Deepening India-US relations

Arun Srivastava

There is no more ambiguity: India has finally agreed to act as an ally of the US by joining the new regional coalition ‘Quad’, an abbreviation for ‘’quadruple’ or four. The other members of the Quad are Japan, America and Australia. India’s stand towards Quad could be deciphered from the remarks of Prime Minister Narendra Modi which he made just before leaving for Manila: “India’s commitment towards deepening engagement with ASEAN and India-Pacific region.”
After the meet, the government claimed that ‘open’ and inclusive regional vision and anti-terrorism cooperation were discussed at the quadrilateral, where India elaborated on the concept of Indo-Pacific region. These developments make it explicit that the government had approved the blue print for the American-sponsored regional cooperation long back. Simply the formal ritual of announcing the synthesis was performed at the meet.
Though Modi has been quite ebullient of his move, how it would help India is yet to be clear. While traditionally the Asia Pacific region has been a US-centric concept, the Indo-Pacific region has been an India-centric concept that has found increased acceptance in the Indian policy panels in recent years. The meeting is significant as it highlights the first occasion when India enumerated upon its notion of the region where it expects to play a key role as part of Quad.
The Trump mission to Asia underlines the deep difficulties in sustaining the present order in the continent. It is the American compulsion to re-establish its hegemony that has made Trump embark on mission Asia. In recent times, two of its challengers, Russia and China, have considerably eroded the traditional hegemony of America. Trump is participating in two major regional summits — the forum for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Vietnam and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines.
With an eye on China’s activities in the region, Indian officials just ahead of the Quad meeting clarified 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”. Yes, there is a wide gap between the lip and the cup. The fact cannot be denied that in coming months the situation is going to be further complicated in the region and India would have to bear the brunt. Also Trump's frequent reference to 'Indo-Pacific' suggests US is firmly set on pitching India against China, its military capabilities vis-a-vis China.
While America has been so concerned of India’s well being that it was eager to make it a world military power, it is certainly fascinating to note that the US administration is not concerned of India getting a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.
Recently US foreign secretary Tillerson, emphasizing the important role India can play, called upon it to provide an alternative to the Chinese Belt and Road infrastructure loans, which have put smaller countries like Sri Lanka in a debt trap. The US wants India to be engaged more deeply in its plans of setting up a quadrilateral of leading democracies in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China's influence.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has already reacted angrily to the coming together of India, Japan, US and Australia. It said "the relevant grouping should be open and inclusive and not aimed at excluding a third party. We welcome the development of friendly cooperation between relevant countries, but we hope this will not be directed at any third party.” Whether coming together of the four countries will change the rules of the game in the Indo-Pacific is not yet clear but one thing is certain the Quad will turn the region into a war zone. It is also a fact that Quad is a mechanism to make Xi look weak, if not undermine his authority.
The peace-posture of the Quad is yet to become visible, but its menacing posture has already made countries sit up and watch the development seriously. Asian observers feel that the gathering points to growing regional competition between Beijing and Washington, which would not be good in the interest of the region. The suspicion has become intense with Trump using the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ instead of Asia -Pacific to define the region during his first trip to Asia. This is a calculated move to involve India to counter the aggressive and assertive China.
One development ought to be noticed. No joint statement after formation of Quad was issued. Also the US officials denied the move was aimed at containing China. But Beijing warned last week that any manoeuvres towards a security grouping should not target or damage a ‘third party’s interest’. Quad meeting was not a coincidence. Trump has used it to promote his Indo-Pacific concept as the cornerstone of his Asia strategy: to counterbalance China. It would be naive to believe that by floating Quad, Trump has scored a major gain in the region. The fact of the matter is that it has exposed the naivety of Trump. Already skepticism grips the region about the influence Quad could have on ASEAN.
Even before Quad could become fully operational, Modi told Trump in his opening remarks at a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Manila. He observed that cooperation between India and the US ‘can rise beyond bilateral’ ties. This came as a major surprise for America, which has been striving to woo India to its side.
In the backdrop of these developments India must have well-defined clarity in its approach and vision. Quad, the ‘coalition of democracies’ of the Indo-Pacific is an American instrument to counter China. India ought not to forget that it is also a part of another security arrangement involving China and Russia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. (IPA)

Sunday, 19 November, 2017