Indo-Pacific

  • Category
    India & world
  • Published
    16th Jul, 2019

The term “Indo-Pacific” is repeatedly used by the countries, as seen in recently held G20 summit as well as during the visit of US Secretary of State Michael Pompoe to Delhi. However, different countries interpret it differently.

Issue

Context

The term “Indo-Pacific” is repeatedly used by the countries, as seen in recently held G20 summit as well as during the visit of US Secretary of State Michael Pompoe to Delhi. However, different countries interpret it differently.

BACKGROUND

The region of ‘Asia Pacific’ played an important part in the Cold War due to strategic formation of alliances. However, after the Cold War ended, as Asian economies began to rise, the new geopolitical term used for the region changed to Indo-Pacific.

The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ refers to the maritime space stretching from the littorals of East Africa and West Asia, across the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean, to the littorals of East Asia.

Today, the Indo-Pacific region is amongst the most dynamic in the world as well as, the centre of economic growth for decades. As a result, this region continues to experience geopolitical and geostrategic shifts. These shifts present opportunities as well as challenges. On the one hand, the economic growth of the region opens up possibilities of cooperation to alleviate poverty and elevate living standards of millions of people. On the other hand, the rise of material powers, i.e. economic and military, requires avoiding the deepening of mistrust, miscalculation, and patterns of behaviour based on a zero-sum game

Difference between Asia Pacific and Indo-Pacific

·         Asia Pacific and Indo-Pacific: The term Asia Pacific encompasses Oceania, North-East- Asia and South-East-Asia.

·         Asia-Pacific is not a security term but an economic concept used to describe the emerging market economies of South-East and East-Asia.

·         On the other hand, Indo-Pacific is an evolving concept capturing the region from East-Africa to Western Pacific and is a strategic-cum-economic conception with special focus on sea lanes of communication.

 

Current Scenario

While traditional rivalries over maritime territory, sovereignty and resources have intensified among the regional countries, the rise of non-traditional threats such as terrorism, piracy, drug trafficking and climate change have thrown new challenges for the nation-states.

  • China’s Assertiveness in :
  • South China Sea: China has been working to push its borders far out into international waters, by building artificial islands in the South China Sea. China’s unilateral claim through it’ nine-dash line has sparked disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Now, after militarizing these outposts, it has now shifted its focus to the Indian Ocean.
  • Arabian Sea: China is planning to open a new naval base next to Pakistan’s China-controlled Gwadar port throught it’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Central Indian Ocean: It has leased several islands in the crisis-ridden Maldives, where it is set to build a marine observatory that will provide subsurface data supporting the deployment of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and nuclear-powered ballistic missile subs (SSBNs) in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, China has rapidly developed its relationship with Indian Ocean rim countries, which is perceived as a ‘string of pearls’ strategy, to contain emerging India.
  • East China Sea: The East China Sea is home to the major economic powerhouse of Asia, namely China, Japan, and Republic or Korea. Both China and Japan claim the rights over the region within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles. Japan has been managing the islands since 1895; however, China reclaimed the region by citing the historic rights over the area.
  • Non – Traditional Threats: Strong link between the transnational crimes, piracy, and terrorism has advanced the complexity of non-traditional maritime threats in Indo-Pacific.
    • Piracy: Piracy in the Indian Ocean has been among the many other threats and led to about US $6 billion in annual losses to the shipping industry between 2010 and 2012.
    • Terrorism: Maritime terrorism began to be taken as serious threats after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks which killed 160 people. Maritime terrorist evolve from using the ship lines as supply chain to conduct terror attacks towards ships and vessels to send political message. The recent horrific Easter Sunday attack in Srilanka took more than 260 lives.
    • Human Trafficking and Smuggling: Human smuggling and drug trafficking are also common transnational crimes found in Indo-Pacific. Drugs produced in Afghanistan, India, and Indonesia is distributed by sea to other countries through illegal markets. Moreover hundreds of percent profit margins are often used to fund other illegal activities such as terrorism and piracy.
  • Rivalry between US and China: Trade tensions between the U.S. and China over Beijing’s technology policy and other market access issues have added to strains in the Indo-Pacific region. The two sides have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s products in a standoff that has shown no sign of easing.
  • Rivalry between India and China: The Chinese maritime strategy is based on securing the sea lanes of communication to feed the domestic economy with resources and minerals. Indian maritime expansion is based on not only protecting the sea lanes of communication but also checking Chinese presence in its backyard, that is, the Indian Ocean.
  • Threat to maritime Protection: Countries in the Indo–Pacific region are in the midst of a security dilemma regarding their maritime protection. As a result, countries are scaling up the production of submarines, which are considered symbols of tackling statist threats.
  • Threat to Ecology: Seaborne economic activities, such as oil transfer and offshore drillings, fishing, and cruise ship movements have the potential to damage the surrounding marine environment. Major oil spills to the sea would affect the sea ecology and eventually killed many marine species. Illegal fishing that often use explosives and cruise ships are prone to endanger the coral reefs that harbour marine biodiversity.

 Global Significance of Indo-Pacific Region

  • Mineral Resources: Maritime territories have also emerged as depositories of vital resources ranging from fish stocks to minerals and offshore oil and gas.48 The South China Sea, for instance, is estimated to hold some 10 per cent of the global catch of fish as well as 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas.
  • Global Growth: According to a report of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), countries in the Indo-Pacific produce over 60% of global GDP, making the region the largest single contributor to global growth.
  • Trade and Commerce: The region consists of many of the world’s vital choke points for global commerce, including the Straits of Malacca which is very critical for the growth of world economy.  The Indo-Pacific region also stands at the intersection of international trade, with around 32.2 million barrels of crude oil pass through annually and 40% of global exports come from the region.

Significance of Indo-Pacific for India

In 2017, during the meeting of Modi with Trump, the two sides for the first time used the term called Indo-Pacific. The meaning both sides tried to convey through the term Indo-Pacific was that India and USA are both democratic stalwarts and responsible stewards of the Indo-Pacific region.

The Indo-Pacific region was the main topic of discussion during the Japan-India-America (JAI) Trilateral Meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the G20 Summit 2019.

Maritime Trade

  • Pacific islands are strategically significant from New Delhi’s point of view as they sit astride important sea lines of communication through which important maritime trade is conducted.
  • India has been going slow on RCEP negotiations as it is wary of China’s presence in the grouping, with which New Delhi already has a massive $60 billion trade deficit.

Connectivity

  • Freedom of navigation and openness of sea lanes which extend from East Africa to the west coast of North and South America will enhance connectivity
  • ASEAN resides at the connecting point of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean 

Infrastructure

  • The United States, India and Japan are working together to finance sustainable and community-driven infrastructure projects which are vital to the development of the region.

India’s Stand

PM Modi put forth India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific at the Shangri La dialogue, 2018. The view was consistent with the overall norms enunciated by regional powers, including the US, Japan, Australia and Indonesia with the ASEAN at the heart of it. He made it clear that India does not take sides, but chooses the side of values and principles which are eloquently enunciated by ASEAN. Thus, India’s approach towards larger Indo-Pacific is spindled around ASEAN and what the ASEAN stands for.

India not only professes these principles through words but also practice them in her relations with other nations which was demonstrated when she peacefully settled her maritime boundary dispute with Bangladesh in 2014.

Initiative taken by India

  • Migration from Look East to Act East: In 2014, India had announced the transition from Look East Policy (LEP) to the Act East Policy (AEP). A key element of the AEP is that India has started internationalizing disputes in the Indo-Pacific region to put psychological pressure on irritants for example, mentioning the South China Sea dispute in bilateral India – US Statement.
  • Strengthening ties with Pacific Island Countries: A new element of India’s Act East policy has been the extension of India’s Look East policy beyond the ASEAN, with emphasis on strengthening ties with 14 Pacific island countries like Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Cook Islands etc.
  • Indo Pacific Wing: India has set up an Indo-Pacific Wing in the Ministry of External Affairs in April 2019.
  • Revamp Naval Infrastructure: India also seeks to upgrade the naval facility in Andaman and Nicobar Islands which will later become India’s naval outpost to reach Southeast Asia and beyond to the Pacific.
  • Regional Forums: membership of regional forums (including several initiatives where India plays a prominent role, such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Mekong–Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and the Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar [BCIM] Forum. Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA
  • Security interactions: The idea of the QUAD is for the leaders of the four nations to promote free trade and defence cooperation across a stretch of ocean from the SCS, across the Indian Ocean and all the way to Africa. It was aimed at countering China’s aggressive maritime expansion under its BRI.
  • India – Australia: In 2017, when Australian PM visited India, both the sides decided to strengthen naval cooperation in the Indo–Pacific and work jointly for ensuring a legal maritime order and freedom navigation.
  • India – Africa: India’s growing partnership with Africa can be seen through the convening of mechanisms like the India-Africa Forum Summits.
  • India – Japan - India and Japan have been gradually building on it by participating in each other’s maritime think-tanks, the Indian and Japanese Navies jointly participating in multilateral exercises (Malabar series) and the bilateral exercise (JIMEX12)

Challenges for India

  • Indo – Pacific is too vast an operational area without any policy prioritisation. Indeed, the Indian navy does not view this extended maritime realm of the Indo-Pacific as the domain of its strategic priority
  • India has little defence and security leverage in littoral and island states. This acts as a disincentive for India to extend its reach in South China Sea or broader Pacific Ocean.
  • India does not keen on ‘operationalising’ or militarising the Quad with the intention to counter China. So it needs to find the way for how it will integrate the Quadrilateral initiative with its larger Indo-Pacific approach. This was compounded by India’s reluctance to include Australia in the annual Malabar-series of joint trilateral naval exercises with Japan and the US
  • India’s strategy in the Indian Ocean can only operate as far as the constraints set by India’s limited naval expansion programme. India’s total number of submarines is in decline with no follow-on acquisition programme in place. This situation is compounded by the lack of an adequate number of multi-role helicopters and minesweepers.2
  • 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

Criticism of Indo – Pacific Concept

  • The Indo-Pacific concept gives priority to the maritime domain over continental concerns. But many of Asia’s major strategic rivalries remain land based like India-China
  • Although Indo-Pacific region is envisaged as a single integrated geopolitical space but the security dynamics of the Indian Ocean and Western are divergence. Western Pacific is immersed in intra-state conflicts whereas threats facing the Indian Ocean emanate primarily from non-state actors.

How India is better placed in Asia Pacific?

India has ranked fourth out of 25 nations in the Asia-Pacific region on an index that measures their overall power, with the country being pegged as a "giant of the future”. The US, in particular, considers India as a ‘linchpin’ in its rebalancing strategy towards the region.

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