The news of the EU's much-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy was overshadowed by the Australia-UK-U.S. military alliance, AUKUS. Eight weeks later, tempers are cooling off as the U.S and EU signed agreements at COP26. So, are transatlantic good times back on track? Has AUKUS put a permanent spanner in the wheel of the EU’s Indo-Pacific outreach?
On November 15, the presidents of the U.S and China met for the first time since Joe Biden was sworn in earlier this year. The main purpose was for the two heads of state to get to know each other and establish a line of communication. If this is Cold War 2.0, with similarities to, as well as differences, from Cold War 1.0, then what the Biden administration has in mind is something akin to détente, with some scope for cooperation, especially on climate change.
The Bay of Bengal is gaining relevance as a significant sub-region within the Indo-Pacific. Despite its importance to regional security, there is inadequate financial, physical, and energy connectivity. India must use its strategic and political pre-eminence and influence in the sub-region to pursue deeper connectivity with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal, and Sri Lanka and to block China's growing influence.
After successfully developing Dubai and Abu Dhabi as aerotropoli or cities around an aviation hub the United Arab Emirates aims to become an astropolis, a hub of space tourism and human spaceflight. There is ample scope for UAE to cooperate on this with India, which is also its comprehensive strategic partner.
The EU's Indo-Pacific strategy, released in September, set the tone for a renewed focus on the region. Europe's Asia connect is rich, strong and multi-layered, laying the foundation for an advantageous position for the EU in the Indo-Pacific. This can be achieved if the EU is more candid with itself, more assertive with China, and more cooperative with India.
Last month, at a hybrid meeting, the Foreign Ministers of India, the U.S., Israel, and the UAE set up a forum for quadrilateral cooperation. In the many issues discussed, the technology dimension shows the most potential for collaboration, with unique contributions of expertise and resources available from each country's tech hubs: Bengaluru, Silicon Valley, Dubai and Tel Aviv.
Cyberattacks from Pakistan-based hacker groups targeting India have increased. The stepped-up cyber activity comes in the backdrop of Islamabad's new cyber security policy and expanded digital cooperation with China. India must bolster its existing abilities in cyber forensics and regulations to counter the enhanced Pakistani threat.
China has followed Sun Tzu’s strategy of focussing on alliances - building its own and weakening those of its adversaries. Beijing’s carefully nurtured formations in West and Central Asia are part of this global power projection, especially with Pakistan, Iran and now, the Taliban, through projects like the Belt and Road Initiative. India must recalibrate its China policy and push for concerted regional responses to emerge as a balancing force against it.
China is a clear winner in the physical connectivity stakes in the Bay of Bengal, and there's a reason a why: Its projects are connected to one another, from rail to road to port. While India also has some successful cross-border road and rail infrastructure projects, they are often an extension of an existing railway line or highway, not specific to the connectivity needs of the region. India can win by focussing instead on building infrastructure to maximise the vast maritime potential of the Bay of Bengal, especially the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that give India access to critical sea channels and trade routes.
The Oct 30-31 G20 Leaders’ Summit in Rome took several important steps to accelerate economic recovery and health security. In the absence of several Eurasian leaders, India played a significant role especially on climate and energy. The G20 will now acquire greater salience in India's foreign policy, as it readies to lead the grouping in 2023.