Ahead of Modi-Xi meet, India joins group opposing China's moves in Indo-Pacific

Ahead of Modi-Xi meet, India joins group opposing China's moves in Indo-Pacific

India on Thursday once again joined United States, Japan and Australia to call for free and open Indo-Pacific – a euphemism often used to oppose hegemonic aspirations of China. 

Even as it seeks to mend its ties with Beijing; New Delhi made an attempt to strike a delicate balance by sending its diplomats to a meeting with representatives of United States, Japan and Australia in Singapore on Thursday for “consultations on issues of common interest in the Indo-Pacific region”. The move came just two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to hold yet another meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sideline of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's summit at Qingdao on the east coast of China. 

The meeting among the diplomats of India, US, Japan and Australia indicated continuation of the 'quad' – as the consultation mechanism launched by the four nations in Manila in November 2017 is popularly known. 

The diplomats of the four nations “considered ways to pursue shared objectives in the areas of connectivity and development; regional security, including counter-terrorism and non-proliferation; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as maritime cooperation”, according to a press-release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. 

The four nations also reaffirmed their support for “a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region”, the MEA stated. “They also confirmed their common commitment, based on shared values and principles, to promote a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.”

The calls for a “free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific” as well as for “rules-based order” in the region are among the phrases, which have been often used to oppose expansionist moves of China. 

China has been accused by US, Japan and other nations of undermining the “rules-based order” in Indo-Pacific. The communist country's territorial disputes with its maritime neighbours in East and South China Sea   and its reluctance to resolve the disputes in accordance with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) often prompted the other nations, not only to criticize it for not adhering to the international laws and flexing military muscles, but also to call for “rules-based order” in Indo-Pacific.

Though India-China relations hit a new low last year over the 72-day-long military face-off between Indian Army and Chinese People's Liberation Army at Doklam in western Bhutan, both sides have been trying to ease the strains in the ties over the past few months. Prime Minister had an “informal summit” with Chinese President at Wuhan in central China on April 27 and 28 and reached “consensus” on “certain” issues. The two leaders are now set to meet again on the margin of the SCO summit on Saturday. 

With New Delhi and Beijing trying to bring ties back on track, speculation was rife that India might seek to avoid – at least for some time – being seen closing ranks with Australia, Japan and the US in order to counter China in Indo-Pacific. New Delhi, however, apparently decided to maintain a balance as it sent its diplomats, Munu Mahawar and Pranay Verma, the joint secretaries heading Americas and East Asia divisions at the MEA headquarters respectively, to attend the meeting in Singapore. 

The quad was first launched in 2007, but it lost momentum soon. It was re-launched on the sideline of the East Asia Summit in Manila on November 12 last year. The move to relaunch it was apparently aimed at creating a bulwark against China and countering the hegemonic aspirations of the communist country in Indo-Pacific. It however also triggered apprehensions within the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) over the possibility of the four-nation initiative undermining the centrality of the 10-nation bloc in the political and security architecture of the region.