progress in its Look East policy, substantial improvement in India’s relations with Bangladesh, establishing a strategic partnership with Afghanistan, managing a rather complex relationship with an increasingly assertive China and now fostering multi-faceted and strategic ties with the other economic powerhouse in Asia, Japan.
That India has substantial strategic convergence on a variety of specifically Asian issues with Japan would be stating the obvious.
The early part of the 21st century witnessed an upsurge in the fortunes of Asia with the emergence of major powers like China, Japan and India and many viable emerging economies like South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Singapore.
All these countries belong to the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) and with their linkages extending to the Pacific Ocean, with the United States and combined with Australia and New Zealand, the Asia-Pacific region takes on an important connotation.
With both economic and strategic considerations of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific intertwined, a strategic geographical construct has been dubbed — the Indo-Pacific region.
This vast expanse, from the Horn of Africa, stretching through the Arabian Sea, the Iranian Plateau, the Indian subcontinent, the Andaman and Nicobar islands, the Bay of Bengal and all the way to the Indonesian archipelago, comprises 19 nations. One of the significant aspects of this expanse is the sea lines of communications.
Its maritime choke points are the transit routes for nearly 80% of the world’s sea-borne trade in oil. Thus the Indo-Pacific expanse has acquired a strategic connotation and is likely to be the region of the ‘New Great Game’ with great power rivalry among the US, China, Japan and India on the cards.
Asia-Pacific is home to dangerous flashpoints attributable to territorial and other waters access disputes between China and most nations of the IOR. China has embarked upon a massive modernisation programme to make its Navy truly ‘blue-water’ in its capabilities.
China is also increasing its naval forays along the crucial choke points in the region to convey a strong message to all nations which lie on the IOR. A couple of years back, a senior Chinese official had succinctly stated that “we can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as only an ocean of the Indians”.
It is but natural that other major powers of the region, India and Japan wish to strengthen their strategic partnership with the formalisation of new accords on defence cooperation signed early this month.
This will be followed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe being the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations. It may be recalled that during his earlier tenure as Japan’s PM, Abe had proposed that India, Japan, Australia and the US pursue a ‘quadrilateral initiative’ to stabilise Asia’s security.
However, the Chinese had dubbed Japan’s efforts against its interests calling it an attempt to forge an ‘Asian Nato’.
Conscious of the continuing long-term threat from China, Abe has now suggested a “democratic security diamond” of these four nations to synergise maritime cooperation — India may not be currently overly eager for this concept owing to Chinese sensitivities on this subject.
Nevertheless, India will have to take adequate diplomatic initiatives and military accretions for its three Services to manage the unfolding ‘Great Game’ in the Indo-Pacific region.
Kamal Davar is a retired Lt General and was the first Chief of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency
The views expressed by the author are personal