The subtext of balancing Asia
The naval deal
AUKUS is now one of the many cross purpose and member alliances that have continued to pop-up. All three are members of the 5 Eyes, two of them are NATO and two are part of the QUAD. With the UK considering joining CPTPP, there will economy overlaps in trade in the future, without any doubt.
In the UK most of the media has been focusing on the fall out between the French, whose deal was usurped by the UK and the USA, the more interesting story in my mind is what happening with India. The only country in recent years to have official clashes (the fights in the Himalayas and the movement of troops around the Siliguri Corridor and Bhutan) between the with China, who is the main target for the new submarines. While seemingly left out in the cold, as one of the three nuclear armed states in the region and a closer ally to the UK and USA than its neighbour Pakistan (for the time being), India has done rather well at this point.
While the Americans created NATO as a counterweight to the USSR/Russia during the cold war, there is a different set of alliances in the Indo-Pacific. While taking the AUKUS and the Quad (which is not an eastern NATO. Don’t believe the propaganda) as examples, in the region of more formal alliances to contain China and its spheres of influences why not a single alliance on this side of the globe? Everyone has strong economic ties with China that a unilateral body that is aggressively there to counter China will cause undue tension. That’s why it’s likely to ASEAN take a step back from the whole situation and focus on maintaining trade.
China’s economic pressure on South Korea after the agreement to host an American anti-missile shield, threats of the invasion of Taiwan by President Xi (though how one invades one own territory beats me) and the continual advance of the Chinese military in the South China Sea has put other nations in the region on high alert. This has also been done with the Belt and Road initiative, which is more of a concern for India. India views the initiative as a scheme to be cut-off from global trade. It was unlikely that nothing was going to be done to stop the Chinese advancement by its only global rival, even with USA vacating Afghanistan.
The USA already has strong presence in the region with troops in its colonies of Guam and America Samoa, in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and having it all run out of the Pacific Naval headquarters in Honolulu. The Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla has already said that he feels as though this will have no effect on QUAD or it’s functioning. That is a political take, not one based in reality. Australia having more modern weapons, will affect the QUAD, just not directly. It changes the augmentation of the security alliances in the region. Even if the submarines will only come in the next decade. India can now rely on more of its regional allies to patrol the waters while it focuses more on the land disputes.
The French are queens of never letting go, they are a principal player in the Indo-Pacific with all their territories in thew region. A nuclear power, a member of Security Council and the only major EU country that flexes it military might in every corner of the globe. The snub by the AUKUS will only get France to push its fellow EU nations towards a more in depth security movement and opportunity to be less reliant on the USA.
It is also important to note India and France have strong relations. India and France have been patrolling the Reunion waters together. Indian fighter jets are Rafale, a deal signed between both current heads of states. The French government is also offering help to design and build the Kaveri engine system, which would enable to India to build a 100% local modern aircraft. This is hinged on the Indian government ordering more Rafale jets, but again this sharing of technology has only been offered to India.
However, with the CPTPP (the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) receiving an application from China the day after the announcement of AUKUS, there may be a misjudgement in what ways to combat China. The USA dropped out of TPP during the Trump administration and the Biden team does not seem likely to join. Though the UK and Taiwan have also asked to join the agreement earlier this year. This is part of the global economic shift East. Securing one’s borders with a new military equipment is an obvious choice for defence, it’s not the necessarily the smartest.
India and Taiwan are currently negotiating setting up silicon chip manufacturing on the subcontinent. This type of agreement is trying to neutralise the initiative that China has in terms of technology and reliance that enabled China to have such a strong position.
India is one of the few nations that has strong mixture of Russian, American and French equipment. It takes part in wargames and exercises with all three, as well as strong trading between all three. Without the Australian deal and the Indian navy only having a single nuclear submarine, I imagine that the French government will push for a deal to expand India’s naval capabilities. Currently the Indian navy is leasing a nuclear submarine from the Russians, so why not “get one back” against the Americans and help an ally produce one.
Conclusion (or at least an intermediary one)
AUKUS, the Quad, CPTPP and even ASEAN to an extent is all part of the narrative to help maintain international norms and regulations against an aggressive China. On the other side of the Himalayas is the other giant. India is playing a balancing act to slowly rise incrementally. The continued lack of effective opposition in India, has allowed Modi to be a bit more forthright with putting India on a global stage. Be it banning Chinese apps or taking part in naval exercises by Japan, India is increasing its weight in the world. Even though India is trying to be friendly with everyone, it’s to further entrench them into the current international systems.
Why? It’s clear that India sees itself as a dominant global player at the end of the century. Building a network of alliances, trade agreements and shifting manufacturing hubs within India, it’s playing the waiting game. Solving internal issues first, before asserting itself. Will it pay-off? Hard to tell at this moment, but India has started laying the foundations for its own attempt to become a superpower.