Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to Malaysia charts a new opening of strategic security and bilateral ties that will provide long term and lasting returns to both countries, especially to Malaysia. This crucial visit, on top of the recent visit by Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, reflects the growing importance of Malaysia for regional security architecture and in spearheading new paths of cooperation with trusted allies and partners.
H.E. Rajnath’s visit is strategically timed to elevate a new push for deeper defence and security partnerships, especially against the backdrop of rising traditional and non-traditional threats that plague both players and the region.
India has been overlooked, and remains a victim of changing approaches and priorities as political instability hit Malaysia over the past few years. Ties have been rocky and unsteady, and stability and openings for a stable and productive of ties especially in regaining the urgency in security partnership and geopolitical importance for both players are needed.
Malaysia forms an integral plan of its Act East Policy, as Malaysia is strategically located within India’s necklace of diamonds counter balancing strategy against China.India’s strategic dominance and base in Andaman Sea and Nicobar Island chain will further strengthen its blue water navy and power postures in the strategic waterways to strengthen integrated maritime security, upholding international maritime law and in polishing guardrails against any potential unilateral violations of rules and stability.
For this, India will need integrated and collective defence partnership that can complement its collective regional security framework. With greater defence collaborations with India including in areas of new technological exploration and downstream industries in asset development, Malaysia’s self-reliance and safe dependence based on trust and mutual benefits with the right defence partner will produce positive returns.
With lesser dependence on other powers in Malaysia’s defence spectrum, it will also provide India with greater strategic maneuvering rooms in depending on Malaysia in times of conflict,being able to rely on Malaysia’s safe defensive assets in complementing its joint security concept. Areas of joint interoperability and cooperation to tackle other non-traditional maritime and transboundary threats will provide a positive chain impact on both players’ readiness and mutual trust.
China, having little to no combat experience over the decades since the defeat in the Vietnam War, needed a consistent series of joint exercises and training with key allies including Russia, Iran and several Southeast Asian states to maintain combat efficacy and readiness. India needs the same, and so does Malaysia. Both Kuala Lumpur and Delhi remain strategically interlinked in security assurances and positive returns.
Indian Naval Ships and Indian Coast Guard Ships frequently make port calls at Malaysian ports, with various military exercises including the Exercise SAMUDRA LAKSHMANA and HARiMAU SHAKTI.
Not only will they create guardrails against further risks to the existing chain of interconnectivity and economic linkages, they form a deeper second front capacity and bargaining chip against potential exploitation and openings for security and economic coercion and tools by other powers.
India is cognisant that Malaysia is seeking counterbalancing forces against China, and India and Japan remain the two players that remain crucial in this calculation.
The bypass of the Tejas fighter planes in Malaysia’s decision to opt for South Korea’s FA-50 jets is not a hindrance to future defence ties, as both countries realise the importance of future security alliance and partnership including joint training and potential interoperability ventures in strengthening maritime security and national interests.
In overall defence economic returns, the Tejas only forms part of the equation and its overarching overview involves more towards setting up greater trust and interdependence between both on defence issues and collaborations that will ensure collective bilateral and regional security consideration and partnership.
India through its Indian defence industry will continue to engage with Malaysia on defence assets cooperation including on inventory modernisation and upkeep. Areas of defence science and defence industries particularly in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) will be primed for key parameters in joint asset development.
Establishment of the SU-30 Forum and the Strategic Affairs Working Group to elevate the cooperation between the two ministries remains a symbol of greater trust and intent.
Both wanted the recent good momentum to be enhanced for the realisation of the roadmap for the 4th Decade of India-Malaysia Defence Cooperation, especially highlighting the Third Pillar of the National Defence Strategy, which is on Credible Partnerships, as outlined by Malaysia’s Defence White Paper (DWP).
China’s renewed power postures and playbook in the region and beyond have caused realignments of policies and approaches, creating new fears and wariness and a scramble to adjust new security settings and partnerships.
India fits the spectrum of this new sphere of defence partnerships pillared on the moral high ground of values, democracy and rule of law.
India has demonstrated its naval strength with a dual aircraft carrier exercise last month in June, a feat China has yet to accomplish. The combined operation in the Arabian Sea showcased “formidable maritime capabilities” and the ability to project power around the Indian Ocean and beyond.
This remains an immense feat where only the US Navy has pulled off in recent times. Although under greater pressure from Beijing in the naval build-up and maritime power projection in the Indo Pacific, the Indian Navy has been comprehensively transforming itself to be a force that is at the forefront in ensuring stability and exerting credible deterrent power in the Indian Ocean and beyond to deter norms violating behaviours and other maritime threats.
The two aircraft carriers, INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, led the exercise with more than 35 aircraft and an array of surface ships and submarines, portraying the fact that the Indian Navy is one of rare capacities in the world that is operating with such a complex force deployment system.
Both China and the UK have more than one aircraft carrier, but neither has yet to operate a dual carrier system. Although incomparable in terms of sheer volume of naval assets with Beijing, the Indian Navy had decades-long experience and expertise in aircraft carrier ops. This rivals the People Liberation Army’s Navy, in terms of strategic advantage and is poised to gather more strength through integrated deterrence and security partnerships with the West in joint interoperability and strategic placement of assets to ensure maritime security and stability, including complementing the nuclear powered AUKUS submarines in key chokepoints.
The Indian Navy remains a highly trained, disciplined and proficient force,and has stepped up cooperation with other navies in the Indo-Pacific,including the annual Malabar naval exercises. This has created a strategic interdependence on security needs and assurances, which Malaysia is also urgently in need of.
India’s naval expansion and modernisation is shaped in a path of strategic response to Beijing’s intent and actions in the region including in the Indian Ocean with Beijing’s deeper penetration on India’s neighbours of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh through the strings of pearls encirclement which will have knock on effects on the wider region.
India’s Indo Pacific dreams have always been overshadowed by the might of China and its inroads in building regional dominance and an economic circle that is overly dependent on Beijing’s capital and investments. This starts to change now, especially since the pandemic.
Beijing’s slower than expected recovery and the growing internal socio-economic challenges, further squeezed by Washington’s economic and technological embargo, have all stalled its future growth prospects. The exodus of top firms in search of other regional upcoming players including Vietnam and India has elevated the roles and importance of the next biggest economic and security players in the Indo Pacific.
India’s time is now, as encapsulated in the recent report by Goldman Sachs that New Delhi is projected to become the second largest economy in the world by 2075, surpassing Japan, Germany and the United States.
The factors mentioned as driving this projection are India’s favourable demographics, innovation and technology, higher capital investment and rising worker productivity.Innovation and increasing worker productivity are going to be game changers in exerting greater output for each unit of labor and capital in India’s economy.
Priorities on infrastructure creation and upscale high impact job creation in critical industries of the future including semiconductor and digital economy, provide immense openings for the region to be part of the new spectrum of economic leadership that is moulded on the crest of value driven and responsible models and approaches that prioritise human rights, climate responsibility, rule of law and democratic principles.
With Beijing’s weakening economic fundamentals and nearing its peak power prime, Delhi is looked at as the only worthy and well-deserved successor to cement its democratic and economic version that is vastly different from Beijing and more accommodating to both the East and West and the North and South.
India’s peaceful rise has often been underappreciated.Malaysia needs to complement India’s “Act East Policy” that provides mutually beneficial returns to both powers.
Delhi remains an ever more critical anchor of stability, trust and norms in maintaining regional stability and in promoting a value-based engagement and peacebuilding efforts.
Trust and confidence provide the critical foundations to secure joint aspirations of a free, open and a rules based regional order.
India’s inevitable regional and global leadership provides a much welcomed new opening for the country and the region in their security calculations and options.
Delhi remains the region’s most important Asian partner in providing the economic and security fallback that is based on values, trust and proven expectations on its trajectory of behaviours and intent.