Vimarsh on Strategic Developments in the Indo-Pacific
Printer-friendly versionSend to friend
FJTuqXEaMAANzNC.jpg

On 17th January, 2021 the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), hosted Ambassador Anil Wadhwa, a retired diplomat and Distinguished Fellow at the VIF, to deliver a talk on the “Strategic Developments in the Indo-Pacific” as a part of its Vimarsh Dialogue Series.

Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director of the VIF, welcomed the speaker and delivered his opening remarks.

Dr. Gupta in his opening remarks talked about the extension of the Indo-Pacific from the West Pacific to the East Coast of Africa and how the concept has become the lexicon of Indian Foreign Policy. Highlighting the evolution of the concept of Indo-Pacific as the most important one in the Indian Foreign Policy, the Director talked about how the leading elements of India’s Foreign Policy have been now subsumed in the Indo-Pacific concept.

Concurring with the Director’s opening remarks Amb. Wadhwa began by outlining the contents of his talk. He highlighted a range of activities that have taken place having the potential to impact global peace and security. He recognised China’s rise in the region and the response to it by the United States and the affected countries along with some other outside powers as the underlying factor impacting the region. Naturally, he began his arguments by focussing on China and its actions in the region.

On China

Ambassador Wadhwa talked about China’s three phases of engagement with the Indo-Pacific. It included the mid-1980s guidelines for the PLA Navy to develop forces and capabilities to not only dominate the 1st and 2nd Island Chains by 2020 but also to emerge as a truly global Naval Force. He moved on to the 2015 and 2019 Defence White Papers, as second and third phases respectively, which advocated China’s control over its Sea Lines of Communication by developing far seas capabilities to protect its overseas interests. He further elaborated on China’s military expenditure which doubled between 2016 and 2020 thus allowing Beijing to develop sophisticated military technologies and weapons while also gradually building its Naval arsenal, a phenomenon that is not going to stop in the near future. Amb. Wadhwa then talked about China’s increased economic and military presence in the Indian Ocean Region, Africa and the Middle East and how its domination of the South China Sea has resulted in conflicts with the US and other foreign navies operating in the region. China’s refusal to observe the UNCLOS and abide by its rules and its attempt at unilaterally changing the status quo in the region were further elaborated by the Speaker.

On ASEAN

Amb. Wadhwa talked about ASEAN’s twenty-year struggle of locking China into a Code of Conduct before highlighting the contemporary events in the ASEAN member countries. There is little prospect for any credible solution in Myanmar as the Junta continues on its confrontational policy, he said. The stalemate in Myanmar is expected to further deepen the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the country. He further highlighted how the coup has played to China’s advantage as many BRI projects in the country have been now revived. The current regime in Thailand, too, struggles for more legitimacy, since the large-scale protests began in the mid-2020, as the country will be seeing elections in the coming days. Covid and loss of tourism have a detrimental impact on the Thai economy which is struggling to revive. Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Timor, too, are looking forward to election and regime change and thus have the primary challenge of maintaining law and order in the region. Vietnam is under pressure from many western democracies to embark on major labour and trade reforms as the country has signed many FTAs without implementing required economic reforms. The speaker highlighted the crisis within ASEAN particularly on the Myanmar question and how China is making attempts to bring the Junta back on the ASEAN platform bypassing the implementation of the five-point principle.

On Australia

The election is due in Australia this year when the current government has taken a hard-line stance against China. However, if the opposition Labour manage to win the election there is the expectation of a change of approach on the significant strategic questions of AUKUS, QUAD and many such groupings, said the speaker.

On South Pacific

Amb. Wadhwa talked about China’s willingness for its military presence in the region, the greater engagement with the island nations and its efforts to gain access to critical natural resources in the region such as timber and fisheries. US, Australia and New Zealand, the traditional powers in the region have increased their engagement in the South Pacific through new projects and increased funding as China’s efforts to build military bases in the region has intensified. The speaker further highlighted the threatened position of the three powers and how they are making attempts to displace Chinese companies from getting critical projects in the region such as undersea cable.

On the United States

US will continue to focus on China in the Indo-Pacific as the relationship between the two countries remains on rocky ground, said Amb. Wadhwa. The upcoming election in the United States and the 20th Party Congress in China may compel the two countries to work on a managed relationship, however, tensions over Taiwan and Xinjiang will continue further, said the speaker. The upcoming QUAD Summit in March this year will further flesh out the agenda to deny China’s dominance over critical technologies. Overall, the United States is trying to preserve its military superiority over China in the region while expanding its Navy and Nuclear Arsenal, said Amb. Wadhwa. US is now funding a trillion-dollar modernisation initiative and has supplied cruise and hypersonic missiles to its allies in East Asia and the Philippines while further strengthening Australia’s Naval capability through the AUKUS said the speaker. Amb. Wadhwa recommended greater economic engagement with Southeast Asia.

On the Korean Peninsula

Amb. Wadhwa focussed on the denuclearisation and demilitarisation issues of the Korean Peninsula while highlighting different nuances of the issue. North Korea will continue with its offensive posturing and won’t cooperate on the denuclearisation issue unless there is a guarantee on relief of sanctions, troop withdrawal from South Korea and normalisation of diplomatic relations, said the speaker. He further said that the DPRK will continue to enhance its nuclear and missile capability to strengthen its leverage in demilitarisation negotiations.

On India

The speaker highlighted the continued unprovoked Chinese aggressive behaviour on India’s borders which has led to troop build-up and has broken all the existing agreements which the two sides had put together. Challenges will continue for India as China continues to take up infrastructure projects in the disputed, illegally occupied and undermarketed territories. India’s neighbourhood, too, continues to pose challenges for India. In the immediate neighbourhood such as Pakistan, China’s dominance will continue while Beijing will try to leverage its BRI capability for greater port access in Sri Lanka and Maldives, said Amb. Wadhwa. There is already an India Out campaign going on in the Maldives which the speaker believes is funded by China. China has signed 20 agreements with Nepal through BRI and is working towards better connectivity with the Himalayan nation. Thus, the activities of China in the neighbourhood will sooner or later cause trouble for India.

On the Middle East

China has quickly moved in to fill the vacuum in the aftermath of US withdrawal beginning from Obama era, said the speaker. He further highlighted China’s comprehensive and strategic partnerships with the countries in the region and how that has paid well for China.

Reaction against China

Different web of arrangements has evolved in the Indo-Pacific region as a pushback against China. The QUAD and AUKUS have taken up issues such as critical and emerging technologies which were earlier missing in order to challenge China’s dominance in these fields said Amb Wadhwa. He noted that a greater focus on bilateral relations and regional groupings is being given while highlighting the Reciprocal Access Agreement recently signed between Japan and Australia. He also highlighted a range of other initiatives such as the G7 Blue Dot Initiative, the Build Back Better World proposal and the EU Global Gateway initiative designed to challenge Chinese hegemony in global infrastructure and to counter the BRI.

Amb. Wadhwa highlighted the new Indo-Pacific strategies coming from the EU, France and Britain. EU’s strategy is more focussed on non-traditional issues like connectivity, trade and investment and human security and emanates from the EU’s desire of playing a greater role in setting up the global norms, he said. While France has a stake in the Indo-Pacific region, Britain’s strategy is to play a larger role in the region as a security partner of the United States and Australia.

Towards the end of his presentation, the speaker analysed India’s choices and challenges in the region while highlighting the fact that China will not be shedding any strategic place for India in the region. He recognised the economic cost that will be imposed on India because of Chinese activities in the neighbourhood such as the BRI projects and maritime encirclement but recommended continued push of India in defence of its national interests. India’s move to sign reciprocal logistical arrangements with the United States, Japan and Australia, the 2+2 Dialogues and its greater engagement with the QUAD grouping was appreciated by the speaker.

Amb. Wadhwa concluded his talk by arguing that the Indo-Pacific is too big a region to be controlled by one power. He predicted a rise in competition between the two competing camps led by the United States and China.

The Director gave his concluding remarks and thanked the speaker for the mammoth overview of the region in such a short duration. He then opened the floor for interaction.

Event Date 
January 17, 2022

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
10 + 10 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.
Contact Us