A tightrope walk over China for Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to make a “major” speech on India’s defence and security outlook at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore, which brings together Defence ministers, officials and military chiefs of the Asia-Pacific region each year. Mr. Modi will deliver the keynote address at the event, run by London-based think tank International Institute of Strategic Studies and funded and hosted by the Singapore government, on June 1.

Mr. Modi’s speech as well as his travels east this summer are expected to reflect the tightrope balance India is walking between the U.S. and its allies, and China. Before his visit to Singapore June 1-2, he will travel to Indonesia from May 29-31, and later that month, will fly to China’s Qingdao city for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit on June 9-10.

His visit to Singapore and Jakarta is expected to focus more on the possibilities of security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and the recently convened “Quadrilateral” with the U.S., Japan and Australia. U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis is also expected to attend the conference.

Security summit

Meanwhile in Qingdao Mr. Modi will rub shoulders with President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and leaders from Pakistan and Central Asian countries at the SCO security summit, which has been called the “Eastern NATO.”

During a three-day visit to Indonesia too, the PM is expected to discuss security cooperation as well as information and expertise sharing on terrorism and countering violent extremism.

PM Modi and President Joko Widodo will be meeting for the 4th time since 2014, when both leaders were elected to power in their countries. They first met on the sidelines of the East Asian summit in 2014, and subsequently Mr. Widodo has travelled to India twice, for a state visit in December 2016, and in January this year for the ASEAN-India summit.

In preparation for PM Modi’s visit to Jakarta, the Indonesian National Security Adviser held detailed discussions on counter-terrorism cooperation, while External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj travelled to Indonesia for the joint commission meeting between the two countries. Indonesia is seen as a focal point in the Indo-Pacific, and has recently strengthened ties with Australia and Japan, and PM Modi and President Jokowi are expected to discuss China’s growing footprint in the Pacific region as well.

As a result, experts expect the PM’s speech at the Shangri-La dialogue to set the course for India’s engagement in the region, with an emphasis on balancing ties with both the China-led coalition as well as the western forums seen to be countering China.

“Most countries in the region will see Prime Minister Modi’s initiative to engage President Xi in Wuhan last month after standing up to China over the Doklam standoff last year as pragmatic, and will welcome India’s stand at this important platform,” said columnist Sanjaya Baru, formerly with IISS.

Although India has sent defence ministers four times to the Shangri-La Dialogue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to accept the invitation to speak at the event.

Significantly his speech comes a year after India pulled out of the dialogue, upset after the deputy Defence Minister Subhash Bhamre was refused a speaking spot, while allowing the Pakistani Joint Chiefs of Staff to address a plenary session.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 1:56:27 PM |

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