By Saroj Mohanty
"India is so situated that it is the pivot of Western, Southern and Southeast Asia. Though not directly a Pacific state, India will invaribaly exercise an important influence there. India will also develop as the centre of economic and political activity in the Indian Ocean area in the Southeast Asia and right up to the Middle East."
Jawaharlal Nehru's words nearly 70 years ago ring true today as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rounds off his major diplomatic missions with visits to Russia and China this week, after trips to the US and Southeast Asia, indicating the strategic direction of India's relations with the larger Asia- Pacific region.
Asia-Pacific security figured in his talks with President Barack Obama last month and with East Asia Summit partners like Japan and Australia this month. This will figure again in his talks with President Vadimir Putin Monday as both exchange views on regional and global problems.
Russia has put up a proposal to create a security architecture involving the East Asia Summit partners for the region, which has emerged as a vital centre of economic growth and political influence. Russia is seeking to boost its presence in the Pacific, bridge the gap between its own policies toward Asia and Europe, and figure out a way to work with regional players.
"Russia's policy in the Asia Pacific is deliberate and focused, aimed at a stable balance of power and the development of truly regional agenda. We are of course already benefiting from our time-tested friendships with China, India and Vietnam," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this month, adding that Putin has "personally signalled his commitment" to these efforts.
As part of a new charm offensive in the Southeast Asia, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the 16th ASEAN-China Summit in Brunei this month proposed cooperation in seven areas, including boosting maritime cooperation and exchanges in the field of security and discussions on signing a Treaty on Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation.
Earlier in April, President Xi Jinping told the Bao Forum that China will promote friendship and partnership with neighbours.
Constructing a sustainable regional security architecture has been a much talked about issue amidst the growing military tensions -- on the one hand between China and the East Asian neighbours and, on the other, between China and the US. Maritime security is one of the biggest concern in the region. Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam and Malysia are embroiled in territorial disputes with China over several resource-rich islands in the South China Sea. India has its own issues with the South China Sea. China has challenged India' drilling on an oil bloc awarded to it by Vietnam.
And it is believed that any miscalculations over territorial disputes could disrupt trade flows and have global consequences.
"We should reaffirm the principles of maritime security, including the right of passage and unimpeded commerce in accordance with international law, and peaceful settlement of maritime disputes," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reminded the East Asia Summit members.
And at the 11th ASEAN-India Summit, the prime minister declared India's readiness to respond to the ASEAN request to strengthen its Political Security Community Blueprint 2015.
Also the situation in Afghanistan, Middle East and North Africa which directly affects the national interests of the two countries would be on the agenda. Both India and Russia share a common concern about the future of Afghanistan after the US and NATO pullout after 2014.
"We are in solidarity with our Indian friends that we should continue to negotiate closely our approaches to what is happening in Afghanistan and around the country, particularly with due account of the factor of 2014," Lavrov said after talks with Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid in Moscow earlier this month.
"We are concerned over the prospect that the situation in that country will continue to deteriorate and the prospect that the threats will be spreading more and more actively outside Afghanistan."
Russia and India have a long history of cooperation on Afghanistan through the years when the Taliban ruled the country in the 1990s. It was Russia which had got Indian and Chinese officials together to discuss the future of Afghanistan earlier this year.
"Trilateral relations are very important," says Khurshid, adding that foreign ministers of India, Russia and China (RIC) will meet next month in New Delhi. "The ASEM (Asia-Europe) ministers will also gather."
Russia is supportive of India's membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), holding that the regional security group will certainly benefit from this. "We believe that the time has come," said Lavrov.
Currently, India has an observer status in the organisation.
India has sought peace and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific and an open and inclusive security architecture. It is not known what would be the rules of the road and how and in what way the game would be played. But one thing is certain. India, with its democratic governance leading to transparency in foreign policy motives, would be right there playing the game with a straight bat.
The prime minister's regional swing is aimed not just at fostering a network of strong relations among the region's major players, but reinforcing the strategic and economic interests that India's Look East policy, now extending to the Indo-Pacific, has long recognised.
(Saroj Mohanty is a strategic affairs analyst at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
-- Indo-Asian News Service