India as an Indo–Pacific Power Exploring New Horizons and Possibilities (Part 3)


India as an Indo–Pacific Power Exploring New Horizons and Possibilities (Part 3)

This paper highlights the objectives pursued by the Indian government through increasing interaction with Asian and Pacific countries and how the Act East policy is more proactive and action oriented. Power projection facilitated by political, economic and strategic means clearly manifest that India has reached the take off stage to project into the larger geo-political and strategic stage as challenging as the Indo-Pacific.

(Part 2)

India as an Indo–Pacific Power Exploring New Horizons and Possibilities

Dr. Pankaj Jha*

With increasing GDP and economic growth, India initiated playing the economic card — either by way of assuring billions of dollars as aid assistance and soft loans. Further, it entered into trade agreements — to assist the twin purpose of market entry as well as fulfilling strategic commercial interests. Most of these enterprises were meant to bolstering, or safeguard, country’s interests in economically important Europe, Africa, and ASEAN regions. In fact, India has negotiated Free Trade Agreement in Services and Investment with ASEAN, CECA with Malaysia, and CECA with Australia is in final stages, review of CECA with Singapore and FTA with Thailand are under review, FTA with EU has met a stalemate but possibilities are still there. Given the plethora of new trade agreements that India has signed, the services sector of India needs foreign market support also. Therefore, FTA needs to be complemented with FTA in Services and Investment. Complementing these, India made two distinctive attempts, in neighbouring Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to curb anti-India sentiments through economic improvement and claim a sturdier grip over regional geopolitics. India had used it efficaciously in Bhutan.

India has effectively tried to engage itself in larger institutional mechanisms supporting economic integration and creation of value addition chain. This in a way supports south-South cooperation and complements economic processes. Under RCEP, India has been slowly subscribing to the general principles of high economic ambitions. With ASEAN FTA+1 methodology has been adopted in which 11,500 tariff lines are under discussion. With ASEAN, India is ready to bring about 80 percent reductions in its tariffs and as per the MFN agreement under the India-ASEAN FTA is ready to bring tariffs to zero. India is adopting a tiered approach so as to address individual and differential strength. With ASEAN countries, the arrangement would be the most flexible because of the earlier trading arrangement. However, with regard to Japan and Korea India can offer 62.5 percent reduction while the two countries might offer 80 per cent tariff reduction. With China, Australia and New Zealand – 80 per cent of tariff lines are under discussion but India would adopt a differential approach. China is offering 40-42 per cent reduction in tariffs while Australia has offered 55-60 per cent reduction and New Zealand has offered 55 per cent reduction in tariffs. India had offered 42.5 per cent reduction in tariffs to China while to Japan India has offered 52.2 per cent with Japan. During discussion with Japan, he said that Japan has offered to reduce tariffs up to 72 per cent. There has been discussion to raise the threshold levels.

In terms of Non-Tariff Barriers (NTB) there are still lingering issues with the ASEAN countries on services, investment and MFN. Under RCEP the e-commerce is one area which India has been keenly looking forward to. India desperately wants investments and for that it needs to ease its procedures which it is incremental doing. For India, the biggest issue is the rules of origin and it has increased the percentage value addition to 35-40 per cent in the manufacturing country to overcome Chinese rerouting. With regard to the sanitary and phytosanitary issues he said that customs and other ministries need to take into account integrated and simplified checking so that countries like Australia and New Zealand can find market within India but it would need better approach among the ministries. While India is preparing itself for the RCEP, it is already missing in the frame with regard to FTAAP and TPP.

In 2006, APEC economies approved to scrutinise the long-term outlook of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). In 2010, APEC Leaders distributed “Pathways to FTAAP” and suggested APEC to take tangible steps toward the realisation of the FTAAP, which could be followed as a comprehensive free trade agreement by developing and building on ongoing regional undertakings, such as ASEAN+3, ASEAN+6, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. By providing leadership and intellectual involvement into the improvement process of regional economic integration, APEC could play a sturdy role in motivating the FTAAP vision forward.31On the other hand, TPP negotiations have settled in October 2015 and it is projected as the WTO plus trade group which would include trading norms within the grouping, which would be detrimental to the non-members.

India has fulfilled five fundamentals to buttress its candidature for the APEC, i.e.: Firstly, the applicant member needed to be in the Asia-Pacific region; secondly, it need to have enhanced economic ties with the members of the APEC, and APEC's share in its total trade should be quite substantial; thirdly, it must follow a march towards liberalised economy and relatively free trade policy; fourthly, it should accept the various objectives as enunciated in the APEC statements; and lastly, it should produce an individual plan of action for accomplishing these objectives and start taking part in collective plans of action through APEC's programmes of work. New Delhi also promised to remove all trade barriers by 2010, in order to meet APEC's membership criteria. India has already propelled several liberalization initiatives, for example, in the services sector, particularly in telecom, air and rail transport, insurance, media and construction services. Another possible area of collaboration between India and APEC is government procurement and competition, where India’s improvement is quite comparable to those of APEC developing countries. India has also started reforms in customs procedures whereby procedures have been cut down and the transparency standards are comparable to numerous APEC economies. Other benefits of an official engagement between India and APEC would include lessening in transaction costs of undertaking business as well as greater harmonization and mutual recognition of standards, specialized qualifications and other soft infrastructure. Indian entrepreneurs would undoubtedly benefit from the APEC travel card which permits virtually visa free travel among member economies. India could, in turn, inject vigor and bolster economic integration of the region.

The enhanced economic and political profile as well as defence and strategic initiatives would project India’s interests in the larger Asia-Pacific. India has already started interacting with Latin American and Pacific nations. Further, it has been working on enhancing its interaction with island economies and working on feasibility models related to Blue/ Ocean economy. The comprehensive approach would make India an indispensable power in the larger region.

Defence Capabilities and Cooperation

Military presence in islands in Indian and Pacific Ocean has been enhanced of late in conjunction with the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region. This is certainly true of the Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago, of as well as India and its island territories of Andaman &Nicobar and Lakshadweep , and also for France in the Reunion. Further, naval and logistical bases by China and Japan in Djibouti clearly manifest the utility of the Asian powers to maintain and build bases in the larger Indian Ocean. Many other islands that are now being seen as strategic outposts and integrated into the defence planning of other countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Yemen’s Socotra, Oman’s Masirah Island, and Australia’s\Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Australia in its 2013 Defence White paper has alluded to strengthening its Naval facility at Darwin clearly projecting it as the conjunction point between Indian and Pacific Ocean.US taking cognizance of the utility of Darwin base has agreed to station its troops in Darwin. India has also strengthened its Joint Command in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, and is upgrading its jetties and runways. Earlier Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalgewa has talked about the Indo-Pacific Treaty.

In the international discourse, security and economics define the state of global affairs. While security alliances such as NATO still are seen relevant in select theatres, but strategic and defence cooperation agreements which includes both traditional security concerns including maritime security are carefully designing the new flexible cooperative structures. The security alliance has become, to a certain extent a passé, but strategic partnerships and other flexible arrangements have become the preferred choice. The defence acquisition in terms of capital investment and procurement defines the objective of nay country whether it is only for its national security and protecting its immediate neighbourhood or the defence weapons and equipment procured is for the power projection. The table 1 below defines the parameters in terms of naval and air force power projection.

Table 1 - Legitimate Acquisitions and Defence Missions

If one analyses the role and objective that India intends to play in the Indo–Pacific one can draw certain conclusions. While India has replaced its only aircraft carrier Virat with INS Vikramaditya, there are two other aircraft carriers in the fabrication phases Vishaal and Vikrant clearly projecting India’s political will to assert itself in the Indo –Pacific region. Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) envision a more than 160-ship force that is built on 90 operational warships, like aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, destroyers, frigates, corvettes along with support ships. There are, at present, more than 140 vessels, and induction of five ships yearly is required to replace warships that are decommissioned after completing their 30-40 year service cycle. Naval modernisation plan, therefore, would go towards constructing new warships and submarines. Under capital acquisition warships are being built in numbers, including seven stealth frigates under Project 17A, tow of which are complete ; four stealth destroyers under project 15B out of which two are complete; two indigenous aircraft carriers, INS Vikrant and Vishal, and four anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvettes under Project 28A. In addition, the navy will acquire six fleet support ships (FSS), 4-6 landing platform docks (LPDs) for amphibious assaults on enemy coast lines, 25 mine counter measure vessels (MCMVs) to guard against sea mines laid by the enemy outside our ports, harbours and on shipping lanes.

India has been lagging in terms of its area denial and anti-access capabilities, Submarines are the biggest contributor to this effort. India has been in the process of commissioning its first Scorpene submarine but has endorsed the plan to have twelve conventional submarines, of which six Scorpenes would be manufactured in Mazagon Dock Ltd. Another six will be produced in India along with a foreign partner shipyard. The DRDO has been given a go ahead to build another two nuclear missile-carrying submarines of the Arihant class (SSBNs); and develop and build six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) in India. INS Chakra, the SSN leased for ten years from Russia, will be joined by a second leased SSN.

India air force has 36 fighter squadrons operational against the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons. Another 11 squadrons would be decommissioned in the next five years; the air force’s focus is on acquiring fighter aircraft. The Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) negotiations are underway and India will purchase two squadrons off the shelf and to enhance its defence capabilities Indian Air Force will buy six squadrons of single engine Tejas light fighters. HAL would manufacture 80 more Sukhoi-30MKI fighters under an existing contract; and upgrade its fleet of 50 Mirage 2000 and 125 Jaguar fighters. There is an Indo-Russian development programme under way for 144 fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA); and another DRDO development project for at least 150 advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA).Transport aircraft are another thrust area, including the Indo-Russian programme to develop a multi-role transport aircraft (MRTA); the replacement of 56 Avro HS-748; and the on-going procurement of C-17 Globemaster III heavy lift aircraft from the US. In addition, the air force is procuring large numbers of helicopters, including the billion dollar purchases of the Apache AH-64E attack helicopter and the Chinook CH-47F heavy lift chopper.

These procurements do not include a host of high-tech development projects that are planned for developing the battlefield capabilities of the future --- space surveillance; launch-on-demand satellites; hypersonic vehicles that will translate into more effective strike vehicles; hovercrafts, electronic warfare systems; cyber warfare capability; active armour; active counter-IED technologies, unmanned combat aerial vehicles to replace manned fighters and long range endurance drones that have precision strike capabilities. The DRDO also has programmes under way to develop high altitude long endurance (HALE) and medium altitude long endurance (MALE) drones, long range cruise missiles and an anti-ballistic missile shield to shoot down incoming nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. All these acquisitions are not only meant to counter a dual strike but also to project power beyond shores. These defence capabilities has been supported by increasing interaction with the defence forces of many countries. For India Vietnam figures as the most trusted partner and a reliable friend. (Part 4)

* Director (Research), ICWA

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