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Indo Pacific Region: Detailed Overview

  • 16 November, 2021

  • 6 Min Read

Context: "Indo Pacific Region" is an important topic for UPSC GS Paper 2.

  • The Indo Pacific Region, sometimes known as the Indo–West Pacific or Indo–Pacific Asia, is a biogeographic region of Earth's seas, comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia. It does not include the temperate and polar regions of the Indian and Pacific oceans, nor the Tropical Eastern Pacific, along the Pacific coast of the Americas, which is also a distinct marine realm.
  • The term first appeared in academic use in oceanography and geopolitics. Since the late 2010s, the term "Indo-Pacific" has been increasingly used in geopolitical discourse.
  • It is also "symbiotically linked" with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue - an informal grouping of like-minded democracies in the region, comprising Australia, Japan, India, and the US.

Interpreting of Indo- Pacific Region by different countries:

  • The Indian version of Indo- Pacific means an inclusive space for all stakeholders based on common responsibilities and common interests and is a strategic interconnection about the common opportunities and common challenges shared by the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Indian vision is based on the idea of ‘Open, Integrated, and Balanced’ Indo- pacific.
    • Open Absence of any hegemonic power in the region. It is a significant aspect in the context of the Chinese PLA navy attempting to replace the US presence which was predominant in the region. China has informally established dominance in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean as well.
    • Integrated: India aspires to transform a ‘divided’ region into an ‘integrated’ one, particularly in the case of ASEAN It is a countermeasure against Chinese divide and rule policy among ASEAN countries.
    • Balanced: India’s vision is based on a multipolar world (by working with all countries) and a multipolar Asia (consisting of India, China, ASEAN, Japan, Australia, etc.). In such an order, no major powers will take over vital economic and trade routes.
    • India also wishes for the democratisation of the region. In the last 10-15 years, the region has transformed from an American backyard to a situation of Chinese assertion of power.
    • India’s approach is also aimed at destabilising Chinese assertion.
  • The US interprets a free and open Indo Pacific based on a rules-based order.

The US version of Indo-Pacific extends from the Pacific shores of America to the Bay of Bengal only, while the Indian version includes the area up to the shores of Eastern Africa. Not many countries subscribe to this version.

  • Another definition Of Indo Pacific Region is interpreted by ASEAN, as a model based on closed association, unlike the rules-based order prescribed by the US and to some extent by India as well.

They argue for practical cooperation with China instead of merely treating it as any other stakeholder.

  • Since several ASEAN countries are economically ‘bankrolled’ (financed) by Chinese aids, they are forced not to make any anti-China position. Further, China is the largest trading partner of ASEAN.
  • Hence the cooperative thinking envisaged by the ASEAN, through a 2011 agreement, is getting eroded.

India emphasises the centralism and major role of ASEAN in the securitisation of Indo Pacific concerning the policy of Act East. It is a countermeasure to the geopolitical constraint India has on its Northern and Western borders, shared with China and Pakistan. India is also looking for opportunities for ASEAN as a source of raw materials and as a market for produced goods. From a different perspective, ASEAN also seems to realise the need for India to balance China, particularly in the backdrop of US withdrawal from international alliances.

Importance of Indo Pacific Region

  • It is a region that is rich in natural and mineral resources like oil and natural gas in the region of the Persian Gulf, South China Sea.
  • It consists of the Strait of Malacca, Sunda Strait and Lombok Strait – routes that are vital for global trade.
  •  This region is rich in fisheries and polymetallic nodules.

Significance of Indo-Pacific for India

  • Natural resources, Market potential, Northeast States, Blue Economy aspirations, Freedom of navigation, counter China.
  • It will provide a role of Net security provider and security architecture.
  • Help in Act East Asia Policy, multilateral groupings, the role of ports.
  • This is a shift from Asia-Pacific (including Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania) where India was included as in APEC. India is still outside APEC.

India's Initiatives for Indo-Pacific

  • Defence Exercises, Strategic Partnership with countries.
  • Forum of India-Pacific Islands Cooperation.
  • Asia- Africa Growth Corridor.
  • SAGAR Approach and Project MAUSAM.
  • Quad-plus- India, Japan, Australia, U.S. and countries of ASEAN.

Threats Posed by China in Indo Pacific Region:

  • China is a ‘power player’ in international diplomacy and it threatens the political order in the region.
  • China is asserting itself in the Indo-Pacific by supplying military equipment to Bangladesh, Thailand (three submarines), Myanmar, Sri Lanka (frigate), etc.
  • China is also accused of colonising the region as illustrated by the rising debts of those countries which took loans from China example Hambantota in Sri Lanka (where the Chinese are funding a strategically important port) and the unlawful doorway into Myanmar.
  • Chinese policy is popular for uncertainty and swinging from one extreme to another swiftly, as evident from their slogan “Let a hundred flowers bloom” followed by a cultural revolution.
  •  In 2012, the Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea was invaded and barricaded by China despite the Philippines’s claims.  Also, China’s claim has been rising in the region leading to the territorial dispute with Vietnam and Indonesia. The Chinese pose a hegemonic threat on the trade routes.

Other Challenges and Threats:

  • Terrorism is a huge threat, particularly for India. A hotbed for terrorism is operating in regions in the vicinity of Indo Pacific Example rising terrorism in the Philippines.
  • Maritime security from piracy to illegal immigration, weapon smuggling and trafficking.
  • Militarization of the region such as the presence of the 7th fleet of the USA, and Chinese warships in the region.
  • Threat to the freedom of trade due to the rising of territorial and strategic position claims in the region.

The EU’s role in the Indo Pacific Region

The below Editorial talks about AUKUS, EU and its role in Indo-Pacific. It showcases the new policy document of the EU in the context of Indo-Pacific and the significance of EU for India in the geopolitics of Indo-Pacific.

By being more assertive with China and more cooperative with India, the EU can create a vantage position for itself

Development of the Quad comprising Australia, Japan, India and the U.S.; the emergence of AUKUS comprising Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.; and other alignments raise the question: where does Europe stand about this churning?

It is complicated

  • Europe’s Asia connect is old, strong and multi-layered. Asia is viewed and evaluated through national and regional perspectives. This explains why at least since 2018, countries such as France, the Netherlands, Germany and the U.K. announced their specific policies towards the Indo-Pacific.
  • The European Union (EU) is in the process of coping with the rise of China and other Asian economies, the tensions due to China’s aggressiveness along its periphery, and economic consolidation through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  • Seen from Brussels, the EU and the Indo-Pacific are “natural partner regions”. The EU is already a significant player in the Indian Ocean littoral states, the ASEAN area and the Pacific Island states, but the strategy aims to enhance the EU’s engagement across a wide spectrum.
  • Future progress will be moulded by principles ranging from the imperative to defend the “rules-based international order”; promote a level-playing field for trade and investment, Sustainable Development Goals and multilateral cooperation; support “truly inclusive policy-making” encompassing the civil society and the private sector, and protect human rights and democracy.
  • The policy document says cooperation will be strengthened in sustainable and inclusive prosperity, green transition, ocean governance, digital governance and partnerships, connectivity, security and defence, and human security. The EU thus promises to focus on the security and development dimensions of its relationship with the region.
  • As a major economic power, the EU has an excellent chance of success in its trade negotiations with Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand; in concluding discussions for an economic partnership agreement with the East African Community; and in forging fisheries agreements and green alliances with interested partners to fight climate change.

Approach to China and India

  • The risks facing the EU are varied. Russia next door is the more traditional threat. It is increasingly on China’s side. Hence, the EU should find it easy to cooperate with the Quad. However, AUKUS muddied the waters, especially for France. Yet, endeavours by a part of the western alliance to bolster naval and technological facilities to deal with China cannot be unwelcome. What the EU needs is an internally coordinated approach.
  • India has reasons to be pleased with the EU’s policy. India’s pivotal position in the region necessitates a closer India-EU partnership.

The European involvement in the Indo-Pacific:

  • Recently, the German government has for the first time adopted certain guidelines for the Indo-Pacific.
  • European countries are the key trading, technology, and investment partner for many countries of the region. Germany alone now conducts one-fifth of its foreign trade with the Indo-Pacific countries.
  • Recently the EU has concluded free trade agreements with Japan, Singapore, and Vietnam.
  • China remains a key economic partner for the EU.
  • The EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) concluded a strategic partnership. This connects the EU with the South-East Asian Countries.
  • The EU is the biggest supporter of the international vaccine platform COVAX. Further, India as a leading producer of vaccines is the most important COVAX supplier. The benefits of this platform are beyond the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Europe also supports human rights and the promotion of democracy in the region. For example,
    • Sanctions against those responsible for human rights violations in Xinjian.
    • Sanctions against Myanmar’s generals following the Myanmar Coup.

Advantages of EU engaging with Indo-Pacific:

  • Europe can set standards for new technologies, human-centred digitization, and sustainable connectivity.
  • Europe can improve its innovation and economic strength as well as its regulatory power at a global level
  • Indo-Pacific is the biggest emitters of CO2 in the world (China and India contribute to that). The EU can invest in renewable energies, climate protection and biodiversity in the region.

Way Forward

The early conclusion of an ambitious and comprehensive trade agreement and a standalone investment protection agreement will be major steps. Cooperation in Industry 4.0 technologies is desirable. Consolidating and upgrading defence ties with France, Germany and the U.K. should also remain a significant priority.

Source: The Hindu

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