By Rajeev Sharma
China is trying to do too much too soon. It will inevitably prove to be counter-productive for Beijing as its rivals, regional or distant, are bound to get together to ward off the threat from the Chinese behemoth.
With an eye on China, India has deepened its strategic partnership with Japan. Indeed, China’s growing power lies behind the recent strengthening of India-Japan ties and US support for the evolving relationship.
Already, new political alignments have begun to take shape in the region. The US has started cozying up to Vietnam, a ‘problematic’ neighbor from China’s perspective. For its part, India too is not sitting idle and is busily constructing stronger strategic partnerships with those neighbors of China which are as wary of the dragon as India. Japan is already high on the Indian radar screens. Now another important Chinese neighbor has emerged in a big way for India: South Korea, a developed nation, an economic powerhouse and most importantly a US ally.
A K Antony visited South Korea on September 2, the first time ever when an Indian Defence Minister undertook an official trip to Seoul. The days when Delhi was exclusively obsessed with Pakistan have passed. This is a development that Japan must have watched closely, given Tokyo’s intricate relationship with Seoul. Antony led a high-level delegation to Seoul that included such senior civil and military officials as Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Vice Admiral RK Dhowan, Lt General KT Parnaik, scientist Dr. Prahlada (a specialist in rockets and missile systems) and Sundaram Krishna, Advisor to the Defence Minister.
The usually reticent Ministry of Defence candidly put on record on August 31 the purpose of Antony’s South Korea visit, saying: “The visit is part of India’s Look East Policy and a wide range of issues including Defence Cooperation for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and bilateral cooperation in Research and Development for manufacture of military equipment will figure prominently during the discussion between Antony and the top leadership of South Korea.” The phrase “peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region” left no doubt that the China’s recent moves and reiteration of maritime territorial claims in South China Sea were to be among the important talking points between the two sides.
Antony’s Seoul visit was significant as it heralded a new chapter in the history of defence cooperation between India and South Korea. The two sides signed two landmark Memoranda of Understanding to give a huge boost to the strategic partnership between the two countries. The first MoU, signed by the two Defence Ministers, will remain valid for five years and can be extended for another five years. It envisages exchange of defence related experience and information, mutual exchange of visits by military personnel and experts including civilian staff associated with defence services, military education and training and conduct of military exercises, exchange of visits of ships and aircraft, as jointly decided between the two countries. It also underlines cooperation in humanitarian assistance and international peace keeping activities.
The Second MoU was signed by the Chief Controller of Research and Development of DRDO, Dr Prahlada and Vice Commissioner, Defence Acquisition and Procurement Agency (DAPA) of South Korea, Kwon Oh Bong. To be operational under the overarching umbrella of India- South Korea Defence Agreement, the MoU aims at identifying futuristic defence technology areas of mutual interest and pursuing R&D works in both the countries. It also envisages co- development and co-production of defence products with Indian industry through DRDO. There will be joint IPR on all the products developed through this mechanism. Some areas of immediate interest like marine systems, electronics and intelligent systems have been identified as priority tasks. Antony said New Delhi will be happy to see the defence industry relationship to be more than a buyer-seller relationship and its further evolution into Transfer of Technology, joint production and joint R&D etc. He hoped that ‘his visit will start a new chapter in our already close relationship’. His South Korean counterpart Kim said the two MoUs signed today will provide a win-win scenario for the two countries in a number of areas.
Antony’s averments in Seoul assume lot of significance particularly in view of China upping its ante recently. The Indian Defence Minister spoke candidly on issues like maritime security, the regional security scenario and the East Asian architecture. On maritime security, Antony said India and South Korea share common perception of maintaining peace as well as ensuring safety and security of sea lanes of communication in the region. He said regular exchanges towards ensuring maritime security was important to both countries, especially in securing vital energy supplies that pass through the Indian Ocean. “It is of particular importance for like- minded countries working in the Gulf of Aden to coordinate efforts and also exchange information on the happenings in the area. We look forward to continued and enhanced cooperation between the navies of India and South Korea in this regard’, Antony said.
The Indian Defence Minister’s remarks on the East Asian architecture were equally significant and should be read against the backdrop of China’s recent words and deeds. He stressed that India looks at itself as an integral part of East Asia as India is a founding member of East Asia Summit and as such, looks at the emerging architecture in East Asia as “open and inclusive”. He also batted on behalf of Washington and Moscow when he said: “That is why we welcome the decision of ASEAN Foreign Ministers to move towards the inclusion of the United States and Russia as members of the East Asia Summit. We look forward to working closely with South Korea in the emerging architecture in this part of the world.”
Needless to say, China would not have lost the powerful symbolism as Antony was taken around several defence establishments of South Korea. He visited the 3rd Training Wing of the Korean Air Force where he was given a detailed brief on training by the Chief of the Air Staff General Lee Kae-Hoon. Antony was also given an experience of the Flight Simulator which is used to train young fighter pilots. He visited a Destroyer of the Korean Navy. He also visited the Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) assembly line at Sacheon. KAI is the South Korean national aerospace company established in 1999 with the consolidation of Samsung Aerospace, Daewoo Heavy Industries, and Hyundai Space and Aircraft Company (HYSA). It manufactures civil and military aircraft and satellites.
To make the diplomatic symbolism more powerful, Antony called on the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and also met the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Yu Myung-hwan and expressed satisfaction at the close cooperation and shared visions of the two countries.
The moral of the story: China’s rise will not go unchecked. Its rivals will get together. They have already started the preamble.