Special Report

Narendra Modi speaks for entire Indo-Pacific


If there is an impression that the prime minister travels abroad frequently, it may not be entirely wrong. But when the world has shrunk and the national economies are vastly integrated in the global economic order, Modi’s foreign visits are quite justified. A leader of the fastest growing economy with the second largest population in the world cannot adopt an isolationist attitude. Maybe in some cases the country could have been represented by the External Affairs Minister, but mostly the PM’s presence was warranted.

He could not have avoided going, given the needs of protocol which insists on a head of government fronting for his country when other heads of government are present. Having said that, it must be readily acknowledged that despite being new to the conduct of foreign relations, Modi has surprised by proving to be an adept practitioner. He has not only conducted himself with becoming dignity and confidence, what is more he has marshalled the delicate business of diplomatic give-and-take with foreign interlocutors with a thorough understanding and knowledge of the issues in hand. Aside from the seeming failure to mend ties with Pakistan, where the flip-flop was embarrassing and unproductive, his foray into foreign diplomacy by and large has been positive.

Relations with China threatened to go downhill, especially following the long standoff over Doklam, but to the credit of both the nuclear powered-neighbours, their leaders saw the wisdom in sending out a message of cordiality after the Modi-Xi informal summit in a resort town in China. The short point is that no-one need frown up Modi’s seemingly frequent foreign visits. These are an integral part of his job as India’s CEO. Having said that, Modi ought to be credited for elucidating brilliantly India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific in his address as the keynote speaker at last week’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Incidentally, that the world has come to accept Indo-Pacific as against the earlier Asia-Pacific, which the Chinese would have liked to persist with, is a comment on the growing importance of India for the region.


Speaking in the backdrop of credible reports about China’s aggressive designs in the region, and its maritime excesses what with it illegally building military outposts in disputed islands in the South China Sea, Modi spoke of cooperation among all the nations in the region to usher in a rule-based order. Without naming China, the PM left no one in doubt who he was referring to when he said the Indo-Pacific should not be perceived as a ‘club of limited members’, all countries in the region ought to help create a stable environment for trade and commerce. In particular, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations had a major role to play to ensure that the region was peaceful to facilitate trouble-free cooperation in the wider region. In this context, he mentioned that rivalry between nations would hold back the dream of an Asian century whereas cooperation, particularly between India and China, would prove conducive.

The growing apprehensions of the relatively small nations on account of the hegemonic designs of China were not directly mentioned but it was clear from Modi’s address that he had it in his mind when he called for a rule-based order without resort to force and intimidation. The fact that China’s neighbours were apprehensive about its intentions and its occupation of the disputed islands in the South China Sea made the address further meaningful and timely. The Belt and Road initiative in which smaller nations per force felt obliged to join too was a cause of concern since it impinges on national sovereignties and in some cases pushed them into a debt trap (as in the case of Pakistan). A rule-based order alone would ensure protection of national sovereignties, equal access to all nations, freedom of navigation to all. The prime minister did not have to be more explicit to convey to the Chinese that their expansionist forays in the region will be met with resistance from small and bigger nations alike and that it should desist and return to the path of cooperation and consultation for creating conditions for open and free trade and mutual growth and prosperity. Modi’s words must have found many takers in the distinguished audience in Singapore last Friday.

By-FPJ




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