Indo-pacific region has gained significance in the last decade. The pandemic times have showed the emergence of new groups that make it necessary for India to approach the region in its own way.
- Recently, AUKUS security pact has been signed aimed at supply of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia which is looked at concern by China.
- Similarly, China showed it willingness to sign Bangkok treaty that recognises ASEAN region as the nuclear weapon free zone.
In this background, India has a potential to showcase ‘India way’ of approaching towards the Indo-pacific region.
What is ‘India way’?
- It is a new feature of policy highlighted by India’s foreign minister at the ‘Raisina dialogue’.
- It aims at ‘purposeful, pragmatic and proactive’ partnerships. It showcases India to be a decider or a stabiliser than a disrupter.
- It also aims India to be a net security provider and a dispenser of global good.
What is Indo pacific region?
- The Indo-Pacific region refers to the confluence of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, which interconnect in Southeast Asia.
- Stretching from the west coast of the United States to the west coast of India, it is a 24 nation’s regional framework comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two.
- The term “Indo-Pacific” is being used increasingly in the geopolitical discourse.
- As a framework, the Indo-Pacific seeks to create a connected multi-polar region that must be governed by commonly agreed international norms, rules and practices.
- The term “Indo-Pacific” refers to the maritime space stretching from the Indian Ocean, across the littorals of East Asia to the western Pacific Ocean.
The German geopolitician Karl Haushofer first used "Indo-Pacific" in the 1920s in multiple works on geography and geopolitics: Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean (1924), Building Blocks of Geopolitics (1928), Geopolitics of Pan-Ideas (1931), and German Cultural Politics in the Indo-Pacific Space (1939).
Significance of the region-
- Several studies show that at least 50 percent of global GDP will be shared by the Indo-Pacific region. Majority of the world’s maritime trade passes through these oceans.
- China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has expanded its economic and military foothold in the Indian Ocean.
- Many of the key choke points of maritime trade are present in the region like Malacca Strait.
- Most of the world population lies in the region and it has also been a key region of geopolitics in the Second World War.
Significance of Indo- Pacific region for India-
The area is significant for India as it hold solutions to our political, economic, connectivity, travel, and societal interests.
- Collaborative solutions: It provides collaborative solutions to shared concerns such as safety and security of the maritime domain. In this light, India is actively engaged in bilateral and multilateral military exercises.
- For instance, Malabar exercise is a multilateral war-gaming naval exercise held in the Indian Ocean.
- Showcasing power: It is also an opportunity to showcase itself as a leading power in the region that is willing to step up.
- For instance, India is assisting countries with Hydrographic survey support for charting of water, especially in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR)
- Regional leadership: In the times of pandemic, there is a greater potential for India to showcase regional leadership in the region. The efforts of vaccine development and export can showcase India’s ability to rise to the call of burden sharing by global powers.
Emerging trends in the Indo pacific-
Realizing the importance of the region, many regional groupings have emerged in the Indo pacific region based on different thoughts and ideas. While everyone focuses on an “Equitable rule based order” and “Free and open Indo pacific”, there are some differences among them.
- Groupings based on leadership
- China led groups- China is keen on expanding its global footprint using Indo pacific as its stronghold, similar to USA hegemony in the Americas. Some China led groups are-
- Belt and Road initiative(BRI) initiative
- USA led alignments- USA views Indo-Pacific as an important region for securing American centrality.
- QUAD and QUAD plus
- AUKUS security pact
- ASEAN led groups- Focus of ASEAN is on maintaining ASEAN centrality in the discussions for the region and spreading ASEAN way. It refers to the consensus-based, non-conflictual and non-interference way of addressing problems by quiet diplomacy rather than bringing into public forum.
- ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
- ASEAN plus 6 or East ASEAN summit- ASEAN
- Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)- It’s a 11 member economic pact among ASEAN and other countries along the Pacific ocean.
- Based on motive-
Issue based coalitions-
These are gaining importance due to greater flexibility and more functional collaboration rather than a rigid and ideology based format. The groupings based on economic, security, tech and strategic partnerships are bound to be more successful than ideology based. Some key examples are-
- QUAD and its expanded formats, namely Quad plus- They focus on ways to coordinate on vaccine development and to boost economic recovery in the times of pandemic.
- Blue Dot Network- It is aimed to grade infrastructure financing across the Indo-Pacific to ensure transparency and confidence amongst economically weaker countries.
- Supply Chain Resilience Initiative- It is an initiative between India, Japan, and Australia was undertaken to build resilience of supply chains to ensure dependable sources of supply and attract investment.
- Other groups- There are also some groups working in critical technologies, vaccines, climate change, space, biotech, and 5G—aimed to develop norms and global standards—are a case in point. Pitching India as a trusted source in IT and pharma supply chains, PM of India, in recent COP26 summit in Glasgow, reiterated India’s willingness to participate in the clean technology supply chain to reduce over-reliance on China.
Ideology based groupings-
- These include like-minded countries working together in bilateral and multilateral formats to expand global initiatives within their own national agendas.
- A focused effort on building capacity of countries in the Indo-Pacific to give them viable alternatives which go beyond binaries formed around ideological and political contestation.
India led efforts with ‘Like-minded countries-
India is keen on expanding in the Indo pacific region by focusing on India’s way and securing her economic, social and security concerns. There is a growing institutionalization of like-minded countries to align with national agenda. For instance
- India led groups- India has sought to leverage its bilateral relationships to bolster the India-led multilateral platforms—The Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative and The Global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
- Proposed groups- India also tabled the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI) at the East Asia Summit in 2019, aimed to invite “practical cooperation as an open, non-treaty-based global initiative” building upon ASEAN-led frameworks
- Cooperation with middle powers- The growing contestation between democratic countries and authoritarian systems have led middle powers to cooperate and focus on capacity building, going beyond binaries and enable the region to grow peacefully. The new priorities of the post-COVID world—health security and vaccine development, digital delivery, and green growth—all fall in this arena.
- Infrastructure diplomacy: India’s infrastructure diplomacy and development assistance in the neighborhood is also aimed at synergizing efforts with like-minded partners to provide viable alternatives. India has emerged as reliable cross-border electricity provider to Nepal and other South Asian partners.
Conclusion and way forward-
Whether it’s the Quad format or the debate around the AUKUS, India seems to be working on a broader mandate of human security, greater consensus, collaboration and complementarity. India’s way as a complimentary to ASEAN’s way can lead to a more secure, developed, free and open Indo pacific region with focus on multilaterals.