Sunjoy Joshi, Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Raji, ADM. John C. Aquilino, and Gen. Bipin Rawat
Speaker 1 (00:02):
Good afternoon everyone. And thank you so much for joining us. We are at the start of the program. So if I could invite Mr. Sunjoy Joshi chairman at ORF to join us on stage and give the welcome remarks. Mr. Joshi.
Sunjoy Joshi (0:026):
Good afternoon, everybody. General Bipin Rawat, chief of defense staff, India, Admiral Aquilino in Pacific commander of the US Armed Forces, excellencies, distinguished guests, colleagues and audience, which is joining us online, large numbers. This is a hybrid format. One of the events which we are doing after a long gap because of the pandemic. Well, these are tumultuous times in a tumultuous region, and that is why today's conversation, which we are hosting becomes extremely significant for all of us, for all the people joining us, whether here or on the screens. The fact is that the emergence of the Indo-Pacific maritime geography bringing together the two oceans represents not just the new strategic reality, but rather the geo-economic contours of the 21st century. And as such, it is today emerging as the most significant domains in the international order. In more ways than one, the U.S. has always been the prominent non-resident power in the region.
Sunjoy Joshi (01:53):
And today, many other actors are looking to be present here in various ways. And the impact of the evolving dynamics has not been lost on New Delhi, which has moved significantly to refresh a strategic stance and align itself for the momentous changes, which are taking place in the larger strategic environment. And India has definitely moved quickly to expand this focus solely from the threats emanating from its continental borders, deeper into the maritime space. And India’s own approach to the Indo-Pacific today is shaped by the changes which are happening in the region and particularly the Indian Ocean region and south Asia. So for India, there's growing partnership with countries such as the U.S., Australia, Japan, France, the ASEAN, it forms the core of its Indo-Pacific policy. The fact is yes, the rise of China and is expanding economic, political, and military engagements from Europe and Africa to Asia and the Pacific and the constant saber rattling, whether it'd be the South China Sea, the Taiwan straits in Caicos or across the Himalayas, and the LOC Lac have made it the largest, not just most significant actor. I would rather see the disruptor in this space. Now, countries in the region share their growing concerns about the free and open Indo-Pacific and the rules-based international order. I mean, that is what binds us together.
Sunjoy Joshi (03:41):
The U.S. has seen a transition from President Trump to President Biden, but as far as Indo-Pacific is concerned, the growing convergence between our sites only has grown stronger and the Biden administration has moved extremely quickly, as soon as it took office to emphasize what its security alliances and the larger alliances mean in the region and across the world. So there have been many reasons for this, this year, the U.S. Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, we have Admiral Aquilino with us here today. External affairs administer, Jaishankar, during his remarks prior to the bilateral meeting with the Secretary of State had highlighted that our interests are shade, our concerns are similar, and our convergences are strong. And the fact of growing convergences is what holds us together. And I think these convergences are only going to get stronger. They are getting stronger. The growing convergences between India and the U.S. have now outlasted the tenures of several governments on both sides on, in, in both our democracies. And especially in the last few years, our relations have grown both legs and wings. They've grown both bilaterally and through the various multilateral platforms in Indo-Pacific. The various strategy documents on the U.S. side have also stressed the need for strengthened relations. The U.S. State Department has very vehemently said it supports India's emergence as a leading global power and vital partner in efforts to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is a region of peace, stability, and growing prosperity.
Sunjoy Joshi (05:36):
Recent events have demonstrated how the arrow of time has the ability to upturn the best of intents and upturn, the largest biggest geopolitical considerations. And the experience of Afghanistan, no doubt, has left many lessons in in its wake for all of us. Lessons on the scope and dimensions of the partnership, on strengthened consultations and coordination, on interventions and global partnerships. Should these lessons we learned, they only underline once again, our growing convergence in the Indo-Pacific. A convergence that has a potential to drive inter-use engagement, not only regionally, but into the global level, and far deeper. So where we stand today, 25th, August, 2021. I can really think of no two better people than the ones addressing us today to discuss all this and much more. So, thank you all for being here. With this, may I invite our guests, General Bipin Rawat and Admiral Aquilino, onto the stage here. So, and to conduct these proceedings, we have with us the head of ORF strategic studies department, Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, Raji, to take them, to grill them, and present this before you.
Sunjoy Joshi (07:07):
Please give them a big hand. So over to you Raji.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (07:27):
Hi, Don. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good morning, everyone and welcome to this morning's discussions. My name is Raji Rajagopalan. I'm the director of the center for security strategy and technology at the Observer Research Foundation. I'm delighted to be moderating this discussion on the Indo-Pacific and the importance of the India-U.S. partnership in this regard, shaping the 21st century. The reasons, I think are very clear, as to why this relationship has become stronger over the years. And what is driving the relationship. The past year and a half have been a wild ride for all of us, especially in the Indo-Pacific. The events leading to the, from the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the pandemic, as well as China's aggressive behavior against all of its smaller neighbors in the Indo-Pacific against South China Sea in South China Sea, as well as against Japan and Taiwan on the east and against India on the west have been important developments that have made the situation a lot more precarious and intense for all of us.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (08:32):
So a lot of issues to discuss, and I think the India-U.S. relationship and the strategy partnership that has become stronger, will continue to be driving much of the Indo-Pacific strategic dynamics that we want to see. So a lot of issues to discuss, and I have two terrific and important guests to discuss these issues in the morning. General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defense Staff India, and Admiral John Aquilino, Commander of the United States-Indo-Pacific Command. Two practitioners who can tell us how they address these issues on a day-to-day basis. And what lies ahead in terms of the opportunities while both India and the U.S. to shape the upcoming strategy in the Indo-Pacific region.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (09:12):
So let's start with the most recent development, Afghanistan. I think the fast deteriorating situation in Afghanistan has become sort of a news grabbing event, but at the same time, I think it's important to see how it affects the Indo-Pacific strategic engagements, because given that there has been some questions about the U.S. credibility and the U.S.’s role in this region. What do you see as the implications for the Indo-Pacific region? Should the U.S. partners and allies be worried about the U.S. commitment and role in the Indo-Pacific region? Maybe given that much of this, we are talking in the context of the U.S. exit, the USA withdrawal from Afghanistan. Let me start with Admiral Aquilino.
ADM. John C. Aquilino (10:00):
Well, thank you very much. I first have to thank General Rawat for spending time and for the tremendous hospitality that I've gotten here in India. It's my honor, and pleasure to be back in here and meeting with his staff and the team. And I'd like to thank the ORF team, specifically Mr. Yoshi, Dr. Sarran, and Dr. Rajagopalan. Did I say that right? Close enough. Thank you. I really appreciate the team coming together and allow us to speak on this important topic today. It was very important for me. India was my first trip planned when I took over and the critical partnership that exists is the reason. So I'm happy to be here. Thank you very much. As you talk about the link or the challenge between the Indo-Pacific and Afghanistan, I think what I would say is Afghanistan is not in my area of responsibility. That said, I appreciate, and General Rawat and I talked this morning, about the challenges for the security of India, both west and east. The United States is committed to ensure we get all of our citizens out and the citizens of our partner, there's been close coordination between India and between central command to ensure that our citizens are safe and extracted.
ADM. John C. Aquilino (11:25):
So that's the Afghanistan piece from my lane. As we look east, however we certainly have capability and capacity to do more than one thing. The United States is a Pacific nation and have been there for 80 years. We've set and underwritten the security that has generated the prosperity and security and peaceful environment that we've set now for 80 years, post-World War II. So, the continuous deterrence to ensure open sea lanes, rules-based international order; my team executes that every day. And our partnership with India is critical because we are like-minded nations. We have common values; that for rules-based international order, that for all nations with an equal voice to settle disputes peacefully, the gift of human rights. Those common values are what bind us together. And we will continue to operate in the Pacific to ensure that all nations continue to share that prosperity and security. And I guess I would say it this way, we continue to prove that there's no better friend or ally than the United States, and there will be no worst adversary if it gets to that. Thank you.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (12:55):
Thank you, that's very reassuring. Let me take that question to General Rawat. From an Indian perspective, how does the evolving situation of Afghanistan look to you? And surely we expected this to happen, but the pace at which some of these developments have unfolded, has there been any surprise to you or how are we dealing with the situation? And what are the kinds of challenges that we are looking at in terms of looking ahead?
Gen. Bipin Rawat (13:24):
Admiral Aquilino has already brought out what the issues are in Afghanistan. All that I would say is everything that has happened was something that had been anticipated. Only the timelines have changed. So it's, from the Indian perspective, we were anticipating the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. We were concerned about how the terrorist activity from Afghanistan could overflow to India. And so to that extent, our contingency planning had been ongoing and we are prepared for that. Yes, the timeline that certainly surprised us because we were anticipating this thing happening maybe a couple of months down the line, but it is pretty much the same. It is the same Taliban that was there 20 years ago. The news reports and reports from the experts who have come from there are all telling us that the kind of activities that Taliban is into. All that has happened is that the partners have now changed. The same Taliban with different partners.
Gen. Bipin Rawat (14:25):
How does it affect the Indo-Pacific region? I think Indo-Pacific is in a different plane altogether, dealing with Afghanistan and Taliban and terrorism from that perspective is something which we are all together fighting the global war on terrorism. There is something which was announced many years ago. So I think the Indo-Pacific issue is a different issue. It is all talking about a freedom of navigation on the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean region, irrespective of what the seas or oceans are called by whatever name, we just want freedom of navigation. It also involves, you know, the kind of ecological imbalance that is happening, the kind of disasters we are witnessing in these areas. You know, there are large number of nations in this region, which can be considered as the haves and the have nots, what everybody gets if equally affected by the disaster. So how can we all come together, bring support to the nations who are amongst the have-nots, need support. And therefore, I think if you have a grouping of nations in this manner, and we have strategic partnerships in this manner, we can come to the rescue, people who get affected by this. So I think the Indo-Pacific and the Afghan situation should not be looked at from the same prism. They are two different issues. Yes, it is a challenge to security in this region, both, both challenges to security in the region, but they are on two different planes. And those two parallel lines are unlikely to meet. On that side we have to ensure that we are prepared to fight all actions by the terrorists’ activities. Our nation has committed to ensure that we have a terrorist-free environment in the region. So as far as Afghanistan is concerned, we will make sure that any activity, which is likely to flow out of Afghanistan and then find its way into India will be dealt with in the manner in which we are dealing with terrorism in our country. And I think if any other support can be coming from forthcoming from the coordinations in at least identifying details and getting some intelligence input to fight this global war on terrorism, I think that would be welcome.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (16:29):
Thank you. Thank you general. I think that's very useful in terms of, especially the last point that you mentioned bringing a coalition, especially of the QUAD countries or bringing a coalition of the like-minded countries to tackle the global terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I think that's important. So let me just dwell into the next question. Looking at the whole question of the security issues confronting the Indo-Pacific region. So, in your view, what are the most serious security and strategic challenges facing this region, the Indo-Pacific region? And how best are these addressed? Can the U.S. do it alone, or how are you looking at partnerships in shaping the dynamics, the strategic dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region? And specifically, the kind of challenges that we face today? How are you looking at partners, are partnerships important to you and how important does the U.S. think? Is there a lot that you can do or how do you look at the situation?
ADM. John C. Aquilino (17:24):
Thanks. So there are many challenges. I think General Rawat just brought up the issue of freedom of navigation, but the greatest challenge that I see and there are many, right? So my secretary has identified the Indo-Pacific region as the most consequential region for our future. And also the one with the most challenging security concerns. The attack on the rules-based international order that allows freedom of navigation for all, is certainly one of those critical challenges. And it's foundational. Again, you heard General Rawat talk about it a little bit. That freedom of navigation allows two thirds of the world's economy to flow through the South China Sea, one quarter of the world's liquid national gas, natural gas, flows through that area. It is critical for the prosperity of all the nations and when it is challenged and potentially confronted, that will negatively impact all the nations in the region. So those are the foundational security concerns that I see. Now, there are many more, there is economic coercion, there's corruption, there's challenges that the Indians specifically are seeing with regards to sovereignty on the line of actual control, there are rules against the people of Hong Kong that challenge the region. So there's no lack of security concerns. Taiwan is being pressured via air and maritime execution or operations. Now, to get after it partnerships, alliances, and like-minded nations operating together is foundational. The U.S. we are all better when we operate together. So you've heard my president and my secretary talk about the importance of international, of our relations with our allies, partners, and friends. And those will ensure that common voices for the common benefit of all are the way we get after that. Our efforts together, our exercises, our operations, our engagements strengthen those partnerships which allow us to get over all those security challenges.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (20:05):
General Rawat, how do you look at the evolving situation and what are the major challenges that you see?
Gen. Bipin Rawat (20:10):
I fully agree with what the admiral has said. You know, when we talk about the Indo-Pacific region, we are basically looking at strategic partnerships between the nations which formed this QUAD to ensure that there is complete FONOPS in this area, that is freedom of navigation, on these oceans within the international rule-based order. Now, what does it imply as brought out large amount of trade happened in this area? And trade is actually linked to economic development. This is a region which is witnessing economic development, all the countries in the Asian sub-continent and including Southeast Asia are now evolving economies. Now, any disruption in the trade imbalance is likely to lead to, you know, the, the development process in those nations. So therefore, we want freedom of navigation happening, but what does it imply? We want that there should be complete neutrality on the seas and the oceans in this region. But what happens when somebody attempts to challenge this neutrality? What is then going to be the action by the coordination is something I think, which we have to debate and think about in the future.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (21:18):
Thank You. I think again a lot of different challenges for India, U.S., and other important Indo-Pacific partners. So considering the different U.S. partnerships with the regional partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific, what are possibly some of the major challenges in terms of working with these partners; are there capacity and capability mismatch, is that an issue? Or are there problems because of different military institutional and security culture? Or more significantly, is there a kind of a mismatch in terms of the threat perception? And just to give you an example: China, for instance, is the major concern for all of us, but I think there is even as China is the major focus, there is a mismatch, slight mismatch. I'm not sure that it's, it's a huge problem if it’s any hindrance, but in terms of the U.S. or the Australia for Japan, the major focus is on the Pacific. But for India, rightly so the focus is on the Indian Ocean. So is there any sort of a mismatch in terms of the threat perceptions and how we sort of address these challenges in the coming years?
ADM. John C. Aquilino (22:24):
I think I would tell you, I have almost no concerns about being able to operate together. So, many many examples of the like-minded nations that we discussed coming together and operating, whether it be Malabar that's executing right now. So the QUAD nations operating, training and operating and exercising together whether it's a trilateral operations that we do, U.S., Japan, Korea, whether it's ASEAN nations operating together, whether it's the rim of the Pacific exercise with 27 nations, the last time operated pre-COVID, coming together to be interoperable. And if there were any challenge at all I would say that interoperability is the one that I would highlight.
ADM. John C. Aquilino (23:22):
We overcome it all the time. It would be great to get better at it, but what we would, what we would strive for is to be able to quickly come together and be interoperable at any point in time, to be able to respond to humanitarian assistance events or in time of crisis, should we need to operate together. So again, no concerns about many, many nations operating effectively across the entire region, whether it be Indian Ocean or Pacific the continued effort towards interoperability is one that we have to continue to work. And again, General Rawat and I talked a little bit about this this morning. Having the same equipment really helps, and we continue to work together to try to make it as easy as possible to be interoperable.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (24:22):
Absolutely, from your perspective, how do you look at the U.S. partnership, and have you, in terms of the security culture or the mismatch in threat perceptions, or have there been any issues? Or, we are on a strong footing and it's only going to grow? How do you look at that relationship?
Gen. Bipin Rawat (24:40):
See, firstly, I would like to say that the waters in the oceans, they flow from one ocean to the other. They don't follow boundaries. These boundaries are all manmade, Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. Therefore, I think when we talk of trade and freedom of navigation, we need to look at Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean as one entity, because you cannot have trade happening only in the Indian Ocean region and somebody else controlling the Pacific region. So it has to be Indo-Pacific. And that is why I think we have referred to this as the Indo-Pacific region. Now, when we are talking of all the other issues, of course, as of now, the QUAD, as I said, is specifically a strategic partnership between four nations for foreign ops and for the freedom of navigate high seas, and of course for, as I said, disaster mitigation, which I said is happening a lot because of ecological changes that are happening, but to be able to support each other, firstly, we have to understand each other. We have to understand the language that we talk. And when we talk about the language, it is military parlance, you know what we talk is military parlance. And that is important to understand. And that can only happen if you have frequent constant engagement with each other. And that is what we are attempting to do; that if the militaries of the QUAD work together, talk to each other, and as the Admiral also brought out, there has to be some commonality of equipment. You know, your signal communication equipment can only talk to each other if you're talking in the same frequencies in the same wavelength. So that is what is important. So, to be able to talk to each other, we have to engage with each other, interact with each other, and move forward. I think that is what we are looking at in the future.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (26:18):
Thank you. Let me just move into one or two questions, more specifically pertaining to China. We have seen new to, a couple of new reports about the new Chinese nuclear silo feeds that are coming up. At least two major pieces have been cited. What's your assessment of the Chinese, China's nuclear expansion plans? Is it simply a way to better hide their nuclear missiles or to present the second strike capability? Or is there something more serious afoot such as Chinese effort to catch up or matchup or even surpass the United States or the Russian nuclear arsenal in a sense; where do you see the Chinese nuclear expansion plans moving forward?
ADM. John C. Aquilino (27:05):
Well, I think, I guess what I would say is I don't really look specifically at the nuclear threat. What I would look at is the entire Chinese way forward with regard to military expansion, the largest military buildup in history since World War II, both conventional and nuclear. In all domains, I don't think I will try to explain what that their intent is but trying to understand their intent is a little concerning. The articulation of defensive capabilities is what we continue to hear. We also continue to see that the words from the PLA do not always match the deeds. So, it is one of the reasons that we are concerned. That expansion, the real question is not why, but what do they intend to do with it? And that remains to be seen.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (28:13):
Absolutely. Let me take the same question to General Rawat. How is India looking at these reports and what do you make of them? Could this lead to some changes in India's own policy, nuclear policy, nuclear strategy, in a sense what, what do you see coming forward in a sense?
Gen. Bipin Rawat (28:34):
Well, firstly, I would like to say that these strategic weapons are weapons of deterrence. They are not meant to be engaging nations in combat. So if a nation is developing bigger arsenals, developing new strategies for improving the strategic deterrence, it is basically to ensure that you cannot overtake that nation in a jiffy. And I mean, it's only looking at its own strategic deterrence capability. As far as we are concerned, we have, we are concerned about what is happening anywhere in the region, because it's not just a northern neighbor, even a Western neighbor has these nuclear weapon systems. So we are surrounded by two neighbors, which are armed with these strategic weapons, and therefore we are evolving our strategies accordingly. And let me tell you that it is with this, you know, (29:26) starting this intent of our, of our neighbors that we've gone in for a triad, and now we have a triad. So we are all sort of evolving and developing our capabilities accordingly. And so we've, we are evolving and I think we are studying this very carefully. It should not be major concern because as said, these are weapons of deterrence. These will only come into being if your conventional deterrence fails. So I think conventionally, we are very strong. So we are quite capable of dealing with the adversary with our conventional forces. So I mean they would go into the strategic domain only if they find that the conventional deterrence against us is failing. So that I think that is the next level, which does concern us. But as of now, we are quite confident of dealing with both the adversities in the, in the conventional domain.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (30:10):
Thank you. Let me just sort of, I don't, I have one more specific question regarding China. That's regarding the overall building of the military power. I think you've talked about it. But I think something that has been particularly astonishing is the pace at which they have been developing their aircraft carriers in a sense. If one were to compare the size of size with India's the, the size of the carriers are particularly impressive in what China has done are much larger than the Indian carriers. So where do you expect the Chinese aircraft carrier program to be going within the decade? Will the focus continue to be on the South China Sea, or do you expect them to venture out into the Pacific and Indian Ocean in the coming years? In a sense.
ADM. John C. Aquilino (30:56):
As we talked about it, the carrier program is certainly one of the programs that has, we've seen the largest growth from the initial purchase of a former Russian carrier and then an indigenous, indigenously produced second one. We believe the third one will be a much larger carrier with catapults, flat deck for assisted catapult assisted take offs and landings. Clearly a desire to build a larger, more capable carrier force. And this goes back to the question with regard to the strategic issue we just discussed. They could operate anywhere. I can't predict where that will be. They could be off the coast of India. They could be off the coast of the United States. And the question again is not what are they going to do with them, or, or where are they going to go with them, but what do they intend to do with them?
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (31:59):
General Rawat, how do you look at the Chinese expansion of the naval power in general, but again, more specifically on the aircraft carrier program because our numbers also are an issue. So how do you look at the situation?
Gen. Bipin Rawat (32:14):
Yeah, we are seeing the navy expanding exponentially. I think a core data is possibly the largest expanding navy in the world. And we surely see the threat also emerging in the Indian Ocean region. So therefore, we have to also counter the threat by ensuring that we also develop our naval armada accordingly and show that we are able to take control of the, at least the Indian Ocean region and the Indo-Pacific, along with the other strategic partnership that we are evolving. So that is very important for us, and I think that has been given the right impetus by our government to ensure that we see that we are capable of defending the high seas, and the, and our interests in the Indian Ocean region. And I would say the Indo-Pacific. Well, certainly the carriers that the Chinese are building are not just for the Pacific or the South China Sea. (33:07) They will definitely foray beyond that because they are aspiring to become a global power. And if that is their aspiration then we will see these carriers all over the oceans, as the Admiral mentioned. They may be on the coasts of America, they may be on South America, they could go into the African sub-continent, all over, but our concern as of now with the Indian Ocean region, is to make sure that we are able to take care of our concerns. And I think to that extent, I think our navy has been given a Philip and we are moving in the right direction as of now.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (33:41):
Okay. thank you. Next, let me just go into the QUAD a bit. After a gap, I think we saw the participation of the Australian navy in the last year of Malabar exercise in November. Call it by any name. You can call it by Malabar, but essentially it was the QUAD in action, in a sense. So where do you see the QUAD going in the coming years? What are the kinds of activities that they will undertake? Clearly there have been significant shifts even within India, especially among the elite opinion on, on how, on the strategic threat posed by China and how India must respond. There have been even calls to sort of a militarize, the QUAD in a sense to jointly operate. We have been operating together, but an undertake, go beyond the joint exercises to something more concrete. So what are the kind of agenda that you can see that the QUAD nations will take up? Can they, can be, can we think about possible coordination mechanisms and some sort of a division of labor it's along the way. It's not something that immediately will happen, but can you think about better coordination and division of labor? Every country doesn't have to be involved in, in every single theater, but so some sort of coordination can mechanism, can evolve among the QUAD countries, in dealing with the challenges?
ADM. John C. Aquilino (35:00):
Thanks. So the coordination across the QUAD nations, at least from a military perspective, happens every day. So the coordination and linkage within our staffs and our teams to be able to operate when and where we choose it was very gracious of India to host Malabar and invite the participating nations. I would say in the future there could be other nations that plugin at the, as long as the four nation leaders would concur with it. I don't believe the QUAD is limiting, and it's just one example of the many ways that like-minded nations can operate together. It's especially valuable, however, for four high-end nations with military capabilities, to be able to come together, inter-operate, and participate in operations like this. I could see it moving as currently executed in the Pacific for phase one. It goes over to the Bay of Bengal for phase two. We've done this before, but it's less magic than many people want to talk about because of our close relationship, our continuous coordination. And I would see only an expansion of these four like-minded nations in combinations with other nations. As I said before, whether it be mini-lateral, multi-lateral all towards the goal of international rule-based order and ensuring the freedom of navigation that General Rawat described. So that's why we come together, and we do it frequently for all the right reasons.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (36:45):
General Rawat, your ideas on how the QUAD countries can shape the agenda in the coming years?
Gen. Bipin Rawat (36:52):
See, we have very clearly articulated the purpose of QUAD, we have said it is for freedom of navigation, and as I rightly said, for any disaster mitigation that might happen. But who's going to be the first responder in these cases? To ensure the freedom of navigation, it will obviously be the navies and the militaries of the four nations that are there. So to be able to operate together, we will have to engage with each other, talk to each other. So as of now, I think the, the charter for the QUAD has been very well jelly spelled out and as the Admiral brought out, whether it'll expand the way it'll expand will happen after we have discussion among the four nations. So what direction, the dimension, the future will take, it's very difficult to state at this moment. But as of now, I think our four nations need to work together to ensure that what has been given as a charter to us, we are able to accomplish within the assigned mission that had been evolving.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (37:45):
So both of you emphasized the rules based order and how the FONOPS become an important operational aspect of how we worked in the QUAD, but how does the QUAD and other members of the countries in the Indo-Pacific deal with new kinds of threats, like for instance, China's maritime militia. That is something very, that's not a regular normal military force. So they do not represent. So they, they, in a sense they pose very different set of challenges when it comes to how we can confront them and what what's a way to address them in a sense. So this is mostly in the South China Sea, but it's also beginning to feature a lot more in the Senkaku side as well. But I think one can only expect this to happen in the Indian Ocean areas as well. So how do you look at the new maritime militia? The Chinese are purposely using them to, so that there, there is no direct response from the U.S. and other QUAD members in a sense.
ADM. John C. Aquilino (38:44):
Well, operations below the level of armed conflict, or what is referred to as the gray zone is certainly concerning. The military militia, as you articulated, is one form of that. There are cyber concerns, but I think what we would, what would benefit all of us is to highlight those efforts and things that go on. Just most recently, you saw the Philippines concerned about over 200 ships down by Whitsun Reef which was negatively affecting their ability to fish and execute their livelihood. Exposing those types of behaviors, I think, is beneficial for all to see. When it is not highlighted, then I think we lose a chance for all of those nations to come together and condemn those efforts that directly impact either nation sovereignty, prosperity, and certainly all of our concern for security and stability in the region.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (39:52):
Gen. Bipin Rawat:
But actually, I fully concur with what the Admiral has said. And there’s not much to add to this, I think whatever he said is very much in sync with what is our thought process.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (40:06):
Okay. Terrific. And I think we have maybe another five minutes, so let's. So, the Indo-Pacific region is also beginning to see new partnership, new partners coming in in a big way. So how did the, how do the global powers and regional actors sort of align in a sense to work together, to confront the same set of challenges? And I think what new networks and relationships, can you, can be, can sort of determine the shape of the Indo-Pacific? Particularly I want to know how are we sort of relating to the new actors in terms of Europe? It's good to have the political support, but I think you are seeing more than a political support in terms of them sending their ships and so on and so forth. So, what is the view of the major Indo-Pacific powers, the India, India, and the U.S., and the QUAD itself, to engage the new powers, especially from Europe who are also capable powers, but whether they are, capable of, capable and willing to send their war ships and so on and so forth and deal with the situation and the Indo-Pacific is, is a question. But I think again, I think we can look at how they can also become proactive in the region. Your thoughts on that?
ADM. John C. Aquilino (41:14):
Yeah. I think what you're seeing is a recognition by all of the global nations of the important strategic importance of this region for economies, for free flow of trade. The EU is just as impacted if you were to think about a blockage of trade in the, in this part of the region. So again, we welcome all like-minded nations who want to operate in accordance with international law. We welcome the Queen Elizabeth. It's a good example of, again, what I think right looks like. So you have a British warship with U.S. aircraft embarked, you have a Danish escort ship, and a U.S. escort ship. And as they steam through, they've operated by, with, and through a variety of nations in the region as they've come through, with open arms, peacefully. And that to me is kind of what I think the future looks like. General Rawat is probably looking at where he might be able to have an opportunity with Queen Elizabeth to challenge that interoperability and familiarness with our other like-minded partners and allies. So to me, it's just a great example of what the next step looks like, how we expand our cooperation, how the four nations of Malabar could potentially add a nation here, there, and expand our efforts. So, it's just a really good example of both the strategic nature and what I think you'll see more of from the militaries in and out of the region.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan:
Okay. So your thoughts.
Gen. Bipin Rawat (42:59):
Yeah. When you look at the Indian Ocean region or the Indo-Pacific, there are nations outside this region also, which have interests in this area. You know, interests not just because of trade that they're doing with nations in this region, but also because of some historical linkages that they've had in the past. And as far as India is concerned, we do carry out a lot of bilateral engagements. So nations, which wish to operate in this region, because as I said, because of ensuring that they support freedom of navigation, or because of the historical past, we do carry out joint exercises with them on a bilateral level. So if the, if the UK is sending its you know, the carrier group here, the Queen Elizabeth, we will certainly participate with them and exercise with them. We've done so with many other countries; we've done this with the Russians as well. We've done it with French. So we are doing it with anybody who's willing to come to this region with a common cause. And the common cause is FONOPS, as I said, freedom of navigation, ensuring that we are able to operate together because you never know which naval ships may be here in the region when some disaster strikes or something else happens. So you should have the capability and the capacity to deal with them at that time. Because all of a sudden, if you find you have to interact with a particular nation, it is not easy unless you have not interacted or conducted exercises with them in an earlier timeframe. So that is more important. So during peace time, when everything is hunky-dory, it is better to engage so that you're prepared for the worst when the situation arrives. And if you are expected to then act or react a particular situation.
Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan (44:33):
Thank you. Thank you so much, both to Admiral Aquilino and General Rawat. I think this has been a very, very rich discussion and we couldn't have had two better people, the two practitioners to talk to us about the challenges and the strategy challenges, that we are, that are faced by all of us in the Indo-Pacific region. And some of the key terms that I keep hearing again, and again is one is the freedom of navigation operations, FONOPS, and the rules-based order, ensuring the rules-based order, and interoperability. And I purposely did not keep the India-U.S. partnership today, this discussion in a, in a, in a, in a strict bilateral sense, because I think the relationship needs to be kept in a broader framework of the Indo-Pacific. We should not lose sight of the bigger challenges that are faced in the region and the commonalities that bring us together, the shared vision of the Indo-Pacific. So thank you so much for sharing your time with us and sharing your insights with us today. I would invite two of my younger colleagues to come to the podium to offer a token of appreciation to the, to our two guests today. Thank you. [inaudible] and Sitara.