India and Indo Pacific
INDO-PACIFIC OCEANS INITIATIVE (IPOI)
- The Indo-Pacific region is a vast maritime zone where the interests of many players are engaged: India, Japan, France, and the United States, as well as medium and smaller powers like Australia, Indonesia, and South Africa; there are stakeholders from beyond the region, too.
- In recent years, uncertainty has heightened in the region owing to China’s territorial expansionist agenda, concerns for the United States’ long-term commitment to Asia, as well as the limitations of existing multilateral institutions.
- Indeed, the Indo-Pacific is emerging as the new and expanded theatre of great-power contestation.
- India has been championing the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) idea, initiating forums like the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI).
- It engages with its Indo-Pacific partners either bilaterally, or on plurilateral and multilateral platforms, in a multitude of spheres including maritime security, Blue Economy, maritime connectivity, disaster management, and capacity building.
- However, India continues to lack a coherent Indo-Pacific strategy.
- In April 2019, India set up an Indo-Pacific wing in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The division is meant to integrate under one Indo-Pacific umbrella,
- the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA),
- the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region, and
- the Quadrilateral of the US, Japan, Australia, and India.
An Oceania division
- Created in the MEA in September 2020 to bring India’s administrative and diplomatic focus on the region stretching from western Pacific (with the Pacific islands) to the Andaman Sea.
- This is the maritime space where China is trying to maintain its dominance and India is seeking to assert its own relevance.
Objectives of IPOI
- The main objective of the IPOI is to ensure the safety, security, and stability of the maritime domain, and to do that, seven pillars have been laid out.
- Moreover, given new developments—such as India extending an invitation to Vietnam to partner in this initiative IPOI appears to be India’s way of developing a mechanism for cooperating with like-minded countries to pursue a ‘free, open, inclusive and rules-based’ Indo-Pacific.
- IPOI is being built on the pillars of India’s ‘Act East’ policy (focusing on the Eastern Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific) and ‘Act West’ (focusing on the Western Indian Ocean).
Setting the Context
- One-third of the world’s trade and significant volumes of East Asia’s oil pass through the Eastern straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok-Makassar and the South China Sea (SCS). This necessitates security and stability, especially in the East Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific.
- The Western Indian Ocean Region (WIOR), sitting at the intersection of Asia, Africa, and Europe, is gaining greater strategic importance. The region’s rich natural resource profile, estimated to be worth at least US$333.8 billion, has generated interest amongst the bigger world economies.
- For India, the region is part of its strategic maritime frontier which extends from the Persian Gulf, to the East coast of Africa, and across the Malacca Strait.
- Significant traffic of container shipping transits the region and is home to some of the most vital and strategic maritime chokepoints such as Gulf of Aden, Bab-el-Mandeb, Mozambique Channel, Strait of Hormuz, and Cape of Good Hope.
- Running parallel to India’s increasing outreach to African countries under PM Modi, and the Navy’s role as a regional security partner, India has rightly identified the Western Indian Ocean as a region of primary interest.
Geographic and strategic expanse
- India views the Indo-Pacific as a geographic and strategic expanse, with the ASEAN connecting the two great oceans—and at the heart of this conception lie the principles of inclusiveness, openness, ASEAN centrality, and unity.
- Security in the region must be maintained through dialogue, a common rules-based order, freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce, and settlement of disputes in accordance with international law. Sustainable connectivity initiatives that promote mutual benefit should be continually fostered.
- With India recognising “both geographical extremities” of the Indo-Pacific spectrum, it is time to give equal weightage and consideration to the two sets of distinctive policies—the ‘Act East’ and the ‘Act West’—as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy.
India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative: The Vision
- India has reached out to several countries to fast-track the IPOI; the MEA has forwarded a comprehensive note to Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
- India invited Vietnam to collaborate on one of the seven pillars of the IPOI. This is significant against the backdrop of Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region, in particular in its disputes in the South China Sea.
- The idea is that one or two countries could take the lead for a pillar, and other interested countries could join.
- Indeed, oceans are shared spaces where international cooperation is a prerequisite for security.
- A purposive partnership with like-minded countries is at the core of the IPOI.
- Countries like Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines have expressed their willingness to cooperate with India on the IPOI.
- India is now looking to engage in “issue-based” alignments.
ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific
- With its seven pillars outlined, the IPOI is indeed “task-oriented” as well. Indonesia, particularly, is dissatisfied with the ASEAN way of working and is searching for its role in any alternative regional grouping.
- Moreover, the ASEAN countries are also recalibrating their policy priorities especially within the Indo-Pacific rubric. The adoption of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacificis an iteration of how a currently divided organisation like the ASEAN also wants to be part of the Indo-Pacific discourse.
- Engagement with African littorals in the Western Indian Ocean Region (WIOR) will be vital to ensure that the Indo-Pacific region remains open and free for inclusive partnerships, within the parameters of sovereignty, equality, and a rules-based system.
The China Challenge
- Most countries of the Indo-Pacific region have been at the receiving end of China’s encroachment and expansionist policies.
- Australia has accused China “of building an influence in the Pacific by currying favour with the region’s smaller nations like Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu and funnelling cash into their infrastructure projects.
- In April 2020, Beijing declared new administrative districts in the Paracel and Spratly islands, the latest step in its bid to legitimise effective control over these areas.
- In the South China Sea, large-scale land reclamation and militarisation activities have been taking place, which in turn have raised tensions in the region.
- In the East Asia Summit in November 2020, EAM Dr. Jaishankar stated, “the Code of Conduct negotiations should not be prejudicial to legitimate interests of third parties and should be fully consistent with UNCLOS”.
- There has also been a steady increase of Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean, raising security concerns for India.
- Countries like India—historically non-aligned—are now shifting their policy stance, shedding their wariness of irking Chinese sentiments, and entering into “issue-based alignments” with other players of the Indo-Pacific region.
Locating the Quad
- India has been engaging in various 2+2 dialogues.
- The Quad appears to be sending a signal to Beijing that they are solidifying around common security concerns, and extending to other issues including secure supply chains and a free and open Indo-Pacific.
- There are reports that Vietnam, like the Philippines, is planning to take China to the International Arbitration Tribunal to hold it accountable for its vast claims. China has been trying to negotiate with the Philippines on their territorial dispute and has also been pushing Malaysia to agree to enter into bilateral consultations.
- The Quad also needs to look at issues beyond the hard security realm: connectivity, blue economy, and capacity building, among others.
- They can work with India and organise maritime security workshops, maritime law workshops, and academic exchanges.
- They can collaborate on developing port infrastructure for greater connectivity with the Indian Ocean littorals through infrastructure development initiatives like Sagarmala, Blue Dot, the Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure, Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.
- The more advanced Navies of the four Quad countries can conduct workshops to provide training to the navies of the Southeast Asian countries, and workshops with the coast guards can also be organised. All four countries of the Quad need to work together to strengthen their influence in Southeast Asia.
The Pillars of India’s IPOI
- Over 90 percent of global trade is conducted through the maritime route, with a value that has grown from US$6 trillion to about US$20 trillion in 15 years.
Maritime Ecology and Maritime Resources
- Blue Economy is increasingly being recognised as an important dimension to future sustainable development of oceans and their resources.
Capacity Building and Information Sharing
- This capacity is vital for promoting marine safety, responding to vessels in distress, stopping illegal activity, tracking at-sea transshipments, and protecting waters from illegal incursions by foreign vessels. Most countries must rely on multilateral information-sharing.
- India has launched its own Indian Ocean Region-Information Fusion Centre (IFC-IOR), which has established linkages with over 18 countries and 15 maritime security agencies.
- Connectivity and proper port infrastructure is the bedrock of maritime trade, shipping, and maritime transport. India’s east and west coast comprise 12 major ports along with several minor ones.
- Through its Sagarmala project, India is upgrading its physical infrastructure, digitisation process, adjusting its regulatory measures to overhaul the port infrastructure and operations in the country.
- Natural disasters like cyclones and tsunamis not only wreak havoc on the shores of the littorals but also have a detrimental impact on maritime trade and connectivity.
- This collective concern has emerged as a prospective arena for countries to collaborate on initiatives in disaster management.
- The Indo-Pacific is replete with maritime territorial disputes, from the Persian Gulf to the mid-Indian Ocean Chagos archipelago, to the Southwest Pacific.
- The most noteworthy of these disputes include the Senkakus/Diaoyutai (Japan- China); the Pratas Islands (Taiwan-China); the Paracels (China-Vietnam); Scarborough Shoal (China-Philippines); and the Spratly archipelago (China-Vietnam-Philippines-Malaysia-Brunei) and Kenya-Somalia territorial dispute.
- Another concern for the littorals of the eastern side will be the fear of irking Chinese sentiments, given their economic dependencies on China, and in the context of the worsening South China Sea disputes.
Specific proposals on how the IPOI’s pillars could work around such “cooperative, consultative, inclusive” framework:
- Track-1 maritime security dialogues
- Meetings of Indian and ASEAN naval heads (ADMM Plus)
- Coordinated patrols /An exercise involving the coast guards of the ASEAN countries.
- The ASEAN countries could invite India to the ASEAN Coast Guard and Law Enforcement Forum, or India can initiate an India-ASEAN Coast Guard Forum where regular exercises and interactions between the Indian and the coast guards of the ASEAN countries can take place.
- Not only has India already become an observer to the Indian Ocean Commission (COI) in March 2020, and to the Djibouti Code of Conduct and its 2017 Jeddah Amendment, India is also posting naval liaison officers at the RMIFC in Madagascar and European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) in Abu Dhabi.
- India must invite naval liaison officers from African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, South Africa to be posted at IFC-IOR.
- The naval exercises between countries with India and/or ASEAN Multilateral Naval exercise can introduce disaster preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery.
People-to-people, civil society, and institutional/organisational linkages
- Education exchanges and training exercises
- Broader joint research on maritime studies
- capacity-building, maritime safety, and security for Indo-Pacific coast guards
- maritime domain awareness and UNCLOS familiarity amongst the maritime security practitioners
- work along with on many aspects of Blue Economy, primarily on sustainable use of ocean resources: reducing marine plastic debris, and curbing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
- collaborations between the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) and University of Mauritius, coastal engineering courses could be undertaken by other IIMs and other universities in African countries
- collaborations can happen between IITM and the Department of Aquatic Resources Management of Institut Pertanian Bogor, Indonesia for short-term courses on Aquatic resource management.
- India can conduct theme-based seminars on topics such as “strengthening legal provisions for marine habitat conservation”, or “preservation of marine protected areas and locally managed marine areas”, “legal provisions of IUU fishing”, and exploring cooperation among marine law enforcement agencies of different countries across the Indo-Pacific.
- Plastic waste leakage from municipal waste collection in cities across the Indo-Pacific countries is a vital challenge. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste and United Nations Habitat’s joint project to reduce plastic waste leakage currently targets six cities in Eastern Africa and Southern Asia: Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar in Ethiopia, Thiruvananthapuram, and Mangalore in India.
- Fisheries management workshops, one that is done for Somalia and Yemen (Somali-Yemen Sustainable Programme – SYDP), should be extended to other countries
- India’s National Fisheries Development Board must look to expand linkages
- The ASEAN Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment works as a forum for coordinating ASEAN initiatives on sustainable marine resource management.
- The MEA along with the IORA Secretariat could also launch a Blue Economy Task Force that would comprise representatives from governments, private, and business sector, for sustained dialogue and follow up.
- India can explore deputing retired naval and coast guard officers who have operational expertise for providing training on the ground and building stronger links with IPOI partner countries.
Potential of IPOI
- There is tremendous potential in advancing maritime research in the Pacific for issues like sustainable energy and climate change.
- The IPOI could be used to establish greater structural linkages between IORA and other multilateral groupings or initiatives such as the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), Southern Indian Ocean Fisheries Agreement (SIOFA), the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, and Southwest Indian Ocean Fisheries.
- India should look to develop and popularise the concept of Green or Blue Bonds[p] as has been done successfully by Seychelles.
Infrastructure development and connectivity
- Indonesia is planning to host the Indo-Pacific Infrastructure Summit in 2021, and this will be a great platform for India, Australia, Japan, and the US to attract partners for infrastructure development programmes.
- The ports of Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia are more advanced than those on the eastern coast of India. Therefore, India-ASEAN Connectivity Summits can be organised by India where the port authorities of these countries can be invited.
- India’s Sagarmala project should aim at collaborating with other regional connectivity initiatives like the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) of Thailand, the Sea Toll Highway of Indonesia, the ‘Build Build Build’ of the Philippines; and the ASEAN Masterplan on Connectivity 2025.
- India can initiate talks on coastal shipping, cruise tourism with Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia under the ASEAN Maritime Forum, as well as with Mauritius and Seychelles under the Indian Ocean Commission.
- India has adequate expertise and capacity for shipbuilding. India can strengthen inter-island water transport.
Strengthening inter-ministerial coordination
- India needs to look at Blue Economy with a holistic perspective by institutionalising the Ministry of External Affairs as the nodal point for dialogue, coordination, and research.
- India ought to develop a Defence Diplomacy Fund that will require collaborative effort from the ministries of Defence, External Affairs, Commerce and Industry, and Shipping.
- If India wants to play a leading role in ensuring the safety, security, and stability of the maritime domain and convert its financial clout to strategic influence, it must push for a coalition of all the agencies concerned.
- India’s vision for the Indo-Pacific is one in which freedom of navigation, overflight, sustainable development, protection of the maritime environment, and an open, free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and investment system are guaranteed for all. The IPOI was launched by India in 2019 with the aim to manage, conserve, sustain, and secure the maritime domain.
- Indo-Pacific region—accounting for 64 percent of the world’s population and 62 percent of global GDP—is vital for the world.
- Some challenges are likely to remain.
- Given India’s sheer size, its capacities and widening interests, it will play a significant role in the post-COVID-19 global revival. Towards this end, building purposive partnerships with like-minded countries of the Indo-Pacific will continue to inform India’s plurilateral approach of engagement under the IPOI.
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