Dr T V Paul, is a Professor at James McGill University, Canada and Director (Founding), Global Research Network on Peaceful Change (GRENPEC). In his interaction with Dr Prakash P, topics including soft power and hard power balance, India’s role in the Indo-Pacific region, China’s paths to rise as a superpower were discussed.
Excerpts from his interview:
Dr P Prakash: How do you view the current power dynamics in the Indo-pacific?
Prof TV Paul: The region is a construct, in the past great power politics, imperial decided what constitutes region. So, during the British period, Southeast Asia is considered a greater British India – Singapore, Burma, Afghanistan etc. The region has a spatial connection, cultural connection and geopolitical connection. In the post-World War era, Asia is considered as a system, K.M Pannikar’s famous book “Asia and Western Dominance (1953)” tells Asia a system, Prime Minister Nehru also advocated and visualized Asia, not South Asia. South Asia is a term which came later only during the Cold War period, where the superpowers started to see East Asia separately because they are developing faster and they also part of the US alliance. The South Asian remained separate because it is poor and weak. Things have changed now; China is rising with a grand strategy like building Belt Road Initiative and Maritime Silk Route (MSR) which connect East Asia, Southeast Asia with South Asia. Chinese naval influence in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean is increasing in the past couple of decades, which indicates that the Chinese security perimeter is broadened. The US realized that it is important to bring India into the fold of “Asia-pacific.” India also sees it as a positive development as it is emerging as a major economic and military power in the region. India should use the geopolitical opportunity to build economic strength and then have a counter-strategy to China’s BRI and MSR. The security dilemma can be mitigated through institutions and confidence-building measures. The traditional security competition may not be sufficient to have a regional role because ASEAN countries and India doesn’t war with China.
Dr P Prakash: How do you view China’s rise and its impact on India?
Prof TV Paul: Historically, China was a leading trading nation and has contributed immensely to global GDP. China wants to regain its position as a leading economy and trading nation. Infrastructure development through BRI is a positive aspect of China’s grand strategy. The debt remains a concern and will have a negative impact on Chinese influence in the region. China’s decision to build a strong navy and asserting its right in the region will be confronted by the US navy. If war breaks out, regional powers soft balancing with China has to join the war. China is in flux; it has not yet challenged the sovereign state system yet as the previous rising powers have done. Chinese have not militarized the BRI and China is a number one trading partner with many countries in the region. The peaceful rise of China is a clever strategy. To counter China’s threat India needs to become stronger both economically, diplomatically as well as needs to strengthen its military powers.
Dr P Prakash: What should be India’s role in the Indo-pacific? The US has been asking India to play a bigger role in the region? Do you think India is responding positively to the US demand?
Prof TV Paul: India –US relationship is growing strongly. The President Trump visit to India this year just signifies the importance of India in the US strategy. On the societal level, the US liberal believes India is changing and the liberal values are diminishing. It will be a major concern for India. India is an indispensable power for the US and the only power that can deter China. India must use this geopolitical opportunity for economic, technological development. “Make in India” is a crucial step which can boost India’s export potential. Indian policymakers should take into consideration of these developments into account before framing the policy.
Dr P Prakash: Why has Quad gained more momentum recently?
Prof TV Paul: Quad is nothing but soft balancing as an informal partnership to keep a check on the aggressive power as well as hard balancing if the situation worsens and can prove to be a great strategic tool. The Quad is also useful for the interaction between inter-service agencies (Army, Navy and Air Force). My suggestion would be to use economic collaboration more effectively. The economic cooperation will strengthen political and military cooperation rather than using the forum for diplomatic dialogue. India should benefit from soft power balancing economically.
Dr P Prakash: What are the Opportunities for India in the Arctic?
Prof TV Paul: India in the Arctic should have a clever strategy from the beginning and needs to play a role in institution-building to avoid conflicts with the state powers in the Arctic in the future. India requires to work with the regional countries of the Arctic. It is important that India should come up with ideas for the collective exploitation of the Arctic without causing any danger to the environment.
Dr P Prakash: What do you think is the importance of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) for India?
Prof TV Paul: Joining RCEP without building the exporting strength can have a harmful effect on the Indian economy as Chinese and other South Asian countries can dump their goods in the Indian market. However, it will be foolhardy to not indulge in free trade. Thus the bureaucrats and the government require to work on strategies to improve the export. India also needs to produce more goods at home rather than importing in order to have a better chance to fare well in the RCEP.