The Indo-Pacific region is an emerging geostrategic and geo-economic concept that has been gaining significance in the field of defence and security studies.
It is the geographical connotation of the area which covers the Eastern Coast of Africa through Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean. It can also be called the biogeographic region of the Earth’s seas, comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia
The concept can also be seen as a natural corollary to that of India’s Look East Policy (LEP), which India has been following over the last two decades.6 The LEP has not only helped India in reviving its traditional relationship with the South-East and East Asian countries but also interlinking across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Modi government has recently renewed India’s LEP into an ‘Act East Policy’, which not only seeks to increase the people-to-people contact and greater connectivity in the region but also seeks to play a larger and active role in this vital region.
Geo StrategIc sIgnIfIcance
It, in fact, represents the centre of gravity of the world’s economic, political and strategic interests.
- It is rich in natural resources, especially hydrocarbons which fuel the industrial engines of the world’s economies. The established and emerging powers are competing over these resources.
- In recent years, with the global economic power shift, it has swiftly emerged as a centre of international trade and investments. It indeed embodies a large market which is defined by nearly half of the world’s population. This is obvious from the economic issues currently dominating the regional politics.
- In this context, regional peace and stability, freedom of navigation and maritime security have become very important as over 90 per cent of the world’s trade by volume is by sea. 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.
- In addition, ‘the boom in port construction has only heightened the strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific and this in turn is likely to generate greater commercial traffic and the possibility for greater strategic competition’.
- In the recent past, the increasing flow of raw materials, oil and gas into the region has led to the rise of Asia. Labour, capital and consumer goods are also increasingly flowing from Asia to other regions of the world. As a matter of fact, the region constitutes the engine of global economic growth and development.
- The Indo-Pacific region has emerged as a significant geostrategic space and a theatre of Great Power competition and rivalry. 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. The centrality of the region is however
- The nature of these security challenges in the region has considerable transnational implications which require international cooperative response.
- In addition, the region has emerged as highly volatile, with proliferation of nuclear and missile weapons. The rebalance strategy has had limited impact in curbing the proliferation of such weapons as the US has failed to control the role of China and North Korea in their nuclearisation programme.
- This will have serious security implications as the countries that are not protected by the nuclear umbrella will be under tremendous pressure to nuclearise.
- These developments have created a new security environment in the region amidst a rising assemblage of economic and political powers such as China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Australia.
The Us Rebalance Strategy
The US rebalance strategy towards the Indo-Pacific region is an important foreign policy contribution of the Obama administration.
It is a comprehensive strategy which aims to protect and promote American national interests in the region by accelerating its economic and diplomatic engagements with its traditional allies and emerging partners, namely, India and Indonesia. It also has military, strategic and ideological dimensions.
It strongly believes that its foreign policy interests would be best served by moving from an earlier emphasis on just the ‘AsiaPacific region’ to one based on a broader ‘Indo-Pacific region’.
Rising China is clearly a key factor in the Indo-Pacific, as well as in the US rebalancing strategy.It has been pointed out that China’s rise is swiftly altering the geostrategic equations in the region. Its assertive foreign policy, backed by growing economic and military power, has also changed the geo-economics and geopolitics of the region.
Though China’s rise has benefited regional countries in the economic field, its increasing expenditure on military modernisation and power projection, particularly in the East and South China Seas, have caused major concerns for them, including for the US.
China’s maritime boundary claims, increasing military activities in the East and South China Seas and nationalist rhetoric are seen as China’s strategy to keep the US out of its sphere of influence
Regional Security Architecture
The security environment in the Indo-Pacific region is complicated by maritime boundary disputes in the SCS, disagreement over territorial waters in the Bay of Bengal, Great Power competition, in addition to the emergence of non-traditional security challenges such as piracy, drug and human trafficking, terrorism and climate change.
The situation in the Western Pacific region however remains very complex and volatile in contrast to a rather stable situation in the Indian Ocean.
. The big challenge before them is therefore to create effective institutional mechanisms both for promoting collective economic benefits and countering common security threats. Authors in both the volumes emphasise the greater need of clear principles, governing rules and multilateral frameworks for building such regional architectures. In this regard, the major powers of the region, including Japan, China and India, have to play a leading role in formulating a common idea.
Implications For India
- India’s relationship with the South-East and East Asian countries is very traditional. It has revived this traditional relationship through its LEP in the early 1990s, and recently through ‘Act East Policy’ under the Modi government.
- India’s engagements with the two vital sub-regions of Asia have been enhanced at economic, defence, politico-diplomatic and strategic levels. It currently conducts its bilateral relationship at the level of ‘strategic partnerships’ with Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, China and Australia.
- India’s strategic relationship with the ASEAN and the US has dramatically developed over the last one decade. There is also an India–Japan–Australia–US quadrilateral and India–Japan–US trilateral partnership. India’s strategic partners in the region not only seek to further strengthen their ties with India on a wide range of issues, including trade and investment, defence, maritime security, science and technology and disaster management, but also urge India to play a more proactive role in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
- The US, in particular, considers India as a ‘linchpin’ in its rebalancing strategy towards the region. It is perceived that strengthening the relationship between the world’s largest democracies will help promote regional peace and stability as they share common values, interests as well as common security challenges in the twenty-first century.
- There is, however, concern that ‘the Indian Ocean Region could witness a major military surge by China, turning it into an arena of great power competition in Asia.’China has rapidly developed its relationship with Indian Ocean rim countries, which is perceived as a ‘string of pearls’ strategy, to contain emerging India.
- In response to the Chinese strategy, India has sought to further improve its naval and security cooperation with the South-East and East Asian countries, including Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc.
- However, India’s strategic leverage, particularly in East Asia, is not comparable with that of China’s growing clout in the Eastern Indian Ocean. China has recently gained its influence in the region by funding huge maritime infrastructure projects such as Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan.
- India looks to integrate its north-eastern region with South-East Asia by enhancing economic cooperation, connectivity, cultural and people-to-people exchange and capacity building.