Opinion

India to drive Quadrilateral Security Dialogue    

In the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) Foreign Ministers’ meeting on 11 February at Melbourne, the United States gave a big push to India for driving the quadrilateral arrangement. It was quite a significant meeting as Chinese military is breathing down India at LAC, and Russia has massed around a hundred thousand troops at Ukraine border.

Both these aggressive posturing by two autocratic regimes (one is former super power another is seeking to be one) have caused a grave international concern, underlined by Quad foreign ministers. In fact, these two serious developments on the borders of two countries (India and Ukraine) were the crux of deliberations at the quad meeting.

Interestingly, the United States issued an elaborate statement on its growing strategic partnership with India almost coinciding with the quad meeting.  In a way, US nudging India visa-vis India-Pacific region seemed to overshadow the Quad meeting. The meeting became a forum for consolidating India-US strategic partnership. The Australian Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, as the host of the meeting, was seen flanking the Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and making strong statements both on Ukraine and India-Pacific, the latter in relation to Chinese belligerence in the region.

Quite apparently, even the quad  meeting reflected the stark reality that it is a fight between United States Bloc and China-Russia United Front. USA is making the world wary of China’s destabilising role in India-Pacific, and Russia’s aggression of Ukraine as threat to the rule-based international order. The US leadership thinks India could be the counter-weight to China in India-Pacific and Ukraine could give access to US and its allies to tame Russia. It was more than evident in the statement issued from the White House.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in Washington that “We recognise that India is a like-minded partner and leader in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, active in and connected to the Southeast Asia, a driving force of the Quad, and an engine for regional growth and development.” This statement was followed by the US plan to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries.

A senior White House official who briefed reporters on the strategy document said that there was “a recognition that India is a critical strategic partner, and a desire to continue building on the very good work of previous administrations to significantly broaden and deepen that relationship”.

The official added, “Working with India is seen as a very, very high priority” and that “There is tremendous appreciation of the importance and the challenges of strengthening the engagement with India and a recognition that India is a critical strategic partner.” The strategic partnership would necessarily entail close defence cooperation.

India was given the Major Defence Partner designation in 2016 and the two countries have steadily built it up with several agreements for defence cooperation. The White House spokesperson elaborating on the strategy plan said that the US would “steadily advance our Major Defence Partnership with India and support its role as a net security provider”.

On India’s part, perhaps for the first time, India was quite vocal on China’s belligerence at the border. Foreign Minister Jaishankar attending the Quad meeting asserted that China disregarded the written agreements with India for not massing troops at LAC. This is an issue which should be of legitimate concern for the entire international community. He squarely blamed Beijing for being solely responsible for the current situation at LAC. India’s exasperation with China may have come after the standoff at Ladakh in May 2020. Chinese behaviour since has gotten worse at the border.

On China’s attitude to Quad, which has been always critical, India was playing it down. New Delhi had maintained that Quad was not a security alliance aimed at any particular country. But this time, Jaishankar was dismissive of Beijing picking on Quad. He said “China’s criticism of Quad does not make it less credible”. In this, India has strong support of Quad partners. Marise Payne, on the Quad and China’s criticism of the grouping, said: “We are not against anything. We are about building confidence and resilience, about promoting a region in which all countries are able to be and feel sovereign and secure without the threat of coercion or intimidation.”

US maintains that China is a threat to peace and security in the region. It asserts that “China’s coercion and aggression is acute along the Line of Actual Control with India”. That is why USA seeks to build strategic alliance with India to promote stability in South Asia, collaborate in new areas of health, space, cyber space, economy, technology, et al. to contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

In particular, on the cyber security, the ministers reiterated their commitment to a secure, resilient and trusted technology and agreed to work together to “address the significant threat of malicious cyber activity by state and non-state actors”. They acknowledged the importance of the security and resilience of telecommunications networks and the need to work closely with each other to protect next generation telecommunications networks, including 5G and 6G.

This assumes significance as Chinese players in the cyber space are shunned by many countries, including Australia and India, for strategic reasons. India’s ban of Chinese mobile apps, including the popular Tik Tok app, was done with such a rationale in mind. India is planning to close more Chinese apps.

While Quad foreign ministers were on the same page on China, India is on a sticky wicket in regard to its attitude towards Russia, which is different from that of other members. The divergence was clear in the statements of Jaishankar and Payne. Jaishankar did not criticise the presence of Russian troops on Ukraine border and said nothing about Ukraine. He reiterated New Delhi’s position on Russia-Ukraine conflict that “diplomacy is the only way out”. On the other hand, Payne said that the international community is gravely concerned by “one extra-ordinary unilateral action by Russia vis-à-vis Ukraine”. She expressed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Comparing the attitudes of Australia and India, the former has joined the US bloc by joining a new alliance called AUKUS, in addition to Quad. India is still undecided if she should go whole-souled with US bloc. From Melbourne, India gave a clear message that, on China, India is with US bloc. On Russia, New Delhi still seeks to be neutral. This is not tenable. India has two options. One, New Delhi should persuade US and allies to decouple Beijing and Moscow. Take on China and dismantle it, leave Russia out which has been already weakened heavily by its disintegration from USSR. Two, New Delhi gives up its nostalgia on friendship with Russia it once had during the cold-war era. Time to decide, not dither. —INFA

 

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Dr D K Giri

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