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India expands focus on Indo-Pacific to counter China

Source : Sunday Guardian LIVE

India expands focus on Indo-Pacific to counter China
Representational photo: This 25 June 2021 photo shows integrated bilateral exercise between Indian and US forces in the Indian Ocean Region. Indian Navy along with Indian Air Force participated with the US Navy Carrier Strike Group in the exercise. ANI


Concerned over China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, India expedited diplomatic efforts to enhance coordination and cooperation with the key players that are facing equal heat from Beijing’s aggressive agenda in the region. As part of the renewed intensive diplomatic campaign, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke to his counterparts not only in Quad countries but also in ASEAN nations.

Sources told The Sunday Guardian that apart from Jaishankar, who spoke to over a dozen foreign ministers this year so far, several Indian diplomats including ambassadors and high commissioners interacted with their counterparts in countries such as the United States, Australia, Japan, Myanmar, Germany, UK, France, Russia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Maldives, Thailand and Cambodia. “Growing Chinese presence in the Indo-Pacific figured prominently during these interactions,” top diplomatic sources told this newspaper.

“During these physical and virtual meetings, the diplomats discussed ways to enhance bilateral strategic ties keeping the Indo-Pacific region in mind. Dates for the high-level meetings were also discussed, and soon exchanges at the level of foreign ministers will be taking place,” sources say. Highly placed sources in South Block told The Sunday Guardian that “The agenda for the next Quad meeting to be hosted by Japan is being finalised, obviously with China in focus. A date will soon be finalised. EAM Jaishankar’s recent talks with his counterparts in Japan, US and Australia touched upon that also.”

EAM Jaishankar has so far spoken to foreign ministers of some ASEAN countries such as Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand this month. Sources say these countries also expressed concern over growing Chinese clout in the Indo-Pacific. An Indian envoy also met diplomats in Vietnam, discussing with them New Delhi’s agenda to step up cooperation to counter China in the Indo-Pacific, say sources. There is no denying that the region of the Indo-Pacific is quite crucial as far as economic activities are concerned.

Moreover, India’s ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu on Saturday met with German ambassador Philippe Etiene in Washington, and “exchanged views on bilateral global and regional issues of mutual interest”. Sources say that India’s plan to ramp up strategic relations with Germany was also discussed during the meeting. The meeting assumes significance in light of the report that a German warship will dock in Mumbai later this month in what is being seen as a signal to China, which is growing its presence in the Indo-Pacific. “The deployment of German frigate Bayern in the Indo-Pacific region is important from this point of view as it is happening following the announcement of Berlin’s strategy in 2020 to maintain rules-based international order in the region. The two diplomats are learnt to have exchanged views on Chinese aggression as well,” say sources.

The ASEAN country Philippines going ahead with the BrahMos deal with India is another significant message to China, say diplomats. Officials see this as another diplomatic victory for India as the EAM was in constant touch with his counterpart in Manila. Sources say that some of the big countries including France and Germany are willing to increase joint naval exercises with India in the Indo-Pacific. “Some other strategic cooperation and business activities will also be increased,” an official says.

In another important development, Indian and British diplomats held a crucial meeting on the sidelines of free trade talks between India and UK this week. Both sides took stock of the developments in the Indo-Pacific with reference to China’s activities, sources say. Indian envoy to Maldives, Munu Mahawar called on the Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid. The Indian High Commissioner is said to have conveyed the EAM’s message to Shahid. The meeting was seen as an important development in the context of China.

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