3 QUESTIONS - Indian Premier Narendra Modi's 3-nation Asia-Pacific tour, its regional goals

3 QUESTIONS - Indian Premier Narendra Modi's 3-nation Asia-Pacific tour, its regional goals

India sees China as an existential national security problem but it never gives up on diplomacy with countries to reduce tensions on China border

By Duygu Cagla Bayram

- The author is a researcher focusing on Indian politics

ISTANBUL (AA) - In three questions, Duygu Cagla Bayram discusses the implications of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's three-nation visit of Japan, Papua New Guinea, and Australia, and the visit's potential as a balancing factor against China in the region.

- What is India's policy in the Asia-Pacific?

India's post-1991 focus on the liberal economy and internal development has reinvigorated its relations with the East Asian region, aligning its perspective with its East Asia policy.

It faces significant challenges, including tensions with Pakistan and the increasing influence of China in its neighborhood.

These factors have prompted India to expand its ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, and South Korea, and to rebuild its relations with the US.

India has also expanded its economic partnership with China, but both countries have not been able to resolve border disputes.

Meanwhile, the power balance has shifted in favor of China, quickly leaving behind India's economic growth and expanding defense budget.

Today, India sees China as an existential national security problem and it believes that an active policy in neighboring regions is indispensable to prevent further deepening of the power imbalance against its interests.

The US, Japan, Australia, ASEAN, France, Germany, and the EU pursue detailed strategies for the Indo-Pacific, which have direct implications for India.

All these factors explain India's willingness to reframe the Asia-Pacific region as the "Indo-Pacific," which directly strengthens its capabilities in this region that significantly affects its strategic interests.

However, India achieves this by maintaining a multifaceted policy that directly preserves its maneuvering space.

Meanwhile, India does not believe that forming alliances with any country will fulfill its goal of becoming a superpower in the future.

It does not also think that efforts to improve ties with a rival must be abandoned to establish a balance of power.

So, India never gives up on diplomacy with countries to reduce tensions on the China border.

- What does Modi's 3-nation tour mean?

Modi embarked on a six-day visit to three countries -- Japan, Papua New Guinea, and Australia -- on May 19-24.

Although India is not a member of the G-7, Modi attended the G-7 Summit in Japan at the invitation of his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.

He met with political leaders and participated in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) Summit.

One of the most significant aspects of the visit was Modi's first face-to-face meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since Modi did not officially condemn Russia's war against Ukraine.

His visit to Papua New Guinea, where Modi co-chaired the 3rd India-Pacific Islands Cooperation Summit, holds significant importance within his tour.

This visit is considered "historic" as it marks the first visit by an Indian prime minister to the island.

Strategically, it is believed to lay the foundation for one of India's potentially most important bilateral partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.

During the summit, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape hailed Modi as the leader of the Global South and pledged to support India's leadership.

At the summit, Modi said: "We are proud to be your development partner. You can see India as a reliable partner. We are ready to share our abilities and experiences with you without any hesitation. We believe in multilateralism; support a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific."

Meanwhile, Modi's visit to Papua New Guinea, where he announced a 12-point action plan, was seen as a clear indication that China is not the only major power intending to enhance its influence across the Pacific.

Modi's visit to Australia was seen as part of New Delhi's efforts to highlight its role in the region amid China's increasing influence.

Strengthening bilateral trade, investment, and cooperation with Australia, which views India as a growing economic powerhouse with significant opportunities, and expediting the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), were among India's key objectives.

Modi emphasized the importance and power of the Indian diaspora, rather than diplomacy, in the development of bilateral relations.

The Indian diaspora constitutes only 3% of Australia's 26 million population but represents the country's fastest-growing ethnic minority.

- Can India balance China's power in the Asia-Pacific region?

The Asia-Pacific idea, shaped by Cold War dynamics, gained popularity with Japan along with several North and Southeast Asian countries due to their economic growth.

The US played a role in framing the region as Asia-Pacific instead of just Asia to better position itself militarily and strategically.

Following the US-China rapprochement after 1972, the region came to encompass the world's three largest economies.

When the Cold War ended and India's economic growth accelerated, New Delhi also expanded its reach beyond South Asia to the East, presenting itself as a key Asia-Pacific actor.

India's Asia-Pacific outreach aligns with the US' strategic security concerns regarding China, leading to Washington's strategy in the region focusing on India.

The shift from "Asia" to "Indo" in the term Asia-Pacific reflects the desire to redefine India as the "potential sole balancing power" against China.

US' emphasis on India and its strengthening of military alliances with existing partners, expanding military cooperation with like-minded countries in the region, and enhancing the defense capabilities of emerging strategic partners can be interpreted within this framework.

This situation provides New Delhi with a flexible space, which is crucial for India, as it is highly sensitive to preserving its maneuvering room, presenting a significant opportunity for India under the current circumstances.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.

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