IASbhai Daily Editorial Hunt | 29th Oct 2020
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Aristotle
EDITORIAL HUNT #213 :“Indo-Pacific Region 2020 : Strategic Importance | UPSC”
Indo-Pacific Region 2020 : Strategic Importance | UPSC
Happymon Jacob teaches National Security at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
The challenges of walking the Indo-Pacific talk
In countering China, India must note that strategic talk alone cannot trump overriding economic realities
SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 2 : 3 : IR : Maritime Strategy
How successful New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific strategy would be going forward with Quad and 2+2 ministerial dialogues. Critically Analyse India’s strategic role in the ocean waters. -(GS 2)
- Indo-Pacific region Policy Approach
- The concepts and differences
- Hurdles in India’s Strategy
- Way Forward
- THE INDO-PACIFIC : The threat from China, and, the United States as a potential ‘alliance’ partner are the recent developments .
- POLICY APPROACH : No strategic vision has captivated India’s foreign policy mandarins and strategic community in recent times just have the Indo-Pacific and the Quad.
- CRUCIAL ROLE : The international community has once again decided to court New Delhi to play a decisive role in shaping the region’s strategic future.
- GLOBAL PROSPECTS : While during the mid-2000s the world expected India to be an economic powerhouse, a decade later, those expectations remain modest, at best.
- TACTICAL SPOT : The expectation this time is more strategic and military, to lead the charge against China from within the region.
THE CONCEPTS, THE DIFFERENCES
- SPIRIT AND VISION : Depending on how one wishes to view it, they could be seen as conceptually interlinked or as separate visions.
- PARALLELISM : Their similarity comes from the fact that the Quad members are also major States in the Indo-Pacific region, and both the Quad and the Indo-Pacific constructs are focused on China.
- CRUX : More so, they are also in some ways centred around India’s geographic location and its policies.
- EXCESSIVE FOCUS : Put differently, if you take China out of the equation, they would have little rationale for existence.
- INDIA AS EPICENTRE : And if you take India out of the picture, their ability to sustain as geopolitical constructs would drastically diminish.
- DIVERGENCE : At the same time, the Indo-Pacific and the Quad are also quite different from each other.
- POLICIES AT STAKE : 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.
- DECEPTIVE TONES : The Indo-Pacific, despite the subtle anti-China undertones, will find it impossible to avoid engaging China.
- INSTITUTIONAL MATURITY : Even the Quad, still in its institutional infancy, is mostly focused on diplomatic signalling and with little common intent let alone joint action.
- POWER TO QUAD : Quad’s ability to succeed would entirely depend on China — the more aggressive China gets, the more resolute the Quad countries would be in strengthening it.
- INDO-PACIFIC VS BRI : It is too early to say whether the Indo-Pacific as an economic construct will be able to pose an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- CUTTING EDGE PROGRESS : The BRI is far more advanced, much more thought-out, and has the economic might of the Chinese state behind it.Several Indo-Pacific countries are already members of the BRI.
- ON THE FLIP SIDE : The BRI is a ‘Chinese’ project and is already under immense stress from its inherent weaknesses, such as China’s unilateral pursuit of the BRI and the associated economic burdens on the States that sign up to it.
HURDLES IN INDIA’S STRATEGY
- ECONOMIC INTERESTS : For a politico-economic construct such as the Indo-Pacific to survive, there must be strong economic partnerships and linkages among its members.
- MEANINGFUL TABLE TALKS : Merely focusing on strategic talk and possible military cooperation will not work because at some point, the unavoidable economic logic will kick in.
- COMPLICATIONS WITH RCEP : New Delhi’s decision not to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the region’s flagship free trade arrangement, could potentially complicate future engagements in the region.
- TRADE DEFICIT : The RCEP decision, a direct result of domestic political compulsions in India, comes in the backdrop of the already huge gap between India and China on trade with almost every Indo-Pacific country.
The table shows the gap that exists between Indian and Chinese trade with the major Indo-Pacific and Quad States.
- REGIONAL REALITIES : This growing trade gap that India and China have with these countries will be a major determining factor in shaping the region’s strategic realities.
- CHINESE ENGAGEMENT : New Delhi’s decision not to sign on to the RCEP also needs to be viewed in the broader context of the Chinese institutional engagement of the region.
- NO BILATERAL AGREEMENTS : In the case of India, it does not have FTAs with Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Bangladesh and the Maldives.
- BILATERAL AGREEMENTS : It has FTAs with South Korea, the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, Japan and Sri Lanka.
- CHINESE STRING OF PEARLS : In the case of China, it has FTAs with all these countries barring the U.S.
- ECONOMIC MOVES : Once again, economic compulsions will go a long way in shaping strategic realities for a variety of reasons including that trade with China is crucial for the economies of these States.
- ECONOMIC SEPARATION : Even if they attempt economic decoupling from China, it would be a long process, if pursued with adequate alternatives and political determination.
- DIPLOMATIC TIES : The lesson is straightforward: strategic talk alone cannot trump economic realities.
CHINA’S LARGER MILITARY REACH
- BOOSTING ENGAGEMENT : If our economic engagements were insufficient, which are at least partly due to domestic political considerations, our strategic and military engagements in the region also fall short.
ECONOMIC ROLE IS KEY
- RISING CHALLENGES : India’s role in the Indo-Pacific will remain limited if it does not prove to be a major economic partner to these States.
- LACK OF POLITICAL CONSENSUS : But given the economic slowdown in India today in the wake of COVID-19 and the lack of political consensus in the country about RCEP, India’s ability to economically engage with the region remains limited.
- TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT : On the military-strategic side too, India’s performance in the region is less than desirable.
- ALTERNATIVES : The only choice, it appears then, is for some sort of a loosely structured regional strategic alliance with the U.S. and its allies in the broader Indo-Pacific region.
New Delhi, however, remains caught between a deeply constrained, but unavoidable, need to rethink its strategic posture, and the recognition of its material inability to do so, at least for now.
SOURCES: THE HINDU EDITORIAL HUNT | Indo-Pacific Region 2020 : Strategic Importance | UPSC