India needs new strategy in the Indo-Pacific region

Published on June 1, 2018

By Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen and Shagun Nayar

The Bangkok Post – June 1, 2018

The Indo-Pacific region positions itself as one of the world’s most significant geo-strategic and economic features, replacing the emphasis erstwhile enjoyed by the Atlantic-Pacific region.

With a high volume of seaborne trade passing through the Strait of Malacca, the Straits of Singapore and the Gulf of Hormuz, the region has become a theatre of competing claims and power plays.

Due to the increasing threats to its waters through protection of sea lanes of communication, maritime trade, freedom of navigation, deep seabed exploration etc, the region has become a point of convergence for India, the US, Japan, Australia and Vietnam. The common ground achieved between these players is centred on China’s rise to power and its increased aggression in the South China Sea.

India’s ambitious “Act East Policy”, the US’ renewed “pivot to Asia” and Japan’s bid for a “confluence of the oceans” share a common strategy for the future of the region. This realisation has given rise to new alliances with the primary aim of countering growing Chinese interests through policies such as the Look East Policy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.

At the other end is an increasingly aggressive China that is expanding its influence in the region through strategic partnerships and financial assistance. China has embarked upon forging strategic partnerships with some of India’s most critical neighbours in the Indian Ocean region.

Additionally, its “String of Pearls” strategy and the Belt and Road Initiative possess the capability of alienating India in terms of connectivity and trade. China’s clout in the region is supplemented by its increasing military presence in the South China Sea.

Due to competing claims over sovereignty and authority, the region has emerged as a hotbed for possible conflict being played out between regional players, coupled by external powers to expand their own interests in the region. The aforesaid reasons have led to partnerships with a common objective of securing peace in the region, away from Chinese influence.

The trilateral partnership between India, Japan and the US, the Malabar Naval Exercise, Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean region are some examples.

New Delhi’s renewed focus in the region has been complemented by similar policies being pursued in countries like Japan, the US, Australia, Vietnam and France, among others. However, these strategies lack a comprehensive plan of action to combat Beijing’s rising power. Any treaty that aims to secure the region needs to confront issues relating to not only defence, maritime trade and security but also technology, connectivity and the blue economy.

Therefore, the changing contours of security in the region call for greater participation by India in pursuance of its bid to become a responsible regional power.

The Indo-Pacific region constitutes significant strategic and security interests for New Delhi, which is why attempts at increasing engagements and alliances in the region need to be comprehensive. Such initiatives need to incorporate traditional and non-traditional aspects of security in order to attain an all-inclusive regional framework.

Due to the evolving nature of the dispute, there is an urgent need to ensure the security of India’s maritime and coastal borders through strategic investments in naval capabilities, advancement in information technology and communication, digital connectivity, maritime research and critical infrastructural development.

The decisive shift in New Delhi’s strategy for the region signals the rising importance of the Indo-Pacific region in determining India’s peace and security, countering Chinese influence and emerging as a responsible regional power.

Nehginpao Kipgen, PhD, is Associate Professor and Executive Director and Shagun Nayar is a Master’s student and Research Assistant at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University

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