Executive Conversation with Prof. S. D. Muni
In the context of US ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy, much attention has been focused on China’s rise and US-China relations, while the role of India as an important actor in the Asia Pacific region has been little discussed. With this in mind, on 30 April 2015, the GCSP held an executive conversation on ‘India and the Asia Pacific Region: Current Trends and Future Prospects’ and invited Professor Muni to make a presentation on India’s view of the Asia Pacific order.
Visiting research professor at the National University of Singapore, Institute of South Asian Studies and Hon. Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Defense studies and Analyses, New Delhi, Professor Muni also served as India’s Special Envoy to Southeast Asian countries on UN Security Council Reforms from 2005 to 2006 and India’s Ambassador to Lao PDR from 1997 to 1999.
Colonel Christian Bühlmann, Head of the Regional Development Programme, delivered the opening remark. With the second largest population in the world and a booming economy, India, under its new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is becoming an influential actor in the Asia-Pacific region with regional and global impact.
In this larger context, Professor Muni shared his insights on India’s views on the region. He developed his points in terms of eastern and western sides of India. On the western side, he mentioned the role of Pakistan and Afghanistan in India’s foreign relations. India is very wary of the spillover effects of the security situation and potential instability in the two countries. On the eastern side, he talked about China’s rise and China-US relations.
According to him, China, a rising great power, is making great efforts to restructure the existing regional order. China is becoming more assertive in its territorial disputes in the South China Sea. While smaller neighbors fear its military might, China is advancing primarily through a “charm offensive”, chiefly economic, for instance its new initiatives of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, and the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (the Belt and Road Initiative).
China is also very wary of US strategy in reaction to a rebalance or ‘pivot to Asia’. In Professor Muni’s view, it is a big challenge for the countries in the region to balance China’s growing economic power and US’s strategic pressure.
To handle this, India, on the one hand, continued its former policy and strengthened its strategic partnership with the US through top-level bilateral visits. On the other hand, India adopted a multidimensional approach and deepened its relations with China, Russia and other regional actors through different regional platforms, such as the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
In the face of China’s rise, India did not favor the unipolar regional order, or the US-China bipolar order. According to Professor Muni, an “Asian Century” cannot be achieved if its major players quarrel rather than collaborate. For almost two thousand years, India and China grew together peacefully, and there should be no reason why they cannot do so again.
Professor Muni also took questions from the participants and shared his views on Russia’s role in the region, India’s relations with the European Union, Asia’s security architecture and the prospect of the Asian century. Colonel Bühlmann concluded the insightful conversation and thanked Ms. Julie Hollins for the organisation of the event.
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