Role of Indo-Pacific
The word “Into-Pacific” has become a popular term in recent times which has been interpreted differently by various countries in vision document. The global engines of economic growth have shifted to the Into-Pacific now which includes South Asia. The natural evolution of trade and investment favours the broader definition of the Indo-Pacific as against the confines of Asia and Asia-pacific.
Indo-Pacific is certainly more inclusive and accommodates the growing aspirations of the region.
Situation in the Indian Ocean
In 1971 when Sri Lanka proposed the notion of an Indian Ocean Zone of Peace, it was inclined more towards the presence of Western powers and establishment of foreign bases in the region. China then stood along with countries like India to oppose the setting up of such bases. The current situation is the opposite, where China now looks to foray into the Indian Ocean seeking bases in Djibouti & Gwadar and making special arrangements elsewhere.
India on the other hand earlier opposed the presence of foreign powers in the Indian Ocean but now carries out joint exercises with these foreign powers to promote interoperability and strengthen strategic cooperation. India now welcomes the presence of US, Japan and other partner countries to counter the growing Chinese presence.
Situation in the Pacific Ocean
The debate in the Pacific Ocean was never about the presence of great power. The US presence in the Pacific was taken for granted after World War II. The debate shifted to nuclear test being conducted in places such as French Polynesia. With the legacy of the Soviet Union, Russia never ceased to be an Indo-Pacific power.
The US, India and many others, advocate freedom of navigation and respect for the rule of law and international norms. The US Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) of 2018, embraces the Indo-Pacific as against Asia Pacific while describing China as a strategic and economic competitor. China justifies its increasing foray in the Indian Ocean region (IOR) by claiming its historical right on the Indian Ocean. While on the other hand, credibility of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is eroded due to the absence of a country like India.
The world is undergoing a fundamental transformation where traditional and non-traditional security threats continue to grown in magnitude. It is now geopolitical considerations which drive trade and investment decisions. China’s economy rise is redefining the geo-strategic landscape of the Indo-Pacific. The US-China trade war has been causing disruptions resulting in the waning of the global economy. Regionalism and nationalism has been on the rise and there is less multilateralism. Rampant trade and territorial dispute have placed limitations on the region’s ability to engage in a process of give and take.
India need to manage its relations with China where ties with Japan would remain a key component of India’s vision for a stable Indo-Pacific. The strategic partnership between India and Japan will be further strengthened during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the country. India at this juncture needs to remain on parallel tracks with the development centric agenda with ASEAN and a security centric outlook with the Quad as some of it may overlap in the near future.