Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | PM Modi’s Indo-Pacific tour | Will Biden’s pullout be Ind...

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | PM Modi’s Indo-Pacific tour | Will Biden’s pullout be India’s gain?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss PM Modi’s Indo-Pacific tour, and if US President Biden’s decision to cut short his trip sends a message beyond bad optics

We normally look at what’s already happened in the world, but given how much is expected in the week ahead, we wanted to give you a primer on what to expect and to look out for:

A full week of travels ahead for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he attends the G-7 in Japan’s Hiroshima, then to Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby and then to Sydney, Australia. 

-One of the big surprises came from US President Jospeh Biden, This week the US President announced at the last moment that he would travel to Japan but was pulling out of visits to PNG and Australia, as he is needed back in Washington to help break a logjam in the US Congress over passing an increased debt package- which means the Quad Summit in Sydney had to be cancelled, although a shorter meeting of Quad leaders in Hiroshima is being organized.

Another surprise is that Ukrainian President Zelensky who was to attend the summit virtually, may now attend in person in Hiroshima…. All eyes here will be on whether PM Modi will meet him

-While they will not be in the room- Russia and China will be hot topics of discussion – at the G7- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is one of the main issues, while during Quad talks, and possibly the Forum for Indo-Pacific Island Cooperation FIPIC, keeping free and open sea lanes, and the China challenge will be on the agenda. Russia was a member of the earlier G8, but was expelled after its annexation of Crimea in 2014. China has not been invited even as a special invitee to the G7, what is now seen as an elitist grouping of the US-led western alliances.

In this interview to The Hindu, Japan’s Ambassador to India Hiroshi Suzuki appeared to make it clear that issues over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will dominate 

First is the importance of upholding the rule of law. And as we all know, Russian invasion of Ukraine is destroying the core fundamental principles of international society enshrined in the UN Charter, such as sovereignty, territorial integrity and the rule of law. So Prime Minister Kishida wants to send a strong message from Hiroshima that unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force must not be allowed anywhere in the world. That is to say, if Russia is allowed to go, without any paying any price, the other countries may be tempted to the same. So we stand at a critical juncture to send a clear message that we should never allow the world to slide back to Dark Ages of law of the jungle.” 

Read more of that interview here, including how Japan views India’s differing stand on Russia.

Broadly there are three part of India’s foreign policy to the visit: 

1.     Multilateral: 

– India is a special invitee to the G7 summit in Japan, one of 8 countries that are part of the outreach. The G7  is made up of US, Canada, UK, France,  Germany, Italy and Japan as well as the European Union, and the special invitees are India, South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Comoros, representing the African Union and the Cook Islands representing Pacific Islands 

-PM will attend 3 outreach sessions: On food, health, gender issues…on climate change and energy… and towards a Peaceful, Stable and Prosperous World. In addition, Japan and India have been pushing for an agenda on debt transparency and sustainability with ref to Sri Lanka 

-India is also hosting the G20 summit this year in September, and the visit will coordinate G7 – G20 agendas, and PM Modi is expected to articulate his vision for the G20 during the visit. 

Here’s what Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said about the G7 participation: 

“India’s regular participation at the G7 summits clearly points to increasing recognition that India should be a part of any serious effort to resolve global challenges, including those of peace, security, development, and environment preservation. This is even more salient in the context of our ongoing presidency of the G20 and our particular efforts to prioritize the interest and concerns of our fellow country members of the global South.

– Nuclear non-proliferation will also be in focus at the G7 given that it is being held in Hiroshima, the site where one of two atomic bombs were dropped in 1945- heres what Japanese Ambassador Suzuki said:

“ This is very close to Prime Minister Kishida’s heart. He comes from Hiroshima. His constituency is in Hiroshima. So in Hiroshima, if you visit Peace Museum, you can see first hand what kind of indescribable ordeals people in Hiroshima had because of nuclear bombs. So, Prime Minister Kishida wants to send a clear message that the human race must continue with ongoing record of 77 years of non use of nuclear weapons. And this is extremely important in the light of Putin’s rhetoric, repeated threats to use nuclear weapons. So these are the three key issues among many challenges that PM Kishida wants to highlight  

2.     Indo-Pacific 

-In Japan- the mini Quad that will be held will discuss Indo-Pacific issues, progress on Quad initiatives on Maritime Domain Awareness, Vaccines, Climate change, Digital governance etc. PM Kishida, who launched his Indo-pacific policy in Delhi this year, will also discuss it further, particularly plans for Japan India cooperation in the region including North East and Bangladesh. 

-In Port Moresby, PM will meet with 14 FIPIC leaders including Fijis new PM Rabuka, and the new New Zealand PM Chris Hipkins – and discuss Indo-Pacific concerns and plans for cooperation on 

3.     Bilateral: 

-In Japan, PM will meet a number of the leaders present, some of them for the second time this year- Japanese PM Kishida, German Chancellor Scholz, Australian PM Albanese and Italian PM Melloni  have already visited India this year, he will meet US President Biden in Washington and French president Macron in Paris in the next 2 months, Brazilian President Lula at the BRICS summit in South Africa in August, and most of them again at the G20. 

-His visit to Papua New Guinea is a first, and will see India announce a package for the Pacific Island after his meeting with PM James Marape. PNG as it has called is facing turbulent times, their Foreign Minister resigned just last week over criticism of the expense on his UK visit. And then the big cancellation by US President Biden – who was due to announce a security agreement with PNG, that was leaked to the press, causing some protests in parliament and calls for a confidence vote 

-His visit to Australia was meant to be a multilateral one for the Quad in Sydney, but with Biden’s cancellation and then PM Kishida’s, PM Modi will be the only leader travelling there. During his visit to Sydney he will meet with PM Albanese

 1. The two leaders will talk about strategic cooperation, cooperation on critical minerals, education etc- all of which were discussed in Delhi. There’s likely to be some mention of India’s concerns over graffiti on temples, Khalistan groups that PM Modi had raised very vocally. 

2. There will be an engagement with Australian Business leaders and talks about progress on the Economic Cooperation and Trade agreement 

3. Both PMs will attend a rally for the Indian diaspora in Sydney’s Olympic Park- 9 years since PM Modi last held a diaspora rally there. 

Clearly, US President Biden’s decision to cut his visit short is casting a long shadow on the region: 

1. Domestic insecurity- the fact that the US president could not reach out to the Republican opposition to postpone the deal on debt ceilings until his return, sends a message of political weakness- it also shows an early shift to domestic agendas ahead of next year’s US elections 

2. Skipping the PNG visit- the first by any US President, puts a dampner on US plans to counter China’s influence there. In the past year this had been an objective, with the US announcing new embassies in the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Vanuatu, and the US security agreement with PNG, mainly for coast guard support will now be signed by US Secy of State Antony Blinken. It would have also been an occasion to reassure the countries, including New Zealand about AUKUS, that many had voiced concerns about.  

3. Deprioritizing Quad? The fact that the US President decided to go to the G7 and not the Quad- understandably G7 was on the weekend- sends an unwitting message of importance for the Quad meeting. It may even be seen as prioritizing the Russia challenge which will be discussed at the G7 over the China challenge that is in focus at the Quad, and the Pacific Island engagements 

4. The decision to cancel is in comparison to Australian PM Albanese who attended the Quad summit in Tokyo last year a few hours after being sworn in, of Japan’s FM who took special permission from his parliament to attend the Quad FM meet in Delhi in March – travelling overnight both ways for just one meeting. 

WV Take: 

Clearly US President Biden’s loss, in terms of the cancelled visits to PNG and Australia, will be PM Modi’s gain, and could be used to deepen both bilateral ties with the two countries and the region at greater length. For India, the visit ahead is an opportunity for substantive discussions on issues like regional security, food and energy security, climate change and global warming. While there are vast areas of agreement and overlap, India’s divergent stand on Russia will take some of the spotlight as well

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