Think tanks’ suggestion comes ahead of Min-level talks between India, China

As India and China are set to hold bilateral talks between two Defence Ministers here on Thursday, four think tanks of the Quad group, comprising Australia, India, Japan and the US, has urged their partner countries to oppose the establishment of permanent Chinese military bases in the strategically-important Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

India plays a major role in ensuring peace in the IOR as it is strategically important for the country. Keeping this factor in mind, India took the initiative a decade back in forming Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), a group of littoral countries located in the IOR. The group meets regularly to review issues like maritime security, terrorism and other related issues.

Over the last few years, China has vastly improved its maritime prowess and is now making efforts to mark its presence in the IOR. Its warships and submarines now regularly pass through the sea lanes of this region as bulk of fuel and energy trade to sustain China’s economy have to take these lanes.

The report of think tanks of Quadrilateral countries, released on Wednesday, comes at a time when India and China are taking steps to ensure peace between the two countries and the bilateral talks between visiting Chinese Defence Minister Lieutenant General Wei Fenghe and his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman are crucial. These parleys come a year after a 73-day standoff between the Armies of China and India in Doklam in Sikkim sector. The issue was resolved after the intervention at the highest level between the two countries.

Giving at least 20 policy recommendations for the Quad countries, the group of four think tanks, including Sasakawa Peace Foundation (Japan), Vivekananda India Foundation, Australia National University, and Sasakawa Peace Foundation (USA), also proposed to have independent security and economic policies.

The four think tanks formed the “Quadripartite Commission on Indian Ocean Regional Security”.

They suggested the Quad nations should work in the IOR by supporting high-quality alternatives to unilateral Chinese investments and “political alignments with regional objectives” with the objective of having independent security and economic policies.

The Indo-Pacific has been witnessing China muscling in, especially in the hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea that has multiple claimants. China has also been aggressively wooing developing countries with infrastructure projects which have been dubbed by critics as debt traps.

One of the suggestions for the US and Japan was also to consider participation in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to encourage high standards for projects involving China and to build their economic cooperation with others, including Australia and Japan. 

“Australia, India, Japan and the US should work with partner countries to oppose establishment of permanent Chinese military bases in the IOR. This should include demonstrating to China that its security needs can be met through cooperation and consultation with other nations and without recourse to a disruptive unilateral military presence,” a recommendation said.

They also suggested that India, the US and Japan should invite Australia to participate in the currently trilateral maritime exercise. The report said “Australia, India, Japan and the US should enhance sea land defence capabilities in the Indian Ocean. Each nation will need to make judgement about its capabilities based on its interests. For instance, naval fleet will need to evolve to allow increasingly long-range operations. This may require consideration in Japan of new options such as nuclear propulsion for its submarines.”

The report also suggests that the Quad countries should cooperate with and support the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the IONS, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and other regional framework in the Indian Ocean and South Asia.

Quad is a grouping of four countries to pursue their common interest in the Indo-Pacific. The leaders of the four countries met at Manila in November last year to hold their first talks. In June, senior officials of the Quad countries held their second consultative meeting in Singapore on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations senior officials meeting. Hideki Asari, the deputy chief of the Mission of Japan, who was also present at the event, said the officials agreed to meet regularly to deepen the discussion on various issues.