NEW DELHI: India has not just mainstreamed the expression “Indo-Pacific”, but more substantially, it has encouraged others to perceive and define the region in its full extent, noted Foreign Secretary Harsh V Shringla on Tuesday as he elaborated on Delhi’s Indo-Pacific vision during his London visit.
“For India, the Indo-Pacific is that vast maritime space stretching from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa. Today, more and more countries are aligning their definition of the Indo-Pacific with ours,” Shringla emphasised in a policy speech titled “India’s Vision of the Indo-Pacific” at the Policy Exchange, UK-based centre-right think tank. Earlier in both France and Germany the Foreign Secretary sought to build synergies between India and respective Indo-Pacific
“To understand India’s Indo-Pacific vision it is important to understand why we define it the way we do, and to the extent we do. During the Cold War, the Indo-Pacific was sliced and diced into different spheres of influence and military theatres, and made subservient to bloc think. To India, this made little sense. Whether it was the forces of nature – the monsoon winds for instance – or our maritime and trading history, we found it impossible to see the Horn of Africa and the western Indian Ocean on the one hand and the Straits of Malacca on the other as disconnected. For us, they have always been a seamless whole.”
Shringla during the course of his remarks referred to India’s historic sea-borne links with SE Asia, Africa and with the Gulf states. “These experiences are our past and are our future; these experiences determine our concept of the Indo-Pacific. As a country with an intimate maritime history in the Indo-Pacific, the UK would surely appreciate this.”
India’s Indo-Pacific strategy was enunciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech in Singapore in 2018 as the SAGAR doctrine. In 2019, at the East Asia Summit in Bangkok, Prime Minister Modi took the idea of SAGAR further and announced the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative. Using this Initiative, India plans to support the building of a rules-based regional architecture resting on seven pillars.
Shringla said, “We have sought to strengthen security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific by becoming a net security provider – for instance in peacekeeping efforts or anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Sharing what we can, in equipment, training and exercises, we have built relationships with partner countriesacross the region. In the past six years, India has provided coastal surveillance radar systems to half a dozen nations – Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar and Bangladesh. All of these countries also use Indian patrol boats, as do Mozambique and Tanzania.”
Defence training programmes have increased. Mobile training teams have been deputed to 11 countries – from Vietnam to South Africa, as well as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar in our immediate neighbourhood. Located just outside New Delhi, the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region has enhanced maritime domain awareness among partner countries.
In the area of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), India has not only built robust capacities it has also established itself as an instinctive and unstinted early responder and a credible friend, according to the Foreign Secretary.
The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure(CRDI), co-founded by India and the United Kingdom in 2019, is a corollary to such efforts. Along with the International Solar Alliance, another institution co-founded by India to evangelise renewable and specifically solar energy, CRDI is intrinsic to India’s regional and global commitment to taking on climate change. In the area of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), India has not only built robust capacities it has also established itself as an instinctive and unstinted early responder and a credible friend, recalled the Foreign Secretary.
“India has also promoted and contributed to infrastructure, connectivity, economic projects and supply chains in the region, always prioritising the needs of the host community and the ethic of equity, environmental sustainability and social viability. I would go to the extent of suggesting that we have pioneered progressive thinking on such issues. Reading Germany’s recently-released “Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific Region”, I was struck by the prescription that, “When developing connectivity, it is important to facilitate fair competition, to avoid over-indebtedness on the part of the recipient countries and to ensure transparency and sustainability.” These are exactly the principles India has been upholding and I am glad others are sharing our prism.”
India’s Indo-Pacific geography can perhaps be best described as a succession of semi-circles. “The innermost semi-circle incorporates our closest neighbours. These are South Asian countries that share with us the waters of the Indian Ocean, that have shared our civilisational and cultural heritage, and that, by way of proximity, inevitably share our joys and our sorrows. The arc of the outer neighbourhood covers the Gulf states to our west and Southeast Asia and the ASEAN countries to our east. In a sense, this too is a rediscovery of old maritime associations, but contemporary business and trade, energy and investment flows, and labour and skills mobility have added new dimensions. Economic currents in the United Arab Emirates or Singapore, for instance, are carefully monitored by millions of families in India,” said Shringla adding, “Moving further, India has created partnerships and mechanisms with countries the opportunities, concerns and stakes of which intersect with ours. This is a broad sweep, from the Pacific Islands to the archipelagos of the western Indian Ocean and off the eastern coast of Africa. Networks such as Quad, with India, the United States, Japan and Australia as participants, and the India-Japan-US, India-France-Australia and India-Indonesia-Australia trilateral arrangements offer cases in point.”
Germany, physically distant but an economic stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific, has released a strategy for the region. After France and the Netherlands, it is the third European country to do so. “In India, we have noted with some satisfaction that our policy outlook has much in common with these documents. The UK, we hope and expect, will be next on the list, and too will finalise its Indo-Pacific strategy soon. Given this country’s characteristic wisdom and prodigious institutional memory, we hope too that the UK’s strategy will approximate India’s own and long-standing Indo-Pacific vision.”