Memo to China: the Indo-Pacific strategy is slowly becoming a reality. Military agreements are being signed between countries, making the contours sharper and the minds clearer despite the virus.
India and the US have a flurry of meetings planned before the US election on November 3 to consolidate the gains made under President Donald Trump. The two countries are expected to conclude and sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (Beca) on sharing geospatial intelligence during the next ‘2+2’ dialogue in New Delhi.
Beca is last of the four ‘foundational’ agreements the US wanted India to sign to allow secure communication and sharing of geospatial information. With Beca, India can get a closer look at Pakistan in all its bare necessities, training camps and all. That’s part of the deal and it will be one-way traffic.
Given the border situation with China, India will soon lease two drones from the US government for naval surveillance while the procurement process for the sale of 30 armed predator drones, well, drones on. The two leased drones will not be armed but will have censors. Leasing was seen as the quickest way to get ‘eyes’ on the situation.
India and the US are expected to sign a maritime information-sharing agreement to bolster the most promising area of cooperation. Maritime cooperation is the low-key and high-yield aspect of Indo-US ties and the backbone of the Indo-Pacific strategy.
Dates and locations are also being finalised for a meeting of the Quad foreign ministers, and a meeting of the Indian and US national security advisers (NSAs). That’s a full plate given the short time before the November 3 election. Officials are packing it in because a transition in Washington always takes a year before things get going.
Where the ‘in-person’ Quad would be held is not yet decided, even though US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said recently it would be in New Delhi. Why the Quad can’t follow the ‘2+2’ in Delhi is unclear. But such is life in the foreign ministers’ lane. Too many schedules to align, much like the policies.
Interestingly, the US has suggested a ‘4+4’ meeting of the Quad defence and foreign ministers, given Chinese aggression all around. Washington sees advantage in timing, but it may be a bridge too far.
The array of meetings comes against the background of a China ‘gone rogue’ for all practical purposes, or to a place from where it’s finding it hard to come back. Opening multiple fronts against multiple countries, coupled with daily threats and schoolyard bragging and bullying by China, is pushing other countries to a place from where they may not return.
Just to recap, India and Japan deepened their military cooperation and signed a 10-year pact last week. It allows their militaries to share logistics and supplies for ships and planes besides encouraging interoperability.
The Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (Acsa) was one of the last significant acts of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the main man behind the idea of Indo-Pacific cooperation. India now has similar agreements with all Quad members and with France and Oman.
Then the US signed a defence framework agreement with the Maldives on September 10 to deepen relations, and to maintain peace and security in the Indian Ocean. India welcomed it — a measure of change in outlook. You can see the web of agreements growing in the region, creating interlinkages of support should the need arise.
Hopefully, Beijing is getting the message via its ‘wolf warriors’. Expect the usual belligerence from Chinese spokesmen, but that’s now routine. Beijing has only itself to blame for this coming together of the rest.
China’s unprecedented land grabs and coercive tactics have pushed India and Australia — the two countries historically shy of coming out in any discernible grouping — to take a bolder stand. And New Delhi is clearly tiring of the constant spin from China and subversion of facts
Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar, known for measuring his words, has said repeatedly that the health of India-China relationship is tied to a complete and verifiable disengagement process on the border and retreat of Chinese troops. The Chinese spin after the meeting in Moscow between Jaishankar and Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi is the latest example of Beijing’s relentless pushing of fake news.
Perhaps the Chinese people buy the propaganda in the absence of independent information. But the rest of the world doesn’t any more.