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India’ Advancement in Defence Technology and its Impact on “Act East Policy"

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    31st Jan, 2022

Context

Historically, India’s “Act East Policy” has been evolved on the contours of economic, strategic and cultural relations with the Asia-Pacific regions. In addition to these, the defence has always been an integrated part of it. It has gained immense importance in contemporary international relations where a notable shift has been evident in the last few years.

Background

  • Act East Policy (2014) and its predecessor-Look East Policy (1991) are somewhat similar except the fact that the latter had not given much importance to defence and security aspects.
  • Act East Policy’ represents a continuing phase of India’s policy towards the Asia-Pacific region.
  • If we ponder upon its humble beginning, since its launch a lot has been changed, be its global status or the external environment.
  • It is time to intensify our economic, strategic and diplomatic relations with the countries in the region with whom we share common concerns amid China’s growing economic and military strengths.

Analysis

Act East Policy (2014): Act East Policy has been primarily focused on the inclusive set: ASEAN countries + Economic Integration + East Asian countries + Security cooperation.

Security is an important dimension of India's Act East Policy.

  • In the context of growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, securing freedom of navigation and India's role in the Indian Ocean is a key feature of Act East Policy.
  • In pursuance of this, India has been engaged under the narrative of Indo-pacific and informal grouping called Quad.

India’s Act East Policy is based on 4C’s:

  1. Culture
  2. Commerce
  3. Connectivity
  4. Capacity building

China as a Potential Concern:

  • China has been working on disruptive technologies like AI, advanced robotics, quantum computing, hypersonic systems, new materials and renewable energy to establish military dominance through ‘informatisation’ and ‘intelligentisation’.

Intelligentisation is the uniquely Chinese concept of applying AI’s machine speed and processing power to military planning, operational command, and decision support.

  • With its Act East policy, India hopes to deepen its political, economic and security relationships with the countries of Southeast Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific. Balancing against the rise of China is a key driver.
  • Between 2012 and 2018, Beijing upgraded its bilateral relations with almost all ASEAN member-states to either ‘strategic cooperative partnership’ or ‘comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership’.
  • According to global arms transfer data, a bulk of Chinese arms exports are made to India’s neighbourhood-Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
  • Several ASEAN countries such as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are currently locked in territorial dispute and maritime claims with China in the South China Sea.
  • The latest issue has been the bitter standoff between India and China across LAC in eastern Ladakh. Concerns have also been raised about the China building bridge across Ladakh’s Pangong Lake.

Complex Relation of China with the Countries in the Region:

  • Australia and South Korea: China’s rise has compelled Indian outreach to forge stronger defence partnerships. India wants to deepen security ties with both the economic power as both countries have shown concern about China’s stance on the South China Sea dispute.
  • Vietnam: It has a long history of disputed relationships with China, characterised by distrust and fundamental differences. Vietnam is also found shunning Huawei’s (Chinese company) 5G network. Vietnam is committed to protecting its sovereignty and territorial rights.
  • Philippines: The Philippines has been historically Washington’s ally. It has shown concerns over China’s activities in the South China Sea.
  • Singapore: Its status has been oscillating between a region of vital interest for the USA and reality on the doorstep for China. It's sensitive about its security and wants to retain its independent voice in the region.
  • Myanmar: There is a strong Chinese presence in terms of trade and investments in Myanmar. China-Myanmar Economic Corridor as a part of BRI initiative. Myanmar offers access to China in the Bay of Bengal region. But Myanmar has retained its distrust across a succession of Myanmarese regimes.
  • Indonesia: Chinese ships have been found to trespass Indonesian waters, and Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats enter Indonesia’s territories.
  • Malaysia: Despite China’s regular presence in Malaysia’s maritime economic zone, Malaysia has avoided confrontations. In December 2019 it submitted a petition with the United Nations “to better delineate its continental shelf claims in the South China Sea.

ASEAN member’s responses to China:

The positions of individual member states of ASEAN with China can be categorised as bandwagoners, hesitant hedgers, and active hedgers.

Bandwagoners

Hesitant hedgers

Active hedgers

Laos

Philippines

Singapore

Brunei

Malaysia

Vietnam

Cambodia

Myanmar

 

 

Thailand

 

 

Indonesia

 

India’s Role in the Region:

  • Net Security Provider: India can become a reliable weapons supplier for several of our friendly nations, this will give India’s strategic partnerships more heft. It will also shape India’s position as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • Reliable weapon supplier to friendly nations: It would shape India’s position as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region by emerging as a reliable weapon supplier to friendly nations, a resolve that is linked to the goal of self-reliance in defence manufacturing.
  • Reinforcing partnership in weapon manufacturing: It would reinforce India’s strategic partnerships as the roadmap for greater participation of the private sector in weapon manufacturing and invited foreign players to set up shops given the reforms being unrolled in FDI and labour rules.
  • Making the global economy more resilient: The Atmanirbhar initiative is not inward-looking but was aimed at making the global economy more resilient and stable and was directed at the goal of world peace.

Importance of being Self-Sufficient in Defence:

  • Better management of Balance of Payments (cutting on imports)
  • Less dependence on supplier during times of emergency
  • Employment generation
  • Capacity building
  • Boost to innovation
  • Futurist technology programs
  • Countering China’s expansion: India’s self-reliance in defence technology not only secure its territories from the territorial uncertainties but also offer a means to counter Chinese aspirational strategist infrastructural projects like BRI and its increasing interference in the region. Certainly, it offers India an opportunity to attract the countries in the region and work harmoniously with them through the economic and defence ties to counter Chinese aggression and distrust.

Reforms in Indian Defence Sector:

  • Changes in foreign direct investment (FDI) regulations: India changed its foreign direct investment (FDI) regulations to allow investments of up to 74 per cent in the defence manufacturing sector under its automatic route, which was previously limited to 49 per cent. This is an important decision for a sector that is struggling to attract investment.
  • Implementing a negative import list of 209 weapons systems: It has been renamed as the ‘positive indigenisation list’. The government wants to reduce the dependence on imported items in defence and give a shot in the arm to the domestic defence manufacturing industry.
  • Establishment of Defence Industrial Corridors: The centre has decided to set up two defence corridors in Tamil Nadu and in Uttar Pradesh to line up the domestic production of defence equipment’s by the public sector, MSMEs and private sector. The aim was not just self-reliance but to ‘Make for the world’, emphasising that exports would be a priority area in the coming years. This will help India to establish a manufacturing ecosystem
  • Corporatisation of the ‘Ordnance Factory Board’: Corporatisation of the Ordnance Factory Board would be one of the biggest reforms in defence manufacturing in decades.

Recent developments:

  • ‘BrahMos’ supersonic cruise missiles to Vietnam and the Philippines: India is likely to sell its BrahMos cruise missiles to Vietnam and the Philippines to boost its defence export market and have an edge over China. Vietnam is also procuring 12 Fast Attack Crafts and is also interested in Advanced Light Helicopters and Akash surface-to-air missiles.
  • Increased share in global arms exports: India increased its share of global arms exports by 228%, from 0.1% between 2011-2015 to 0.2% between 2016-2020. Its top recipients include Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius.

Items that India can Export:

  • AK-203 Riffles
  • BhraMos missile systems
  • Arjun Mk-1A tank
  • LCA/Helicopters
  • Radars
  • Bulletproof jackets
  • Multi-purpose light transport aircraft
  • Warships and Patrol Vessels

Conclusion:

Wars of the future will be different from traditional warfare. It is going to be a contactless, non-kinetic war, which shall be governed from the space. India has a bigger role to play amidst geopolitical and geostrategic shifts in the Indian Ocean Region where on one hand United States bats for ‘Free and open Indo-Pacific’ and China’s BRI and maritime claims on the other.

India is presently exporting to 42 countries defence-related equipment or systems and it is just the beginning, a lot of development is yet to be seen. To ensure that the vision of self-reliance should not become a euphemism for protectionism it has already made platforms like Innovations for Defence Excellence (Idex) initiatives, start-up forums and giving requisite importance to the collaboration of countries from ASEAN and the Indian Ocean Region. It is going to open a new chapter in the direction of establishing India as a net security provider, further adding to its Act East Policy.

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