India-bound Australia and Japan PMs, China is the elephant in the room
Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific will be one of the main agendas as Australian PM Anthony Albanese and Japan PM Fumio Kishida arrive in India this month.
In the backdrop of China hiking its military budget by a whopping 7.2 per cent to USD 225 billion, QUAD allies Australia and Japan are bound for India to deepen defence and economic cooperation even with Beijing’s “no limit ally” Russia hitting out at the informal yet powerful forum of India, US, Australia and Japan.
While Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is scheduled to visit India from March 8-11, Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is arriving in Delhi on March 19 for a one-day official visit on March 20. Both countries are very close partners of India with late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually co-founders of revived QUAD.
Although the three countries along with the US have a very close relationship with information exchange on virtually any topic, the hot topic of discussion this time will be forging defence cooperation and setting up resilient global supply chains due to the ongoing Ukraine war and Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific.
The Xi Jinping regime has hiked its military budget to USD 225, which is more than the combined budgets of India (USD 73 billion), Australia (USD 48.7 billion) and Japan (USD 51 billion). To make matters worse, the Chinese military budget is higher than the released figure as revenues from its growing military-industrial complex are ploughed back into military spending and this figure also runs into billions of USDs. The strategic intent of the increased spending is to prepare China against three major dangers: invaded (read Taiwan), toppled (read Sinkiang or Xinjiang) and separated (read Tibet). The picture of which countries China considers as adversaries become clear as any military emergency over Senkaku Islands or neighbouring Taiwan will seriously impact Japan, and military consolidation in Tibet and Xinjiang will put pressure on India. Backed by ambitious Beijing, the Chinese PLA is in an expansionist mode and is running into friction with Australia as Xi Jinping forges military cooperation in the Far Pacific and along with Russia has hit out at the AUKUS alliance. The AUKUS alliance will strengthen Australia's maritime capability by providing Canberra with nuclear-powered conventionally armed submarines to patrol its area of influence.
Albeit the situation all along the 3488 km Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China is stable, there has been no de-escalation of PLA forces from the border since Beijing tried to unilaterally change the ground situation in May 2020 in East Ladakh. While the Indian opposition parties are trying to provoke the Modi government into some misadventure with China, the Indian Army is all prepared for any emergency with its plans in case of a worst-case scenario.
Among India, Australia and Japan, Indo-Pacific is one of the main agendas with expansion of Chinese Navy and its intermediate-range conventional and nuclear missile arsenal a main concern. Over the years, Chinese strategic surveillance ships are consistently mapping the Indian Ocean bed and the Lombok and Ombi-Vetar ingress routes to South China sea as the nuclear or conventional submarines have to surface if crossing into Indian Ocean via Sunda or Malacca Straits from South China Sea. The Lombok and Ombi-Vitar channels, close to Australia, are deep enough to handle submarines without the surfacing requirement.
While India, Australia and Japan have a logistics agreement and are part of the Malabar naval exercises, the military cooperation between India and Japan will only deepen if Tokyo sheds its pacifist doctrine and decides to share advanced military technology such as lithium-ion technology for diesel attack submarines with New Delhi. Given the geographical locations of the three countries, close defence cooperation will enforce mutual security and act as a deterrent to the expansionist forces in the Indo-Pacific.