Harsh V Pant
In the last few days, global engagements have underscored the rapidly evolving balance of power in the international order. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Russia has sparked a lot of commentary about the implications of the two nations coming together in unprecedented ways. What had once seemed a distinct possibility to many is now fast becoming an indisputable reality that can no longer be ignored. The tectonic plates of global politics are shifting rapidly, and with it ushering in changes that have long been talked about, with many hoping against hope that they can be avoided. But a Russia-China axis is likely to bring a transformative effect on the international system. This cannot be denied.
Yet, while this coming together of the world’s two most potent autocracies has garnered a lot of attention, other changes in the global milieu are less noticed, though they also carry equally significant ramifications. Visits of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to India last month also highlight how nations in the Indo-Pacific region are swiftly moving to configure the regional security environment.
Taking his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s ambitions forward, Kishida unveiled a new plan in India for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” with four pillars that include:
(1) principles for peace and rules for prosperity,
(2) addressing challenges in an Indo-Pacific way,
(3) multi-layered connectivity,
(4) extending efforts for security and safe use of the sea and air.
Practically, this would entail Japan’s assistance to emerging economies, support for maritime security, a provision of coast-guard patrol boats and equipment and other infrastructure cooperation.
Albanese’s India visit was also aimed at strengthening ties with like-minded nations, even as Canberra has been trying to reach out to China. First Albanese ensured that India was on board with Australian policies and then he went to the US to finalize the Aukus pact signed along with the US and UK in 2021 for the supply of nuclear powered submarines to Australia. This pact, however, is about much more than just nuclear submarines; it is about strengthening ties between three traditional security partners that must urgently upgrade their intelligence and hi-tech cooperation, so as to effectively respond to the challenges they are facing.
Japan and South Korea also made a strong beginning in normalizing their fraught relationship earlier last month when the leaders of the two nations met—the first such meeting in 12 years. It resulted in Tokyo agreeing to lift its restrictions on exports of semi-conductor materials, even as Seoul decided to withdraw its complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Harsh V Pant
South Korea is now redefining its place in the wider Indo-Pacific after shunning the idea initially for fear of offending China. But under Yoon Suk Yeol, Seoul wants to play its part in the evolving strategic dynamics in the region. It wants to be seen as more than just a saner, more stable part of the Korean peninsula. Of all the regional countries in the Indo-Pacific, South Korea has been the most enthusiastic about the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—the Quad.
Quad leaders will meet in Australia this May to reinforce the growing vitality of a platform that just a few years ago had been dismissed as a non-starter. Continuing to underscore their commitment to the rule of law, sovereignty, territorial integrity and peaceful settlement of disputes, the Quad members have laid out an ambitious agenda guided by priorities of the Indo-Pacific region to act as a “force for regional and global good.”
This agenda today includes health security, climate change and the clean-energy transition, critical and emerging technologies, sustainable, transparent and fair lending and financing practices, infrastructure and connectivity and terrorism.
India is at the heart of this global churn.
As the Eurasian security order gets transformed under the pressure of the Ukraine conflict and as the Indo-Pacific emerges as the centre of gravity of global geopolitics and geoeconomics, New Delhi’s role and its choices are coming into sharper relief across the world. India is being wooed by key powers and it has also been playing a central role in shaping the global governance agenda. While the US-led Nato says its doors are open to India for enhanced engagement, Russia has identified India and China as its main allies on the world stage in its new foreign policy strategy.
Yet, the current fracturing of the global power balance will likely constrain India’s options, as the tussle between the West on one side and Russia and China on the other takes on an ever more challenging dimension. China’s rise and its aggression continue to transform India’s security environment. And with Russia now facing a serious crisis and defining itself as China’s junior partner, New Delhi is perhaps confronting one of the most serious shifts in its strategic milieu since the end of the Cold War.
With the global and regional order in flux and key players moving rapidly to shape their environment, India too will have to work simultaneously on a number of fronts. The country must strengthen its domestic political, economic and military sinews as well as develop strong partnerships with other like-minded nations.
But, most significantly, it will be critical that ‘dogmas of Delhi’ do not continue to overrule the ability of India to innovate and experiment at the level of ideas as it seeks its rightful place in the comity of nations.
First published in Livemint on April 4, 2023 as India’s role in the world order is keenly being watched
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