Displaying convergence of interests with the new quadrilateral grouping with U.S., Japan and Australia, India on Tuesday reached out to China’s backyard, addressing an array of issues ranging from the tension in the Korean peninsula to freedom of navigation and sought a crackdown on chemical weapons during the ASEAN and the East Asia summits. A high-level Indian official told The Hindu that New Delhi has emerged as a more dependable partner for South-East Asia following the Doklam faceoff with China, and indicated that the South-East Asian countries expect New Delhi to be assertive with Beijing. “The Doklam standoff was keenly observed by the countries in the SouthEast Asian region that have been absorbing the impact of China’s assertiveness. But the outcome of the Doklam crisis has shown that India has reached a stage where it can be a resilient strategic and defence partner for them,” said the official.
The explanation of India’s post-Doklam international image acquires significance in view of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s one-on-one meeting with Premier Li Keqiang that was held on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit on Tuesday.
Following the meeting the MEA spokesperson took to social media to announce that the meeting signified, “two neighbours in deep conversation.”
Elaborating on the counter-China angle, the high-level official said the Southeast Asian region had been facing uncertainties following the exit of President Barack Obama as he took visible interest in the region.
However, the latest visits by the leaders of the quadrilateral countries, including by the new U.S. Presdient Donald Trump have once again assured support to these countries as they face China’s commercial and military domination.
In this context, he said the fundamental change in India’s foreign affairs is in its embrace of the big ticket issues of East Asia like the North Korean nuclear crisis as well.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared concerns of DPRK’s pursuit of missiles and nuclear weapons and called for complete verification and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. He also said that North Korea’s proliferation links must be investigated and the parties who have supported these unlawful programmes must be made accountable,” Preeti Saran, Secretary in charge of eastern ties in the Ministry of External Affairs said at a media briefing explaining India’s position.
The issue of North Korea’s has been mentioned in the press statement of the United States following first official level discussion of the ‘Quad’ held on 12 November here.
The anonymous Indian official said that taking up of North Korean threats was part of a new Indian set of concerns that also covers major global issues like terrorism by the Islamic State and its capability to inflict mass casualties, and tensions in the South China Sea that concern the world as well as India.
“The North Korean nuclear missiles are not just problematic for the U.S., but for the entire world, including us, as Pyongyang’s missiles are capable of hitting targets in different parts of the world,” said the diplomat.
The situation in the South China Sea also featured in the statement of Prime Minister Modi in the ASEAN who asked for upholding of the ‘rules based regional security architecture’, an expression often described to refer to China’s opposition to adhere to the UN laws of the seas (UNCLOS).
The official source elaborated that India remains concerned about China’s manmade structures in the South China Sea that are likely to create navigational problems and international friction and said, “As of now there is a jockeying for power between the US and China that is going on in South China Sea but in future we anticipate that identification (of vessels or aircraft) can be raised by the other (Chinese) side,” he said.
India also pushed for a total ban on chemical weapons in the region and for an end to terrorist financing. “The biggest issue facing counter-terror efforts has been the inability of powerful countries to stop flow of funds to the terror groups,” said the diplomat elaborating that the agreements on terror financing, chemical weapons and de-radicalisation adopted at the East Asia Summit will help the region cope with the threat of terrorism effectively in future.