India & Indo-Pacific
The acceptance of the Indo-Pacific as a single strategic construct linking the contiguous waters of the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean has gained currency in the last few years with the shift in the geopolitical center of gravity to this region.
Globalization, trade dependence, the seamless connectivity of the maritime domain and the changing nature of the maritime threat becoming more transnational in nature has blurred physical boundaries and raised awareness of the importance of ensuring secure seas for the unhindered movement of trade and energy.
In this light, the focus of the Indo Pacific initiative is on connectivity, enhancing maritime security, counterterrorism, non-proliferation and cyber issues.
Major Achievements on this Front
- India had clearly indicated the geographical reach of India’s idea of the Indo-Pacific starting from Africa to the Americas, which covers both the Indian and Pacific Oceans, in tandem with that of Japan.
- It had also categorically emphasized on a few major aspects which reflect India’s policy perspective on Indo-Pacific, which included “inclusiveness”, “openness”, “ASEAN centrality” and that the concept was not directed against any country.
- Indian partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region can be broadly classified into three groups: the Quad, ASEAN, and Western Indian Ocean.
The Quad refers to an ad hoc group including Australia, India, Japan, and the United States that facilitates informal discussions on areas of mutual cooperation in the region. India has historically resisted calls to upgrade the level of Quad consultations to allay Chinese fears as it perceives it anti-China group. It is therefore interesting that Quad countries met at the ministerial level for the first time in September 2019, signaling a shift in India’s accommodative stance towards China.
In another significant departure from the past, India may also invite Australia to participate in the annual Malabar Exercises in 2020, which are trilateral naval exercises involving the United States, Japan, and India.
Indo-US First-ever Tri-Service Military Exercise
India and the United States conducted their first-ever tri-service military exercises in November 2019, improving defense cooperation between them. India also operationalized a mutual support logistics agreement with the United States that provides both countries reciprocal access to each other’s military bases in the region.
India has institutionalized a bilateral “2+2” mechanism with the United States, and Japan that involves discussions between their respective defence and foreign ministers. India has a similar “2+2” mechanism with Australia at the secretary level.
India and ASEAN
- India has emphasized the centrality of ASEAN in its Indo-Pacific framework and India’s ‘Act East’ policy provides strategic direction to several initiatives aimed at increasing its cooperation with ASEAN members:
- India upgraded its bilateral relationship to the level of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Vietnam in 2016 and with Indonesia in 2018.
- India conducted joint military exercises with ASEAN Plus nations in the field of humanitarian mine action and peacekeeping operations in 2018.
- India and Indonesia recently agreed on a plan of action to develop and manage the Sabang Port located close to the strategic Malacca Strait.
- India has concluded a logistics support agreement with Singapore and provided the city-state access to its missile testing facility in Odisha.
Western Indian Ocean
- India has also begun to focus on its strategic partners in the Western Indian Ocean.
- India has a growing defense relationship with France and has decided to conduct joint patrols in the Indian Ocean.
- India has also operationalized a mutual support logistics agreement with France that would allow it to access French military bases in Djibouti, UAE, and French Réunion.
- India also upgraded its relationship with the United Arab Emirates to the level of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and both nations held their first ever joint naval exercises in 2018. In addition, India conducted its maiden military drills focusing on demining and peacekeeping operations with 17 African countries in March 2019.
- Indian Navy recently launched its Information Fusion Centre (IFC) that allows sharing of information on vessels of interest with other friendly nations.
- India is upgrading its Coastal Surveillance Network which is a chain of radars that provide comprehensive live monitoring of ship movements in the Indian ocean region and connect Indian radars to similar systems in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles.
Indo-Pacific Maritime Cooperation
- The major focus of the Indo-Pacific is based on oceans, which is the common thread that connects all. Countries including India, Indonesia, Singapore, and Sri Lanka, primarily maritime nations occupy the most important strategic positions in the Indian Ocean.
- Indo-Pacific Maritime Dialogue & Exercises: In continuation of the process of engaging the global strategic community in an annual review of India’s opportunities and challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, the second edition of Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue (IPRD) - 2019 was held in New Delhi in March 2019.
- Therefore after years of being lethargic in action and being unsure about its vision for the Indo-Pacific, India seems to be finally getting ready to be the net security provider in the Indian Ocean – in real terms.