I read the article A relic of a bygone age? I might be, but I’m not a defeatist by Mr Paul Keating, ex PM of Australia. He has been very critical of QUAD and has lampooned the current Australian Government . He says “The government’s AUKUS agreement re-staples us to the Anglosphere – the world of the Atlantic, while stridently turning its back on our geography, Asia, in the same awkward movement”. That is fine. Being an ex PM of a robust democracy, he has all the right to criticise his Government. However his portrayal of India in the manner which he has, reflects something deeper. In fact it is not acceptable to me as a proud Indian who has defended his nation for every living moment of his life.
At the outset, let me reproduce what he has written lest he feels that he has been quoted out of context. He says “ The moment a loud shot was fired, the Indians would lock themselves in their peninsula and the Japanese would do what they always do, negotiate from under the table. That would leave the United States and mugs like us carrying a military fight to the Chinese all by our righteous selves”. He goes on to articulate “ India is having us all on. India enjoys the impenetrable wall of the Himalayas on its north and the protection of two oceans around its distended peninsula. And it has a population younger and as large as that of China. It is in an undefeatable position. And no power would try to defeat it – certainly not the Chinese”. He further claims that Henry Kissinger and he shared a strategic view that India “would never be part of the East Asian system”. A view which he has always firmly held. He further says that India, as “a founder of the non-aligned movement, has historically been allergic to alliances, having no desire whatsoever to put all its eggs into one basket – something it will never do”. He also finds it “impossible to imagine the Indian Navy attacking Chinese military or civilian assets in the South China Sea – an area completely remote from the safety and comity of India’s waterlocked peninsula – notwithstanding the odd skirmish each has every decade or so on their Himalayan border”. Also India as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. will turn up as large as life to the next meeting as it has turned up, as large as life, for America’s Quad follies in the White House.
The most significant point he makes is that China poses no threat to USA and by extension to the rest of the world. In his world view, China appears to be a benign power and QUAD is an anti-Chinese formulation for the USA. He has avoided mentioning that China occupied and built islands in the South China Sea and usurped Hong Kong illegally despite international assurances and treaties to the contrary. He has also missed out that China threatened Japan with dire consequences over the Senkakus. He has omitted the fact that China tried to militarily alter the LAC in Tibet unilaterally. He has also not mentioned that China has been putting out videos of firing aircraft carrier, breaking missiles and missile attacks on Guam. Most importantly his amnesia has extended to the fact that a second rate diplomat of the Chinese embassy publicly threatened an Australian minister and its people and promised them of dire consequences. Hence there is ‘something’ more to Mr Keating’s diatribe. That ‘something’ jumps out from his background which includes his role in establishing the APEC leaders’ meeting and his service on the board of the China Development Bank. As I went through the article I got the feeling that Australia has a large segment of Sino inclined politicians like Mr Keating, who believe that China is best for the world. If that be so, India’s commitment to the QUAD needs reassessment. What if the next Australian Government changes tack? What if Mr Paul Keating’s political descendants come to power and torpedo QUAD ? After all we have had one bad experience when Mr Kevin Rudd torpedoed the QUAD long back and let it adrift. Is Australia a reliable long term partner? If there is no bipartisanship in respective domestic political spectrums there is serious trouble in the Indo Australian relationship.
Mr Keating also says that he finds it “ impossible to imagine the Indian Navy attacking Chinese military or civilian assets in the South China Sea “. He is right. However his strategic assessment of the military situation and Indo Pacific strategic construct is leaky at best. Firstly, will QUAD be better off putting all eggs in the South China Sea basket when it can open two fronts against China and stretch it? Secondly. Indo Pacific has two parts – Indian and Pacific oceans. It is not confined to an oversized lake called the South China Sea. Thirdly. Indian Navy attacking Chinese military or civilian assets in the South China Sea is as difficult to imagine as it is to imagine Australian Army attacking Chinese military assets in Tibet. Any partnership is a reciprocal arrangement and not a one way street. Fourthly. I am sure that Mr Keating knows all this , but political convenience and motivation has made him leave all of it out.
The statement that Indians would lock themselves in their peninsula to leave the United States and Australian mugs to fight to the Chinese all by their righteous selves is funny to say the least. When did Australia fight the Chinese? When did they last fight ever with anyone? With what? Does he have any idea of the Sino Indian adversarial relationship? Has he got an iota of an idea of the Sino-Pak collusivity against India? Does he even understand the Nuclear triangle in which India is locked in ? In fact he seems to have a poor strategic sense of India. If this is the public view of an ex Australian PM, we need to deeply introspect on Australian reliability as a strategic partner. What if Australia ditches us like it did to France in the AUKUS deal?
The impenetrable wall of the Himalayas, protection of two oceans, a population younger and as large as that of China has not prevented China from laying claim on large tracts of India and in attempting to militarily settle the issue. It is a different thing that China has failed miserably thrice since 1967. Mr Keating is right in one respect. India is too strong for China to attack and overcome. In such a case is it not right and in fitness of things to have such a strong country as your strategic partner? Mr Keating and his followers in Australia need to understand one more issue. India will and can handle China on its own. India also understands that when the chips are down, it will have to fight alone. It is also clear that when the time comes the Australian island will shut down and stand aside when the Chinese come calling if the Keating’s of this world have anything to do with it. However, even this has not stopped us from seeking a partnership with Australia. There is this greater principle of being robust democracies.
Kissinger and Mr Keating are right. India will “never be part of the East Asian system”. The reason being that India is too big to be part of a small part of the globe. India is central to West, South , Central and East Asia. The distended peninsula of India is the only country which has an ocean named after it on this globe. It has to be for some reason. However that seems to be beyond some Australians. As far as Kissinger is concerned, he and Nixon allowed the genocide in Bangladesh to continue when they could have saved so many lives. This world would have been far better if Kissinger had not been born the toad he is. Mr Keating keeps august company indeed. The India on the global stage is now an ‘aspiring India’ rising to be a world power. As a world power it will have multilateral arrangements to suit its national and global interests of like-minded nations. It is for Australia to understand this. I am sure that many Australians understand this well. However some obviously do not. Those amongst them will do well to remember that gone are the times when Bill Lawry’s team could come to Chepauk and win test matches on spinning tracks. These are the days when the likes of Rishabh Pant come and knock down fortress Gabba on fast bouncy tracks. Mr Keating , you are right in your self-assessment of being a relic. Please stay that way and stop commenting on issues beyond a relic.
To end this critique, I would like to put across that India and Australia have a shared history of being part of the Commonwealth. They have a common bond in being great democracies. They have common threats to their open way of life. They have a common love of the great Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar. I have read the response of Lavina Lee and that of Marise Payne, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Mr Keating’s sinicised view. They are quite balanced and reassuring. When Ms Marisse Payne says that “Australia must compete to preserve and shape the international order that has underpinned decades of prosperity and economic stability in the Indo-Pacific. We have influence and agency to do so as a significant regional power”, she is right and talking sense. All Indians and Australians must also thank Mr Keating for his views. As distended as they are as the Indian Peninsula, they serve a larger purpose. They have shown the possible pitfalls which can develop in the Indo-Australian relationship. It is important for both nations with such a good ‘people to people’ connect to work together for common goals to get around these pitfalls.
PS : Does the Sydney Morning Herald consider carrying this article ? Does it have the courage to do so?
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