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[op-ed snap] The new bipolarity in Asia

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Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Pivot to Asia, ASEAN, APEC

Mains level: India’s rise as a leader in Indo Pacific region


Dichotomy in the rule-based global order

  1. U.S. President Donald Trump makes no secret of the fact that he believes in a world governed by self-interest, with little room for shared responsibility
  2. In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping is projecting himself as a firm believer in globalisation and free trade
  3. It is against this backdrop that there are signs of a new bipolarity taking shape in Asia
  4. It possibly seeks to replace similar attempts by the U.S. previously — such as the pivot to Asia — to counter China and its aggressive designs in the region
  5. Implicitly, though not as yet explicitly, it seeks to create a coalition of all those willing to align with the U.S. against China’s expanding ambitions and its inexorable march towards dominance in Asia

An anti-China coalition?

  1. Talks held recently at the level of officials between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India (the Quadrilateral) are seen as an indication of this
  2. As China’s expansionist attitudes intensify, more countries in East and Southeast Asia are expected to align with the Quadrilateral group of countries
  3. Vietnam could be one such country, but quite a few other countries in the region could follow suit

Attitudinal changes

  1. The recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings provided a further glimpse of attitudinal changes that are in the making
  2. Mr. Trump and PM Modi made use of this occasion to announce that the two countries were prepared to work together for the future of Asia
  3. It is a euphemism for what many see as keeping a check on China’s aggressive designs in the region
  4. It is, perhaps, for the first time that India has indicated a resolve to align openly with the U.S. to tackle broader issues in the Indo-Pacific region

China willing to accept the challenge

  1. The recent 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress placed special emphasis on a strong military “capable of winning wars”
  2. The deliberations left little room for any adjustment or compromise to accommodate the concerns of other countries of Asia, or for that matter the U.S.
  3. The deliberations of the Party Congress have further emboldened China to pursue its preferred course of action

Advantage that China possesses

  1. Apart from its massive military build-up, China is positioned most advantageously as far as economic aspects are concerned
  2. It is today the most important trading partner for over 90 countries
  3. Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has caught the imagination of the world, including that of Europe
  4. Most countries of Asia and Europe, including many of India’s neighbours, do not seem to have a problem with the BRI

Sustaining bipolarity not going to be easy

  1. Latent concerns about Chinese expansionism have not prevented several Asian nations from endorsing and backing the BRI
  2. Most Asian nations also show no inclination or desire to blame China for siding with Pakistan, which continues to shelter high-ranking global terrorists, including Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar
  3. Even Mr. Trump, during his recent visit to China, seemed to have softened his criticism of China, after China produced some attractive mega deals
  4. All this only exposes the vulnerabilities of bipolarity in the extant situation today

India emerging as a leader

  1. In Asia, India, Japan and, to an extent, Vietnam appear willing to endorse the U.S. initiative to build up opposition to China’s designs
  2. India has lately taken up issues well beyond South Asia, such as North Korea and China’s actions in the South China Sea
  3. Currently, India is emerging as one of the countries in the region firmly committed to freedom of navigation and over-flight
  4. Also, for unimpeded commerce based on the principles of international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
  5. This puts it in direct confrontation with China, as also in opposing China’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific

Way Forward

  1. As the outlines of a new bipolarity in Asia become clearer, and with the formal setting up of the Quadrilateral, China is certain to regard all this as an attempt to encircle it
  2. This will pave the way for a new round of turmoil as China might use both force and inducements to win more and more Asian countries to its side
  3. The consequences of this could be quite significant for peace and stability in the Asian region

ASEAN Summit: Eye on China as India joins quadrilateral with US, Australia & Japan

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Mains Paper 2 | Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

The following things are important from UPSC perspective:
Prelims level: Quadrilateral dialogue
Mains level: This article talks about the issues discussed at the first Quadrilateral meeting in Manila.


The First Meeting of the Quadrilateral

  1. With an eye on China’s activities in the region, the first meeting of Indian officials in Manila with those from the US, Australia, and Japan described as the “quadrilateral” was held a day before the ASEAN summits begin in the Philippines
  2. The meeting was chaired by Japan
  3. The last such meeting took place in 2007, after which Australia had quit such a dialogue mechanism

Key Issues discussed in the meeting

  1. Key issues of common interest in the “Indo-Pacific region” were discussed, with an eye on China and the aim of reaching a common ground on a “free and open” Indo-Pacific with an apparent reference to freedom of navigation on the South China Sea
  2. The common challenges of terrorism and proliferation linkages impacting the region were also discussed.
  3. The clandestine links between North Korea and Pakistan in the development of their nuclear programmes were also highlighted.

Indian Statement

  1. According to the Indian statement, discussions focused on cooperation based on converging vision and values for the promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected region that they share with each other and with other partners.
  2. The Indian side highlighted India’s Act East Policy as the cornerstone of its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, placing focus on the role of ASEAN and Southeast Asia.

Japanese Statement

  1. Japan’s foreign ministry said they discussed measures to ensure a free and open international order based on the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific
  2. Also proliferation threats, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues, against which maximized pressure needs to be applied, ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, and countering terrorism were also discussed

Australian Statement

  1. Australia shared the vision for increased prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific region and to work together to ensure it remains free and open.
  2. This includes upholding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight; increase connectivity; coordinate on efforts to address the challenges of countering terrorism and upholding maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.
  3. Officials agreed to work together to address threats to international peace and security posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programmes.
  4. The participants are committed to continuing quadrilateral discussions and deepening cooperation on the basis of shared values and principles.

Learn more about APEC

  1. About: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a regional economic forum established in 1989
  2. Aim: to create greater prosperity for the people of the region by promoting balanced, inclusive, sustainable, innovative and secure growth and by accelerating regional economic integration
  3. Members: 21
  4. Structure: In APEC, all economies have an equal say and decision-making is reached by consensus
  5. No binding commitments or treaty obligations
    Commitments are undertaken on a voluntary basis and capacity building projects help members implement APEC initiatives
  6. Permanent secretariat: Singapore

Don’t make binding concessions for APEC

  1. Warning: The Commerce Ministry has cautioned the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) against ceding to demands to secure an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) membership
  2. Concessions demanded: India should offer binding concessions for an agreement to reduce industrial tariffs to very low levels or eliminate them over a specified time period
  3. Also, an early deal on a Bilateral Investment Treaty with the U.S., and its participating in negotiations for a proposed Investment Facilitation Agreement at WTO-level

Bill introduced in US Congress to help India join APEC

  1. ख़बर: ओबामा प्रशासन से भारत को ऐपेक(एशिया प्रशांत आर्थिक सहयोग) मंच का सदस्य बनाने में मदद की मांग करते हुए, कुछ प्रभावशाली अमेरीकी विधि निर्माताओं ने विधेयक पेश किया है।
  2. संदर्भ: उनका कहना है कि आर्थिक रूप से संपन्न भारत, एशिया में अमेरिका के रणनीतिक लक्ष्यों हेतु मददगार साबित होगा।
  3. विधेयक के बारे में: यह चिह्नित करता है कि अमेरिका-भारत सहयोग एशिया-प्रशांत क्षेत्र में अमेरिका के रणनीतिक लक्ष्यों हेतु आवश्यक है और प्रशासन के एशियाई पुनः संतुलन हेतु एक आधारभूत पहलू है।
  4. भारत के लिए फ़ायदे:
  • ऐपेक सदस्यता भारत को उन एशियाई देशों से पूरा ज्ञान हासिल करने हेतु एक रचनात्मक मंच प्रदान करेगी, जिन्होंने पहले से ही अपनी अर्थव्यस्थाओं को अग्रगति प्रदान करने हेतु अर्थपूर्ण कदम उठा लिए हैं।
  • भारत बड़े आर्थिक सुधारों हेतु प्रयासरत है, जो भारत के बाज़ारों को और मुक्त बनाएं, व्यापार मात्रा बढाएं, और इसकी बढती जनसंख्या की नौकरियों में वृद्धि की सतत मांग को सुगम बनाएं।

India a worthy contender for APEC membership

  1. The decision to consider applications for new memberships would be taken at the APEC Summit in November.
  2. India’s membership gains significance, because there is study of a much larger Asia Pacific Free Trade agreement.
  3. APEC is the missing link to the Modi government’s Act East policy.
  4. Indian labour could be a big beneficiary of India joining the APEC because many APEC economies will face labour shortages in the future because of aging populations.

India gets an invite to join APEC

  1. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation is a forum for 21 Pacific Rim member economies.
  2. It seeks to promote free trade and economic cooperation throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
  3. APEC and the WTO are complementary but unlike WTO, APEC has no treaty obligations.

:( We are working on most probable questions. Do check back this section.

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