A perusal of the pages of the Asian Strategic Review of this year will enable us, particularly our policy makers, to understand how important it is for India to develop strategic ties with other countries of the region. The volume surveys the developments in South Asia, China, South-east and East Asia, West Asia, and the impact of U.S. and Russia on countries of the region.
The contents of the book does enable us to understand better the significance of events witnessed by us in the second quarter of 2013 which have been strategically important for India. Incursions by the Chinese Army in Ladakh had caused a great deal of concern, early this year. India was in no mood to accept such transgressions along the Line of Control. After considerable diplomatic interaction between India and China, the Chinese removed their installations.
Soon after the incursion in Ladakh came to an end, the new Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, arrived in Delhi on May 18, on a two-day visit, his first visit abroad after assuming office.
During the interactions in Delhi, Dr. Manmohan Singh expressed his concern over the incursions in Ladakh, but the discussions were broad-based and covered overall relations between the two countries, including trade.
Bilateral trade between India and China had crossed the $75.4 billion mark during 2011-12, and India's trade deficit was in the range of $40 billion. While the expectations are that the trade would cross $100 billion in the next couple of years, would the trade deficit as far as India would concerned be reduced?
While India and China agreed to continue consultations and coordination on delineating the border, there has been no significant breakthrough. The Chinese Premier also agreed to share the data regarding the flow of river Brahmaputra, as reports that China was constructing dams across the river were causing concern and India is keen that it should not give up the rights as a lower riparian.
The Chinese Premier went to Pakistan from India to assure that country that they could rely on China's support both in the field of defence and strategic support. Pakistan has ceded areas of Pakistan- occupied- Kashmir to China, which was originally part of Ladakh. China has been building the Karakoram Highway and the Gwadar port which would give access to the Arabian sea.
Another important event was the visit to India by President Hamid Karzai. Ostensibly, he came here to accept a degree presented to him by an Indian university, but his visit also brought into focus the problems Afghanistan would be facing after the withdrawal of U.S. and Allied forces by the end of next year. Will the vaccum be filled by the Taliban forces, which have been provided a harbour within Pakistan? The international consensus is that the Afghan Army and police should be given a chance to look after the security of the country.
The only silver lining, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, is the fact Pakistan is slowly stabilizing itself after a change of government through a democratic process, and Nawaz Sharief, a consummate politician, has taken over the reins of the country.
The visit to Japan and Thailand at the end of May by Dr. Manmohan Singh was designed to strengthen the strategic ties with the countries of East Asia.
In Japan, Dr. Manmohan Singh discussed various proposals designed to strengthen political, security and energy ties.
Japan is keen that, with the help of India and Australia, an effort should be made to ensure that the sea lanes in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean should be kept open. This effort would need the cooperation of Australia, the United States, besides the ASEAN countries.
Dr Manmohan Singh also discussed steps to increase Japanese investment in infrastructure projects in India. India will also be receiving some amphibious aircraft from Japan, which will strengthen its surveillance capabilities.
In Thailand, a country which is at the centre of ASEAN, Dr Manmohan Singh underlined the close relations that India has with the countries of the region, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines and Myanmar (Burma).
Soon after the visit to Japan by the Prime Minister, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, visited Singapore and Australia. India and Australia have been keen on strengthening strategic cooperation with each other.
The Asian Strategic Review volume focuses on the likely prospect that China is likely to surpass the United States in its economic and strategic strength in the next three decades. What does it portend for India? China has been developing close relations with Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives in the recent past. It has been supporting Pakistan in its stand against India on various issues, besides extending arms aid, including assistance in the nuclear field.
India has realized that it would be in its strategic interest to develop close relations with ASEAN countries, Japan and Australia.
In the final analysis India has to accept the fact that in China, it has a neighbour which is much larger in area. During the last three decades, China has grown both economically and in military strength. It is also a fact that at the dawn of Independence, India wanted live in peaceful coexistence with China, but that policy did not succeed, and China attacked India in 1962, and it was a disastrous experience for India.
India's efforts to arrive at a demarcation of the Sino-Indian Border is unlikely to succeed in the near future. The book quotes the report of the Naresh Chandra Committee which has stated that India has to be prepared militarily to deal with an assertive China even as it seeks to build bridges of cooperation with Beijing.
Almost all countries of the region are strengthening their defence capabilities and Asia has emerged as the world's largest arms bazaar. Among the Asian countries who are modernizing their defence forces are Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. China is emerging as an important arms exporter in Asia. What are the possibilities of India developing its arms industry and meeting the needs of some of its neighbours?
In this situation, it is important for India to understand the strength as well as the weaknesses of China. It is a fact that China is no longer a developing country in the traditional sense, and the expectation is that in the next two decades it is likely to be economically stronger than the United States. At the same time, there are tensions within China too. While we have known of unrest in Tibet, very few are aware of disturbances in mainland China.
According a study, the number of mass incidents has been steadily rising. It increased from 8,700 in 1993 to over 90, 000 in 2006. The export sector in China has been shrinking in the recent past, and it has been causing concern to the Chinese government.
The Asian Strategic Review, prepared by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, provides valuable inputs for thinkers and policy makers by focusing on military modernization by the countries of the region, their defence budgets and arms procurement efforts.
Mr.I.Ramamohan Rao can be contacted by e-mail: raoramamohan @hotmail.com
Book Review: Asian Strategic Review, IDSA, Pentagon Press, pages 382 Rs. 1295/-(ANI)