By Jay Maniyar
The Indo-Pacific region is a constructed geography that stretches from the western Indian Ocean Region (IOR), inclusive of the Arabian Gulf in the north and East Africa in the south, all the way up to the western Americas. It has recently gained prominence as a result of its rising geostrategic profile in the international domain, both terrestrial and maritime. Indian naval officer Capt. (Dr.) Gurpreet S. Khurana mentioned the term in an academic paper in 2007. Then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe referred glowingly to the construct in a speech to the Parliament of India a few months later and laid a cooperative ground for its future that continues to be worked on even today. The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, defined the region as extending from the shores of Africa to the coasts of America.
The term has been historically applied by German scholar Karl Haushaufer during the warring years of the 20th century (1920s). Even prior, it has gained recognition in erstwhile European states as being identified as a region of strategic significance owing to the boundless possibilities and potential of people-to-people connect, maritime trade and profitable business. Thus, its resuscitation as a key geostrategic entity today is a welcome opportunity (and challenge) that must not be discarded for the long-term interests of the Asia-Pacific (its high-level predecessor) and the world as a whole.
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INDIA’S COGNIZANCE OF THE INDO-PACIFIC
With a stress on ‘Indo’ in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a wider reference to India itself (a likelihood not publicly highlighted), the Indian subcontinent, the Indian Ocean, and the entire IOR, one half of this region immediately interested India. The situation of India within these strategic confines further enabled India’s deepening interest in almost all affairs of the region. These range from geopolitical, to geo-economic, to geostrategic and influence a wide array of factors such as trade and commerce via the high seas, the holistic security of critical sea lines of communication that carry this trade, sound resource harnessment from beneath the oceans, and necessary disaster management. These are just a few attributes of India’s Indo-Pacific policy and the maritime interest of the country in the region continue to expand in length, breadth, depth, and width. Moreover, India aims to realise a series of partnerships and friendships in the Indo-Pacific and further its well-renowned image as a benign power willing to become responsible on the world’s stage. This will also help India bury colonial demons and usher in an era wherein it will be going places for the purpose of the fundamental material wellness of those places. As the Indo-Pacific’s pivotal power alongside Japan, the United States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Australia, and other influential powers, India has a role to play like no other given its unique and historic profile and posture.
With the above in mind, Narendra Modi announced a series of working initiations aimed at fostering regional inclusion, involvement, rise, and growth in the nascent strategic arena of the Indo-Pacific. These include ‘Security And Growth for All in the Region’ (India’s SAGAR vision), a participation in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy with its partners such as Japan and the United States of America (USA), and the seven-point Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI) of late 2019. While SAGAR emphasises an Indian desire to forge a collective security mechanism led by Indian military proponents such as the Indian Navy and Coast Guard, the FOIP looks at the broader region by not limiting itself to the strategically-emergent Indian Ocean area. The IPOI, meanwhile, seeks to further Indian maritime interests in domains such as ecology and maritime security. Together with the 2015 Act East Policy, a derivative of the Look East Policy of the 1990s, the intention remains to achieve strategic parity with an assertive and forthcoming Peoples’ Republic of China, the land area of which occupies a majority of the Indo-Pacific in its own right and magnitude. This parity will cover the domains of infrastructure, energy security, bilateral and multilateral trade, and foreign investment obtained to facilitate connectivity and power a nascent rise.
The above factors, accompanied by carefully-constructed national and international policy paradigms, are indicative of the comprehensive importance of the Indo-Pacific region to Indian national strategy up and above all other geopolitical constructs. There is no region, presently, that offers India such a comfortable combination of partaking in multidimensional activity in its own neighbourhood and aspiring to do the same abroad, albeit that that is attuned to local circumstances. Even India’s partners are acceding rather quickly to the invitation of the Indo-Pacific region as it presents them to forge a cooperative demeanour in a world plagued by resource shortages and unending conflicts. This runs synonymous to India’s new diplomatic stance of focused and engaged multilateralism combined with a shift from non-alignment as a long-running instrument of state policy to strategic autonomy as an everlasting advance.
CONCLUSION – ALL ABOARD THE INDO-PACIFIC EXPRESS
India’s ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region are akin to the hunt for influence and resources by Russia and Great Britain during the ‘Great Game’ of the nineteenth century. The difference, this time around, is that a new ‘Great Game’ is premised on peace, affability, and laws of the maritime domain as opposed to war and conflict. However, a Chinese presence across the continent in the form of the macro ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ coupled with a gazillion micro initiatives, poses an incredible geostrategic challenge. In this regard, the attention and importance India accords to the Indo-Pacific region as a whole, not restricted to just the Indian Ocean region, scales new heights. Even the prioritisation of a rules-based order hinged on the principles of freedom, transparency, openness, and a common prosperity and progress effectually reason why India is of vitality to the Indo-Pacific and vice versa.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a four-party (chiefly) security forum comprising India, Japan, the United States, and Australia, is all but an Indo-Pacific initiative by the very means of it being aimed at deterring Chinese aggression. It was brought back to the international table in 2017 after a gap of ten years owing to pervasive strategic reluctance at the time of its founding. This interesting combine of the QUAD, as it is popularly known, with an expanded regional focus which is centered on Indo-Pacific issues is endorsed enthusiastically by India. This leads to the subsequent amplification of the importance of the Indo-Pacific in New Delhi’s strategic circles. PM Modi’s multifaceted initiatives supplement the growing significance of the Indo-Pacific region to India. In summary, no region has caught the eye of Indian policymakers in recent times as the Indo-Pacific. What is to be positively hoped for is that the desired end-results must follow this articulate adaptation, conceptualisation, enunciation, and formalisation of India as a central Indo-Pacific country.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions shared in the above Commentary belong to its Author only. They do not, in any capacity, express the views and opinions of his employer in the National Maritime Foundation or The Viyug.
About the Author
Jay Maniyar is a Research Associate at the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi, India. His research focuses upon the maritime domains of Japan, South Korea (the Republic of Korea), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). He is presently authoring two books, one each on Japan and South Korea’s interests in the Indian Ocean. Mr. Maniyar can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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