‘INDO-PACIFIC’: EVOLVING PERCEPTIONS AND DYNAMICS

‘Indo-Pacific’ is a relatively new and evolving concept, whose usage in foreign policy and strategic articulations has gained much currency in the recent past. The ‘rise’ of Asia— particularly  China  and  India—have  made  the  concept  highly  relevant,  in  both  geo- strategic  and  economic  terms.  For  much  of  the  twentieth  century,  the  concept  of  the ‘Indo-Pacific’—initially   propounded   in   the   1920s   by   the   German   geographer   and geopolitician  Karl  Haushofer—received  little attention  in  the  strategic  and  geopolitical discourse. It was only in early-2007 that the concept appeared in an academic writing, notably in India’s Strategic Affairs journal.1  Along with this writing, the “Confluence of the   Two   Seas”   articulation   of   the   Japanese   Prime   Minister   Shinzo   Abe   may   be considered  seminal  to  the  development  of  the  concept  in  recent  years.  Delivering  a speech at the Indian Parliament in August 2007, Mr. Shinzo Abe contended that, “The Pacific  and the Indian  Oceans  are now  bringing about  a ‘dynamic  coupling as  seas’  of freedom and of prosperity. A ‘broader Asia’ that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form.”2

Although  the  concept   of   ‘Indo-Pacific’   is   now  being  widely  used,  there   is   a divergence among analysts on its geographical contours. In the Indian writing of 2007, it refers to the maritime space comprising the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific and the  countries  littoral  to  these  oceans,  including  West  Asia/Middle  East  and  eastern Africa.3  At the other extreme, a conceptualisation extends the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’ to ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’ covering the entire Pacific Ocean.4  Questions are also raised as to as to how the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is different from the already established term ‘Asia Pacific’. Further, why countries like China are not keen to embrace the idea of ‘Indo-Pacific’?5

In  the  above  context,  this  issue  brief  explores  the  nuances  of  the  ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept, and the reasons of its resurgence. It also analyses how the three main powers of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) Australia, India and Indonesia perceive the concept.

Meaning of ‘Indo-Pacific’

The  ‘Indo-Pacific’  in  recent  times  is  likely  to  replace  ‘Asia-Pacific’  as  the  new  zone  of convergence and competition of the three powers, that are India, China and the United States.6  Despite intense economic interdependence among these three powers, there is also contestation for dominance and influence in this region. The ‘Indo-Pacific’ has also emerged  as  a  highly  volatile  region  for  nuclear  proliferation  involving  several  states, particularly the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 7

The meaning and implication of  the ‘Indo-Pacific’  can be examined from various prisms;  for  instance,  in  Constructivist  terms,  the  “Indo-Pacific  presents  the  idea  and imagery of the two oceanic regions of the Indian and Pacific Oceans that comprise of the institutional framework and inter-State operations that mesh the two oceans together.”8

In  terms  of  Regionalism,  “the  regions  of  the  Indian  and  Pacific  Oceans  portray  the dynamic  evolution of  interests and  operations of  the powers are shaped  up.”9; in geo- political essence the origin of the concept was elucidated by Karl Haushofer who coined the  term  “Indopazifischen  Raum”.10   Haushofer  elucidated  that,  “dense  Indo-Pacific concentration    of    humanity    and    cultural    empire    of    India    and    China,    which are….geographically sheltered behind the protective veil of the offshore island arcs.”11

In his classic book on sea power, Alfred T. Mahan emphasized the primacy of sea power  in  the  Indian  and  the  Pacific  Oceans.  He  viewed  “the  two  oceans  hedging  the continental world island and decisive of the impact that it created in terms of security and  strategy.”12   Nicholas  Spykman  termed  the  Indo-Pacific  as  the  “circumferential maritime highway which links the whole area together in terms of sea power.”13  In the

1980s and 1990s, the term ‘Asia Pacific’ was used to analyse the situation in the ‘Pacific Rim’;  by  2010,  the  term  ‘Indo-Pacific’  was  created  to  describe  the  Indian  and  the  US perspectives  of  the  maritime  and  strategic  convergence  of  the  Indian  and  Pacific Oceans.14

Rise of ‘Indo-Pacific’

There is nothing new in the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, if one takes a look at the history of Asia. Till  the  advent  of  colonialism,  and  before  the  Atlantic  Ocean  gained  prominence  after the Industrial Revolution, the Indian Ocean was the prime conduit of global activity. Its influence stretched as far as China, especially the region comprising the eastern Indian Ocean and the West Pacific Ocean—from India to Northeast Asia—was the hub for much of the global activity and interactions, with implications reaching far and wide beyond this  region.  The  Indianized  kingdoms  like  Champa  in  South  Vietnam  to  Khmers  in Cambodia, and from Sri Vijaya and Sailendras in Indonesia to numerous kingdoms in Thailand  and  Myanmar,  are  proof  of  the  impact  of  the  Indian  influence  and  also  the exchanges that took place in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region during that time.15

The resurgence of ‘Indo-Pacific’ in the 21st  century can be attributed to the advent of globalisation and the increasing economic links between countries. The economic and military rise of Asia, has led to the revival of ‘Indo-Pacific’. The growing economic links between   the   nations   has   led   to   countries   forging   both   bilateral   and   multilateral economic    cooperation    agreements    like    the    Regional    Comprehensive    Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 16

Two  other  developments  also  account  for  the  rise  of  ‘Indo-Pacific’.  The  first  is  the ‘rise’  of  India  as  a  relevant  regional  power,  considering  its  growing  engagements  with the countries in East  Asia, besides its prevailing influence in the IOR. As an emerging major power, India aspires to play a bigger role in the extended neighbourhood in the ‘Indo-Pacific’  region, much beyond its immediate neighbourhood.  Its growing military capability, a fast evolving blue-water capable navy, and an economy that is already the fourth largest in PPP terms with huge untapped potential, India will be a major player in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ dynamics.17  Nearly 50 per cent of India’s trade is with East Asia, and has witnessed high growth compared to any other region. Significantly, some of the top investments in India are from East Asia, particularly Japan. India has signed the largest number of comprehensive economic partnership agreements with East Asian countries, and will be a part of the region’s mega trading bloc once the RCEP becomes functional. Likewise, India has also entered in a large number of defence and strategic agreements with countries ranging from the Indian Ocean rim to East Asia.18

The rising salience of the IOR is another factor.  It is implausible to imagine the dawn of an Asian Century without the Indian Ocean, its huge natural resources (in particular energy)  that  are  crucial  for  the  economic  development  of  East  Asia  and  the  shipping lanes  that  traverse  through  this  ocean,  besides  the  growing  market  along  its  rim.19

Comprising  some  2.6  billion  people,  this  region  is  home  to  almost  40  per  cent  of  the world’s population, and accounts for 10 per cent of global GDP (about US$ 6.5 trillion). Further, 40 per cent of global trade passes through the Indian Ocean, including 70 per cent of the total traffic of petroleum products.20

Australian and the ‘Indo-Pacific’

Australia  had  long  embraced  the  term  and  recognised  its  importance.  The  idea  had emerged  in  the  1950s  and  the  term  ‘Indo-Pacific’  featured  regularly  in  Australian academic  discourse  and  government  discussions  since  2005.  While  some  government documents published in late 2012 and early 2013 referred to the ‘Indo-Pacific’, its full adoption as defining Australia’s region came about only in May 2013, with the release of the Defence White Paper where ‘the ‘Indo-Pacific’ was officially listed as one of the four strategic interests of Australian defence policy.’ 21  While there are competing definitions of  the  geographic  extent  of  the  ‘Indo-Pacific’  based  on  different  visions  of  the  Indian Ocean,  the  Australian  concept  of  the  region  is  centred  on  “the  maritime  Indian  and Pacific  Oceans  and  their  convergence  in  Southeast  Asia.”22     The  Defence  White  Paper defines  the  ‘Indo-Pacific’  as  the  ‘strategic  arc  …  connecting  the  Indian  and  Pacific Oceans through Southeast Asia’. 23  The rationale for using the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is to take  into  account  the  current  strategic  realities  like  the  ‘rise’  of  India,  China  and Indonesia  in  Australia’s  neighbourhood,  and  the  US  Rebalance  to  Asia.  Australia  will play an important role in the US’ Rebalancing strategy as was reflected with President Obama announcing the stationing of 2,500 US Marines at a military base in Darwin. On the domestic front enormous quantity of exports from western Australia has made the Indian Ocean and its shipping lanes critical for its own economic development.24

Indian Perceptions

India  also  comes  in  the  list  of  the  few  countries  that  have  welcomed  the  idea  of  the ‘Indo-Pacific’  and  included  it  in  its  official  discourse.  Former  Prime  Minister  Dr. Manmohan  Singh  first  used  it  while  addressing  the  Plenary  Session  of  the  India– ASEAN  Commemorative  Summit  in  New  Delhi  in  November  2012,  remarking  that  “a stable, secure and prosperous ‘Indo-Pacific’ region is crucial for our own progress and prosperity”.  25   He  used  the  term  on  two  other  occasions,  once  while  addressing  the Japan–India Association in Tokyo in May 2013 and the other at an event marking the fourth  anniversary  of  the  UPA-II  government.26   India’s  embrace  of  the  ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct  denotes  two  things:  (a)  desire  to  play  a  more  active  role  in  its  extended neighbourhood, that is reforming its Look East policy and making it more proactive; and (b) recognising the changing realities of the region which demand India’s attention. Not surprisingly, there are many views on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ in India. 27

India has been deepening bilateral defence and maritime security cooperation with the   United   States,   Australia,   Japan   and   Vietnam.   At   the   same   time,   free   trade agreements   with   Singapore,   Thailand,   Malaysia,   South   Korea   and   Japan   and multilateral  agreements with ASEAN  under  the RCEP  initiative  indicate the economic rationale behind India’s embrace of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct.28  In a speech in Tokyo in   May   2013,   former   Prime   Minister   Singh   evoked   Prime   Minister   Abe’s   2007 articulation of ‘the confluence of the two seas’, the Indian and Pacific Oceans, defining it as the ‘framework for our bilateral relationship’ and referring to Japan as ‘a natural and indispensable partner in our quest for stability and peace in the vast region in Asia that is washed by the Pacific and Indian Oceans’. 29  At the same time, India has been active in its engagement of ASEAN through bilateral and multilateral channels such as the East Asia  Summit  (EAS)  and  ASEAN  Defence  Ministerial  Meeting  Plus  (ADMM+).  By drawing up close bilateral and defence ties with the US and its allies Japan and Australia in  the  region,  the  Indian  government,  in  recent  times,  has  transformed  India’s  ‘Look East’  policy  to  an  ‘Act  East’  policy.  The  ‘Joint  Strategic  Vision’  to  ensure  maritime security  and  freedom  of  navigation  especially  in  the  South  China  Sea  issued  during President Obama’s India visit in January 2015 reflects the ‘Indo-Pacific’ outlook of the Modi government.30  Furthermore, Modi’s attempt to revive the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’,  or  the  ‘Asian  Arc  of  Democracy’,  is  another  indication  of  the  growing recognition of India’s security interest in the ‘Indo-Pacific’. 31

China’s  build-up  of   ports  and  refuelling  stations  all  around  India,  including Pakistan  (Gwadar),  Sri  Lanka  (Hambantota),  Bangladesh  (Chittagong)  and  Myanmar (Sittwe  and  Kyaukpyu)  has  created  a  deep  anxiety  within  Indian  strategic  circles.  The suspicion    of    Chinese    encroachment    is    more    prominent    in    the    Indian    naval establishment.32

Moreover,  as  India  grows  economically,  increasing  its  reliance  on  the  shipping lanes for trade and resources, maintaining a firm hold in the Indian Ocean is becoming a core priority. Already, Chinese presence in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea is creating a ‘Hormuz dilemma’ in the Indian strategic imagination, similar to the ‘Malacca dilemma’ of   the   Chinese.   The   increases   in   Chinese   defence   spending   and   rapid   naval modernisation  since  the  2000s  have  led  policy-makers  from  around  the  world  to speculate about Chinese intentions in the region. Indian strategists and policy-makers follow  China’s  stance  in  the  East  and  South  China  Sea  disputes  carefully  and  share regional  concerns  about  China’s  assertive  posture.  Since  the  2000s,  India  has  been heavily  engaged  in  modernising  its  own  armed  forces.  Especially  since  the  terrorist attack  in  Mumbai  in  2008,  strengthening  the  navy  and  the  coast  guard  has  been  the focus of the strategic establishment.33

India  has  been  proactively  engaging  the  small  island  states  to  ensure  peace  and stability within them and offering help with the same, as it did in 2009 when it offered to  monitor  elections  in  the  Maldives.  Additionally,  India  has  also  started  its  own outreach towards the Pacific island states, with Modi’s visit to Fiji in November 2014. 34

Indonesia and the ‘Indo-Pacific’In the Vision Mission statement (Visi-Misi) in 2014, President Widodo aims to project Indonesia  as   a  maritime  power  in  the  ‘Indo-Pacific’.35    He  sees   the  closely  inter- connected Pacific and Indian Oceans (PACINDO) as the primary theatre of Indonesian foreign  policy  engagement  given  Indonesia’s  location  at  the  cross-roads  of  the  Indian and  the  Pacific  Oceans,  its  upcoming  role  as  the  chair  of  the  Indian  Ocean  Rim Association  (IORA)  by  the  end  of  2015,  its  improved  relations  with  neighbouring countries like India, Australia, who are the dominant powers in the ‘Indo-Pacific’, and also new policy initiatives by countries like India in the form of the ‘Act East’ policy and China’s   ‘One   Belt   One   Road’   initiative   from   which   Indonesia   can   benefit   highly. Indonesia’s  ‘Indo-Pacific’  vision  is  also  not  new  and  was  seen  in  the  previous  Foreign Minister, Natalegawa’s statement at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington in May 2013 where he stated that, “A  triangular  (space)  spanning  two  oceans,  the  Pacific  and  Indian  Oceans, bounded  by  Japan  in  the  north,  Australia  in  the  South-east  and  India  in  the south-west, notably with Indonesia at its centre.”36

In the 2012 Shangrila Dialogue, President Yudhoyono declared,“There is every likelihood that in the twenty-first century the Indian Ocean will grow in geostrategic importance. We must make sure that the Indian Ocean does not become an area of new strategic contest and rivalry. Indeed, now is the time to  cultivate the  seeds  for  long-term  cooperation,  based  on  common  interests  in that part of the world.”37

Concluding Remarks

It is generally believed that the idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ has been propagated to contain China.  This  assumption  is  not  true  as  for  regional  peace  and  stability,  China’s  role  is crucial.  While  the  regional  interests  of  the  great  powers  may  diverge  on  occasions, shared economic interests, security and prosperity will co-exist with competition. This will demand the powers to work together for the materialisation of their interests and in dealing with the rising security threats in the region. Thus, the ‘Indo-Pacific’ needs to be viewed  in  the  larger  perspective  of  offering  more  opportunities  for  cooperation  than competition.  The  idea  of  ‘Indo-Pacific’  offers  enormous  scope  for  regionalism  and multilateralism   to   play   a   more   important   role   than   has   been   the   case   hitherto. Moreover, the ides is a reflection of the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape, which cannot be viewed with scepticism, but embraced and promoted.

About the Author 

The  author  is  a  Research  Associate  at  National  Maritime  Foundation  (NMF),  New Delhi. The views expressed are her own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF. She can be reached at premesha@gmail.com

Notes and References

1  Gurpreet S Khurana , “Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation”, Strategic Analysis, Vol. 31(1), Jan-Feb 2007, pp.139-153. Also see, K Raja Menon, ‘Historical Evolution and Security Discussions’, in Geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. eds. Pradeep Kaushiva and Abhijit Singh (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers, 2014.), p. 19

2  ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’. Speech by Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, in the Indian Parliament,

22 August 2007, http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/pmv0708/speech-2.html (accessed October 10,

2015)

3  Chengxin Pan, “The ‘Indo-Pacific’ and geopolitical anxieties about China’s rise in the Asian regional

order”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 68(4) (2014), p.454.

4  ‘A Cooperative Strategy for 21st  Century Seapower’, US Maritime Strategy, March 2015, at http://www.navy.mil/local/maritime/150227-CS21R-Final.pdf (accessed October 16, 2015)

5   GVC  Naidu,  “  ‘Indo-Pacific’  as  a  New  Template  of  Analysis”,  Indian  Foreign  Affairs  Journal,  9(2) (2014): 102.

6  GVC Naidu , “India and the Asia Pacific balance of  power”, Strategic Analysis, Vol. 25(4) (2008), pp.

503-504.

7  Lawrence  W.  Prabhakar,  “The  Emergent  Vistas  of  the  Indo-Pacific”,  in  Indo-Pacific  Region:  Political and  Strategic  Prospects.  eds.  Rajiv  K.  Bhatia  and  Vijay  Sakhuja  (New  Delhi:  Vij  Books  India  Private Limited and Indian Council of World Affairs, 2014).

8   Tomoko  Kiyota,  “Japan’s  South  China  Sea  Conundrum”  in  The  Geopolitics  of  the  Indo-Pacific,   eds. Pradeep Kaushiva and Abhijit Singh (New Delhi: KW Publishers Private Limited in association with the National Maritime Foundation, 2014)

9Lawrence W. Prabhakar (2014), “The Emergent Vistas of the Indo-Pacific”, n.7.

10  Ibid.

11  Ibid.

12  Ibid.

13  Ibid.

14  Ibid.

15   Noboru  Karashima,  “  South  Indian  Merchant  Guilds  in  the  Indian  Ocean  and  Southeast  Asia”  in Nagapattinam  to  Suvarnadwipa:  Reflections  on  the  Chola  Naval  Expeditions  to  Southeast  Asia  eds. Herman Kulke, K. Kesavapany, Vijay Sakhuja (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009)

16  GVC Naidu (2014), “ ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a new Template of Analysis”, n.5. , p.p. 103-104.

17  Ibid.

18   Walter  C.  Ladwig  III,  “  Delhi’s  Pacific  Ambition:  Naval  power,  “Look  East”  and  India’s  Emerging

Influence in the Asia Pacific”, Asian Security, Vol. 5(2) (2009): pp. 94-103.

19  Christian Bouchard and William Crumplin, “Neglected no longer: the Indian Ocean at the forefront of world geo-politics”, Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, Vol. 6(1)  (2010): p.26.

20GVC Naidu (2014), “ ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a new Template of Analysis”, n.5., p.p. 105-106.

21   Melissa  H.  Conley  Tyler  and  Aakriti  Bhutoria,  “Diverging  Australian  and  Indian  Views  on  the  Indo- Pacific”, Strategic Analysis, 39(3) (2015): .226.

22  Ibid.

23    David  Scott,  “Australia’s  embrace  of  the  ‘Indo-Pacific’:  New  Term,  New  Region,  New  Strategy”,

International Relations of the Asia Pacific, (2013) :3.

24  Rory Medcalf , “In defence of the Indo-Pacific: Australia’s new Strategic Map”, Australian Journal of

International Affairs, 68(4) (2014) : 476.

25  Melissa  H. Conley Tyler and  Aakriti Bhutoria  (2015), “Diverging Australian and  Indian  Views on the

Indo-Pacific”, n.21.

26  Ibid.

27  Harsh V.Pant and Yogesh Joshi, “Indian Foreign Policy responds to the Indian Pivot”, Asia Policy,19 (2015) :.92.

28   Melissa  H.  Conley  Tyler  and  Aakriti  Bhutoria  (2015),”Diverging  Australian  and  Indian  views  on  the

Indo-Pacific”, n.21. , p.228.

29  Priya Chacko , “ The Rise of the Indo-Pacific: Understanding ideational change and continuity in India’s

foreign policy”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 68(4) (2014):.442.

30Melissa  H.  Conley  Tyler  and  Aakriti  Bhutoria  (2015),”Diverging  Australian  and  Indian  views  on  the

Indo-Pacific”,  n.21. , p.229.

31  Ibid.

32  Ibid.

33   Melissa  H.  Conley  Tyler  and  Aakriti  Bhutoria  (2015),”Diverging  Australian  and  Indian  views  on  the  Indo- Pacific”, n.21. , p.228.

34  Ibid. ,p.230.

35 Jalan Perubahan Untuk Indonesia, Yang Berdaulat, Mandiri Dan Berkepribadian, ‘Visi Misi, Dan Program

AKSI’,https://translate.google.co.in/translate?hl=en&sl=id&u=http://efekjokowi.com/visi-misi2.html&prev=search, (accessed 8 August 2015)

36   Chinyong  Liow  and  Vibhanshu  Shekhar,   “  Indonesia  as  a  Maritime  Power:  Jokowi’s  Vision,  Strategies  and Obstacles      Ahead”,      at      http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2014/11/indonesia-maritime-liow-shekhar (accessed  November 10, 2014)

37Ibid.

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