Indo-Pacific : The New Geo Political Construct

INDO- PACIFIC has emerged as the new diplomatic buzzword in recent years, replacing the term Asia Pacific.

Why Indo Pacific is in News?
• India Mentions the term: In June 2018, the Indian Prime Minister, in his Shangri-La dialogue address, held that India is committed to a “free, open, transparent, rules-based, peaceful, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific, where sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law are respected”.
• Origin of the term Indo-pacific: The term “Indo-Pacific” was used first time by Indian Navy Captain Gurpreet Khurana.
• Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIPS): Many countries, including USA and Japan have released their foreign policy objectives for Indo-Pacific Region under the common umbrella strategy of FOIPS.
• USA’s Asian Policy: Announced in the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, it envisages the Indo-Pacific as an alternative to Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road (OBOR).
• Japan, has a more inclusive policy and is also ready to invite China in its version of FOIPS.
• Australia made Indo-Pacific in place of Asia-Pacific Region (APR) as a principal reference region for its foreign affairs and defence analysis.
• The Indo-US joint statement of June 2017, titled “Prosperity Through Partnership”, laid special focus on the Indo-pacific region.

What is Indo-Pacific?
• Expanse: The Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) encompasses the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two including much of East Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and Oceania.
• India concurs with this definition with South East Asia nations at the centre of the IPR region.
• China considers a narrower version of the IPR, limiting only to the area in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean on either side of the Malacca Straits.

Significance of Indo-Pacific:
• Geostrategic:
• Buffer Zone between Atlantic and Pacific where, as per some analyst, a Great Power competition is going on between USA and China.
• Emerging zone of regional power conflict such as maritime boundary disputes in the South China Sea (SCS).

• Emergence of New Powers in the region like Russia, Japan, South Korea, India and the ASEAN.
• Presence of Strategic Choke Points like – Bab-al-Mandeb and Malacca strait located on the either side of IPR.
• Strategic Location of India in the region raises concerns regarding maritime security which can be effectively dealt with through the IPR region.

…World’s centre of gravity is shifting to the heart of Indo-pacific…

—US Secretary of State

• As the IPR provides better monitoring, patrolling and surveillance capabilities, India is developing naval capabilities of Seychelles, Mauritius etc. and has logistics agreement with Singapore to use its Changi naval base.

• Geopolitical:
• Presence of large population (almost 50% of the world) with diverse culture in the region.
• Presence of the world’s 7 out of 10 largest armies.
• Presence of several regional security forums such as ASEAN Regional Forum and emerging Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD).
• Existence of Diamond of Democracies viz. India, Japan, USA and Australia in the region.

• Geo-economic:
• IPR consists of biggest Trade and Commerce routes with $5.3 trillion in trade traverses annually through this region.
• India’s more than 90% of trade by volume and 75% by value passes through Indo-Pacific region.
• Presence of 7 out of 8 fastest growing markets and comprises of world’s 3 largest economies viz. USA, China and Japan.

• Presence of large amounts of polymetallic nodules and other mineral rich resources and holds key to future food security.
• Asian Century: It is said that 21st century is going to be Asian century because of emergence of new economies like China, India, Japan etc on global stage.
• Human Development: India alone has lifted around 27 crore people out of poverty between 2005-06 and 2015-16. China has uplifted more than 80 crore out of poverty at a pace which is unparalleled in the world history.
• Leadership opportunity for India: ASEAN nations see India as a “Balancer” to the growing Chinese power. India also aims of becoming a net security provider in IOR region.

• Ideological Confrontation:
• Liberal World Order: The US wants to retain liberal world order which is based on rules, free markets, democratic values and openness to trade. It wants to sustain it by downsizing China.
• New Communism: China, on the other hand is pushing to impose a type of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. This concept was included in the Chinese Constitution under the leadership of Xi Jinping.
• Environmental Importance:
Presence of world’s largest number of biodiversity hotspots which are essential to preserve the blue planet.

Success of the Paris Climate deal depends to the large extent on the steps taken by the three biggest greenhouse gas emitter nations viz. USA, China and India. All of them belong to the IPR.

Challenges to Peace and Stability in the IPR:
• China’s Assertive Diplomacy:
China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) raises concerns among other nations like China Pakistan Economic Corridor Passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
China’s alleged ‘String of Pearls Policy’ aimed at encircling India using infrastructural projects in countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

China is also building artificial islands in SCS and establishing naval ports of Hambantota and Gwadar in Indian periphery.
Japan is also wary of China’s capability to influence the energy supply chains on which East Asia depends.
It is estimated that IPR will witness more than 50% of world’s submarines and advanced combat aircraft movement in next two decades.
Debt Book Diplomacy followed by China of leading to China acquiring Hambantota Port of Sri Lanka for a lease period of 99 years.
China’s has declared its ambition to make its military world class’, one that is capable of ‘winning wars’ is not the right signal for regional peace and prosperity.
The recently released Doklam report by Indian Parliamentary Panel even also suggested not to take
China’s strategic intentions casually.

...Competition is normal… but differences must not be allowed to become disputes…
—Shri Narendra Modi

• Endangering Rule-based Order:
In 2016, International Court’s (ICJ) held that China’s claim over whole of SCS is baseless compromising the sovereignty of many other nations.
China’s out rightly refused to accept this verdict on South China Sea.
• Lack of holistic Legal mechanism for multilateral cooperation on maritime security in the IPR makes resolution of issues difficult.
For example, the recently concluded Caspian Sea deal is a legal mechanism evolved to recognize the sovereign rights of all the littoral nations.
• Presence of Organized Crime and Piracy in the IPR the Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle region. Also, there is still presence of Pirate groups in the Somalia and adjoining regions.
• Presence of major nuclear weapons states like India, China, USA and rouge nuclear states like Pakistan and North Korea, in this region.

Initiatives for Cooperation in the IPR:
• Defence Cooperation:
• Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) is one such platform where India, USA, Japan and Australia are working together to balance China.
• 2+2 dialogue: India is exploring this platform to enhance its bilateral strategic collaboration with USA and Japan.
• But US’s CAATSA Act and S-400 Missile deal between Indian and Russia remains a challenge to Indo-USA relationship.

• Military Exercises: India conducts joint military drill with other nations to improve its defence ties. For example, Malabar exercise, Yudh Abhyas exercise, Varuna exercise etc.
• Trade War Tactics: USA is exploiting trade war method to derail China’s growth in context of its “America First Policy”.

• Multilateral forum:
• Shangri-La Dialogue: It is “track one” intergovernmental security forum involved in promoting defence diplomacy and regional security cooperation.
• ASEAN Regional Forum: It is an important forum for security dialogue in Asia.
• Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP): It is non-governmental (second track) process for security dialogue.
• Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA): Maritime Security is one of its priority areas.
• Forum for India Pacific Islands (FIPIC): to bring all Small Pacific Island countries cooperate on specific issues.

• Connectivity Projects:
• Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC): It is economic cooperation agreement between the governments of India, Japan and multiple African countries.
• International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC): It will boost India’s connectivity with Russia, Central Asia, Europe, Iran and Afghanistan.
• Proposed Chennai-Vladivostok Corridor: It will shorten India’s reach to Russia by 3-4 days.

• Indian Myanmar Thailand Trilateral Highway: This railroad-route will be India’s gateway to the East promoting India’s Act East Policy.

• BIMSTEC Corridor: Recently released Draft Connectivity Master Plan will help in bridging border restrictions among BIMSTEC nations.
• Proposed Quadrilateral Corridor: This aims to connect Central Asia to Australia.

• Other Initiatives Promoted by India:
• Act East Policy (AEP): One of the main objectives of AEP are forging strategic relationship with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. It provides interface between India’s North-East and ASEAN nations which are at heart of IPR region.

• Raisina Dialogue: It is India’s flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics.
• Bilateral Defense Cooperation: India has become a Major Defence Partner of USA.
• Logistics Agreement: India signed various logistics agreements like LEMOA, COMCASA with USA and one with France which will increase India’s strategic presence in the IPR.
• India’s Maritime security strategy 2015 aims at “Ensuring Secure Seas” in an era of geopolitical uncertainties to make India “Blue Water Navy” in IOR region.

• Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP): India aims for early conclusion of RCEP negotiations with ASEAN plus Six nations to enlarge its foreign market for its services and pharmaceutical sector exports.

• Project Mausam: To help rejuvenate India’s cultural linkages with littoral Indian Ocean States.
• India Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program: Under it, India gives line of credit assistance to support developmental programmes in other nations. Example, India developing Mattala airport facility in Sri Lanka etc.

Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act
• CAATSA is a US federal Law enacted in August 2017. It was passed overwhelmingly by the US Congress and signed reluctantly by President Donald Trump.
• It aims to counter the aggression by Iran, Russia and North Korea through punitive measures.

S-400 Triumf Air Defence Missile Deal with Russia
• S-400 is an interceptor-based Russia’s long-range surface-to-air missile defence system.
• It can destroy incoming hostile aircraft, missiles and even drones at ranges of up to 400 km.
• India is trying to buy this System to enhance its air defence mechanism, particularly along the nearly 4,000-km-long China-India border.
• China has already made a deal for buying S-400 with Russia in 2014.

Way Forward:
According to PM Modi, Indo-Pacific “includes all nations in this geography” as well as other countries that have stakes in the area. Some more steps that can be taken to promote peace in the IPR are:
Hotline can be established between USA, China, Japan and India to build trust among the nations in the IPR.
• Inter-Organisational Dialogue Forum: QUAD and BRICS may establish annual inter-organisational level meeting to prepare a clear roadmap for the larger free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Here, India can play a consensus maker.

• Code of Conduct for IPR region: India can insist upon adoption of code of conduct for Indo-Pacific.
• 2+2 Dialogue with China: Establishing 2+2 dialogue mechanism with China may help India in improving democracy, diplomacy and defence in IPR region.
• Indian stakes are much larger in order to secure its “strategic autonomy”. Hence, Indian policy makers must take all holistic approach to create détente between USA and China while securing India’s National Interest.

 

 

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