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India in Northeast Asia

Dmitry Shelest on the prospects for the development of the second Asian giant after China

India - a giant, confidently catching up with China in terms of population, economic growth, the level of defense and geopolitical ambitions. The attention of the Indian leadership to the states of Northeast Asia (Northeast Asia): China, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea, the DPRK, Russia, Taiwan and Japan is dictated both by the need for domestic development of the country and by the foreign policy strategy of New Delhi. In this vein, the Russian Far East has every opportunity to become the end point of Indian aspirations in the northeastern direction.

India in Northeast Asia
Photo: REUTERS / Adnan Abidi

Dmitry Shelest

Deputy Director of the Expert-Analytical Center of the Far Eastern Federal University
India's ambitious plans were not formed in one day and have a half-century history. If at the beginning of the formation of the Indian state after gaining independence in 1947, New Delhi was more focused on cooperation with the Soviet Union, then in the 70-ies. Last century, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi began to actively seek opportunities to attract foreign investment, technology and improve the economic system. So, the joint project with the Japanese company "Suzuki" in 1974 year has begun the Indian concern "Suzuki-Maruti". In 1981, in an interview with the Japanese newspaper Asahi, the country's fifth prime minister noted that "India adheres to the concept of the so-called mixed economy" 1, to a certain extent partially indicating a departure from the views of the first cabinet minister and his father, Jawaharlal Nehru.

However, for that period of considerable volume of trade or political relations with the NEA states and the Far East of Soviet Russia was not observed. Delhi dealt with solving political and economic problems within the country and with its immediate neighbors. The only exceptions for India were the USSR and Japan. 

The main major trade and political partner of that time for the Republic of India was the Soviet Union, whose relations reached their peak in the 80-ies. Moscow used the sea route from the ports of the Far East to support its southern ally. In 1967, the line of the Far Eastern Shipping Company was opened - FESCO-India Line, which includes the base points in India - Calcutta and Madras. Later, at the end of 60, and then in 70-80 years in the Far East, within the framework of agreements on military-technical cooperation between India and the USSR, Indian servicemen were trained in the Pacific Fleet.    

It should be noted that in the 80-ies, Japan was also a significant trading partner for India, ranking second in terms of trade volume and third in terms of assistance. At the same time, Tokyo tried to strengthen and develop cultural ties with New Delhi both at the governmental level and at the level of people's diplomacy, especially in the field of Buddhist heritage. For the whole time of Japanese-Indian cooperation, relations between the two countries were clouded only by nuclear tests on the subcontinent of Hindustan at 1974 and 1998. In general, after India gained independence, Tokyo constantly demonstrated its readiness for strategic partnership with New Delhi along with the Soviet Union, which little is known about in modern Russia.

In 1991, India embarked on a path of economic reform, and then Prime Minister Narasimho Rao declared the Look East Policy. The new approach assumed not only the liberalization of economic relations, but also more active cooperation in the field of foreign trade and investment with the states of East Asia. In fact, this was the first step in New Delhi's realization of its global ambitions and, at the same time, to go beyond the usual economic relations. India gradually expanded its economic ties, complementing its relations with the NEA states. So, in the 90s, Delhi signed a number of agreements on cooperation in the field of science and economics, even with the ideologically distant Pyongyang.

It is noteworthy that after the opening of the port of Vladivostok, the Consulate General of the Republic of India was the first diplomatic mission in the once closed city in 1992. Then, India continued to "develop" the Russian Far East, paying attention to the Sakhalin shelf. In 1996, Russian-Indian negotiations began on the possibility of participation of companies from India in the production of hydrocarbons on the island. Sakhalin and at the same time the Indian company ONGC Videsh Ltd. Joined the Sakhalin-1 consortium. 

Over the last decade of the XX century, the state of Hindustan has made many steps in an eastern direction. Stable ties were formed with Taiwan (Republic of China) and the India-Taipei Association was established. And in 1999, the current Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, was the first significant Indian politician to visit Taiwan. India entered into a Bilateral Investment Agreement with South Korea in 1996, and a commission for cooperation between the two states was established in the same year. At the same time, despite political disagreements, New Delhi has increased trade with Beijing, and since the early 90s, India-China summits have been held on a regular basis. Ties with Japan were progressively strengthened. High-level contacts between New Delhi and Tokyo from 1985 to 1995 exceeded the number of such meetings for the entire previous period. At the same time, India made military and political steps towards cooperation with the NEA states, demonstrating its geopolitical ambitions. An example is the participation in the Team Challenge military maneuvers in the Philippines, together with South Korea and Japan, which did not prevent this approach from being combined with military-technical cooperation with Moscow. For example, in 1996, India began purchasing Russian Su-30-MKI fighters manufactured at the Far Eastern enterprise - Irkutsk Aviation Plant, increasing its share in purchases of Russian arms and military equipment by more than 20%.   

In turn, the high rates of economic growth during the period of reforms made it possible to pursue a more active foreign policy in Northeast Asia and in the first decade of the 2007st century. The number of contacts at the highest level with Japan has significantly increased, the Indian partner has begun to occupy one of the first places in Tokyo's foreign policy priorities. The Year of Japanese-Indian Friendship (2001) became a catalyst for a further increase in the volume of cooperation between the two states in all areas. At this time, the Indian-Mongolian agreement on cooperation in the defense sphere was concluded (2006), and in 2012 Delhi and Ulaanbaatar reached an Agreement on Strategic Partnership. Since the beginning of the XNUMXs, the Indian leadership has successfully increased economic relations with North Korea, bringing the volume of trade to almost a billion US dollars, and only the strengthening of sanctions against Pyongyang in XNUMX significantly reduced these indicators. Naturally, economic feasibility incline Delhi and Beijing to closer cooperation. Relations with the Republic of Korea are also developing incrementally: it is enough to note the purchase of eight mine protection ships for the Indian Navy in the same year.

In addition to participating in Far Eastern projects for the production of hydrocarbons, India purchased a nuclear submarine of the project K-152 "Nerpa" in 2012, leased at the Amur Shipyard. As an example of cooperation in the field of energy, we can cite the agreement between Gazprom and the Indian company Gail from 2012, which provides for the supply of liquefied natural gas to India.  

In 2014 after the victory of Bharatiya Janata Party in the election and the election of Norendra Modi as the fourteenth prime minister, the latter were declared economic strategies: "Do in India" and "Act in the East." In fact, to date, New Delhi operates within these strategies, which in turn can be called the system-forming factors of India's foreign policy course. In this context, it is clear the general aspiration of India and China to increase trade turnover to 100 billion US dollars, even with a lot of unresolved border disputes and various political systems. He also makes a high bid on cooperation with Tokyo, and the Indian prime minister sees prospects not only in the sphere of technology transfer and economy, but also in the sphere of security. In 2015, during the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister to India, an investment agreement was signed for 34 billion US dollars, which, in particular, was correlated with the program "Do it in India."

Against this background, New Delhi also purposefully strengthens its presence in the Far East of the Russian Federation. In 2014, a Memorandum on the joint development of the Arctic shelf was signed between Indian ONGC and Rosneft. India's Ambassador to Russia, Pankaj Saran, offered further participation in the development of the Sakhalin Shelf by Indian companies in the framework of the Sakhalin-2 and Sakhalin-3 projects. During his visit to Russia in June 2017 timed to coincide with the 70 anniversary of Russian-Indian relations, Narendra Modi met with the leaders of three Far Eastern regions: Primorsky and Khabarovsk Territories, as well as the Sakhalin Region, during a meeting with sixteen Russian governors. At the East Economic Forum held in September 2017, the Indian delegation was the most representative and included two ministers (Industry and Commerce, Foreign Affairs). This resulted in major investment agreements for the development of a coal field in Kamchatka by the Indian company TATA, diamond processing and cutting centers in Vladivostok and Yakutia, projects in agriculture, pharmacological industry and IT. In military-strategic terms, the relationship was summed up by the joint military exercises Indra-2017.

Thus, the cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi is actively developing in a number of directions in the Russian Far East. Today, in the Russian-Indian relations, the traditional areas of cooperation and trade diversification are being renewed, and cooperation in the oil and gas, mining, precious stones, agriculture, tourism, shipbuilding and logistics, fisheries, pharmaceuticals and natural resources processing continues. This is facilitated by the economic potential of the Far East in the form of rich natural resources and mechanisms of state support, including the Territories of advanced development and the Free Port of Vladivostok. In addition to the above, the two states share the interest in developing new transport routes and logistics corridors linking India, Russia and Pacific Asia.

Even a conventional historical excursion allows us to assert that India's focus on economic and political presence in the Asia-Pacific region and its sub-region - NEA is a completely natural process. In turn, since 1991, this pattern has gradually taken shape as concrete measures of the Indian government, and in the second decade of the XNUMXst century it has taken on the form of a complete strategy. Accordingly, today the Russian Far East represents for India access to natural resources, a new stage of military cooperation, an open path to the Arctic, expansion of bilateral trade, and by default contains a geopolitical component.

Obviously, for India, commercial and industrial expansion to the limits of the Eastern Hemisphere closes a definite strategy. Despite the positive history of cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi, India's orientation toward the "development" of the East of Russia gives grounds to hope for a new stage of fruitful cooperation. And the interaction of the Russian Federation and the Republic of India with the NEA states can also bring a synergistic effect for the development of the Far Eastern regions of the Russian Federation.
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