Repub­lic Day Pa­rade 2018 will be spe­cial

SP's MAI - - MILITARY VIEWPOINT - LT GEN­ERAL P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

That Repub­lic Day Pa­rade 2018 will be spe­cial is prob­a­bly an un­der­state­ment. Never have 10 heads of states been in­vited to this event, which In­dia has done this time by invit­ing heads of all the 10 ASEAN states. Whether all will at­tend, which log­i­cally should hap­pen, is not known yet. But China’s con­tin­u­ing ef­forts to draw as many coun­ties into its geopo­lit­i­cal sphere of in­flu­ence and de­lib­er­ate ef­forts to keep In­dia con­fined to South Asia may de­ter some ASEAN coun­try heads to at­tend the event, or send ju­nior rep­re­sen­ta­tives at some pre­text.

China has suc­cess­fully di­luted the ASEAN co­he­sion through its money power, buy­ing out some mem­ber coun­tries, to the ex­tent that ASEAN is un­able to even is­sue a dec­la­ra­tion de­nounc­ing Chi­nese ar­bi­trary ag­gres­sive ac­tions and mil­i­ta­riza­tion ac­tions in West­ern Pa­cific. Cul­tural tableaus from the par­tic­i­pat­ing ASEAN coun­tries are likely to be show­cased in the pa­rade on Jan­uary 26, 2018. It would have been good if mil­i­tary con­tin­gents from ASEAN mem­ber coun­tries also par­tic­i­pated in the pa­rade, akin to par­tic­i­pa­tion by the mil­i­tary con­tin­gents of France (2016) and UAE (2017), but per­haps this have not been planned in con­sid­er­a­tion of the time limit of the pa­rade. In Novem­ber 2017, Philip­pines hosted the ASEAN-In­dia and East Asia sum­mits, as well as spe­cial cel­e­bra­tions mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of ASEAN, the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP) lead­ers meet­ing and the ASEAN Busi­ness and In­vest­ment Sum­mit. At­tend­ing these events, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi stressed on In­dia’s com­mit­ment to deep­en­ing ties with the ASEAN mem­ber states and the wider In­doPa­cific re­gion as part of In­dia’s Act East Pol­icy (ACP).

The spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance of invit­ing heads of states of ASEAN-mem­ber coun­tries for Repub­lic Day 2018 is that it co­in­cides with In­dia cel­e­brat­ing di­a­logue part­ner­ship with ASEAN and 15 years of sum­mit level part­ner­ship. In­dia and ASEAN-mem­ber states put to­gether amount to a pop­u­la­tion of some 1.8 bil­lion hu­man­ity, and more sig­nif­i­cantly con­sist one of the largest eco­nomic re­gions. ASEAN is In­dia’s fourth largest trad­ing part­ner, ac­count­ing for 10.2% of In­dia’s to­tal trade. Con­versely, In­dia is ASEAN’s sev­enth largest trad­ing part­ner. ASEAN is not fo­cused on mil­i­tary in­te­gra­tion, but is a re­gional group­ing fo­cused on in­te­grat­ing trade and econ­omy.

There­fore, In­dia invit­ing head of states of the ASEAN-mem­ber coun­tries has no mil­i­tary ori­en­ta­tion; but to do with trade, com­merce, con­nec­tiv­ity and the emerg­ing ASEAN Free Trade Agree­ment (FTA). The man­u­fac­tur­ing-based economies of ASEAN coun­tries and In­dia’s ser­vice-ori­ented econ­omy can com­ple­ment each other in­creas- in­gly, which to­gether would con­tinue con­trib­ute to­wards re­gional se­cu­rity in face of mount­ing se­cu­rity chal­lenges. Un­for­tu­nately, China views any group­ings where In­dia is in­volved with sus­pi­cion.

The re­cent pre­lim­i­nary quadri­lat­eral di­a­logue be­tween In­dia-US-Ja­pan-Aus­tralia, dubbed the ‘Quad’, al­beit only a di­a­logue has been ques­tioned by the China Morn­ing Post, ask­ing whether the Quad is the be­gin­ning of an ‘Asian NATO’. No press be­ing free in China, this ob­vi­ously is the think­ing of the Com­mu­nist Party of China. China has also al­ways been sus­pi­cious of the Mal­abar se­ries of ex­er­cises hosted by In­dia; as be­ing aimed at China.

Why In­dia has in­vited heads of ASEAN coun­tries as guests for Repub­lic Day 2018 is be­cause In­dia and ASEAN have mu­tual in­ter­ests and share com­mon con­cerns. Speak­ing at the 4th ASEAN De­fence Min­is­ters Meet at Philip­pines on Oc­to­ber 24, De­fence Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man had said, “In­dia’s re­la­tion­ship with the ASEAN is a cen­tral pil­lar of our Act East Pol­icy. As Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi has noted, this is at the core of our dream of an Asian Cen­tury”.

At the same time the In­dia-ASEAN re­la­tion­ship as­sumes greater sig­nif­i­cance be­cause of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) and the Mar­itime Silk Route (MSR), both to push China’s strate­gic-mil­i­tary-eco­nomic agenda, even as the so-called MSR is ad­junct to ex­ist­ing in­ter­na­tional sea trade routes. China’s in­creas­ing bel­lig­er­ance to­wards in­ter­na­tional norms and con­ven­tions can be gauged from their an­nounce­ment to even estab­lish two “in­ter­na­tional courts of jus­tice’ of their own to re­solve dis­putes in West­ern Pa­cific – which is cock­ing a snoot at the United Na­tions and the Hague-based In­ter­na­tional Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion. This, cou­pled with Chi­nese dou­ble stan­dards whete­her in terms of ter­ror­ism or eco­nom­i­cally trap­ping third world coun­tries, and pre­dom­i­nance in global trade, re­quires stronger re­gional group­ings for not only trade, com­merce and con­nec­tiv­ity, but also main­tain­ing the re­gional se­cu­rity bal­ance, how­ever in­di­rect. Coun­tries in the re­gion need to in­te­grate. The bi­lat­eral agree­ment be­tween In­dia and Sin­ga­pore al­low­ing In­dian Navy ships lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port in­clud­ing re­fu­elling, at Sin­ga­pore’s Changi naval base is a step in this di­rec­tion.

Post the US dump­ing the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP), its res­ur­rec­tion is be­ing looked at with­out the US. The In­dia-ASEAN part­ner­ship, there­fore, gains more sig­nif­i­cance, with the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion hav­ing be­come cen­tral to global pol­i­tics and eco­nomics, be­ing re­in­forced fur­ther ev­ery day. The Repub­lic Day Pa­rade 2018 would in­deed beer y spe­cial, viewd glob­ally with much in­ter­est.

The spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance of invit­ing heads of states of ASEAN-mem­ber coun­tries for Repub­lic Day 2018 is that it co­in­cides with In­dia cel­e­brat­ing di­a­logue part­ner­ship with ASEAN and 15 years of sum­mit level part­ner­ship

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