The Perth USAsia Centre had the privilege of convening a private foreign policy roundtable event with Dr Jagannath Panda, of India’s Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, in August 2019.
The Institute for Defence Studies (IDSA) is a non-partisan, independent think tank focused on defence and security research and policy studies. Funded by (yet autonomous from) the Indian Ministry of Defence, IDSA’s mission is to “promote national and international security through the generation and dissemination of knowledge on defence and security-related issues.”
The broad-ranging discussion focused on two components of India’s Indo-Pacific vision and relations: China-India and Australia-India. In hosting Dr Panda, the Perth USAsia Centre and its stakeholders were part of a nuanced discussion from a senior IDSA analyst on how India sees the world, in particular Australia and China. The following is an overview of the discussion topics, conducted under Chatham House Rule. A particular focus of the discussion was India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India’s Indo-Pacific Vision:
At the 2018 Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, Asia’s pre-eminent security dialogue, Prime Minister Modi delivered a landmark keynote address
, stating “the destiny of the world will be deeply influenced by the course of developments in the Indo-Pacific region.” Prime Minister Modi described the Indo-Pacific as “a natural region… home to a vast array of global opportunities and challenges.”
Significantly, Modi’s vision for the Indo-Pacific: embraces ASEAN centrality; recognises the geographical, economic and strategic connectedness of the Indian and Pacific Oceans; is a region that is “open, stable, secure and prosperous”; and is not itself a strategy or an exclusive club of members. The roundtable discussed that for Modi, India’s relationships with powers both large and small in the Indo-Pacific were of paramount importance, and the Indo-Pacific framework informed India’s approach to its neighbourhood relationships.
PM Modi said in Singapore that “No other relationship of India has as many layers as our relations with China. We are the world’s two most populous countries and among the fastest growing major economies. Our cooperation is expanding. Trade is growing. And, we have displayed maturity and wisdom in managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border.”
At the roundtable, it was discussed that strategic relations between India and China would always be driven by their status as neighbouring border countries. As two emerging great powers, there would always be historical tensions and strategic divergences in the relationship, but the “Wuhan Consensus”
on bilateral and global matters developed between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, shortly after Shangri La 2018 (resulting from an informal summit in Wuhan Central China), was holding firm.
PM Modi described in Singapore in June 2018 “a fresh energy” in the India-Australia relationship. Since that time, Prime Minister Modi has been re-elected, as with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. At the roundtable, Morrison’s emerging vision for the Indo-Pacific was discussed, as was the warm relationship between the two leaders. While there was still much work to do to entrench closer strategic, economic and defence ties, the convergence of interests between the two countries created opportunities for closer engagement.