Context: In a phase, where the west is adapting to Asian rules, RCEP will have immediate geopolitical and economic implications. India’s challenge will be in securing an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in this phase.
What is Asian centrality?
- ‘ASEAN centrality’ rejects the current frame of the West setting the agenda while allowing the West to adapt Asian rules and marking the end of the colonial phase of global history.
How Asian-led world order is emerging?
- Economic integration:
- The mega trade deal is led by ASEAN, not by China, and includes Japan and Australia, military allies of the U.S.
- The new frame goes beyond transfer of goods and services, focuses on integration and facilitating supply chains for sharing prosperity, requiring a very different calculus for assessment.
- Rise of China and India:
- Both China and India are breaking the monopoly of the West in wireless telecommunications, AI and other emerging technologies.
- India has also, in the UN, questioned Western domination calling for a “reformed multilateralism”.
- RCEP’s new rules on electronic commerce could offset losses in declining trade in goods. ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ will leverage indigineous technological strength, data and population.
- Declining power of west:
- Despite its military ‘pivot’ to Asia, the U.S. needs India in the Quad, to counterbalance the spread of China’s influence through land-based trade links.
- With the ASEAN ‘code of conduct’ in the South China Sea, both the security and prosperity pillars of the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific construct will be adversely impacted.
- The U.S. Congressional Research Service report identifies four key elements to strengthen its global governance:
- Global leadership.
- Defence and promotion of the liberal international order.
- Defence and promotion of freedom, democracy, and human rights; and
- Prevention of the emergence of regional hegemons in Eurasia.
What India needs to do?
- Reduce dependence: India needs a new strategic doctrine and mindset.
- Focus on technology transfer: With the Rafale aircraft purchase, India has recognised that there will be no technology transfer for capital equipment.
- Modernisation: Military Theatre Commands should be tasked with border defence giving the offensive role to cyber, missile and special forces based on endogenous capacity, effectively linking economic and military strength.
- Infrastructure development: The overriding priority should be infrastructure including electricity and fibre optic connectivity; self-reliance in semiconductors, electric batteries and solar panels; and skill development.
- Counter china: Leveraging proven digital prowess to complement the infrastructure of China’s Belt and Road Initiative will win friends as countries value multi-polarity.
- Joining RCEP: The RCEP already includes India’s priorities such as rules of origin, services and e-commerce also RCEP members have expressed their “strong will” to re-engage India, essentially to balance China.
There are compelling geopolitical and economic reasons for India in shaping the Asia-led order, which is not yet China-led, to secure an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat.