On Reclaiming the IndoPacific narrative
Mains Paper 2 : International Relations
Prelims level : Indo-Pacific narrative
Mains level : Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving
India and/or affecting India’s
- ASEAN has released a vision document on Indo-Pacific region.
- Though there were divisions among ASEAN member states in the run-up to
the summit, they managed to come up with a non-binding document.
- It underlines in the document the need for an inclusive and “rules-based
framework” to “help to generate momentum for building strategic trust and
win-win cooperation in the region”.
- An awareness of the emergence of a great power contest around its
vicinity pervades the document as it argues that “the rise of material
powers, i.e. economic and military, requires avoiding the deepening of
mistrust, miscalculation and patterns of behaviour based on a zerosum game”.
- Despite individual differences and bilateral engagements ASEAN member
states have with the U.S. and China, the regional grouping can now claim to
have a common approach as far as the IndoPacific region is concerned.
- And, the Thailand’s PM suggests revising the framework on ASEAN
cooperation at the regional and sub-regional levels and generate tangible
and concrete relations among the countries.
- Further, the idea is put under two heads:
Conduct in the China Sea
- U.S. Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy report focuses on
preserving a “free and open Indo-Pacific” in the face of a more “assertive
China” — was perhaps the final push that was needed to bring the ASEAN
discussions on the subject to a close.
- Also, Japan had already unveiled its Free and Open Indo-Pacific concept
in 2016, while Australia released its Foreign Policy White Paper in 2017,
detailing its Indo-Pacific vision centred on security, openness and
- Again, Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated India’s Indo-Pacific
vision at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018, with India even setting up an
Indo-Pacific wing in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) earlier this
- For a long time, the ASEAN has been reluctant to frontally engage with
the Indo-Pacific discourse as the perception was that it may antagonise
- But there was soon a realisation that such an approach might allow
others to shape the regional architecture and marginalise the ASEAN itself.
- And, so the final outlook that the ASEAN has come up with effectively
seeks to take its own position rather than following any one power’s lead.
- Here, while the ASEAN outlook does not see the Indo-Pacific as one
continuous territorial space, it emphasizes development and connectivity,
underlining the need for maritime cooperation, infrastructure connectivity
and broader economic cooperation.
- And, also, the ASEAN is signaling that it would seek to avoid making the
region a platform for major power competition. Instead its frame of
reference is economic cooperation
- Obviously, India has welcomed the ASEAN’s outlook on the Indo-Pacific as
it sees “important elements of convergence” with its own approach towards
- Also, India continues to invest in the Indo-Pacific; on the side-lines
of the recent G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, Mr. Modi held discussions on the
Indo-Pacific region with U.S.
President Donald Trump and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a focus on
improving regional connectivity and infrastructure development.
- Altogether, with the ASEAN finally coming to terms with its own role in
the Indo-Pacific, the ball is now in the court of other regional
stakeholders to work with the regional grouping
to shape a balance of power in the region which favours inclusivity,
stability and economic prosperity.