By Collins Chong Yew Keat

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Strategically located within India’s necklace of diamonds counter balancing strategy against China’s trings of pearls encirclement, Malaysia forms an integral  plan of India’s Act East Policy.

India’s strategic dominance  in Andaman Sea and Nicobar Island chain at the entry point to Malacca Strait will further strengthen its blue water navy and renewed naval power  postures beyond the Indian Ocean. Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit to  Malaysia reflects that urgency in its Eastern strategy.

India is cognisant  that Malaysia is seeking counterbalancing forces against China, and India and Japan remain the two players that remain crucial in this calculation.

Malaysia’s decision to opt for South Korea’s FA-50 jets instead of India’s Tejas  is not a hindrance to future defence ties, as both countries realise the overarching criticality of deeper security partnership spectrum.

India through its Indian defence industry will continue to engage with Malaysia on defence assets cooperation including on inventory modernisation and upkeep. Areas of defence  science  and  defence industries particularly in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) will be primed for key parameters in joint asset development.

Establishment of the SU-30 Forum and the Strategic Affairs Working Group to elevate the cooperation between the two ministries remains a symbol of greater trust and intent.

Both wanted the recent good momentum to be enhanced for the realisation of the roadmap for the 4th Decade of India-Malaysia Defence Cooperation, especially highlighting the Third Pillar of the National Defence Strategy, which is on Credible Partnerships, as outlined by Malaysia's Defence White Paper (DWP). India fits the spectrum of this new sphere of defence partnerships  pillared on the moral high ground of trust, democracy and rule of law.

With lesser dependence on other powers in Malaysia’s defence spectrum, it will  also provide India with greater  strategic maneuvering rooms in depending on Malaysia  in  times of conflict,being able to rely on Malaysia’s safe defensive assets in complementing its joint security concept. Areas of joint interoperability and cooperation to tackle other non-traditional  maritime and transboundary threats will provide a positive chain impact  on both players’ readiness and mutual trust.

China, having little to no combat experience over the decades since the defeat in the Vietnam War, needed a consistent series of joint exercises and training with key allies including Russia, Iran and several Southeast Asian states to maintain combat efficacy and readiness. India needs the same, and so does Malaysia.

Both Kuala Lumpur and Delhi remain strategically interlinked in security assurances and positive returns. Indian Naval Ships and Indian Coast Guard Ships frequently make port calls at Malaysian ports, with various military exercises including the Exercise SAMUDRA LAKSHMANA and HARiMAU SHAKTI.

India has demonstrated its naval strength with a dual aircraft carrier exercise last month in June, a feat China has yet to accomplish. The combined operation in the Arabian Sea showcased  formidable maritime capabilities and the  ability to project power around the Indian Ocean and beyond. This remains an immense feat where only the US Navy has pulled off in recent times.

Both China and the UK have more than one aircraft carrier, but neither has yet  to operate  a dual  carrier system. Although incomparable in terms of sheer volume of naval assets with Beijing, the Indian Navy had decades-long experience and expertise in aircraft carrier ops. Its renewed venture with the West in joint interoperability ensures maritime security and stability,  including complementing the nuclear powered AUKUS submarines in key chokepoints.

The Indian Navy remains a highly trained, disciplined and proficient force,and has stepped up cooperation with other navies in the Indo-Pacific,including  the annual Malabar naval exercises. This has created a strategic interdependence on security needs and assurances,  which Malaysia  is also urgently in need of.

India's Indo Pacific dreams have always been overshadowed by the soft power and economic might of China. This starts to change now, especially since the pandemic.

Beijing’s slower than expected recovery and the growing internal socio-economic challenges, further squeezed  by Washington’s economic and technological embargo, have all stalled  its future growth prospects.

India’s time is now, as pointed out by Goldman Sachs, that New Delhi is projected  to become the second largest economy in the world by 2075, surpassing Japan, Germany and the United States.

The factors mentioned are India’s favourable demographics, innovation and technology, higher capital investment and rising worker productivity.Innovation and increasing worker productivity are going to be game changers in exerting greater output for each unit of labour and capital in India’s economy.

Priorities  on infrastructure creation and upscale  high impact job creation in critical  industries  of the future  including semiconductor  and digital  economy, provide immense openings for the region to be part of the new spectrum of economic leadership that is moulded on the crest of value driven and responsible models and approaches  that  prioritise human rights, climate responsibility, rule of law and democratic principles.

With Beijing's weakening economic fundamentals and nearing its peak power prime, Delhi is gearing itself  to be a worthy successor and offers a vastly different model to accommodate the  East and West and the North and South.

India’s peaceful rise has often been underappreciated.Malaysia needs to complement India’s “Act East Policy” that provides mutually beneficial returns to both powers.

Delhi remains an ever more critical anchor of stability, trust and norms in maintaining regional stability and in promoting a value-based engagement and peacebuilding efforts.

Trust and confidence provide the critical foundations to secure joint aspirations of a free, open and a rules based regional order.
India’s inevitable regional and global leadership  provides a much welcomed new opening for the country and the region in their security calculations and options.

Delhi remains the region’s most important Asian partner in providing the economic and security fallback that is based on values, trust and proven expectations on its trajectory of behaviours and intent.


*Collins Chong Yew Keat is a Foreign Affairs and Security Strategist with Universiti Malaya.*