15 November 2017


- Maj Gen P K Mallick, VSM (Retd)

US President Donald Trump last week praised India's "astounding" growth, saying he has been working successfully to bring the vast country and its people together. Speaking at a gathering of CEOs on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the Vietnamese port city of Danang, Trump cited India as one of the countries in the Indo-Pacific region making strides. The use of the term Indo-Pacific by President Trump has led to speculation that it may have something to do with Washington preparing the ground for a revival of the so-called Quadrilateral strategic alliance between the US, Japan, Australia and India to counter China's rise.

On 11th Nov Officials from India, Australia, the US and Japan met at Manila and discussed issues relating to cooperation the Indo-Pacific region, seen as a first move to set up a quadrilateral grouping to pursue common interests amidst growing assertiveness by the Chinese military in the strategically key region. Saturday’s meeting took place at the “working level” with senior officials from all sides participating. It will still be some time before the ‘Quad’ meets at the ministerial or leaders level, but the Manila meeting offers insight into its presumptive direction. 

Convened around the theme of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” the first quadrilateral meeting addressed seven core themes: the rules-based order in Asia, freedom of navigation and overflight in the maritime commons, respect for international law, enhancing connectivity, maritime security, the North Korean threat and nonproliferation, and terrorism.

The move is seen as counter to China’s aggressive behaviour in the area. They agreed that a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large. The officials also exchanged views on addressing common challenges of terrorism and proliferation linkages impacting the region as well as on enhancing connectivity. American officials earlier said the new term “Indo- Pacific” replacing Asia Pacific captures the importance of the rise of India with which the US has strong and growing ties.

A senior White House official had said that “we have strong and growing ties with India. We talk about ‘Indo- Pacific’ in part because that phrase captures the importance of India’s rise”.And the strategy is “certainly not” to contain China, he said. Indo-Pacific broadly refers to the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean regions, which also includes the disputed South China Sea where Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei question China’s claims over almost the entire waterway.

The Indo-Pacific concept has figured prominently during the recent visit by President Donald Trump to the region including to Japan and China.

Following the meeting, the U.S. Department of State, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs each released statements outlining what was discussed. All four statements emphasized that the convergence of visions and shared interests underpinned the quadrilateral.

The external affairs ministry of India said the discussions focused on cooperation based on converging vision and values for promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected region. The Indian side highlighted India's Act East Policy as the cornerstone of its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.

The statements, however, were far from identical and a close reading reveals varying priorities within the quadrilateral. The Australian and the U.S. statements touched on all seven of the issues highlighted above under the aegis of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Japan’s statement omitted any mention of enhancing “connectivity,” which, for India and the United States, has come to mean offering an alternative vision to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. 

Table 1: Comparison of U.S., Indian, Japanese, and Australian statements following the 2017 working-level quadrilateral meeting. 

Meanwhile, India’s statement on Saturday’s meeting omitted any explicit reference to freedom of navigation and overflight, respect for international law, and maritime security. Delhi has however, in various bilateral statements and declarations with each of the other quadrilateral participants, voiced support for these principles.

Both the Indian and Japanese omissions aren’t a statement of disinterest, but rather intended to assuage concerns in Beijing that the reconvened quadrilateral will explicitly attempt to contain China. Just as “connectivity” references speak to an alternative vision to the Belt and Road Initiative, so does freedom of navigation underline a divergent set of interests for the quadrilateral in the South China Sea, for example, where Chinese territorial irredentism is a cause of concern.

As expected, skirting any direct response to the first quadrilateral meeting of India, US, Japan and Australia, China questioned its exclusion from the group and expressed hope that the new concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’ is not directed against it.

“The relevant proposals should be open and inclusive and should be conducive to win-win cooperation and avoid politicising or excluding the relevant parties,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a media briefing in Beijing. He was answering a spate of questions on the Indo-Pacific concept and the quadrilateral meeting held yesterday at Manila. Asked whether he meant “exclusion of the relevant parties” referred to omission of China, Geng said China welcomes the development of friendly cooperation between relevant countries.

“We hope this kind of relations will not be directed at a third party and conducive to the regional peace and stability. This is the general concept and I think this kind of position applies to any proposal,” he said.

Middle East

India is heavily reliant on oil and natural gas from the Middle East, with 58 percent of oil coming from the region, and an even higher 88 percent of liquified natural gas deriving from states in the Middle East. As India grows, there is more and more demand for oil and natural gas.

There are over 6 million Indian citizens working in the Middle East. 

Trade between the two regions is expansive. India receives over $35 billion per annum in remittances from the Gulf. The Middle East is the country’s largest trading partner and cities like Dubai are sometimes in humour called the “fifth metropolis of India.” Trade with the GCC countries was $137.7bn in 2014-15, In 2015-16, remittances from Indian workers in the GCC were $35.9bn.

By 2016, over half of India’s oil and gas was imported from the Gulf. India’s maritime doctrine of 2009 states that the Gulf and Arabian Sea are vital to India’s interests, including securing choke points.

Beijing sees the Middle East as part of the trade routes it seeks to secure from East Asia, through to Africa and Europe. China is positioning itself as a less judgmental alternative to America. It has signed security agreements with friends of America such as Saudi Arabia, in addition to providing diplomatic protection to rivals such as Iran.

China’s entry furthers the Middle East’s strategic relevance to India. It drives Delhi to increase its own influence and avoid Beijing having leverage over its energy security and being encircled by Chinese allies.

Alice G. Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia in a Testimony Before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittees for the Middle East and North Africa, and Asia and the Pacific on November 8, 2017 said : 

The South Asia strategy also focuses on reducing tensions between Pakistan and India. The United States does not seek a role as a mediator between India and Pakistan, but encourages both countries to restart dialogue at the earliest opportunity. An improved relationship between these two countries is critical to regional security and stability. We are increasingly concerned about the threat to strategic stability in South Asia associated with the introduction of new nuclear capable ballistic or cruise missile systems in the region. In particular, the region and the world looks to both Pakistan and India to safeguard against a nuclear conflict in South Asia. In this context, the United States remains concerned about Pakistan’s growing fissile material stockpiles and its expanding and diversifying military nuclear and missile programs.

Pakistan.There is no doubt about Pakistan’s significant sacrifices and contributions in fighting terrorism; Pakistan has fought against militants intent on undermining the Pakistani state at the cost of over 70,000 soldiers’ and civilians’ lives. It has been and continues to be an important partner in defeating al-Qa‘ida and ISIS in South Asia.

When the United States and Pakistan work in concert, we can achieve significant results. As the President noted, our militaries have cooperated closely and effectively against common enemies. Pakistan facilitates logistical support for NATO operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, the Pakistan Navy is second only to the United States in its longstanding participation in U.S. led Combined Maritime Forces in the Arabian Sea, focused on maritime security and counter-piracy. Beyond security issues, with a population of over 200 million and a growing, entrepreneurial middle class, Pakistan presents promising opportunities for U.S. businesses.

Our FY 2018 request of $344.6 million for Pakistan includes $241.1 million for civilian assistance and $103.5 million for security assistance. The $100 million FMF request is focused on enabling Pakistan to stabilize the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and fight terrorism. However, part of the President’s new strategy means that we are evaluating the full range of tools that could encourage changes in Pakistan’s actions, including examining the nature and scope of our cooperation with Pakistan. 

The issues that come to my mind are as follows :

Quad is all right. The base for this organisation was being prepared for a long time. The Think Tanks like the Republic dominated The Heritage of USA, VIF of India were active. Please see http://www.heritage.org/the-quad-plus . There is nothing wrong in it.

What interests India more? South and East China Sea or our immediate neighborhood in the West? There is no dearth of experts from strategic community who would go gaga over Quad. Sixth largest Navy of the world gets involved in East of Malacca Strait but left out of battle in Arabian sea, the region through which 70% of our hydrocarbon resources come, $70 billion remittances per year are received, where we have 7 million Indian citizens ! 

Are we yielding too easily to Americans in East ? Why are we not getting our due importance in our immediate West. US is interested in Pakistan market. But every time US Secy of Defence or State visits India, he signs contracts worth billions dollar on Govt to Govt basis.

We are known as hard bargainers. How come with US we are losing our reputation of bargaining?

Would like to get some responses. 

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