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INDIA & INDO PACIFIC REGION

According to a study carried out by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, analysis is that China is concluding lessons from Russian invasion of Ukraine and is gearing up for a “protracted” conflict in the IndoPacific (IP) region.

As an observer of military importance of Indo Pacific, I realize that it is a fairly new concept which has gained a significant importance in current times. In my opinion, the region derived importance after ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ speech by the then Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to the Indian parliament in 2007. New Delhi, following a knee jerk reaction, started Indo-Pacific policy discussions in house and the MEA created an Indo-Pacific division that started working with organisations like Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), ASEAN and the Quad.

The region gains importance as It drives the global economy through the Strait of Malacca. It represents 65% of the world population, enjoys 44% of the Earth’s surface area, gears up 62% of global GDP and claims approximately 50% of global trade in goods.

As many countries are evolving new policies to build their reach in this region, New Delhi is also strengthening ties and partnerships to counter ever increasing economic, political and military influence of China in Indo Pacific.

The question now arises if all players in the region Interpret Indo Pacific in the same manner? The answer is a clear No. While India considers it as an inclusive space for all stakeholders based on common responsibilities and interests, it also recognises a strategic interconnection with regard to the opportunities and challenges shared by the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, American vision is based on a different order to count out any country that doesn’t abide by certain rules and expected norms of conduct in this region. While for India the region extends up to Eastern African shores, US restricts it from American waters to the Bay of Bengal only.

On the other hand, ASEAN (group of SE Asian countries) shares a third version based on a political system formed by the cooperation of opposing social groups on power sharing. ASEAN forwards an argument for the hands-on cooperation with China instead of merely treating it as any other stakeholder. The truth is that many stakeholders are ‘bankrolled’ by China and therefore, are forced not to take anti-China position as China remains the largest trading partner of ASEAN.

India, therefore, needs to draw attention on policies to hold the centre stage and play a major role in ASEAN to peruse its philosophy of Act East. It for certain will be a move to counter the geopolitical constraint India faces on Northern and Western borders with China and Pakistan.

Recently, this organisation appears to understand the need for India to balance China. More so, in the backdrop of US withdrawing from a few multinational alliances. ASEAN is watching Indian efforts of pursuing engagements with Australia, France and Japan to stabilise IP. And the hegemony and control of the Dragon in Sri Lanka, Djibouti and Pakistan and many poor African countries.

I view Chinese threat in Indo Pacific as a threepronged move which includes number one, to be a power player in the region and threaten the existing political order by supplying defence equipment to countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Number two, influence the poor countries through rising debts and establish military bases when countries falter to pay the loan debt like Djibouti, Gwadar, Hambantota, Shoal and now eyeing the Geopolitical real estate of Kiribati air strip in the Pacific. Thirdly, under the policy of ‘Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom’ and cultural revolution, claim to the world that its all-peaceful moves though, taking full advantage of lack of transparency in the functioning of these emerging countries.

Today, India not only is aware of its maritime challenges but also can provide ‘security’ against non-traditional threats to its neighbourhood. However, the surmounting problems in the Eastern shores of the Indo-Pacific are spilling over, and the signs of disorderly conduct are evident in the Indian ocean region (IOR). The time now is ripe to build stronger relations in the South East Asian region with Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia. It is of utmost importance to influence these countries to play their part as neutral nations to ports in the passages connecting the IOR which are of great strategic value. Only then can the Indian interests of safeguarding its trade routes and sea lines of communications be taken care off.

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

Col Anupam Jaitly (R) The writer is defence expert, motivational speaker and corporate trainer

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