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Focus on multilateral partnerships to check challenges posed by China: Experts


Chandigarh: Underlining “brazen” military manoeuvres and “unprecedented scale of challenge” from China, security experts on Saturday suggested India must adopt a more aggressive demeanour to forge issue-based geo-strategic multilateral partnerships like Quad to leverage country’s full potential in checking the dragon in its rank. The views were expressed by a group of panelists including former Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba during an exchange held virtually on the second day of the Military Literary Festival 2020 on “The Quad: The Emerging Indo-Pacific Naval Alliance”.

Sharing his thoughts, noted defence commentator and the Director of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, C Raja Mohan, said Delhi must learn from the past in not letting the academic debates about alliances tarnish its judgment about extraordinary economic and security challenges staring India.

India faces growing threats and it needs more partnerships than it has ever needed before globally, Raja Mohan said while pointing out India’s traditional reluctance to be an active Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad partner due to fear of being perceived as taking a side.

Underlining the changed global scenario where India cannot remain neutral anymore, as has been policy till now, he said, “We have to move on much faster on multiple fronts while strengthening Quad and enhancing other regional mechanisms.”

“The way China threatens us today requires us to dynamically improve national economic capacity, not only the military capability, in partnerships with intensive international coalitions for which Quad could be the central fulcrum for the time being,” he said.

Moderating the discussion, former Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba expounded on the genesis of Quad as a club of four nations comprising India, US, Japan and Australia which was mooted by the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007.

Forged in the wake of coordination amongst the four democracies during the 2004 Tsunami, the ambitious grouping went into limbo owing to Australia’s reluctance to antagonise China then, he said, adding that it’s prominence in 2017 has been a response to China’s assertiveness in the region.

Taking part in the deliberations, career diplomat Shyam Saran, who was the foreign secretary during 2004 when the Tsunami had struck Indian shores, recalled acknowledgment India had received from foreign nations for its swift action by naval forces.

Dissecting the real reason for Quad’s retreating into limbo after 2007, Saran said it was the US which in fact had wanted to play down the group’s significance because it did not want to loose out on China and Russia’s support for pushing the Iran nuclear deal.

Marking out reasons for the revival of Quad, he said the challenge posed by assertive China to India and other countries, including Japan and Australia, as the immediate trigger has rightfully reinvigorated the grouping.

Besides, the security relationships between these four countries are much equal, he added.

Echoing the sentiment, Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan (retd) said China considers India as one of its target of military assertion, a challenge our establishment has so far not been familiar and comfortable dealing with it.

“We need to have a nimble asymmetric strategy and must maneuver our strengths to best of our capabilities in thwarting China, he added.

Pointing out that China has been weaponising its economic prominence to saddle other countries, he said India cannot be choosy while entering alliances while referring to China-backed trade agreement Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

“The decision of India to stay out of the RCEP is incorrect and not in line with keeping the high ambitions to match geo-strategic goals. We need bold steps across the board to counter rising China”, he added.

Saran said India has moved to crystalise the accord but more participation will be better for future course, possibly alluding to ASEAN member countries.

Pointing out that Quad future trajectory would depend on China’s stance, the former ambassador reiterated India should be less hesitant in taking it forward and must always aim to create a propitious environment for Quad to be more powerful.

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