- Explain Indo-Pacific.
- Discuss why Indo Pacific is in news for the last few years.
- List India’s interests and challenges
- Conclude suggesting India’s Foreign Policy in the region cleary stating and following its aim.
Over the past year, the term Indo-Pacific has gained currency in strategic discourse in India. From a geopolitical perspective it represents the inclusion of the western pacific within the range of India’s security interests, thus stretching beyond the traditional focus on the Indian Ocean theatre. India appears to have set a long-term plan during which it will build its capabilities—economic and military strength, network of military facilities and agreements to access military facilities in countries across the Indo-Pacific, expanding economic and military ties.
Why Indo Pacific is important for India:
It is a logical corollary to India’s Look East policy having graduated to an Engage East policy.
This has resulted in a growing density of maritime traffic through the Indian Ocean and radiating all along the Western Pacific littoral.
This region contains very important SLOCs (sea lines of communications) which have a direct bearing on the economic security of many nations. Nearly 55% of Indian trade passes through these SLOCs. This makes it strategically imperative for us to safeguard our maritime interests.
There are indications of presence of hydrocarbon assets in the South China Sea Region. This increases the importance of this region manifold
In the wake of slowing down of EU and U.S economy, focus has shifted towards Indo-pacific littorals as it houses many of the world’s biggest economies and largest markets.
As India’s regional and global profile increases, it will inevitably gravitate towards the centre of this expanded geopolitical and geo-economic space. The concept of an Indo-Pacific theatre fits in neatly with this evolving trend.
How India has increased its presence in Indo Pacific:
The fastest growing component of India’s external economic relations is its engagement with ASEAN, China and Japan and, more lately, Australia.
Apart from ASEAN, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and East Asia Summit (EAS), India has also been actively engaged in regional fora such as BIMSTEC, Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
Closer cooperation in combating terrorism, collaborating for peace and stability in the region and promotion of maritime security based on international norms and laws are being pursued.
We have been expanding our trade relations with Japan, South Korea and Australia in last one decade. At the same time, India has been pushing its defence ties with these nations on the lines of its trade relations.
India’s maritime strategic orientation is toward the rimlands of Eurasia, which is reflected in it giving greater strategic importance to the littoral areas in the greater Indo-Pacific region
India has several trade agreements in Myanmar and has given active military support to Myanmar. There is a broad cultural relation with countries like Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and Cambodia. The commercial ties have been strengthened too with these nations with existing FTAs.
The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project, Rhi-Tiddim Road Project, Border Haats, etc. are some of the infrastructure programmes that India is actively participating in.
Challenges for India:
The integration of the IORA means that attention will continue to be focused on the IOR. This can be a result of the growing Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean and Chinese diplomacy in the region.
India’s bureaucratic shift is an important move to articulate its regional policy more cogently, coherently and with a renewed sense of purpose.
There are still challenges for India, especially how it will integrate the Quadrilateral initiative which got revived in 2017 with its larger Indo-Pacific approach.
There are differences between India’s vision and the U.S.’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific even as countries like China and Russia view the Indo-Pacific with suspicion.
The renaming of the U.S. Pacific Command to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command as well as the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act in December 2018 showcase Washington’s more serious engagement with the Indo-Pacific.
The Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept was unveiled by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016, and Australia released its Foreign Policy White Paper in 2017, which details Australia’s Indo-Pacific vision centred around security, openness and prosperity.
Economically, China is leading the region. Also, in general, China has a record of making countries fall into line with it either through warnings or by giving bribe in the form of investment.
The international community including India wants freedom of navigation, freedom of over flights in the region, especially the South China Sea.
The Chinese regime claims that it has historical ownership over nearly the entire region, which gives it the right to manufacture islands, declare defensive perimeters around its artificial islands, and to chase ships from other nations out of the South China Sea. The International Court of Arbitration rejected the claim in 2016.
Inclusiveness, openness, and ASEAN centrality and unity, therefore, lie at the heart of the Indian notion of Indo-Pacific.
While India has been consistently emphasising “inclusiveness” in the Indo-Pacific framework, it will be challenging to maintain a balance between the interests of all stakeholders.
It will also be important for the new MEA division to move beyond security and political issues and articulate a more comprehensive policy towards the region.
Commerce and connectivity in particular will have to be prioritised if India is to take advantage of a new opening for its regional engagement.
Visualising the ASEAN region as a part of the wider Indo-Pacific shows an evolution in the region’s thinking, opening new possibilities for India’s engagement with the grouping.
India’s expanding reach in the Indo Pacific will be a part of its expanding maritime reach. India will be improving its existing diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties in the region as an overall part of its strategic outreach in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. India’s engagement in the Indo Pacific region must not only protect its own economic, energy, and diaspora interests but also cohesively link with its Act East policy to preserve a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.