The Indo-Pacific region has emerged as a pivotal arena of international geopolitics, fueled by China’s unprecedented rise in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. China’s assertive territorial claims in the East and South China Sea regions have triggered disputes with neighboring states, including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. This has catapulted the Indo-Pacific into the spotlight as a critical center of global trade and commerce, accounting over 50% of the world’s maritime trade volume.
In response to China’s growing influence, the United States is actively engaging with Indo-Pacific countries, seeking to preserve a balancing role in the region. Concurrently, Japan aligns itself with the US’s vision of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ while prioritizing infrastructure development in East Asia and Africa.
India, however, adopts a cautious and inclusive approach through its SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) concept. In his 2018 address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi clarified that India’s Indo-Pacific vision spans the entire Indian and Pacific oceans, extending from Africa to the Americas, and is not aimed at any specific nation.
The strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific is undeniable, projected to be the largest contributor to global growth and home to 60% of the world’s population. The region’s vitality is evident with more than 40% of global seaborne trade traversing the Strait of Malacca. Additionally, approximately 18 million barrels of oil pass through the Gulf of Hormuz, with 11 million barrels traversing the Malacca and Singapore straits. As China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea remains a concern, safeguarding secure Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) becomes an imperative for major regional players such as India, Japan, and the United States.
The Indo-Pacific’s emergence as a new strategic reality of the 21st century is evident through the proactive involvement of various nations, including China’s “Maritime Silk Road,” India’s “Act East Policy,” the US’s “Pivot to Asia,” and Japan’s “Confluence of the Two Seas.” Consequently, New Delhi assumes a central role in the policies of countries sharing similar interests, propelling India as a key player in the region.
However, the deepening competition between the United States and China complicates geopolitical and geo-economic tensions in the Indo-Pacific. China’s expanding presence in the Indian Ocean and its assertive military posturing raise security challenges for India, Japan, and the United States. These nations grapple with formulating strategies amidst Sino-Indian competition, given their critical economic and military partnerships with both China and India.
As a counterbalance to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and growing military influence, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) underwent structural changes in 2016, establishing the Indian Ocean Region Division (IOR) to underscore the maritime domain’s significance in its foreign policy engagements. India’s Indo-Pacific vision emphasizes partnerships while eschewing containment alliances, promoting a free, open, and inclusive security framework based on robust values and adherence to international law.
India’s strategic approach revolves around partnerships as a central pillar of its Indo-Pacific strategy. Nations such as Australia, France, Japan, the UK, and the United States emerge as India’s natural allies in pursuing Indo-Pacific objectives. Prime Minister Modi’s 2018 Shangri-La address outlined four key elements of India’s vision: partnerships, distance from containment alliances, emphasis on free, open, and inclusive frameworks based on international law, dialogue, and diplomacy, and support for regional groupings like ASEAN.
However, striking a balance between geopolitical competition with China and fostering collaborations with like-minded countries poses complex challenges for New Delhi. Particularly concerning the security of Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs), India is navigating through the fine line between raising its security profile in the Indo-Pacific and avoiding perception as part of a Western-led coalition against China. India’s objective is to leverage the Indo-Pacific concept to further its strategic interests while adapting to the ever-evolving dynamics of regional security.
As the gravity of international geopolitics tilts toward the Indo-Pacific, India’s position becomes pivotal. Inter-state cooperation remains fundamental to sustainable development and security in the region. As India navigates the complexities of the Indo-Pacific, its approach will continue to shape the broader global politics of the region. The Indo-Pacific vision positions India as a leading influencer, critical to shaping the region’s future and solidifying its status as a key player.
In conclusion, navigating the Indo-Pacific calls for India to deftly balance geopolitical complexities while fostering strategic partnerships with like-minded nations. As the region’s significance intensifies, India’s cautious yet proactive approach situates it at the forefront of shaping the Indo-Pacific’s trajectory. The Indo-Pacific vision empowers India to lead in molding the region’s future, affirming its position as a critical player in twenty-first-century global politics.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.