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The challenges of walking the Indo­ Pacific talk

Context: The recently concluded third annual United States-India 2+2 ministerial dialogue has amplified the ongoing conversation in India on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), the Indo-Pacific, the threat from China, and, the United States as a potential ‘alliance’ partner.


GS Paper 2: Important International institutions, agencies, for a (structure, mandate); Bilateral, Regional, Global groupings & Agreements (involving and/or affecting India)

Mains questions:

  1. In countering China, India must note that strategic talk alone cannot trump overriding economic realities. Critically Analyse. (15 marks)
  2. The Indo-Pacific is a grand politico-economic vision while the Quad is a forum for strategic and military consultations among India, the U.S., Australia and Japan. Elaborate. (15 mark)

Dimensions of the articles:

  • What is Indo-Pacific Region?
  • Fundamental difference between Indo-Pacific and Quad.
  • India’s vision for Indo-Pacific
  • Significance of the Indo-Pacific for India
  • Challenges
  • Indian Initiatives

What is 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:

  • Increasing geopolitical connect between the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific in both the geo-economics
  • Eastward shift of the world’s economic “centre of gravity” towards the Asian continent .
  • Growing Eminence of India
  • Politico-military aggressiveness of China.
At least 38 
Worlds A 
G) iii 
Worlds GDP 
Worlds Trade 
Worlds Contairer Trade 
Reg um

Fundamental difference of Quad and Indo-Pacific:

  • The Indo-Pacific a politico-economic vision and the Quad is a military-strategic vision however the Quad does not form the military or strategic nucleus of the Indo-Pacific.
  • While the Indo-Pacific provides a complex political and economic picture with a hesitant, but growing, articulation of China as a strategic challenge, the Quad is inherently more anti-China in character and intent.

India’s Vision for Indo-Pacific: In the Shangri La Dialogue, India embraced the concept of IndoPacific and highlighted following points-

  • It stands for a free, open, inclusive region, which embraces all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity. It includes all nations in this geography as also others beyond who have a stake in it.
  • Southeast Asia is at its Centre. And ASEAN central to its future.
  • Evolve, through dialogue, a common rules-based order for the region. These rules and norms should be based on the consent of all, not on the power of the few.
  • Rather than growing protectionism, India seeks for a level playing field for all. India stands for open and stable international trade regime.
  • Connectivity is vital and India is doing its part, by itself and in partnership with others like Japan – in South Asia and Southeast Asia, in the Indian Ocean, Africa, West Asia and beyond.

India’s view can be summarized into five S in Hindi: Samman (respect); Samvad (dialogue); Sahyog (cooperation), Shanti (peace), and Samridhi (prosperity)

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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • Need to build capacity- India wants to stop Indo-Pacific from turning into a Chinese sphere of influence, but it doesn’t have sufficient resources to do so. Neither does India have adequate economic resources to provide credible alternatives to China’s Belt and Road Initiative nor does it have sufficient diplomatic capacity to meaningfully engage with all stakeholders at the same time like US and Russia. China’s aggression and debt trap diplomacy, which impinge sovereignty, is going to test Indian diplomacy.
  • Seamless Connectivity- between the countries in the region remains to be a concern.
  • Role of North- East States– until they are developed, India’s role may not be utilized to the maximum extent possible.
  • Heterogeneity in the region- with different countries in terms of sizes, ethnicities, aspirations, it becomes difficult to obtain a cohesive approach.
  • De-globalization- The western world has been hit by a spate of protectionism, which creates hurdles to such cooperation on issues like tariffs, oil import etc for the common Indo-Pacific region.
  • China’s economic presence in Indo-Pacific region:
Trade and the neighbours: 2018-19 (U.S. $) 
Indian and Chinese trade with key Indo-Pacific countries 
Main countries 
New Zealand 
United States 
South I<orea 
Ban ladesh 
Ja an 
Sri Lanka 
30 bn 
2.64 bn 
87.96 bn 
20.7 bn 
96.80 bn 
9.21 bn 
17.63 bn 
4.19 bn 
288.99 mn 
252 bn 
33.4 bn 
737.1 bn 
284.54 bn 
600 bn 
18 bn 
353.7 bn 
4 262.52 mn 

Indian initiatives:

  • Defence Cooperation such as Joint defence exercises like Malabar, RIMPAC; inter-operability where countries can use each other’s military bases.
  • Asia-Africa Growth Corridor– an economic cooperation agreement between the governments of India, Japan and multiple African countries.
  • SAGAR Approach– Security and Growth for All in the Region.
  • Project Mausam: to explore the multifaceted Indian Ocean ‘world’–collating archaeological and historical research.
  • Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue: The Indian Navy launched this apex level conference in 2018, in recognition towards the importance of Indo-Pacific for the region.
  • India has been an active participant in mechanisms like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the  t East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the Mekong Ganga Economic Corridor.
  • Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, in which the navies of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) participate.
  • Through, Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) India is stepping up its interactions with the Pacific Island countries.

Way forward:

Development of infrastructure investment initiatives– to develop connectivity and inter-operability between the regions to encourage economic trade among others. The India Increased the diplomatic coordination sphere- from the current Quad countries to the larger region, so as to build larger consensus on the Indo-Pacific common concerns. The emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a geo-strategic concept is a welcome development. However, it needs further diplomatic movement and there needs to be greater clarity on economic issues.

April 2024