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Beyond the Indian shores

Beyond the Indian shores
At the start of a month of hectic summit-level diplomacy (September), Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a grand debut on the world stage, on the back of a strong mandate at home for governance, bringing off landmark agreements with Japan on support to India’s infrastructure development and meeting high-technology defence needs. The traditional bilateral relationship has now been elevated to one of ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’.

Its import in the context of ensuring peace, stability and maritime security in Asia, with its missing equilibrium at present, cannot be missed. Undoubtedly, China’s inexorable rise and aggressive assertions of its total sovereignty over the East and South China seas, disputed by five countries of the Asian region, have raised concerns globally about freedom of navigation for commerce and security on seas.

Avoiding even indirect references to this, the Abe-Modi Joint Declaration noted that in times of turmoil, tensions and transitions, ‘a closer and stronger strategic partnership’ is indispensable for advancing peace and stability in the world, in particular, in the inter-connected Asia, Pacific and Indian Ocean Regions.

Undoubtedly, a special bond of friendship between Modi and Abe pulled off a major deal enshrining abiding cooperation for the future in harmony with the resources and needs of these two largest Asian democracies. The impact of this convergence, it is noted by observers, will be felt across the Asia-Pacific since India and Japan can together contribute toward maintenance of geo-strategic equilibrium. Japan has pledged $35 billion of assistance in India’s major infrastructural projects.

On his return from Japan,  Modi welcomed visiting Tony Abbot, Prime Minister of Australia, another ‘strategic partner linked by Indian Ocean’, and said the two countries would work together to promote peace and prosperity in Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Australia would supply uranium for the expanding nuclear power generation programme under a civil nuclear cooperation agreement which would support India’s efforts to produce cleaner energy sources and minimise the carbon footprint in its growth.

Australia with its abundant natural resources, especially minerals including coal and uranium, now looks to India as its major market, like China, hitherto the largest importer of Australian mineral resources. Notably, Australia also welcomes increased Indian investments in the exploration and production and exports of its minerals and other manufactures. The two countries will hold their first bilateral naval exercise in 2015 in a series designed to serve a variety of objectives in the Indian Ocean Region, including in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

India and Japan have already agreed on regularising bilateral naval exercises and the Joint Declaration of the two prime ministers said they would engage with other countries in the region on deepening regional cooperation and integration and strengthening regional economic and security forums and promote peaceful resolution of disputes. They noted with satisfaction progress in official level trilateral dialogue among India, Japan and the United States and hoped it would lead to concrete projects to advance shared interests of all partners.

Against this background, India would be welcoming the Chinese President Xi Jinping on 17 September on his maiden visit, which would rank in importance equalling India-Japan relationship, as China is both immediate neighbour and rated already a world power with the second largest economy. Both China and India have been fast-growing economies, though slowing down lately, and contribute to global growth.

Despite bitter memories of the 1962 war when China marched into Indian territory in the northeast, the two major Asian powers have over the decades focused more on trade and other ties. India runs a large trade deficit and China has been repeatedly urged to help bring bilateral trade into better balance. In this view, India would certainly welcome investments in India’s infrastructure and in manufacturing products which China itself could absorb to some extent.

President Xi, is no stranger to Modi, both having met at the last BRICS Summit in Brazil in July. In the light of Modi’s visit to Tokyo and meaningful accomplishments, China is reportedly keen to make its President visit such that it marks a new era in Sino-Indian ties. He is expected to announce proposals for major investments in not only industrial clusters but also for development of high-speed trains, an area where it has specialised and linked up cities in the far-flung hinterland. Modi has laid emphasis on opening up areas for foreign investors who would produce in India making use of lower costs of labour and materials and raise the country’s level of exports.

Beijing now knows more than ever before that it cannot allow the border dispute to linger on any longer, especially with a more assertive Prime Minister of India who would look for a breakthrough to settle the border dispute speedily, if India and China as giant neighbours have to work together as global players in reshaping the future of Asia and promoting peace and security and economic prosperity in not only the Asia-Pacific region but also in the rest of the world.

China has its own ideas and is not reconciled to America’s pivot to Asia, but her own disputes with a string of east and south eastern nations over the claims on resources in South China seas and its militarising postures and expansionist moves have impelled smaller powers to seek security assistance from other major powers within or outside the region.

After the Xi visit, Modi prepares for a historic US visit and a crowded schedule of meetings with world leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and a series of public addresses where the mystique of the Modi would get unfolded. At the General Assembly, his first address as the new leader of Indian government will command special attention from other heads of governments. Modi will meet US businessmen in New York and attend a grand reception organised by the affluent Indian community at the Madison Square Gardens.

The crowning event in international diplomacy at the end of the month will be at the White House where he gets a warm welcome from President Obama on 29 September and the two leaders will have a two-day exchange and make a joint statement on 30 September.  Their discussions will be on ‘a range of issues of mutual interest in order to expand and deepen the US-India strategic partnership’, as a statement from the President’s office said. Both economic and security matters that bring long-term benefits to both countries and the world would be reviewed.

The President will seek views of Modi on regional issues including current developments in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq where India and the United States can work together with partners towards a positive outcome, the official statement said. Indeed currently the Obama
Administration with backing from law-makers is trying to build a broad alliance to take on the jihadist regime (IISL) which has over-run parts of Iraq and Syria, and poses serious threats to all regions of
the world. IPA

S Sethuraman

S Sethuraman

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