Indo-Pacific Region (IR ,UPSC IAS Mains GS 2)

What is the issue?

  • “Indo-Pacific” is today a buzzword that has been interpreted differently by various countries in their outlook or vision documents.
  • India will have to manage its relations with China and Japan for its vision for a stable Indo-Pacific.

What is the global shift?

  • Global engines of economic growth have shifted to Asia, first to the Asia-Pacific, and now, to the Indo-Pacific that includes South Asia.
  • One could argue that the natural evolution of trade, investment and energy flows favour the broader definition of the Indo-Pacific as against the narrower confines of Asia and the Asia-Pacific.
  • The term “Indo-Pacific” is certainly more inclusive and better accommodates the growing aspirations of a wider constituency.

What is the situation in the Indian Ocean?

  • When Sri Lanka proposed the notion of an Indian Ocean Zone of Peace in 1971, it was more about the presence of Western powers and establishment of foreign bases.
  • China then stood with countries like India in opposing bases in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
  • That is a far cry from its strategy now of actively foraying into the Indian Ocean and seeking bases in Gwadar and Djibouti and special arrangements elsewhere.
  • India earlier opposed the presence of foreign powers in the Indian Ocean.
  • But now, it carries out joint exercises with these foreign powers to promote interoperability.
  • It welcomes the presence of the US, Japan and other partner countries in the Indian Ocean as a counter to the growing Chinese presence.

What is the situation in the Pacific Ocean?

  • In the Pacific Ocean, the debate was never about the presence per se of great powers.
  • There, the US military presence on land and sea was taken for granted after World War II.
  • The French and British too, as in the Indian Ocean, continued to have their colonies.
  • The debate was about nuclear tests in places such as French Polynesia.
  • As a legacy state of the Soviet Union, Russia has never ceased to be an Indo-Pacific power.

What are the contradictions?

  • There are many contradictions in the context of the emerging construct of the Indo-Pacific.
  • The US, like India and many others, advocates freedom of navigation and over-flight, and respect for the rule of law and international norms.
  • It adheres to many tenets of UNCLOS without having ratified the treaty.
  • The US Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) of 2018, which embraces the Indo-Pacific as against Asia Pacific, describes China as a strategic and economic competitor.
  • Yet, it also has an entire section that seeks to “promote US values in the Indo-Pacific region”.
  • China now justifies its increasing forays in the IOR by claiming that it has always had a historical right to the Indian Ocean.
  • The credibility of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China is eroded due to the absence of a key neighbouring country like India.

What are the facets to the emerging uncertainty?

  • The world today is undergoing a fundamental transformation.
  • Traditional and non-traditional security threats have grown in magnitude.
  • The spectre of terrorism, especially cross-border terrorism, continues to challenge peace and prosperity.
  • Geopolitical considerations are increasingly driving trade and investment decisions.
  • Geo-economic forces unleashed by China’s economic rise are redefining the geostrategic landscape of the Indo-Pacific.
  • The US-China trade war has been disruptive. It has coincided with the waning of the global economy.
  • Nationalism and regionalism are on the rise. There is less multilateralism but greater multi-polarity.
  • The old consensus is fraying and a balance is yet to emerge.
  • The economic success in the Indo-Pacific region has not been matched by stable security architecture.
  • The region has some of the highest military expenditures.
  • Rampant trade, territorial disputes and geo-strategic contestations places limitations on the region’s ability to engage in a process of give and take.

What could India do?

  • India will have to manage its relations with China, no matter the challenges.
  • Ties with Japan would remain a key component of India’s vision for a stable Indo-Pacific and a cornerstone of its Act East policy.
  • The Special Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan will be further strengthened during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit.
  • However, India at this juncture does not have to make a binary choice in the Indo-Pacific between a development-centric agenda with ASEAN centrality and a security-centric outlook revolving around the Quad.
  • Both are likely to remain parallel tracks with some overlap for the foreseeable future.

You may also like...