A weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom from an Indian interests perspective.
I. Austin’s India Visit
Let’s begin with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III’s visit to India. This comes after the US held 2+2 talks in Tokyo and Seoul. Austin is the first senior Biden administration member to visit India. He met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and of course, his counterpart Rajnath Singh.
The Indian readout of the Austin-Modi meeting said that the “Prime Minister welcomed the warm and close relationship between the two countries, which is rooted in shared values of democracy, pluralism and commitment to a rules-based order. Prime Minister outlined his vision for the strategic partnership between the two countries and emphasized the important role of bilateral defence cooperation in India-US ties. He requested Secretary Austin to convey his best wishes to President Biden.” The US readout said that “Secretary Austin commended India’s leadership role in the Indo-Pacific and growing engagement with like-minded partners across the region to promote shared goals. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to promote a free and open regional order. Both sides exchanged perspectives on shared challenges confronting the region and committed to further strengthen their broad ranging and robust defence cooperation.”
Rajnath Singh’s statement after the meeting with Austin identified the following priorities:
- expanding military-to-military engagement across services, information sharing, cooperation in emerging sectors of defence, and mutual logistics support.
- We “agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the US Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command…we discussed steps to be taken to realise their (three foundational agreements’) full potential for mutual benefit.” These are LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA, which cover logistics, ensuring secure military communications, and geospatial intelligence, respectively.
- India wants US investment in its defense sector. Rajnath emphasized “resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region” and “discussed the need for enhanced capacity building to address some of the non-traditional challenges such as oil spills and environment disasters, drug trafficking, Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing, etc.”
Secretary Austin, meanwhile, said that he reaffirmed American “commitment to a comprehensive and forward-looking defense partnership with India as a central pillar of our approach to the region…We discussed opportunities to elevate the U.S.-India major defense partnership, which is a priority of the Biden-Harris administration. And we’ll do that through regional security cooperation and military-to-military interactions and defense trade…we are continuing to advance new areas of collaboration, including information sharing and logistics, and artificial intelligence, and cooperation in new domains such as space and cyber. We also discussed engagement with like-minded partners through multilateral groupings such as the Quad and ASEAN.”
In his press interaction, he spoke about the S-400 issue, saying that it was discussed, but since “they have not — have not acquired an S-400 system yet. So, there would be no reason for sanctions.” He then responded to a question about the 2020 Ladakh standoff and US policy on India-China tensions. On the point of whether India and China were at the threshold of war at some point last year, he said that “To my knowledge we’ve never considered that India and China were on the threshold of war.” He was rather vague on what the US is doing with India to “check China’s aggression.” He said: “I think working together with like minded countries who have shared interests is the way you check any aggression in any region.”
For a perspective from China, let’s first begin with the official reaction to the Quad summit. On Monday, Zhao Lijian first said: “In the era of globalization, forming enclosed small cliques with ideology as the yardstick is the sure way to destroy the international order and after all, is unpopular and will end in total failure.” Then he added, “For quite some time, certain countries have been so keen to exaggerate and hype up the so-called “China threat” to sow discord among regional countries, especially to disrupt their relations with China. However, their actions, running counter to the trend of the times of peace, development and cooperation and the common aspirations of the countries and peoples in the region, will not be welcomed or succeed. Exchanges and cooperation between countries should help expand mutual understanding and trust, instead of targeting or harming the interests of third parties. Certain countries should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice, refrain from forming closed and exclusive small circles, and do more things that are conducive to solidarity and cooperation among regional countries and regional peace and stability.”
I haven’t come across many pieces in the Chinese media specific to Secretary Austin’s visit to India. A lot of the foreign affairs focus this week otherwise has been on berating Japan and playing up the events in Anchorage. But for now, the Global Times’ Hu Xijin noted that the Rajnath-Austin joint statement does not mention China. He adds that neither did the statement after the 2+2 in Seoul, unlike that in Japan (I’ll be covering these later.) And this is where he sees the weakness of US efforts in Asia, saying “It would be day-dreaming for the US to mobilize Asia to contain China.” Honestly, this is a stupid take, and I don’t thin Hu buys this himself. But Okay!
Then there’s this commentary by Yuan Jirong, who has worked for GT and the People’s Daily’s India Bureau. He basically argues that Indian policy with regard to China has vacillated since 2014. This is because it wants “to achieve strategic cooperation” but also “provokes strategic competition and suspicion.” Likewise, the “dream of (being) a great power” sees it “use the United States to restrain China’s influence” but by the same token it wants to “use China to balance the United States” to ensure “strategic independence (as) a great power.” He then blames Hindu nationalism and concerns with China’s rise and its influence in the subcontinent as key factors in Indian foreign policy. He finally ends with saying that “India’s strategic autonomy and great power consciousness determine that India will maintain limited cooperation with China and will not deviate too far from the track of strategic cooperation.”