India’s maritime pacts to protect strategic autonomy: CDS Rawat

Tribune News Service
New Delhi, December 11

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat on Friday said India will seek to preserve its strategic autonomy while engaging with extra-regional powers and improving regional linkages to give it more leverage.

Pointing out that India lives in a tough neighbourhood and an increasingly contested region, Rawat said it would engage freely with other powers keeping in view not only the geo-strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific but also in the race for bases which will gain momentum in the times to come.

The security of land borders is of prime concern, but India is also looking at the seas and oceans around it with ever-increasing interest, Rawat said while delivering the keynote address at a webinar helmed by the German thinktank Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on Friday.

Terming dissuasive deterrence as the best guarantor of peace and stability, the CDS indicated that India was looking beyond the Quad grouping for partnerships in the maritime domain. As External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said on Tuesday, Rawat also pitched for more trilateral and multilateral arrangments with maritime powers sharing the same values as India.

Giving an insight into Berlin’s approach to the Indo-Pacific, Peter Rimmele, the India head of the German think-tank, said his country’s approach was not targeted at China. There was no move towards an economic decoupling as China was Europe’s most important trading partner. However, Beijing was a systemic rival and Germany felt the need to strengthen its partners in the region to uphold a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific.

“A more significant German contribution might be on cards but Germany is a trading power not a military one and does not intend to be one. Despite the superpowers making noises, militarism was not the way forward,’’ he felt. It could only be the flanking of supportive measures, Rimmele observed.

Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell AO pointed out that India and Australia face significant hurdles; their common goals are more important than those of others. “The US and China are the most important in the India Pacific. They can set the tone for cooperation or competition. But the Indo-Pacific does not belong to either,” he observed, leaving enough space for India and Australia to play leadership roles.

Appreciating PM Modi and Jaishankar for admirable regional leadership, he said it had served as the template for India’s constructive leadership and its attempts to shape the neighbourhood for the better. This approach becomes more crucial in a post-Covid world that will be poorer, dangerous and more disorderly.

Australia and India share the common goal of not just emerging from the crises stronger but shaping the strategic environment for the better. This has started at home in Australia with more economic rejuvenation programs. Outside, Canberra is encouraging more economic openness and continuation of rules that have underpinned it in the Indo-Pacific for decades, said the Australian High Commissioner.

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