The EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy comes better late than never. But it has to step gingerly. It cannot antagonize China, wants to build on the legacy of its members’ colonial past, give the region the infrastructure it needs, and make the trade agreements that it wants. Is it achievable?
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A new chief is due to occupy the chair of the UN Secretary General later this year. The lobbying for this prestigious global post has already begun. There is a rotation system that offers equal opportunities to regional blocs to promote their candidates. But this time, it's a toss between having the first woman to head the body, or continuing with the West-led bloc's candidate. Who will win? And where does India stand?
As President Joe Biden completes his first month in office, his foreign policy on China and the Indo-Pacific will come under scrutiny. The choices made will be significant as they will define the future prospects of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Given China’s long-term and comprehensive challenges, which encompass both, security and economy-technology, the Quad will have to respond with a matching strategy.
The U.K. is out of the EU, and re-positioning itself into the idea of Global Britain, seeking partnerships into diverse groupings and regions. India was an early strategic, defence and digital outreach, but a serious pivot has been made to broader Asia for trade and investment linkages, with vigorous follow-up. The re-entry and acceptance of Britain in Asia, has implications.
The recently-enacted China Coast Guard laws have renewed uncertainty in the South China Sea. India must work with the Quad to build collective maritime competence of maritime law enforcement agencies beyond the Indian Ocean Region within the Indo-Pacific.
The Jan 26 riots by the protesting Punjab farmers, is a set back both to the reform of India's domestic agriculture sector, and to the country's external agriculture trade. Nevertheless, willing farmers and communities can improve their engagement with the market, start inter-state trade, and build the farming infrastructure necessary to prepare for a fully free agriculture market. This will ready India to fulfil its commitments and find its rightful place in the international trade system.
On Jan 16, India will roll out its Covid-19 vaccination programme, the world’s largest. It puts India in the exclusive club of the V-5 anti-Corona vaccine producers, providing an opportunity for the country to scale up its pharma ecosystem and become a net provider of global health security.
Vietnam had a busy 2020, starting with its chairmanship of ASEAN and ending with the signing of RCEP, and a free trade agreement with the EU. All were completed successfully despite the pandemic, which it also handled well. It has revealed Vietnam’s dexterity and confidence, good management and societal control and raised the country’s global profile.
India's presence in the UNSC in 2021 provides a unique opportunity to bring India’s capacities and performance to global notice. It will be on the inside track for critical issues like the election of a new UN Secretary General, and defining global issues like the Corona pandemic and climate change, but must also use its position to prioritise counter terrorism and maritime security, especially with Chinese expansionism in the Indo-Pacific.
Should the Quad be formalized? It has evolved from a crisis response group in 2004 to a strategic partnership today between the four member-countries – India, the U.S., Australia and Japan. There are benefits and challenges to the institutionalisation of the Quad which require timely analysis, especially as the group has renewed vigour this year with the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific region.