We could all look at clues emanating from a two-hour meeting between India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar with Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, in Moscow on Thursday. Or trust the redoubtable Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to have hefted his weight in making them shake hands. But frankly, it’s in China’s interests to keep India in good humour.
As the two troops square up within a punch’s distance in Ladakh, where even a guttural breath could spark off World War III, analysts have a meltdown that India could be facing a multi-pronged war on its borders, none more so than on its eastern, northern and western ones from two heavily nuclear-armed enemies—China and Pakistan. Most are failing to connect the dots that it’s China which presently is more encircled and it’s India which is the centrepiece in the coordinated move.
Agreed, India hosting the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) later this year doesn’t sound menacing at first glance. But the enormity of the moment won’t be lost on pros who know that India now has military logistical agreement with all three other members of the grouping: the United States, Australia and Japan. The one with the US (LEMOA) has been operational since 2016. The one with Australia was signed in June. Now, on Thursday, India and Japan, riding on the visible warmth between Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his outgoing Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, have inked a similar military logistical deal. Who said nothing moved during the Corona?
Even as I write this, French defence minister Florence Parly would’ve left Indian shores after overseeing the official induction of 5 Rafale jets in the Indian Air Force in Ambala on Thursday. Don’t go by the innocent press releases marking the moment. In geopolitical and military sense, it carried a grave message for Beijing.
Quietly in the background, India and France have grown akin to blood brothers. It hasn’t happened overnight. As soon as the Cold War ended last century, India and France had signed a “strategic partnership.” Everyone talks of 36 Rafale jets but it isn’t much in public domain that Indian navy has already commissioned 2 of 6 Scorpene submarines being build in our own Malegaon dockyards. The third one is undergoing sea trials. India had signed a military logistics pact with France in 2018 itself. France was one of the few countries which had backed India’s decision to nuclear-test in 1998.
And this is all because like other members of QUAD, France too needs India badly for its considerable stakes in the Indian Ocean. The two countries could sign a secure communications agreement too which would allow the two navies to share maritime domain awareness. Even before Parly arrived in India, the two countries, along with Australia, had held their a trilateral foreign-secretary level dialogue on Wednesday. Surely, India-France are welcoming the likeminded in fold.
The domino effect of this all must not be lost on observers. LEMOA with the US has extended Indian navy’s reach in southwestern Indian Ocean due to French bases in Reunion island near Madagascar and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. The logistical arrangement with Australia has bolstered Indian warships in southern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.
There are two other logistical pacts—besides the US, Australia, Japan and France—which India has firmly secured under its belt. One is with South Korea, the other one is with Singapore. Now Indian officials are openly touting two more in near future—with the UK and Russia, the latter one possibly by the end of this year itself. Yes, Russia—you have heard it right.
And now comes something which completely has rattled the command of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). India, Japan and Australia have launched a “Resilient Supply Chain Initiative” amongst themselves. In simpler terms, it means the three countries are looking for alternatives to China in terms of relocating industries and supply chains in Indo-Pacific.
Japan, which has considerable industrial presence in China, unlike India or Australia, is even incentivizing its companies to relocate to, say India and Bangladesh. It has taken badly the recent moves by China to intensify dispute in East China Sea. Australia is badly stung by the trade spats with China. The repatriation of Australian journalists by Beijing hasn’t helped matters. India of course has a war at door.
In essence, there is an attempt to disengage supply chains in strategic areas such as telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, semiconductors etc from China. This has potential to fundamentally alter the geographical shape of cross-border industrial network in the region. It would hurt China where it hurts most.
India and China could point fingers at each other–and not just Finger 3 or 4–for the downturn of ties between two of world’s most populous nations. China could claim that it has had enough of India’s “running with the hare and hunting with the hound” attitude. India could do likewise. After all, China backs Pakistan both on its terrorism and hostility in Kashmir. But these are no better than academic discourse. The truth is India has moved firmly on its Act East Policy. And China has to look after its back. Like Doklam, this face-off too is likely to end with a loss of face for the Dragon.