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Shaping a trilateral as Rome looks to the Indo-Pacific


Recently, Italy has begun to signal its intention to enter the Indo-Pacific geography by seeking to join India and Japan in a trilateral partnership.


GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbours, Foreign Policies affecting India’s Interests)

Mains Questions:

In the pushback against China a strategic cooperation between India, Italy and Japan can ensure a free Indo-Pacific. Discuss by throwing light on significance of the Indo-Pacific for India. (10 Marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Indo-Pacific Region?
  2. Significance of Indo-Pacific for India
  3. About Italy’s Recent Interest
  4. Significance of Italy’s Interest in Indo-Pacific for India
  5. Way Forward

What is the Indo-Pacific Region?

  • The “Indo-Pacific” idea was originally conceived in 2006- 07. The term ‘IndoPacific’ combines the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the Western Pacific Region (WP) – inclusive of the contiguous seas off East Asia and Southeast Asia – into a singular regional construct.
  • The idea has gained eminence in recent times due to:
    1. Increasing geopolitical connect between the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific in both the geo-economics
    2. Eastward shift of the world’s economic “centre of gravity” towards the Asian continent.
    3. Growing Eminence of India
    4. Politico-military aggressiveness of China.
  • Indo Pacific is an inclusive and representative term that reflects the contemporary interconnectedness of trade, technology and supply chains in a wider region.
  • Moreover, the Indo-Pacific is being redefined, ironically, by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), debt-trap diplomacy, fictional territorial claims and a divide-and-rule strategy.
  • Indo Pacific is wider than the “Asia-Pacific” which represented the trans-Pacific strategic and economic impulses after World War II, and was confined to East and South-east Asia.

Significance of Indo-Pacific for India

  • Greater Role in the Region- This concept is a shift from the Asia-Pacific (included North-east Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania), where India did not have a major role to play. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) launched in 1989 did not include India, as did the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) launched in 1996, though India was admitted into ASEM in 2006. India still remains outside APEC despite stated US support for its inclusion. However, India is a key player in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Play the Role of a Net Security Provider where India is expected to assume the responsibility for stability in the region by following capacity building, military diplomacy, military assistance and direct deployment.
  • Ensure Freedom of Navigation– as the region includes some vital trade routes and world’s vital choke points for global commerce, including the Straits of Malacca. Around 95% of India’s foreign trade comes by the Indian Ocean.
  • Develop a Security Architecture– as there are issues like territorial and water disputes between countries, piracy concerns, North Korean nuclear capability and greater militarization in the region.
  • Containment of China– In the backdrop of China’s aggressive expansionists tendencies including Belt and Road Initiative, String Of Pearls Theory, Indo-Pacific presents an opportunity to capitalise on China’s key strategic vulnerability, viz., its energy lifelines transiting the Indian Ocean and to showcase Indian Navy’s capability to moderate China’s behaviour, thereby dissuading its future aggressiveness.
  • Help achieve Strategic Objectives
    • Gives an extension to India’s ‘Act East Policy’
    • Entry in multilateral groupings– such as Nuclear Supplier’s Group and permanent seat in UN Security Council.
    • Create alliances with smaller powers– as it would entail continued engagement with China while simultaneously developing strong economic and security alliances in East and South East Asia and across the Indian Ocean region
    • Increasing role of ports– where different countries are trying to setup their bases in different ports of the region. E.g., India has secured access to Duqm port in Oman for military use and develop the Agalega Island in Mauritius. The Indian Navy has secured a logistics facility in Singapore that will allow it to refuel and rearm and has similar facilities in Vietnam.
  • Help achieve Economic Potential- India is targeting a sustained 7.5-8% economic growth and aims to be a $5 trillion economy by 2025. The Indo-Pacific can aid this as there is
    • Presence of natural resources– like oil and hydrocarbons in South China sea, which can help India diversify its import basket.
    • Presence of high market potential for Indian exports such as engineering services, ICT services etc.
    • Development of North Eastern States- that can become a gateway for India to integrate with this region.
    • Integration of Blue Economy Aspirations– where, ocean ecosystems bring economic and social benefits that are efficient, equitable and sustainable for the entire region.

Why Western powers are looking towards Indo-Pacific?

  • China has been asserting itself in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • To counter the rise of Chinese, traditional alliances like NATO are not very effective, hence, there is a need for new multilateral alignments in the region. This is clearly visible in the new alignments – QUAD, Supply chain resilience Initiative, Malabar naval Exercise.
  • In all these alignments participating nations are able to address specific common challenges, from maritime security to a coordinated pandemic response, including consolidating and further developing strong reciprocal trade relationships, without compromising the political autonomy of each participant.

About Italy’s Recent Interest

  • Italy off late has become more vocal on the risks emanating from China’s strategic competitive initiatives. Recently, Italian PM described Chinese competitive practices as “unfair” and invited the European Union (EU) to be franker and more courageous in confronting Beijing on its violations of human rights, reiterating that with respect to China “the reciprocal visions of the world are very different”.
  • Recently, Italy too, shedding its historic neglect of the region in its foreign policy realm has signalled its intention to enter the Indo-Pacific geography, by seeking to join India and Japan in a trilateral partnership.
  • Italy has also expressed its intention to strengthen its otherwise below potential bilateral relations with India.
  • This marked change in Italy’s actions is based on the following factors:
    • Risks emanating from China’s strategic competitive initiatives and the threat it poses to the EU in general and Italy in specific.
    • The potential benefits that could accrue from a robust India-Italy bilateral relation.

Significance of Italy’s Interest in Indo-Pacific for India

  • The India, Italy and Japan trilateral initiative could be used as a forum to foster and consolidate a strategic relationship between the three countries, and specifically, expand India-Italy bilateral relations. The strengthening of the India-Italy partnership can help consolidate the EU-India strategic relationship further.
  • A strategic trilateral between India, Italy and Japan has, in the medium to long term, a lot of potential. The compatible economic systems of the three countries could help create a virtuous and mutually beneficial contribution to the reorganisation of the global supply chains.
  • In the security realm, Italy, through its presence in the western Indian Ocean (anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia), could easily complement the India-Japan Indo-Pacific partnership.
  • That all three countries share the same values and the same rules-based world view could help them coordinate at multilateral organizations.

Way Forward

  • In the pushback against China, strategic cooperation between India, Italy and Japan can ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
  • Though the efforts towards the trilateral are welcome, they should be backed by appropriate efforts to institutionalize it. The three countries need to define a common economic and strategic agenda.
  • The trilateral cooperation should also induce a strategic dialogue that should include the economic, security and political dimensions.

-Source: The Hindu

May 2024