The Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue

The Indo-Pacific which is a predominantly (but not exclusively) maritime space connecting three continents, is fast emerging as the most important geopolitical region in the world, including as it does, an economically resurgent Asia.  Despite a recent tendency to promote inward-looking nationalism and to abandon globalisation, the transnational interests of countries have moved well beyond the strict geographical categorisations of earlier times.  Consequently, it is, today, neither practical nor useful to view various Asian sub-regions as isolated entities as was the case in times gone by.  We are witnessing a reconceptualisation of this region, wherein the historical view of the Indo-Pacific as a single, cohesive geopolitical entity is being restored, and its horizontal and vertical interconnections, which encompass a wide swath of economics, connectivity and culture, are increasingly recognised as being of the utmost importance to the world.

For India, the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ reflects the core conceptual, spatial and temporal framework that underpins the country’s engagement with its external environment.  It is not, in and of itself, a strategy but is, rather, an articulation of India’s proximate ‘strategic geography’.[1]  While the Indo-Pacific is a predominantly maritime regional construct, it is not exclusively so.  As such, it accommodates both littoral States and hinterland or landlocked ones within its ambit.  In spatial terms, it extends from the Indian Ocean littoral of Africa to our West, encompassing the seas fringing the Indian Ocean and proceeding eastward, incorporating the seas bordering the Pacific Ocean, to the western littoral of the Americas, and from the southern littoral of Asia proceeding southward to the continental landmass of Antarctica.

Inclusivity, and, transparency, are fundamental to India’s Indo-Pacific formulation.  For India, ‘inclusiveness’ implies the use of existing regional mechanisms to promote dialogue-based approaches to the resolution of differences, the enhancement of economic cooperation, the sharing of maritime space and airspace, and the willingness to work with all countries in the region.  Likewise, India holds that ‘transparency’ denotes openness of both intent and action.  India seeks to meaningfully contribute to the creation and consolidation of an Indo-Pacific built upon five key principles: Respect, Dialogue, Cooperation, Peace, and Prosperity – ‘Respect’ for all, as well as for an international order that is underpinned by established international law; ‘Dialogue’ to resolve differences, and, to use existing fora, as relevant, including ASEAN-led fora such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), and, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA); ‘Cooperation’ as the basic means of intercourse between nations and their respective peoples; ‘Peace’ as the sine qua non for the attainment of ‘Prosperity’ through environmental sensitivity and the sustainable harvesting of the Earth’s resources and the equitable distribution of the wealth that accrues from such sustainable exploitation.

The ability to identify both, opportunities and challenges, and, equally important, to listen-to – and be sensitive-to – the varying perspectives of other States located-in or operating-within the Indo-Pacific, is a clear and evident prerequisite – for both India and the region – to jointly arrive at a mutually beneficial set of solutions.

It is this realisation that has driven the Indian Navy to launch an annually-recurring and regionally-focussed series of international conferences, with the generic name “The Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue” (IPRD).  This is the apex-level international conference convened annually by the Indian Navy.  As such, it is the primary manifestation of the Indian Navy’s strategic engagement of the world’s foremost maritime experts.  It is designed to identify opportunities and challenges that confront us in the predominantly-maritime expanse of the Indo-Pacific.  Each successive annual edition takes up a given facet (or set of facets) relevant to such opportunities and challenges.  A given facet may even be repeated if and when changed environmental circumstances might so demand.

The National Maritime Foundation (NMF) is proud and privileged to be the Indian Navy’s Knowledge Partner and the Chief Organiser for each successive edition of this prestigious conference.  IPRDs of the past few years have all been held in the majestically impressive Manekshaw Centre in New Delhi.  The 2018 edition was held on 27 and 28 February, the 2019 edition was held on 05 and 06 March, and the forthcoming 2020 edition is scheduled on 17 and 18 March.

[1] This assertion brings in its wake the question of how ‘strategic geography’ differs from ‘real’ geography.  If one were to take a chart or map that depicts ‘real’ geography and then place upon it a set of coordinates defined by specific latitudes and longitudes, and, within the area that has been so bounded or enclosed, if one were to then give special focus – at the national-level – in terms of the planning and execution of one’s geopolitical strategies, this enclosed or bounded area would define one’s  ‘strategic geography’.  Obviously, the strategic geography of one country, can hardly be expected to be the same as that of another.  For spoken and written convenience, a name has to be given to this area that has been bounded by the coordinates under reference.  The name that we have chosen to give to this geographic space is the ‘Indo-Pacific’.  Other sovereign nations may well have given the same name to their own respective strategic-geographies, but this is no more or less than the ill-founded expectation that the several persons who bear the same name should be identical to one another.  Thus, the fact that India’s spatial construct of the Indo-Pacific might differ from that of another country is perfectly normal and entirely unexceptional.