Pakistan’s Troika Plus Meeting: Implications for the regional security

Pakistan’s Troika Plus Meeting: Implications for the regional security

By – Niranjan Marjani

As global powers continue to figure out the ways to deal with the deepening crisis in Afghanistan, divisions within South Asia continue to widen. This was evident with Pakistan attempting to compete with India over deliberations on Afghanistan. India held the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan on November 10. This dialogue was chaired by India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval. NSAs of Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan participated in this meeting. India had invited Pakistan and China as well but both chose not to attend. 

Exactly a day after India hosted the dialogue, Pakistan held the Troika Plus Meeting on November 11. This meeting was attended by senior diplomats from the United States, Russia and China. Afghanistan’s Interim Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi was also present at this Troika Plus Meeting. 

By not attending the meeting hosted by India and by keeping India out of the Troika Plus Meeting, Pakistan has prioritized rivalry with India over the collective concern for the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan has always positioned itself as a primary actor when it comes to coordinating on Afghanistan. Even at the Troika Plus Meeting, Pakistan has tried to portray its superior relevance as compared to India on Afghanistan. 

However Pakistan’s own weakening position and instability in Afghanistan have serious implications on security of the entire region. Further, in an attempt to play gain primacy in Afghanistan, Pakistan and China stand isolated. 

Pakistan’s weakening position

At the time when Pakistan is trying to remain relevant in South Asian geopolitics, it faces challenges on political, economic and security fronts at home. 

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government is facing opposition from its own allies Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). While these two parties have agreed to vote for the bills to be tabled in a joint session of parliament convened by the PTI, the tussle between the ruling party and its allies is likely to continue. 

In addition to the tension with allies, the civilian government is also at loggerheads with the military. Tensions are simmering between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for months now over the appointment of the new director general of Pakistan’s intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Khan opposed appointment of Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum as the Director General of ISI while he was favored by Gen. Bajwa over Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, the incumbent ISI chief, whose tenure Khan sought to extend. 

Pakistan is also going through a precarious economic situation. Pakistan continues to be in the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list for not effectively implementing global FATF standards and for failing to prosecute UN-designated terrorists. Pakistan is also in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for resuming the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) of $6 billion. However the IMF has demanded five major policy actions from Pakistan before resumption of the facility. 

Apart from the political and economic challenges, the internal security in Pakistan has also become a cause of concern. The PTI-led Pakistani government is increasingly under pressure from extremist groups such as the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). While attempting to pacify these groups, the government is weakening its own position as it is giving in to the demands of the extremists.  

Implications for security in the region

The Pakistan-hosted Troika Plus Meeting is not likely to contribute to strengthening the security architecture in the region. The reason is that both Pakistan and Afghanistan lack control over the developments shaping the security situation in their respective countries which could lead to a spillover effect and rise in radicalization in the region.  

Lack of control over security

Afghanistan’s deteriorating situation along with Pakistan’s own weak position pose a combined security threat for the region. Pakistan has been vocal in expressing support to the Taliban in the wake of US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Initially Pakistan did try to influence the government formation in Afghanistan under the Taliban. However, it is unlikely that the Taliban would continue to operate under Pakistan’s control as Islamabad had expected. 

Since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the internal security scenario in Pakistan has also deteriorated. The Pakistan government has been increasingly under pressure due to protests and radical demands from the TLP and attacks by the TTP. During his visit to Pakistan, Afghanistan’s Interim Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi confirmed that the Taliban was mediating between the Pakistani government and the TTP. The Taliban’s role in Pakistan’s internal security matter indicates that at present Pakistan needs the Taliban more than the Taliban needs Pakistan. It also implies that Pakistan is hardly in a position to dictate terms to the Taliban. 

Just as Pakistan has no control over the Taliban, the latter is also not able to exert a total control over entire Afghanistan. There are signs of civil war already. Parallel to rise of the Taliban, terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) are also rapidly expanding in Afghanistan. While the Taliban is in contact with these groups, it is not in a position to control the activities of these groups. This is evident from the attacks carried out by the ISIS-K across Afghanistan since the Taliban-takeover. M. Lyla Kohistany, a former US naval intelligence officer said, “This is ISIS-K showing through force that, in fact, it’s virtually impossible for a group like the Taliban – without the kinds of assets that the United States and the international community have – to keep them from using Afghanistan in the future as a safe haven, a sanctuary to conduct transnational terrorist attacks.”   

Spillover effect and increased radicalization

The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has increased the risk of spillover effect and radicalization across South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. The rise of the Taliban is likely to boost morale of the terror groups operating across the region. Pakistan-backed terror groups Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba held a rally in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) in support of the Taliban post-US withdrawal. While India and Pakistan have agreed to support the 2003 ceasefire in February this year, Pakistan-supported terror activities continue. As per intelligence, reports suggest presence of 200 to 250 terrorists on the launchpad across the Line of Control (LoC). India has beefed up the security in the Union Territory by increasing the number of troops by 5500. 

The Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is a security concern for Central Asian countries and China as well. The Taliban maintains close contacts with groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Islamic Movement of Tajikistan (IMT) and Jamaat Ansarullah, a Tajik terror group. Some members of the IMU and the IMT had even fought alongside the Taliban against the US forces. Central Asian countries witnessed an increase in radicalization during the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. China too would be concerned that the Taliban rule in Afghanistan would give momentum to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in the Uighur-majority province of Xinjiang. This restive Chinese province shares border with Afghanistan through Wakhan corridor. 

Russia, although not sharing a direct border with Afghanistan, has taken a cautious approach. In the months of August, September and October Russia has conducted military exercises in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). As regards to Iran, a Shia-majority country, the presence of the Sunni Taliban is likely to result in sectarian conflicts. The Taliban in power in Afghanistan would further cause an escalation in conflicts across the region either directly or indirectly. 

Pakistan and China stand isolated

By choosing to stay away from the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue, Pakistan —and even China —could find themselves isolated. Pakistan chose not to attend as it blamed India for the instability in Afghanistan. China also chose competition and rivalry over regional security. With the US-exit, China is eyeing for a major role in Afghanistan. While China is already competing with Russia in Central Asia, Afghanistan offers it an opportunity to undermine India’s role. China is even engaging with the Taliban. However, China would find it difficult to increase footprint in Afghanistan as even the Taliban cannot guarantee foolproof security to China across Afghanistan. Apart from the security threat to China’s assets in Afghanistan, there is always a concern about the Taliban supporting the ETIM despite China reaching out to the Taliban through economic diplomacy. Further China’s investments in Pakistan are also facing risk. China has asked Pakistan to create enabling conditions, implying at present insufficient security, for the Chinese nationals working on the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) project. So China’s attempts to gain economic and strategic advantage may not materialize.  

For Pakistan, although rivalry with India is a major reason, fear of ethnic fault lines erupting is also a cause of concern. Pakistan’s use of uniform religious identity is a shield to prevent its diverse ethnic groups asserting their identity. The case in point is the Pashtun identity. Pakistan associates Islamic identity with the Taliban since Pashtun identity could stoke unrest in the Pashtun-majority province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and give rise to aspirations of independence from Pakistan. 

India, on the other hand, maintains terrorism as a universal security concern and is not restricted to a narrow identity. India calls for an inclusive government in Afghanistan in which minority groups as well as women have a fair representation. However, Pakistan continues to take a myopic view the regional geopolitics through the prism of religion.    

The Troika Plus Meeting was a desperate attempt from Pakistan to stay relevant in the region. Owing to geographical proximity to Afghanistan, Pakistan had successfully leveraged its own position as a facilitator for the Western powers, in particular the US to gain access to Afghanistan. However, it is a known fact that Pakistan, while masquerading as a US-ally, had also covertly supported the Taliban against the US. It is important for the US to seek ways to engage with Afghanistan beyond Pakistan. 

Afghanistan, which is called graveyard of empires, has long been a competing ground for rival powers. However, owing to the imminent security threat, it is pertinent that regional and extra regional powers cooperate with each other and act in a cohesive manner. Competition and division among these powers would further increase the threat perception originating from Afghanistan. 

Niranjan Marjani is a Political Analyst specializing in international relations and geopolitics. His areas of work are India’s foreign policy, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Indo-Pacific Region, Europe and Spain. He is also the Consulting Editor of The Kootneeti Español, a New Delhi-based Spanish-language magazine on international relations. He tweets at @NiranjanMarjani

China-US Slugfest Towards New Tech-Cold War Multiplex

China-US Slugfest Towards New Tech-Cold War Multiplex

By – Nafisa Nazin Lutfa and Rafayat Ahmed Shanto;

Indo-Pacific, the nucleus of world politics, concerns the global powers regarding its oceanic space, the land space, and even the facts beyond the space. Indo-Pacific signifies itself with the competition among major powers in the aspects of technology, trade, culture, and security.  The competition between the US and China and their alliances in Indo-Pacific is identically projecting a cold-war syndrome. From a casual thought, the new cold war might be seen as a lazy label because it lacks the present geopolitical context of world politics. However, the Indo-Pacific region projected characteristics similar to the Cold War phenomena, where it is a resuscitating experience of the international realm, in the same way, anarchy promises to energize the multiplex. Many academics are doubtful that the Cold War has ended at all. In many areas, from regional politics to outer space and beyond, the Cold War legacy lingers on. The new multiplex cold war includes competition in the Indian Ocean (formation of QUAD), US’s pivot to Asia, legacies of the cold war with the new alliance of ‘democratic Anglosphere” in the 21st century replacing the old ‘Anglo-Saxon tutelage,’ institutional and territorial conflicts, multiple militaries and defense arrangements by the US and China, and the emergence of a chemical, and cyber and technological war.  In light of this, it becomes reasonable to look into the underlying phenomenon that suggests Indo-Pacific is becoming a new Cold War zone. Taking this into perspective, how are the United States and China confronting each other in the tech industry, and how is it developing a new tech-Cold War Multiples in the Indo-Pacific region?

Complementary Tactics: Technology and Military 

It is very much conceivable that the domain of technology has competed as equally as military, economy, and culture in the “new multiplex cold war.” On a special note, it has to be informed that technologies like 5G and microchips semiconductors are decisive to the development of the post-modern military. The technological competition between the global powers is nothing new, but rather an old one exampling the competition over nuclear and space technology between the US and USSR in the Cold War era. The technological competition in the Cold War was a bio-polar one, entirely between the US-bloc and the Soviet bloc. However, in the post-cold war era, new technological innovations (5G, microchips, Artificial Intelligence- AI, and drones) coupled with the neo-liberal interdependency in the global supply-chain fall into the realities of the new multiplex cold war in a multipolar world – hence, construct a ‘technological cold war multiplex.’ 

Enhancing Resilience

China has become the unstoppable force and the US as the immovable object in this war. Chinese expansion is sometimes described as an unstoppable force, and the neoliberal world order has clearly benefited China in this way. However, there are significant manifestations that would vouch for the claim of a tech cold war multiplex. To be accurate, the US and China are the chief competitors in the tech cold war matrix. Uncloaking two ambitious projects of China: “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” and “Made in China 2025,” it is clear that China is up for an extraordinary venture. The second one, ‘Made in China 2025,’ aims to make China self-reliant on high-end technology and its production, such as electric cars, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and advanced communications. It is assumed that these ambitious stances of China throughout the years made the US worry about their position in the global hierarchy; hence, the Trump administration raised the trade war against China. The Export Reform Act (ERC) enacted by the US in 2018 threatens to blacklist any company or institution that would use American tools or technologies to manufacture Huawei. As both the US and China are the linchpins of the global supply chain, the other countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa are being forced to choose sides. 

The US and China are engaged in a tech-cold war using their giant tech companies. The US accuses China of Intellectual Property-IP theft and data privacy breaches in social media. China’s IP theft is discernible with their Alibaba for E-bay, We Chat for Whatsapp and Facebook, and Twitter for Weibo. Regardless of America’s IP theft accusations on China, America involves itself in copying Chinese apps like Tik Tok to arrange alternatives such as Instagram Reels, Triller, and Byte. Nevertheless, Huawei would be the largest distributor to connect the world in a 5G network if American did not ban it. Huawei was supposed to give the technical support for 5G in Europe (notably Germany, UK, and France). The Export Reform Act (ERA) by the US restricts its western allies from dealing with Huawei.

Beyond Tyranny of Hard Power

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the sole supplier of microchip semiconductors to cutting-edge-tech companies like Apple, Nvidia, Media Tek, and Qualcomm in America. The semiconductors microchips are said to be the mother of all big-science technologies like fighter jets, auto-mobile industries, artificial intelligence, spying drones, and computers. Taiwan, for its TSMC, is of great strategic importance to America and China and its tech companies. As TSMC uses American technologies, resources, and equipment for manufacturing chips, the ERA makes TSMC cut off its deal with Huawei. On the other hand, Huawei was entirely dependent on TSMC for making its products. For the cancellation of the deal, TSMC and Huawei both faced losses. Also, multiple American companies lost their businesses in China because of the legislative rule.

Taiwan’s dominant position in producing semiconductor chips jeopardizes its security, thus triggering the risk of getting annexed by China. Its historical claim on the island backs China’s idea of invading Taiwan. The ‘Greater China’ and ‘One China Policy’ being central to Chinese foreign policy seems like a vehement threat to the US. Taking the ‘Greater’ and ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ into account, the US with its allies (Japan, Australia, France, South Korea) has a consistent military presence in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. Furthermore, as an alternative plan, the US is placing its bid on Samsung and Erickson and expecting several other players to fill the possible unexpected void of TSMC. On its mission to become self-reliant on high-end technological production, China bolstering its chip-manufacturing company SMIC (a public-private partnership) to beat America’s high science technology and TMSC’s manufacturing technology. However, SMIC is still a cradling baby to American giants like Apple, Qualcomm, and Taiwanese TSMC. 

The “China-Problem”

Complex alliance is what makes the cold war multiplex. For the sake of economy and neo-liberalism, most South-East Asian countries, including Japan, rely on each other and China’s economy. India is the system integrator for Huawei, is not an exception in the technology-trade symbiotic relationship. Indian A-1 IT firms like TCS, Infosys, and Tech Mahindra work with Huawei. India’s Bharti Airtel and Vodaphone count on their 4G and 5G services contracts with Huawei. Bharti Airtel and Vodaphone Idea are reported loss because of India’s ban on Huawei. Balancing the steelyard of cost and benefit with Nokia, Samsung, and Erickson for Huawei, would not be a coherent choice for Indian companies. Moreover, South Korea is one of the major exporters of chips and other technologies to China.

Despite all that, India, Japan, and South Korea have chosen sides with the USA in the techno-cold war by joining the D-10. India, on the excuse of ‘national security risk,’ banned Huawei and ZTE in 2020. India banned more than 50 Chinese apps over the border confrontation in LAC (Line of Actual Control), killing more than 20 Indian soldiers. Considering the possibility of a Taiwan war, Japan is very eager to set up a TSMC subsidiary in Japan. South Korean company Samsung has a plan to expand its chip factory in Arizona, US.

Karl Haushofer predicted the constant great power conflict between the Anglo-Saxon alliance (UK, USA, France) and the non-Anglo-Saxon alliance (China, Russia, Germany). Karl Haushofer had been right all along with the cold war rivalry between the US and USSR from 1945 to 1990 and now the new cold war multiplex between the US and China. The recent cold war multiplex pivot to Indo-Pacific has different layers of competition in technology, economy, trade, culture, and complexities in alliance making. 

The techno-cold-war-multiplex being the most crucial aspect of the new cold war matrix aims to contain China. US has planned to contain China’s maritime rise with the formation of QUAD and the universalist stance of nobody’s ocean. Furthermore, now, it has planned to contain China’s technological advancement with the appearance of D-10. The new cold war multiplex is a distinct one from the Cold War because of several reasons. The technological semiconductor microchip race replaces the nuclear arms race. But the democratic anglosphere in D-10 and QUAD lacks the Anglo-Saxon kinship like it is in NATO. That is what makes it the new cold war multiplex and lets the uncertainty takes the grip. Accepting the urge of neo-liberal inclination to trade realism, the rise of China in technology will definitely exhaust the US in the long run. And an exhausted America would someday recall the words of Napoleon: “Let China sleep; when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

Nafisa Nazin Lutfa is currently, working as a teaching assistant at the Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP). She is postgraduate student at the Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) with a major in International Relations. National politics, international political economy, security studies, and public policy are all areas of research and interested.

Rafayat Ahmed Shanto is currently a research intern at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), a government think tank in Bangladesh. He is perusing his Masters in International Relations from Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP).

Australia and ASEAN: New Challenges to Cooperation

Australia and ASEAN: New Challenges to Cooperation

By – Artyom Garin;

Geostrategic expanse of the Indian and Pacific Oceans into the Indo-Pacific space and the emergence of Quad, designed to balance China, brought the importance of ASEAN to a completely new level. Southeast Asia has become an especially important part in the diplomacy of China, the United States and other actors in the region. Australia is also no exception and is trying to intensify the pace of its involvement in Southeast Asia. However, Canberra’s efforts are accompanied by mixed success, especially due to a change in its foreign policy strategy.

Australia and Quad’s Current Approach to ASEAN

With the development of the United States’, Japan’s and Australia’s visions of the Indo-Pacific, academic discourse has been filled with theses that the ASEAN countries need Quad support to counter the growing power — the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Indeed, Beijing is not standing still. The PRC strengths its defence capabilities, economic and humanitarian agenda in the region, but militarization is far from being unilateral.

The fact is that the politicized nature of this concept itself contributes to the militarization of the Indo-Pacific. For example, everyone knows that ASEAN is trying to stop any outbreaks of instability in Southeast Asia and has come a long way to move beyond from the Cold War thinking. However, during the Annual U.S.—ASEAN Summit, the US Navy and Japan Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) decided to conduct exercises in the South China Sea. They included the US aircraft carrier strike group and Japanese helicopter destroyer. As a result, the summit did not appear in most flattering light from the conflict mitigation. Rather, on the contrary.

The ASEAN countries are trying to balance between the United States and China, to benefit from the development of the region, in order to also withstand the consequences of the pandemic. The Association has also published an outlook on the Indo-Pacific, but it is clearly not interested in politicizing this issue, as well as in choosing between the United States and China. This is also confirmed by the Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong’s quote,  “Countries in the region want to have good relations with both, the US and China, and do not wish to take sides”.

One must admire Australia’s steps to strengthen relations with ASEAN during the pandemic, starting from the humanitarian agenda. In 2020, Canberra presented a new strategy ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response’, which focuses on the aid to the South Pacific countries, Timor-Leste and Southeast Asia in healthcare and economy.

However, further attempts to politicize cooperation outweighed quite promising strategy. Some experts have already noticed Australia’s statements related to the ‘China threat’ during bilateral meetings with the diplomats of some ASEAN countries. It put the Australia’s partners from Southeast Asia in an awkward position. According to Australia’s PM Scott Morrison, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are close friends for Australia. However, the aggravation of Australia-China relations can only distance Canberra from ASEAN members.

The AUKUS Factor in Australia-ASEAN Relations

Another step towards ‘ensuring stability’ in the region was the establishment of AUKUS trilateral alliance, which includes Australia, the U.S. and the UK. According to the statements, it is aimed at deepening defence and tech cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. A lot has already been said about AUKUS, so it is better to focus here on the ASEAN members’ perception of the new alliance.

The AUKUS parties assure that it is not directed against any power. However, the nature of this alliance is based on the rivalry between the United States and China. Everyone understands this, including experts, politicians and ordinary observers. Of course, Australia can get new opportunities from AUKUS to strengthen its defence capability. The experts from the Fifth Continent have long been discussing the need of nuclear fleet. However, it will not appear in Australia soon, and it will require great technological, infrastructural and financial efforts.

Nevertheless, the establishment of AUKUS has already influenced the diplomacy. It showed that Australia can cancel previous agreements. Regardless of the statements, the countries will keep this in mind when building further cooperation with Australia – and even the US.

Nuclear submarines are very useful for defence. In the straits between the Pacific Island countries (PICs), Australia can use them imperceptibly, since PICs do not have high-tech capabilities to detect submarines. But potential presence of the Australia’s submarines in Southeast Asia may raise questions.

AUKUS has made Australia a bridgehead for military power projection against the PRC. It is important to remember that the US won’t provide technology for nothing. Probably the price is Australia’s support for the rivalry against the rise of China in the region. The potential permission for Australia’s submarines to access the straits from Indonesia, as the closest ASEAN member, would mean its support for anti-Chinese actions. But the Indonesian authorities are clearly not interested in aggravating relations with China.

Australian diplomats have been working for decades to strengthen ties with Southeast Asia. They have made considerable efforts to show that Australia is one of the regional actors that is ready to cooperate with Asian countries with common future. As a result, common grounds that were established with great difficulty are being threatened in the 21st century. As Australia-China relations get worse, the ASEAN members could temporarily pull away from Canberra.

Malaysia and Indonesia have already expressed concerns about another nuclear submarine fleet. The ASEAN members believe that this makes the region more conflict-prone, not safe. This makes the countries of Southeast Asia think more about the consequences during the dialogue with Australia, which is sharply opposed to China.

Australia has a strong school of diplomacy and analysis in international relations. It’s probably on this basis that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was advised to reassure the ASEAN countries through the media that Canberra doesn’t want to aggravate the situation in the region. It’s not yet known whether his interview helped to convince the leaders from Southeast Asia.

Economy and Trade as a More Productive Way to Ensure Regional Stability

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Australia and ASEAN could rectify the situation. But it will be difficult to get statements of friendship from one of the concrete Southeast Asian countries in the recent conditions.

The quote of the Director-General of the Department of Asian Affairs of the Foreign Ministry of China, Liu Jinsong, seemed notable. He said: “Whenever there is crisis or problem in the region, Australia looks to the West for friends, not the East. Australia tried to persuade ASEAN countries to jointly target China, but ASEAN countries won’t do it”. This accurately characterizes the current state of affairs. Notably, Asia accounts for 65,2% of Australia’s bilateral trade. 

During the pandemic era, strengthening economic and humanitarian cooperation with ASEAN members would help Australia gain diplomatic benefits. Southeast Asia needs a favorable environment for developing trade, supply chains, and healthcare. Assertive military agenda is unlikely to find a positive response, especially during the global crisis.

According to forecasts, ASEAN members’ total GDP will grow rapidly by 2050. For example, Indonesia may probably become the 4th largest economy in the world. On the contrary, the Australian economy may decrease. In order to maintain economic growth in the future, Canberra certainly needs to strengthen relations with ASEAN and right now, while the good image of Australia as a reliable economic partner that possesses technology and high-quality goods is still alive.

Recently, Quad has intensified its infrastructure rivalry with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For this purpose, the parties will certainly combine their initiatives — Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (Japan), Blue Dot Network — the U.S., or Pacific Step-Up (Australia). Together, their capital exceeds $100 billion. For now, India wisely decided to abstain from joining and took a careful position on this issue.

Participation in the Quad have spurred Australia to action. In June 2021, together with Germany and Switzerland, it committed to provide about US$13 million to the Mekong River Commission for Sustainable Development. We may see more Canberra’s activity in Southeast Asia, but it is still more focused on strengthening its positions in the South Pacific. Besides, as in other areas, the perception of Quad infrastructure initiatives by Southeast Asian countries will still be restrained.

They will not choose political agenda instead of economic well-being. After all, Australia, even together with the United States, will not be able to compensate for the economic costs in case of the potential aggravation of relations between ASEAN and Beijing.

Conclusion

With extensive diplomatic experience, ASEAN is clearly aware of the scale of China’s rise and the US plans to counter it. The countries of Southeast Asia clearly don’t want to become part of this rivalry. They are already facing many challenges, including the impact of the global crisis, the pandemic, the current situation in Myanmar and so on.

The antagonization of Australia against China will also lead to distancing of ASEAN from Canberra. To earn trust in the region, Australia needs to take a different strategy. It’s necessary to reinforce the mutual dialogue on the basics of cooperation for the economic and humanitarian benefits. In the rivalry for ASEAN’s favour, the party that can propose more mutual interests and opportunities for cooperation will certainly win.

Of course, Vietnam, Indonesia and other ASEAN members will continue to build up their defence potential and host politicians from China, the United States, Australia and other countries. However, in the short and medium term, ASEAN will prefer to use the strategy of careful and prudent balancing.

Artyom Garin is a Research Assistant of the Center for Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is interested in multilateralism in the Indo-Pacific, as well as in Australia-China relations. His research interests also include defence and aid policies of Australia, as well as politics and history of the Pacific Island countries.

Significance of India’s accelerated outreach to Sri Lanka

Significance of India’s accelerated outreach to Sri Lanka

By- Niranjan Marjani

After a prolonged period of tensions, the relations between India and Sri Lanka are on the mend. Sri Lanka’s growing proximity to China since the present political dispensation came to power in 2015 has been a cause of concern for India. However, both the sides are taking steps towards normalization of their relations since past couple of months. This period has seen acceleration in outreach between India and Sri Lanka. This outreach has been characterized by high profile visits, military exercises and both the countries prioritising relations with each other. 

India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla paid a four-day visit to Sri Lanka at the start of October. During his visit he held talks with the top Sri Lankan leadership which included Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. He also reviewed bilateral cooperation during a meeting with the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage. 

Following Shringla’s visit India’s Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane visited Sri Lanka from 12 to 16 October and interacted with the military as well as the civilian leadership of Sri Lanka. General Naravane’s visit coincided with the India-Sri Lanka military exercise (named Mitra Shakti) which was held from 4 to 15 October at Combat Training School, Ampara, Sri Lanka. 

Later, six ships of Indian Navy’s First Training Squadron arrived in Sri Lanka on October 24 for a four-day visit to participate in a training programme with their Sri Lankan counterparts. This is a milestone in India-Sri Lanka relations as it is the first time that such a large number of Indian Navy ships are visiting Sri Lanka. 

For its part, Sri Lanka released Integrated Country Strategy in July through its Ambassador to India Milinda Moragoda. This strategy focuses on prioritising relations with India and lists out steps to be taken the Sri Lankan Embassy and the Consulates in India to strengthen the bilateral relations. On October 10, Moragoda also met India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and discussed wide ranging issue pertaining to the strategic interests of both the countries. 

Sri Lanka’s tilt towards China which resulted in Chinese presence in close proximity to India had strained India-Sri Lanka relations. The urgency shown by India and Sri Lanka to reset bilateral relations is an outcome of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis. For India, this reset would allow it to engage with Sri Lanka as a country in the Indo-Pacific Region and further strengthen relations by way of de-hyphenation of engagements with the Tamils and the Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka as a template for India’s counter to the Belt and Road Initiative? 

Although being presented as an economic undertaking, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project has become an instrument of debt trap diplomacy. The loans advanced by China for infrastructure projects are unsustainable for small countries. The inability of these countries to repay the loans often results in China taking over the key infrastructure installations which could double-up as strategic outpost. In case of Sri Lanka, its inability to repay Chinese debts resulted in leasing the Hambantota Port to China for 99 years.

In the past few months, when Sri Lanka has been facing economic crisis, in particular falling foreign exchange reserves, rising food costs and devaluation of cash, it turned to India for help in tiding over this situation. Sri Lanka sought a $500 million credit line from India to enable payment for its crude oil purchases. 

As regards to the food crisis, following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to go for 100% organic farming, Sri Lanka had signed a deal with a Chinese company Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group for the supply of 96,000 tonnes of organic fertilizer and 3,000 tonnes of powdered form of organic fertilizer. But the fertilizer imported from China was found to be contaminated. Here also India stepped in and supplied nano liquid fertilizer to Sri Lanka. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role in bridging the gap between India and Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka battled the third wave of the pandemic in the past two months, India has been supplying liquid medical oxygen to the island nation. India’s economic outreach to Sri Lanka is intertwined with humanitarian assistance during the crisis. India has presented itself as an alternative to China to which Sri Lanka should look forward as a means of diversifying its engagements.  

Sri Lanka as India’s neighbour in the Indo-Pacific Region

The on-going reset in India-Sri Lanka relations should propel India to engage with Sri Lanka as a country in the Indo-Pacific Region. China’s economic ventures in Sri Lanka have resulted in the former gaining a foothold in India’s proximity. In turn, India should approach Sri Lanka as a geopolitical entity in the Indo-Pacific. 

China’s rising profile in South Asia has led to Sri Lanka becoming a competing ground for India and China. Chinese submarines made port calls to Sri Lanka twice in 2014 to which India raised concerns but maintained that it is monitoring Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean. In 2017, Sri Lanka rejected a request from China to dock its submarine at Colombo Port to pacify India’s worries. 

Port development in Sri Lanka has also witnessed competition between India and China. In September 2021, India secured a deal to build a strategically important deep-sea container terminal in Sri Lanka. Indian company Adani Group will partner with a local conglomerate John Keells and the Sri Lankan Port Authority (SLPA) for this deal which is worth more than $700 million. This deal is important for India since in February this year Sri Lanka had scrapped an agreement with India and Japan for development of East Container Terminal at Colombo Port.

India must build upon this accelerated outreach to Sri Lanka in the strategic domain. Strong relations with Sri Lanka should further consolidate the trilateral cooperation between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives. India’s growing engagements with Sri Lanka and Maldives could lead to a cohesive response to China’s strategic encirclement of India by way of string of pearls. This could strengthen India’s manoeuvring in the Indo-Pacific Region.     

The de-hyphenation factor

For a major part of past seven decades, India’s policy towards Sri Lanka was dominated by the issue of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. This very factor has been the cause of Sri Lanka being wary of India’s posturing. India’s stand on the Tamil issue of Sri Lanka was also linked to the domestic politics in the state of Tamil Nadu. For India to view Sri Lanka as a neighbouring country in the Indo-Pacific Region, a shift in the approach was necessary which is visible in India’s recent outreach. India’s present approach marks a de-hyphenation in relations with Sri Lanka which implies that India would appeal to the Buddhist identity of Sri Lanka as much as it cares for the Tamils. 

India has been pressing Sri Lanka on implementation of 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution which was passed in 1987. This amendment allows for the devolution of power to the provincial councils. Foreign Secretary Shringla, during his recent visit to Sri Lanka, once again emphasised on India’s commitment to protect the rights of the Tamils through full implementation of the 13th Amendment. 

India’s commitment towards the Tamils of Sri Lanka is evident from the fact that after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, India has been involved in the reconstruction work in the Tamil-majority Northern Provinces. Since 2011 India has been involved in infrastructure development such as housing projects, building railway lines, renovation of schools and construction of hospitals. 

While concerns about the Tamils do exist, India is moving towards de-hyphening of its engagements between the minority Tamils and the majority Buddhists. India has taken steps towards strengthening the cultural links with Sri Lanka by evoking Buddhism. In a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa held in September 2020, India announced a grant of $15 million to Sri Lanka for the promotion of the Buddhist ties between both the countries.

On October 20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Kushinagar International Airport in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The construction of airport would improve connectivity to Kushinagar, which is one of the most important pilgrim sites of Buddhism. It was here that Gautam Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. The first international flight to land at this airport was from Sri Lanka. On board this flight was a delegation led by Sri Lankan Cabinet Minister Namal Rajapaksa. Around 100 senior Buddhist monks, 4 State Ministers and other senior officials accompanied him.  

The cultural outreach to Sri Lanka indicates that the current Indian political dispensation is ready to de-hyphenate its engagements with the Tamils on one hand and the Buddhists on the other which are in majority in Sri Lanka. Culture is one of the areas through which India can diversify its ties with Sri Lanka. Close engagements with the Sri Lankan government are important for India in order to gain strategic advantage in the region. New Delhi is leveraging the historical soft power connections between the two countries to consolidate its position vis-à-vis China in South Asia. 

Niranjan Marjani is a Political Analyst specializing in international relations and geopolitics. His areas of work are India’s foreign policy, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Indo-Pacific Region, Europe and Spain. He is also the Consulting Editor of The Kootneeti Español, a New Delhi-based Spanish-language magazine on international relations. He tweets at @NiranjanMarjani