The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones sailing past Lakshadweep Islands on April 7 has thrown India’s Sinophobes into confusion. One leading daily noted it as a “rare falling out between the two partners in the Quad grouping.” An anti-China analyst tweeted that it’s just a “botched PR exercise” on the part of Americans.
The Ministry of External Affairs took a legalistic perspective as if it was answering a writ petition in the Delhi High Court. But, reflect seriously. Yes, this is a rare fracas within the cosy Quad family. Yet, Quad is a toddler. What all can happen when President Joe Biden grooms it into a boisterous adolescent?
Make no mistake, what happened is the military equivalent of what the great American diplomat-scholar George Kennan once wrote about the oil reserves in Persian Gulf — they are “our resources”, he wrote, integral to America’s prosperity and, therefore, the US should take control of them. (Which it did, of course.)
The ocean beds of South China Sea and Indian Ocean are sitting on unimaginable wealth of mineral resources — potentially, the last frontier. USS John Paul Jones acted like a dog marking the lamp post. Spectre of acute future big-power scramble — not only with China or Russia but also involving European rivals — haunts Washington. With all their tragic colonial history, Indians tend to forget.
Thus, after 65 years, Britain is returning to “east of Suez”. The 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, is sailing to the Indian Ocean in its inaugural deployment. The grandiloquent title of the impressive 114-page document released last month by the British PM Boris Johnson says it all — Global Britain in a competitive age : The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.
The document says rather explicitly on Page 66-69 under the sub-title The Indo-Pacific tilt: “Indo-Pacific is the world’s growth engine: home to half the world’s people; 40% of global GDP; some of the fastest- growing economies; at the forefront of new global trade arrangements; leading and adopting digital and technological innovation and standards; investing strongly in renewables and green tech; and vital to our goals for investment and resilient supply chains. The Indo- Pacific already accounts for 17.5% of UK global trade and 10% of inward FDI and we will work to build this further, including through new trade agreements, dialogues and deeper partnerships in science, technology and data.”
It concludes: “We (Britain) will also place a greater emphasis than before on the Indo-Pacific, reflecting its importance to many of the most pressing global challenges in the coming decade, such as maritime security and competition linked to laws, rules and norms.”