SOURCE: Hindustan Times
China’s growing naval presence in the Indo-Pacific has prompted a new dimension to the defence relationship between India and the UK that was formalised in a statement during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bilateral meetings on Wednesday.
Experts say this is the first time the term “Indo-Pacific” has been used in an India-UK defencestatement and reflects the “China factor”. India and Britain have a wide-ranging defence relationship that includes the Ajeya Warrior exercise between the two armies every two years.
The statement said: “Discussions have also been held on how the Royal Navy can work more closely with their Indian counterparts to ensure the safety and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region – tackling piracy and drug trafficking, as well as protecting freedom of navigation rights.”
It added, “The UK already plays an active role in maritime security in this region through counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and maritime security operations because a free and open Indo-Pacific area is in the interests of the UK, India and the international community.”
Harsh V Pant, professor in the department of defence studies at King’s College London, said: “New Delhi is now more open than ever before in working with like-minded countries to manage the negative externalities of China’s rise in the region.
“Given the complementarities, it is natural for the Indian and Royal navies to enhance cooperation, particularly to safeguard the freedom of navigation.”
Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior fellow for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, believes it is significant that the term Indo-Pacific was used for the first time in an India-UK joint statement.
“This indicates growing bilateral consensus on the importance of this region as well as the freedom of navigation and overflight and adherence to the rules of law. While this clearly has Chinese assertiveness in mind, it also provides a template for real active India-UK bilateral cooperation on maritime security, much neglected so far,” he said.
India and Western countries, Pant said, have a broadlysimilar outlook on the changing balance of power in the Indian Ocean region. India already has pacts with France and the US that allow for the useof each other’s naval facilities in the region on a reciprocal basis.
Britain’s defence ministry said the agreement reached on Wednesday will enable collaboration on internet governance, promoting international cyber stability, tackling online crime and developing cyber security sectors between the two countries.