Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the US and his meeting with President Trump is significant in more ways than one. Discussions in India have revolved around Syed Salahuddin having been declared specially designated global terrorist and the further actions which are likely to follow. This will be in India’s interest in pursuing the effort of routing out the menace of terrorism.
A careful examination of the Joint Statement reflects the future dynamism which is likely to shape the geo-strategy in the Indo-Pacific. Implementation of the White Shipping data sharing between the two countries will enlarge the canvas of maritime domain awareness which is key to real time information on the movement of commercial traffic in the region. This will build a robust mechanism of security in the sea lanes of communication criss-crossing the Indian Ocean where Indian Navy commands much of dominance at present. Both India and the US have large volume of trade traversing through the Malacca Straits destined for Indian ports, the Gulf and through the Mediterranean to the ports in Europe. It is crucial for sustaining the growth of our economy. The two leaders have also identified that the US and India are leading engines of growth in the global economy. Clearly, the economic growth leadership of China will be challenged by the two countries. The US realises that it will have to take India along if Chinese domination is to be curbed. This could be one reason why India supports the Observer Status to the US in the IONS (Indian Ocean Naval Symposium), which is essentially a quorum of the Naval Chiefs of the IOR navies. Soon, one expects that CinCPAC would become an attendee in this forum. China is not in this forum not being an IOR country. This will have much impact on enlargement of the contents of engagement of the two navies in future Malabar exercises of which Japan is likely to become a permanent participant. China has been suspicious of this exercise and often described it as an attempt to marginalise growing might of the PLA Navy in the larger Indo-Pacific.
Under the provision of growing strategic convergence, two important agreements are worth the mention. First, the strong support of the US for India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. China has been the only P-5 country which has blocked India’s entry into NSG.Second, US reaffirmed its support for India’s permanent membership on a reformed UN Security Council. It is significant that China does not favour this proposal too.
The joint statement identifies close partnership between the US and India being central to peace and stability in the region, the growing Chinese military assertion being seen as a destabilising factor in otherwise law abiding littorals in the IOR. It goes on to say that further measures will be put in place to strengthen the partnership as per the tenets of the UN charter, which calls for respect to sovereignty and international law by every country. It reflects that China’s cavalier attitude to PCA judgment in the island grabbing case brought in by Philippines is unacceptable. It has expressed expectation that all nations will resolve territorial and maritime dispute peacefully in accordance with these laws (meaning not by military power as being practiced by China).
Even the issue of Belt Road Initiative of China has not escaped the attention of Indo-US outlook. The statement mentions that it supports bolstering regional connectivity through the transparent development of infrastructure and the use of responsible debt financing practices, while ensuring respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the rule of law, environment. It calls upon nations in the region to adhere to these principles. Here, significantly the fault lines of China in the OBOR and Maritime Silk Route has been exposed and pointed at. While OBOR is a debt trap for poorer nations and unsustainable, the Maritime Silk Route too is beginning to show the trappings of debt servicing by Bay of Bengal countries like Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Pakistan, having underwritten the port of Gwadar to China, is a virtual autonomous region of China. And that the CPEC is passing through Indian Territory, though under illegal Pakistani occupation, indicates lack of respect to integrity of sovereign India.
In the overall context the latest Chinese incursion in the Doklam area of India-Bhutan-Tibet border is not surprising. Chinese foreign office statement emanates from their belief that Doklam is historically Chinese territory and not Bhutan’s and India is a third party. The demarche’ issued by the Bhutanese Ambassador to the Chinese Ambassador in Delhi asking China to maintain status quo is both timely and essential to call the bullying by China. It is important to remember that Bhutan and China do not have diplomatic ties.
The most positive impact of PM Modi’s hug to US President Trump is the Chinese un-nerve in the Indo-Pacific, likely slow down on Chinese expansionist agenda, both on land and at sea and some relief to littorals who look up to these two powerful countries for their own security.
Lastly, the historic visit of PM Modi to Israel, first by an Indian Prime Minister, will also shape the contours of dynamics.
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM and Bar is the former Commander in ChiefWestern Naval Command & former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff.