Event ReportsPublished on Nov 24, 2014
It is clear that countries in the region would like to see India play a greater security role in the Indo-Pacific - that is India should be more proactive, rather than reactive. India should take advantage of the opportunities, and take on responsibilities.
India should take on more responsibilities in Indo-Pacific

Scholars and experts at an international conference in Delhi on regional integration in Indo-Pacific felt that countries in the region would like to see India play a greater security role - that is India should be more proactive, rather than reactive. India should take advantage of the opportunities present, and take on responsibilities.

The conference, titled ’Regional Integration in the Indo-Pacific: Prospects and Challenges’, was organised by Observer Research Foundation on November 24 and 25. It brought together a wide array of ideas and experts under one roof. The background of the 20 panellists ranged from academics, policy makers, bureaucrats, and retired Admirals; and the panel discussions focussed on a wide range of issues that the Indo-Pacific has in the past been facing, and present day continues to face. Smt. Nirmala Sitharam, Union Commerce Minister, Government of India delivered the inaugural address, and Ambassador Takeshi Yagi, Embassy of Japan, gave the dinner address.

The minister stressed on India’s position that it would work for maintaining status quo in the Indo-Pacific region, ensuring freedom of navigation and code of conduct for maritime security.

The minister warned that if the Bretton Woods institutions and other world forums do not give enough weightage to the voices of emerging countries like India, China, ASEAN members and other groups, these countries would find their own way, ignoring the West. The minister noted that the emerging countries had found their own solutions to the world crisis and have capability to find their solutions to the problems in future besides having a huge market. In such a situation, it was natural that these countries expect their voices to be heard much more and involve them in finding solutions.

The conference had six sessions.

  •    Session 1: Changing Politics in the Indo-Pacific

  •    Session 2: Territorial and Sovereignty Issues

  •    Session 3: Non Tariff Barriers to Economic Integration

  •    Session 4: Regional Trading Agreements (RTAs) in the Indo-Pacific

  •    Session 5: Maritime Security and Governance

  •    Session 6: Institutional Perspectives on regional Integration.

In 2007, before the Indian Parliament, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe put forth the idea of a united Indo-Pacific bringing about prosperity and freedom. He also spoke of a ’Broader Asia’ that broke away geographical boundaries. In context of the primary importance of the Indo-Pacific - which in the last few years has formed the yolk of all foreign policy, economic, maritime, and political discussion in the region - this conference took place.

The Initial session set out to capture the shift in the power balance of the Indo-Pacific region. The importance of the Pacific was highlighted by Professor Calder when he cited John Hay, U.S. secretary of State (1898-1905) stating that the ’Mediterranean is the ocean of the past, the Atlantic the ocean of the present, the Pacific is the ocean of the future’.

The Indo-Pacific is the arena of the present times and the future; two of the largest economies are in the region. Nuclear countries, powerful militaries and navies, energy, terrorism, and problem states are all present in this geo-strategic space called the Indo-Pacific. Linked to this Asia has witnessed a rising Continentalism, marked by the dramatic rise of both China and India. Additionally, increased Energy interests amongst Asian Nations, as well as a new ’self-conscious’ US approach to the region have dramatically altered the changing geopolitics of the region.

One prominent decision affecting the changing politics in this region is the decision by the U.S. to rebalance. To demonstrate this, the Naval resources of the U.S. are currently being augmented in the Pacific, and by 2020 the US aims to have 60 percent of their naval assets in the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. has also emphasized its desire to renew bilateral ties among important East, and South-East Asian Nations, as well as increasing the number of 2+2 dialogues.

Another prominent issue that has had a large impact on the changing geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific is the rise of China. The enormity of the country and its capacity obviates rebalancing and makes balance of power a tenuous conceptual tool in Asia. Professor Taniguchi stated time and again that ’China is the least containable country in the history of states’. However, size too can be a liability presenting difficulties of scale in space and governing, and also in providing for such a large population. Besides, lack of intellectual property rights in China gives its rivals an edge.

In order to move forward enhancing the already growing strategy of "networked alliances" is beneficial. Though the traditional bilateral alliances exist - Japan-U.S., Philippines- U.S, U.S. - Vietnam, the region is now witnessing many intra regional bilateral relations form such as those of Japan-Australia, and Japan-India, India- Vietnam etc . These have been described by terms such as ’special strategic and global partnership’ and they send credible signals to Beijing about the limits of its power. This must proceed in both economic and defence spheres.

This changing dynamic in the Indo-Pacific inevitably leads up to the Territorial and Sovereignty issues that are one of the biggest hurdles for prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. The last few years have witnessed a number of territorial disputes heat up in this region. The establishment of the Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea, as well as the South China Sea disputes over the Spratly and Paracel Islands has left a number of East, and South-East Asian Nations weary of China’s aggressive stance in the region. The question of Chinese assertiveness since 2009 has become a fact, and is no longer an issue of doubt. The trajectory of China’s rise is creating disturbances, and shaping conflicts in the region, not cooperation. There is a need to consider both military and non-military actions to impose costs on China for its expansionist policies.

Additionally, in Asia there is a disparity between economics and security, that divides the Asian region. Europe, unlike Asia has seen regional integration institutionalized and well developed to include economic and security concerns. However, in Asia there is a need for diverse and soft regional cooperation amongst ASEAN and SAARC. ASEAN + 3 (India, China and Japan) has not worked as well as it was hoped for. A more enhanced Asian regional cooperation will, and must emerge in the 21st century.

There has also been a Power shift and transition era in the last 15 years to the East. Asia for its part is beginning to challenge the status quo using its economic might, and the change in globalization has enabled it to challenge Western Powers. But in terms of knowledge it still lags behind. There are three instruments essential for power - military, economy, and knowledge. In order to enhance its progress it would be beneficial for Asia to emphasize on soft power such as think tanks. Strengthening Asian Think Tanks and cooperation between them is important. Comparatively the US and the EU combined have over a thousand think tanks.

Despite territorial challenges and the changing power dynamic, economic integration and trade in the region continues to grow. Session 3 of this conference focussed on ’Non Tariff Barriers in the way of Economic Integration.’ In the session it was argued that tariff barriers are decreasing but the non tariff barriers have been increasing. Issues such as facilitation of trade in the South Asian Region, the South Asian Economic Union, the custom union, and the development Partnership agreement were discussed.

India has come a long way over the last decade and committed significantly to Trade Facilitation Agreements. It was suggested that India should support African countries to come up to commit to Trade Facilitation. Also the important process of the automation of the custom department that has been initiated was discussed. An informative presentation which focused on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation highlighted that apart from non tariff barriers, factors like under developed connectivity also hindered trade development.

A study by the Asian Development Bank showed that a substantial 63 percent of all Non Tariff Measures affect the Asian Region, with 37 percent originating from Asia itself. It is also important to pay heed to connectivity through roads, railways, ports in order to develop sub regional economic cooperation. Formation of groups like SASEC, GMS, CAREC plays a role in building of trust among the trading nations. To integrate the region further, measures to link the sub regions should be worked upon to unleash the growth potential in Asia.

Issues regarding Maritime Security and Governance were discussed extensively. China’s growing assertiveness can be seen in the context of the power transition in the region. This rise has left many smaller and weaker nations feeling threatened and vulnerable. It was suggested that the best way of resolving territorial dispute is through the use of international law; alongside which a Code of Conduct should be realized. The International community on their part should repeatedly emphasise the need to observe International law. In this regard a collaborative cooperation mechanism is required amongst US and its allies and partners. The US-Japan partnership is one of the most important. It was suggested that the US-Japan-India-Australia should also enhance partnerships as maritime nations. As a way forward from the disputes, cooperation and partnerships between key players in the region especially in the maritime domain is essential to deter assertive and unilateral behaviour and maintain peace and order in the region.

The role of Organizations in the region such as JICA, and ASEAN were debated as well. Professor Akihiko Tanaka, President of JICA discussed how every country has individual and differing needs. However, as each country doesn’t exist in isolation, questions arise as to how we can connect each country’s need to the region. JICA- one of the largest agencies to conduct development cooperation in 150 countries, cannot be expected to address this all alone. Thus there is a need to work together for a multilateral development bank and prosperous future of the Indo- Pacific with ADB, NGOs, partner governments as well as private sectors.

Despite the rise of China causing anxiety to smaller peripheral countries, China is still looked upon by all of the ASEAN members as an opportunity. This is the growing duality faced by the entire region - Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Indonesia. China is going to loom larger and larger in terms of economic calculations. All ASEAN states aim to have the best possible relations with all the major powers. Maintaining an Omni directional equilibrium with other countries can give some autonomy to these countries, as even the largest of these - Indonesia is smaller than China, the US and others.

Thus while the presence of the US is still a necessary condition for continuity of growth, it is no longer sufficient. It has to be supplemented by a new architecture to preserve stability for many more years across the globe. This search for new architecture is the key strategic issue in the coming years.

As for India’s role in the Indo-Pacific, it is clear that countries in the region would like to see India play a greater security role - that is India should be more proactive, rather than reactive. India should also take advantage of the opportunities present, and take on responsibilities. Professor Tomohiko Taniguchi remarked that Indian diplomacy has stepped up to the challenge and ’made huge strides’ under both Manmohan Singh and even so under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For instance Modi has realised the geopolitical importance of Fiji, which was vacillating between the West and China, and renewed the historic connections with the country. Keeping with the imperatives of networked alliances, India’s Look East Policy, recently christened Act East Policy, has assumed strategic dimensions even as it was launched with economic factors in mind in the wake of India’s 1991 economic reforms. Professor Kesavan was keen to note, however, the Look East Policy is not driven against China. Concurrently, China has risen to become India’s greatest trading partner. Barring the nagging border dispute, the two countries do not have other sources of conflict.

(This report is prepared by Vindu Mai Chotani, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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