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What the UK’s Tilt to the Indo-Pacific Means for India

Observer Research Foundation, Atlantic Files, 28 March, 2021

The release of the UK’s Integrated Review (IR) last week and the Defence Command Paper this week have sparked a smallbut vigorous debate as to the direction of Britain’s global posture with many speculating on the meaning of its “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific. After all, its founding assumption was “[The UK] must also do more to adapt to major changes in the world around us, including the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region”. This growing enthusiasm for engaging in the region certainly offers a great opportunity for Delhi to partner with London. Despite these exciting prospects, some critics have noted the word “tilt” contrasts unfavorably with the Obama administration’s “rebalance” to Asia from 2011. A tilt is not a rebalance after all, indicating less than full commitment by the UK to the region. But then it was never quite realistic to expect an island-nation in the Euro-Atlantic to throw its full diplomatic, economic, and military resources into a part of the world many thousands miles away. Having said that, experts with a close knowledge of the IR say that it is best understood when considering the last iteration of a security review, the 2015 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, and point to the significant shift in London’s China strategy.

The 2015 review noted the importance of the Asia Pacific, but it was buried in a section called“Allies, Partners, and Global Engagement” and only came after sections on Europe, the Commonwealth, the Five Eyes, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as sub-Saharan Africa. It noted the region’s “significant economic opportunities” as well as its “considerable influence on the future integrity and credibility of the rules-based international order”—a binary at the very heart of Britain’s approach to the region. If one thinks back to 2015, London was attempting to strengthen Chinese inflows of investment, while also trying to shore up the rules-based international system (RBIS). The contradiction within that policy has been a mainstay of many countries’ approach towards China. But the difference between the 2015 review and last week’s IR is striking when one considers how China is treated in the two documents. In the 2015 review, just one year after Beijing carried out a sausage-slicing take-over of the South China Sea trade route, the Cameron government was, nevertheless, laying out the red carpet for China’s leader Xi Jinping, giving him the honours accorded a full state visit—a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, and the declaration of a UK-China “Golden Era”. Compare that with the description of China as a “systemic challenge” in the IR.

Areas where the two overlap is in the economic-security binary, and the 2015 review asserts that the region’s importance “to our economy and security; it is a focal point for the negotiation for international rules and norms, and will become more important to UK prosperity.” Given the UK’s historic identity—the creator of a global trade-based, maritime empire—it should come as no surprise that as London leaves the stifling embrace of a Berlin-led European Union, it should look to the traditional  geographic and geo-economic drivers and national interests. The difference being, of course, that the UK comes as a fullymature liberal democracy with a history and political culture at odds with its imperial past. Thus, while the geopolitical variables are the same—maritime-based trade in an increasingly contested order—the UK’s response will the different, charged with democratic liberalism rather than commercial imperialism.

However, where the IR begins to seriously differ from its predecessor is in the handling of that economic driver. Previously, under the leadership of Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, London seemed to treat China and Asia as one and the same. In defending Britain’s decision to join the Beijing-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), he stated it would be“good for a world where we draw countries together in cooperation, good for Asia because it is going to help bring investment to this continent.” Indeed, the fantasy of tapping at will into Beijing’s large currency reserves acted as a sort of charm inside Whitehall, deployed by the Treasury to beguile political masters against those in the Admiralty and Foreign and Commonwealth Office who held misgivings. It is difficult not to see last week’s Integrated Review as a victory for those constituents against the “Golden Era“ adherents, buoyed by China’s own actions, such as in 2017 when it reneged on the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong—a treaty document registered with the United Nations—and in 2018 when it began an imperial project of cleansing Xinjiang of its Uyghur Muslim population.

The Integrated Review also deepens the UK’s commitment to regional states like Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore.Oddly, it does not mention the Quad security grouping at all within the IR’s 114 pages, but its non-appearance could be down to diplomatic sensitivities. The UK has indicated interest in the Quad but will not wish to be seen to be muscling in. Either way, it is a surprising omission. In speaking to the UK–India relationship, the paper tracks the broader trend inside the West of treating India as a rising power in its own right, courting its participation and leadership in the Commonwealth and looking to it for increasing UK–Asia trade flows. Given the post-COVID trade-flow vulnerabilities and Beijing’s increasing use of economic coercive statecraft, this desire to diversify away from China is a significant opportunity for India, ASEAN, and others. Notably, this trade diversification strategy has already seen the UK negotiate trade deals with Japan, Australia, and has opened negotiations with the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership(CPTPP) trade group. Naturally, this will include defence trade, something that will be nicely paired with the HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group’s tour through the Indo-Pacific region. When it comes to helping regional states build naval capacity—particularly those based around advanced maritime operations—the Royal Navy and UK Defence Inc. intend to be an agile and willing partner.

The Integrated Review is not a perfect document, but it offers a broad strategic direction for the UK and a signal of intent to India and other Indo-Pacific powers. James Rogers, founding director of the Council of Geostrategyasserts that the emphasis on the Indo-Pacific is “a heavy one” and that “India has been identified as a pivotal country, with the likelihood of growing ties between London and New Delhi in the years ahead”. As we consider an uncertain future in the waning months of the pandemic, it will be, indeed, interesting to see whether or not that prophecy is realised.


Asia Pacific Bulletin, 21 October, 2020

Last month’s news that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was stepping down came like a thunderbolt from the blue. Once again, a health condition that had compelled him to step down in 2007, resurfaced. Whatever else one might say about Abe ‘the politician’ or Abe ‘the nationalist’, one cannot refute the fact that Abe the ‘grand strategist’ has had the most impact on Japan’s security posture since the Second World War. Of course, the question will be how Yoshihide Suga – his successor – adjusts Japan’s grand strategy  in coming months before he calls an election. One thing is already obvious, Suga – and, indeed, the next generation of future prime ministers – will have to live with Abe’s legacy in one form or another.

This is all a long way from 2007, when Abe’s one-year premiership was already in the rear-view mirror.  Even as he recovered his health, there were whispers in the corridors of Kasumigaseki that he intended to make a comeback and become prime minister again. At the time, many Japan-watchers were skeptical about his chances. His first year had not been particularly successful or popular. Indeed, the loss of the Upper House to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan had paved the way for their electoral in in 2009. Despite this inauspicious beginning, not only did Abe challenge his doubters by successfully running for LDP leadership in September 2012 but he campaigned on a slogan of “take back Japan” in November and won the premiership back in 2012.

In terms of domestic policies, Abe’s ambitions were grand, though the results were mixed. However, one felt spirits lift when he announced “Japan is back!” in a series of speeches deigned to launch “Abenomics”. Using three arrows of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reform, the new basket of policies intended to get Japan out of the two-decade slump that had followed the 1992 bursting of the asset price bubble that characterized Japanese growth in the 1980s. For a conservative politician, he was deeply pragmatic and was willing to challenge traditional Japanese social and business structures in order to empower Japan.

Despite a mixed record in domestic policy, it is in the arena of foreign and security policy that Abe has had the most impact and the area where Suga – and other Prime Ministers – will benefit the most. During this period, he oversaw a strengthening of the office of the Prime Minister, giving it a national security council (modelled closely on the UK NSC) and supportive secretariat to effect good security policy. Abe also encouraged intelligence community reforms, creating the equivalent of Britain’s Official Secrets Act, readying the ground for other necessary intelligence reforms across Japan’s bureaucracies. In 2013, Japan passed a state secrets act, which was a badly-needed effort to criminalize espionage. Given the continued need for democratic societies to share intelligence on Chinese and Russian interference operations, foreign policy, and maritime expansionism, this legislation was badly needed. It still remains for Japan to create a classification system and clearance system that allows it to work more closely with the United States and its Five Eyes partners. This was followed in 2015, by the passage of controversial legislation allowing for Japan’s armed forces to take part in conflicts overseas.

For example, he took a concept floating around after the 2005 Indian Ocean Tsunami of turning the four countries that aided the region into a quasi-security partnership. This “Quadrilateral” included the US, Japan, Australia and India and has developed into a functional strategic alignment.  As we enter an era of increased strategic competition, an era where a revitalized and expanded Chinese navy has begun to dominate and control vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea, this group serves as a check on Chinese ambitions. While it lacks formal institutionalization or even the simple ability of collective defense inherent in traditional alliances, its ad hoc nature remains a strength, allowing for New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to join the original Quad members in a “plus” format. Though it’s unclear as to whether this ambiguity of the group will remain a strength – after all, defense guarantees are necessary for the deterrent of collective defense – it’s unclear as to whether member states are ready for formalization. Abe’s role in promoting the Quad was pivotal and its hybrid nature is a little reflective of Japan’s restrictions under the pacifist constitution.

Perhaps of even more significance is Abe’s role in promoting the “Indo-Pacific” over the historic “Asia-Pacific” framework. Recognizing India’s importance as a democratic balancer to future Chinese hegemony in the future of the region’s integration efforts, he promoted the concept of the Indo-Pacific in his 2007 “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech in the Indian parliament and began systematically wooing Indian leaders to the framing.  Including a democratic India in the future of Asia was not only good geopolitics, it was good geo-economics, as India’s population and democratic system balanced out China’s equally large population and authoritarian system. Not only did the idea go down well in New Delhi, it was eagerly taken up by other like-minded states in-region over subsequent years, with Australia, ASEAN, France, the UK and the US adopting either the framing or creating their own versions. In 2016, Tokyo put more flesh on the concept, unveiling the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision”, which acted as a foil for Beijing’s increasingly China-centric vision of Asia’s future, while promoting openness and values to attract regional hedgers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been an incredibly influential figure on the world stage and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will have his work cut out for him. Not only must he uphold and continue the shift in Japan’s grand strategy, he must manage Japan’s famously difficult bureaucracy to do so. One of Abe’s greatest strengths was his team that brought together big thinkers – such as Nobukatsu Kanehara – with backroom operators – such as Shotaro Yachi, and Suga himself. Suga, the son of a farmer was well-known and well-feared by senior bureaucrats as someone who was dangerous to cross and who was deeply loyal to the Prime Minister. Mandarins who opposed the Prime Minister often found their promotions held up or relegated to less senior positions. According to rumor, when Abe heard that Suga was going to run for office in December last year, he said to Suga, “Yes, I can see you as prime minister, but who will be your ‘Suga’”? This puts much pressure upon Suga’s new chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato to manage the bureaucracy as efficiently as he once did. Whether or not Suga can succeed in the public nature of his new position – and not be tempted back into facilitation  – will ultimately be a critical issue for him.

Looking back at the premiership of Shinzo Abe, it is clear that a complicated leader has left the stage. While his views on Japan’s militaristic past were less-than-ideal, his Indo-Pacific conceptualization and support for the Quad were instrumental in shaping a balancing coalition toward the PRC. It was also a highly liberal vision of regional order, replete with norms of openness, rules, and human rights – something no Japanese post-war leader had previously emphasized. While he has struggled with Japan’s historic issue – notably with South Korea – he has reached “across the aisle” multiple times. The breakdown in the relationship with South Korea must be seen in the context of his speeches in front of both houses of Australia’s Parliament and the US Congress on Japan’s wartime history. The speeches were full of regret and sorrow and were accordingly well-received. As Yoshihide Suga assumes the levers of Japanese power, he comes to a situation in which Tokyo’s grand strategy is well-stated and its influence at an all-high. He will have to manage the relationship with the United States, Japan’s close ally, a hegemonic China, and a cautious region in a world rocked by the pandemic and economic slowdown. One hopes he will do well.


Daily Express, Marco Giannangeli, 11 February, 2019

Report authors James Rogers and Dr John Hemmings, said: “In the South China Sea, the People’s Republic of China is seeking to revise the Law of the Sea by asserting a number of unlawful and excessive claims over various international waters and low-tide elevations.

This is important because the UK, a maritime trading power, relies on maritime communication lines, which in turn depend on the cohesion of the rules-based international system.

“Maintaining a persistent naval presence in the Indo-Pacific – not least the South China Sea – comes at a cost.”


United Kingdom’s “Global Britain” Posture Facilitates Forward-leaning Indo-Pacific Policy

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CogitAsia-CSIS, 30 January, 2019

This year has been marked by the return of British naval power to the Indo-Pacific. For the first time since 2013, the United Kingdom (UK) deployed warships to the region, not only consecutively deploying three vessels to the area, but also increasing its cross-service defense engagement with regional partners. First, HMS Albion carried out a freedom of navigation maneuver near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, making the UK the only non-claimant state – other than the United States – to  openly challenge China’s excessive maritime claims; second, it took part in marine exercises with Japanese Self Defense Forces in Japan; and third, it expanded its trilateral relationship with Japan and the United States in an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercise off the coast of the Philippines in early 2019. However, the relative success of these operations has not stopped questions being asked both inside the UK and in the region around their long-term sustainability – particularly in the wake of Russia’s 2014 take-over of the Crimea, its hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine, and with the 2018 Skripal poisonings. All of this has produced an intense domestic debate over the future of Britain’s global posture, ranging from the government forward-leaning, Mahanian “Global Britain” position, to an “honest-broker” approach that attempts to sail precariously between the U.S.-China trade rift.

Global Britain

While it is true that Brexit has propelled a core part of the Conservative Party toward the notion of Global Britain, it should also be noted that a major shift took place in UK strategic thinking from 2014, which saw neo-authoritarian military revanchism in the Crimea and the South China Sea. China’s island-building in international waters had a profound impact on Britain, given its long history of safeguarding the principle of the freedom of the seas. The 2014 National Strategy for Maritime Security, for example, noted, “The UK has significant political and economic interests in the Asia Pacific…it is important that all nations in the region resolve any maritime disputes peacefully and within the rule of law, while protecting and promoting freedom of navigation and trade.” At the Shangri-la Dialogue in 2015, Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon raised Britain’s concern about “the scale and speed of current land reclamation activities and the risk that these actions may pose to maritime freedom of navigation and to the stability of the South China Sea.”

So what?

Aside from the Royal Navy deployments, the UK has infused new urgency into what were steadily-growing political and security bilaterals with major regional players. Previously, many of these relationships puttered along, but lacked an overarching strategic logic. Now it would appear that Britain’s foreign and military policy establishment has linked the Global Britain vision with the “free-and-open” Indo-Pacific strategies of the region. In its Joint Ministerial 2+2 with Australia in July 2018, the UK foreign secretary and defence secretary agreed to “protect and promote the rules-based system,” while increasing cooperation and coordination over the South China Sea, within the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), seeking “opportunities for deeper maritime security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.” The agreement was marked by Australia’s decision to purchase a British design for its Hunter Class frigates. At $26 billion, the deal is a highly-promising indicator for sustained defense collaboration, given the strong political pull of maintaining Britain’s impressive defense industrial capability (British shipbuilding, aerospace, and defense industries bring in revenues of $40 billion, exceeding even Russia’s $31 billion).

That defense industrial pull has also helped fuel UK-Japan collaboration – on the Meteor missile, for example – with both states promoting what some have called, “the closest security ties since the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance.” In addition to defense collaboration, a regular cyber dialogue, and increasing intelligence-sharing, there has been a seismic shift in strategic dialogue. On January 10, 2019, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited London, welcoming the UK’s increased presence in the Indo-Pacific, and reiterating his support for the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The two sides pledged to collaborate further on infrastructure, 5G telecoms, cyber security, and maritime security.

In addition, London has also begun re-investing in its relations with South and Southeast Asia. UK officials made it a diplomatic priority last May to get Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to attend the Commonwealth summit. His appearance and red-carpet treatment seemed to indicate a “reset” in ties. More recently, Britain has begun delinking its ASEAN policy from the European Union, welcoming Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi to London this past month. As with Modi, the British policy class rolled out the red carpet, with Minister of State for Asia Mark Field, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, and a number of prime ministerial trade envoys meeting with the SG. As Field pointed out at during the gala dinner banquet, UK investment in ASEAN exceeds its investment in China and India combined, with ASEAN ranking as the third largest investor in the UK, with UK exports surging by 19 percent in 2017 alone.

Sustaining the momentum

China’s rise has seen it using that newfound power to implement shifts to the global order that favor its own strategic interests. It is no surprise that many regional states – allies and partners like Japan, Australia, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam – have emphasized the rules-based system in their pleas for a UK return to Asia. Given Russian revanchism closer to home, UK policymakers have framed the China’s behavior as a wider struggle. There are real questions about how sustainable all of this is, given the volatile nature of Britain’s domestic situation. However, Global Britain is in many ways an adroit repurposing of the UK’s strategic direction after 2014. These drivers have economic as well as strategic weight, something that should make them “Brexit-proof” in the long term.

In terms of how the UK engages with regional partners, the fact is there are a number of directions that British power could go in Asia. As a recent Henry Jackson Society report recommended, Britain could create a policy of collective freedom of navigation maneuvers by using a “ship-rider” program, with NATO or ASEAN flag officers aboard British hulls. It could also suggest a “plane-rider” program, putting British officers aboard U.S. and Japanese surveillance aircraft. Most of all, it could help internationalize and multilateralize the issue so that it is not obscured by U.S.-China strategic competition. The South China Sea, after all, accounts for transit of nearly one-third of total global maritime trade. And that is just as much a UK issue as it is an American one.


Global Britain and Global Japan: A New Alliance in the Indo-Pacific?

With James Rogers, Asia Pacific Bulletin, 31 January, 2019

In January 2019, amidst all the Brexit-related commotion and confusion, British Prime Minister Theresa May took time out to welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to London. Although the media focused on the timing of the visit – not least because of his warning over the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit and follow-on visit to the Netherlands, where a handful of Japanese companies may relocate or establish satellite offices – this was much more than just a shoring up of one political leader by another. The fact is that Japan and the UK have been moving closer together for over a decade, and not only in the diplomatic-economic sphere. For some time,
the two have been deepening their strategic and military cooperation.

In 2012, for example, the UK and Japan signed a defense cooperation memorandum, making Britain the first country other than the United States that Japan was willing to cooperate with militarily. A 2017 agreement saw an uptick in the willingness to play up the public profile of the growing relationship, whereby the two countries asserted that they were each other’s “closest security partners respectively in Asia and Europe.” Japan’s latest National Defence Programme Guidelines also highlight cooperation with the UK. Given that Japan’s other main partners in the Indo-Pacific – the United States, Australia, and India – also have deep historic and institutional linkages to the UK, a deeper strategic logic is likely at play and could be further leveraged. As China seeks to
revise the rules-based system in both maritime law and trade, powers that depend heavily on the system are beginning to band together in quasi-alliances.

Military cooperation and defense-industrial collaboration between the UK and Japan have continued to grow. A recent Henry Jackson Society report examining geopolitical rankings showed that, despite their geographical distance, the UK and Japan complement one another well. Japan has a significantly larger degree of “economic clout”, with greater net wealth and national income. Where the UK stands out is in terms of its “diplomatic leverage” and “military might”, particularly its naval strength, which is larger than France, Italy, and Germany combined. So Japan may be able to assist the UK as it withdraws from the European Union, just as the UK supports Japan’s strategic “normalisation”.

There are other attributes which the two island nations share. Both have an “offshore” approach in relation to their respective continents, Asia and Europe, fostering in each a “maritime” strategic culture. Both are liberal democracies with a strong support for human rights and global governance. Both are strong supporters – financially and diplomatically – of the rules-based system, including the United Nations, the World Trade
Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations. Both are also good “international citizens”, spending money on international development across the world.

However, closer strategic cooperation depends on more than just national similarity. Here, too, there are three drivers: China, Russia and the US. Japan has sought to “normalize” its post-Second World War strategic posture to hedge against China’s rise and revisionist inclinations. Tokyo’s decision late last year to procure the F35B and transform its two large new “helicopter carrying destroyers” into small aircraft carriers is evidence of the speed of the change. The UK, meanwhile, is keen to shore up the rules-based system – which it has done much to generate and underpin – particularly in light of China’s revisionism in the South China Sea, a major trade route upon which it relies. Brexit, disenchantment with Europe, and the wider “Global Britain” agenda add to this renewed focus.

Second, just as Britain has become more aware of China’s behavior, Japan appears more ready to react to Russian revanchism – having implemented bilateral sanctions in 2014 after the invasion of Ukraine – and continues to press for negotiations with Moscow over the Kuril Islands. While it would be a stretch to say that Russia is perceived as a threat by both island nations equally, both countries are increasingly alarmed by Russia’s “nonlinear” attacks on weaker powers and information offensives inside the West more generally.

The third factor is the evolving strategic posture and politics of the United States. As President Donald Trump secures bipartisan support from foreign policy elites for his push-back against the People’s Republic of China – one of the few areas where the president has support from both the Republicans and Democrats – Tokyo and London have begun to reorient themselves around America’s new strategic imperatives. The government review of telecommunications vendors in the UK and Japan’s decision to block Huawei from government contracts, is one example. Support for America’s World Trade Organization action against China is another.

So what is in store? In a recent edition of The Economist an unnamed British official went so far as to suggest that London and Tokyo may be heading towards a formal alliance with one another. This would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, similar to the British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s recent proposal to re-establish naval bases in Southeast Asia. However, the tenuous state of the international system, not least in the Indo-Pacific, is rapidly bringing such propositions into the realm of policy.

In such circumstances, a UK-Japan alliance does not sound so unreasonable. Both nations are global leaders. Both flank either side of Eurasia, which is gradually emerging as an integrated space. And both nations are backed by –and in turn reinforce – US global power. Indeed, as China’s rise and revisionist inclinations develop further, it is not unthinkable that security alignments like the Quad could develop into broader NATO-like defense organizations, drawing together like-minded states and allies in East and Southeast Asia, as well as Australasia.

As two of the world’s leading powers, the UK and Japan have the power to lay the path towards a more secure and prosperous future. This requires their closer alignment to generate a center of gravity from which to attract other countries into a wider project to re-stabilize the rules-based system to the extent that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open. This should help to ensure that the People’s Republic of China rises in a more peaceable fashion, while providing a counter to temper its authoritarian appetites. We are in a new age of geopolitics. Japan and the UK are thinking and acting geostrategically and globally once again.


What China could expect from a Global Britain

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The National Interest, with Rob Clark, 17 August, 2018

As India celebrates seventy-two years of Independence from the British Empire this week, a grand historical milestone for the ancient nation, it is notable to see the Royal Navy sailing in India’s waters once more—however this time it comes as an ally to India to sail together in an increasingly troubled world.

Pulled from its forty-two-year involvement in the European project, the United Kingdom has begun a major re-think of its global posture. What does Global Britain mean? Where might it best orient itself in relation to a growing Indo-Pacific region, where trade, rising powers, and naval grand strategies reveal a region that is increasingly a central part of the global economy and political center?

Stretching from the Gulf of Aden to the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean is vital to international trade and commerce, with 50 percent of the world’s maritime oil trade passing through every day. It is a global market that the United Kingdom cannot afford to ignore. The global significance of this region has seen many vested naval powers transit this ocean to maintain their own interests.

But rather than coming as an imperial trading power—as it once did—the Royal Navy is coming to the region under a liberal democratic trading nation. The United Kingdom seeks to uphold an open and inclusive rules-based order, an order where all have rights—not simply great powers. And this commitment is more than just rhetoric.

Over the past year, London has committed to three separate missions across the Indo-Pacific region. HMS Albion, Sutherland and Argyll have all made their way through the Indo-Pacific region this year to carry out sanctions enforcement against North Korea and to conduct freedom of navigation operations to counter the growing Chinese naval activity. These missions have revealed the role the Royal Navy will play in a Global Britain strategy.

The sudden and rapid rise of Mahanian strategies among Asia’s powers has seen sea lane security re-emerge as a major geopolitical issue after three generations of U.S. naval preponderance. The most active driver of change in the Indian Ocean has been the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Far from its traditional sphere of influence of the first island and second island chains, the Chinese navy has rapidly established itself as a naval power in the Indian Ocean, and beyond into theMediterranean Sea . Beijing has done this by developing blue-water capabilities and a port strategy that secures its Beijing’s trade routes and energy supply line from the Middle East.

The emergence of China’s blue-water navy and greater power projection has complimented China’s long-term grand strategy of becoming the Asian hegemon, an ambition not lost on India’s ruling elite. Beijing has sought to ensure that “all roads lead to China,” with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Maritime Silk Road projects. Furthermore, China has encroached upon the territory and neighborhood of the region’s fastest-growing power—India—developing economic dependencies with nearly all of New Delhi’s neighbors.

As powers that are dependent on Indian Ocean trade routes, liberal democracies like Britain and India (and others) will have to learn to manage relations with Beijing. This will include balancing some of China’s more predatory behaviors such as the debt diplomacy.

The Royal Navy and Indian Navy will also have to learn to operate in close proximity to the PLAN, which has rapidly up-scaled its presence in the Indian Ocean, with recent estimates indicating a presence of at least fourteen PLA Navy ships throughout August 2017, including SSN class nuclear-powered submarines, with that number rising throughout 2018. There have already been positive examples of recent UK-Sino naval cooperation, including the arrival of two PLA Navy frigates in London last year for a ‘goodwill’ visit. It is precisely from these exchanges that the Royal Navy—respected for its long traditions—can impart best practices and norms to the still-young PLAN. Possible areas of planned cooperation might take place in the anti-piracy missions and with humanitarian responses to natural disasters.

As the Indo-Pacific once again takes center stage in global politics, we will see China and India each attempting to stamp their influence on the international order. This does not have to be confrontational, of course. As part of a wider Anglo-American security alliance which helped construct the current global order, the UK has a vested stake in seeing that these changes abide by the current norms underpinning the rules-based international system. This includes respect for national sovereignty, freedom of navigation, and free trade.

As Global Britain approaches the Indian Ocean, it will work closely with all navies, including the Indian Navy and the PLAN. No doubt, it will work more closely with some more than others. And, of course, it will have to ensure that its resources match its ambition. Should Beijing’s quasi-imperial approach toward the Indian Ocean continue, the UK and other European powers will begin to lend their support to the India-Japan-US-Australia Quad.

Regardless of geopolitical trends, the Royal Navy will seek to support joint naval drills and uphold the maritime principle of freedom-of-navigation. Bolstered by its own bases in Duqm and Singapore, the Royal Navy will seek to cooperate with all, including the United States, Australia, Singapore, and India. Global Britain as a philosophy will promote a collaborative approach toward Beijing while aligning carefully with like-minded friends and allies


Explaining the Japan–Australia security relationship: it’s complicated…

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International Affairs Blog, with Tomohiko Satake, 13 July, 2018

During the Cold War, Japan defined its security policy by the Yoshida Doctrine — maintaining a low profile security posture while relying on the United States for protection based on the US–Japan Security Treaty. There was little appetite within Japan’s government or military for military-to-military relationships with other regional states. Yet the past three decades have seen a steady diversification of Japanese security partnerships, including with South Korea, Australia and India as well as with some ASEAN and European countries. Notably, these relationships were not meant to replace the still-dominant security reliance on the US–Japan alliance, but instead were part of a strategy — carried out in tandem with the US — which saw the two states moving away from its strict bilateralism to what Michael J. Green calls ‘federated capabilities’.

The case of Japan and Australia — a ‘quasi-alliance’?

In our recent article for International Affairs, we looked specifically at this rapid diversification of Japanese security partnerships from the perspective of Japan–Australia security cooperation in both the bilateral and multilateral contexts, including the US and China. First of all, it was apparent that while some referred to Japan–Australia relations as ‘quasi-alliances’, they were not, in fact, alliances at all, but merely examples of what Thomas Wilkins called‘alignment’. While these groupings have systematically set about developing ‘alliance-like’ characteristics — such as military interoperability, strategic consultations and institutionalized intelligence-sharing — they have carefully avoided the primary ingredient of alliances: defence guarantees.

We asked why political leaders in Tokyo and Canberra went to the trouble of developing such complex security relationships — one need only look at the general security of information agreement (GSOMIA) and the acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA), for example — while simultaneously avoiding the primary benefit of a formal alliance commitment to each other? Neo-realist theory would have us believe that as authoritarian China rose in the region and expanded its military hard power capabilities across the maritime space and trade routes of both states, Australia and Japan would either balance Beijing’s ambitions or bandwagon behind them. However, the actual record is more complex and sees political leaders adopting elements of both strategies. At times, Australia and Japan developed very close ties and seemed on the verge of committing to the relationship — as when Prime Minister John Howard offered Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a security treaty in 2007 or when, in 2015, both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Abe began promoting a submarine deal in strategic terms, labelling theirs a ‘special relationship’. Subsequently, however, caution seemed to reassert itself in both cases and domestic factors inside both countries halted further progress.

Drawing from Tomohiko Satake’s 2011 article on the origins of the trilateral relationship between the US, Japan and Australia and from John Hemmings’ doctoral research, we developed a model for explaining this apparent discrepancy. Faced, for example, with a triple security dilemma, that pits them between (1) a security dilemma with China, (2) an abandonment/entrapment dilemma with each other and (3) a quite separate abandonment/entrapment dilemma with their mutual ally, the United States, Japanese and Australian foreign policy elites simply cannot tell what the optimum policy choice is. What we found, through interviews and by analysing government policy documents, was how bureaucratic coalitions within Canberra or Tokyo would push for given policies, prioritizing one or another of these three drivers. This meant that in some cases the two would align more closely — such as when a pro-alliance group prioritizing the danger of abandonment was in control of the tools of foreign policy — only to pull back after new bureaucratic coalitions, which promoted policies that engage with China and emphasized the dangers of entrapment, took power. This was apparent, for example, after the 2008 election in Australia which saw Kevin Rudd replace John Howard as prime minister, as Australia unilaterally withdrew from the US–India–Japan–Australia Quadrilateral (QUAD) and warned against closer defence engagement with Japan.

What does this mean for the future?

This model explains both the specific pattern of Japan–Australia security ties as well as the historically atypical alignment policies that are rising across the region, in which states begin implementing multipronged strategies to pair balancing with engagement. We see these states building evermore institutionalized security relations, while continuing to closely monitor their relations with Beijing. In academia, this dual-approach has become known as ‘hedging’. As we look to the future, instability and threats to the rules-based order are discussed not only in terms of Chinese assertive behaviour, but also in terms of the Trump administration’s challenge to the liberal international order. Given these circumstances, we must also ask whether our model will see even more non-committal alignments — particularly between medium-sized regional states — or whether China will be able to successfully restrain states from forming balancing alliances. Examples of these alignment patterns are to be found in the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, created in 2002; in the creation of an Australia–India–Japan trilateral in 2015; and in the revival of the QUAD in 2017.

One interesting implication of our research is that, while abandonment concerns regarding the US engagement in Asia significantly encouraged Tokyo to seek closer ties with India, India itself has been less motivated by abandonment issues. Instead, internal debates in Delhi are more concerned with the risk of becoming entrapped between the United States and a rising China. This, combined with a fear of provoking a security dilemma and India’s longstanding ‘non-alignment’ foreign policy approach, has compelled some factions inside the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to eschew strong commitment to the QUAD. As we can see, this ‘commitment dilemma’ explains why all of these groupings see an ebb and flow of defence institutionalization, despite the fact that all share concerns about China’s intentions and growing military capabilities.

Should the US–China rivalry intensify, we might expect to see bureaucratic coalitions inside all four countries debate the prioritization of alliance commitments versus the prioritization of their relationship with China. Much of this has a mercurial dynamic, meaning that if any player decreases its security commitment to the QUAD, one will see a reaction from the others. If the Trump administration cannot sustain strong and consistent commitment to regional security, one might see a worrying shift in balancing behaviours by other QUAD members, with some reaching out to Beijing. The future of the QUAD therefore not only depends on Chinese assertiveness, but also on the appearance of US resolve to the defence of its smaller allies and partners. No doubt, this debate is occurring now at the domestic level.


Hindustan Times, Prasun Sonwalkar, May 27, 2018

Britain needs to focus on the Indo-Pacific region to avoid being caught between two worlds– not quite a European power nor a global power – post Brexit, a leading think-tank has said .

To do this, Britain will need to go to Asia by sea, even if it may remind many of its erstwhile empire built mostly through its naval power, a study titled Global Britain in the Indo-Pacific by the influential Henry Jackson Society says.

The analysis by John Hemmings has been released in the context of the recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi when, for the first time, the phrase “Indo-Pacific” was mentioned in an India-UK defence statement on future plans of the Royal Navy and Indian Navy.

The report says: “Despite the threats and challenges on the UK’s periphery like Russia and the Middle East, the fact is the future of global trade, global geopolitics, and global power are trending toward Asia and the UK must go there or risk being left behind.

“There are also trends in maritime trade and maritime security that mean that if Global Britain is going to go to Asia, it must go by sea. While such maritime arguments sound like a Britain harking back to a glorious past, in fact a Global Britain that renews its naval and maritime commercial capabilities will one that is preparing for a prosperous and engaged future.”

Mentioning the so-called “quad countries” of India, Australia, Japan and the United States, the report sees much potential for Britain to engage closely with the group in the context of China’s growing presence and plans in the area, including the Belt and Road Initiative.

Hemmings writes: “Britain and India are developing robust security ties across a broad range of ties; I suggest that the Indian Navy and the Royal Navy – who are brothers with a common history and common traditions – could do so much more together, both bilaterally, or in conjunction with India’s other partners: France, Japan, the US, and Australia.”

Besides the existing strengths in India-UK ties, the report says that Britain could work with Japan to financially support India’s desire to match China’s infrastructure projects. It also sees the potential to develop a UK-India-France trilateral maritime cooperation.

The report specifically recommends that Britain offer diplomatic support when key states – such as India, Singapore, or Japan – come under pressure within the region. It also calls for the utilisation, along with India, of the Commonwealth to bolster democracy with other states in the Indo-Pacific such as the Maldives, Fiji, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.

It also calls for the UK investing in Asian language programmes at British universities, particularly focussing on Hindi, Japanese and Chinese.


India’s Ambiguity and the Chinese Threat

prime_minister_narendra_modi_discussing_india-china_ties_with_chinese_president_xi_jinping.jpg

RUSI Commentary, with Tanya Sen, 24 May, 2018

Nearly eight months after the Doklam border stand-off, the leaders of Asia’s two largest powerhouses met for informal diplomatic talks, in what seemed to be an attempt to reset their bilateral relationship. Thus far, media in both countries has presented the meeting as a great success, citing new diplomatic beginnings and lauding the pragmatism of their respective leaders. The apparent thawing of diplomatic ties echoes the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai narrative of the 1950s and comes after the two countries reached a record trade value of $84.4 billion in 2017. Yet despite the public hyperbole and the evident enthusiasm of China’s state-run media, it is not clear that one meeting can overturn the structural drivers of Indo-Chinese competition.

China and India are both focused on restoring their status as great regional and even global powers following periods of imperial predation by European states over the past two centuries. They are both heavily influenced by social, economic and political theories that are rooted in Western intellectual trends. Still, such similarities are trivial in the face of structurally-driven competition. With large territories, massive populations and expanding economies, both have the ability to shape their regions along with areas further abroad. Consequently, their rivalry is fed by the desire for dominance over the other – something that is best explained through a realist lens. The deeper explanation is the status of insecurity that results from the security dilemma, whereby both countries are constantly looking to gain a competitive advantage in terms of regional accommodation, and the future global order. This justifies the fears of Indian leaders that they may be lagging behind China in this grander global race.

The old non-alignment orientation is falling out of favour with Indian policymakers for this very reason. While this decades-long policy has been a defining model in Indian politics in the past, Prime Minister Modi’s state visits and multilateral engagements point to a departure from India’s non-aligned ways, towards multi-alignment that better fits today’s global order. Yet despite this shift, India’s grand strategy seem to lack clear direction. For, while India might be equipped with the resources, it lacks the strategic mobilisation needed to rival China’s own assertive vision.

The concerns and suspicion have steered India towards the adoption of an odd hedging relationship with Beijing that is by now familiar with scholars of Chinese foreign policy. Nearly every country must determine the trade-off between economic reliance on China and concern over its ambitions; Australia’s prime minister summed up this dilemma last year, by saying that Canberra’s China policy was based on ‘fear and greed’. In response to this conundrum faced by many others, Indian policymakers are identifying key partners to offset Chinese power. The most notable of these is Japan; after all, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the pioneer of the Indo-Pacific concept. His proposal for the creation of a  Quad – an informal four-nation strategic dialogue encompassing Japan, India, the US and Australia – was revived in 2017 after laying dormant for around a decade. India’s efforts seem to be overshadowed by the setbacks in its way, many of which have been present for a large part of its political history.

As the two powers rise in the same region, attempts by China to secure its energy supplies by land and sea inevitably involve Pakistan. This competing set of regional interests can also be seen in China’s ‘String of Pearls’ relationships with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and even the Maldives, all of which traditionally lie within India’s sphere of influence. China’s ‘all-weather friendship’ with Pakistan is a continual irritant to relations with India. The truncated power asymmetry acquired by Pakistan, with immense support from the Chinese, has ensured an enduring rivalry and the encirclement of India. The Indo-Pakistani conflict has long dominated India’s foreign policy, and constant contestation in India’s immediate neighbourhood has prevented it from taking on a leadership role in South Asia. Finally, the lack of an alternative Indian grand strategy to non-alignment works against its own power ambitions. On one hand, India is keen to be taken seriously as a world power. On the other hand, Indian foreign policy elites seem stuck between contrasting narratives of India as a developing power or India as a superpower. This confusion over India’s power acts as a drag for its policymaking elites in reshaping a new grand strategy for dealing with China.

China, by contrast, has been quick to identify its rival’s weaknesses and even quicker to develop and realise its foreign policy ambitions. Such has been the rate of China’s successes in its Belt and Road initiative, that India’s lack of organisation means that it seriously risks adversely affecting its primacy in its own back yard. While this hedging approach might be the most politically expedient method for dealing with Chinese manoeuvres, it is holding India back from creating its own alternative vision for the region. So, while the rapprochement with China may be part of this hedging approach and might appear to be enough to relieve short-term tensions, structural factors will continue pushing the two Asian giants in opposing directions. And none of this will substitute for India’s need to wake up to the perils on its periphery, by developing a more robust foreign policy community and seeking a clearer strategy for its region.

Jeremy S. Maxie

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