Developmental challenges ahead

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The Indo-Pacific region which is also called the Indo-West-Pacific and Indo-Pacific Asia is a part of the Indian Ocean and the central portion of the Pacific Ocean. In comparison to its surroundings, the Indo-Pacific is exceptionally rich in species which attract the countries of the region and outside to benefit from its richness. The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ got prominence in the 1920s as a result of the multiple works on geography and geopolitics under the leadership of German geopolitician Karl Haushofer who pleaded strongly in favour of the integration of the two oceans to create an anti-colonial force with the help of India, China and Germany against the maritime monopoly of Great Britain, the United States, and Western Europe.

The entire area of the Indo-Pacific was divided in three distinct regions known as Central Indo Pacific, Eastern Indo-Pacific, and Western Indo-Pacific but of them the Central Indo-Pacific is considered as the most important part because of its richness and diversity of marine organisms, specially within the Coral Triangle which has a store of 76 per cent of all known coral species of the world. On the whole it covered the area stretching from the west coast of the United States of America to the west coast of India and in addition touches the boundaries of 24 different countries with dissimilar socio-political set-up and nature of government. Apart from geographical location and species richness, recently the region has become a hot cake due to China’s increased interest as well activities in the area for more than a decade and coming of the United States of America with its allies for rescue of the people of the area. These all have made the region a global strategic spot of world politics.

Importance of the region

China has developed dramatically in all spheres since the 1990s and is now in a position to challenge the regional as well as global powers including the US. China’s   neighbours keep in view the strategic significance of the region after China increased its activities as a symbol of its capability, particularly in the South China Sea. In the following years the whole Indo-Pacific region became an arena of regional and global competition as well as intense rivalry of a larger scale. Almost 15 years ago in August 2007, the issue of the Indo-Pacific region was raised by Shinzo Abe, then Prime Minister of Japan, in his speech to the Indian Parliament and he underlined its importance as the seas of freedom and prosperity in broader Asia. In the speech he also referred to its security challenges and focused on sea lanes which link the two oceans.

Years after from 2010-2011, the term came frequently in use of analysts in reference of strategic considerations and as a result, Indian top leadership too became active making it a part of their strategy against China: especially, in the context of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). The region has gained enormous political, economic and strategic importance for the emerging Asian orders in years to come. Two essential factors: the rise of China and the decline of US influence in the region have attributed to its emerging significance along with a fear psychosis among Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan.

Economic considerations

Although, the region is famous because of the rise of China and the decline of US power and influence in the area, it’s envisioned primarily as an excellent centre of large scale maritime trade and commerce. It has a vast potential for the prosperity of the countries of the region and beyond as it accounts for 65 per cent of world’s population, 63 per cent of the world’s GDP, 46 per cent of world’s merchandise trade. In addition, the concept of geopolitical has made its scope wider and covers the nations and islands surrounding either the Indian Ocean or the Pacific Ocean.

The Atlantic offshore islands are also considered politically as part of the Indo-Pacific region. At the time of Weimar Germany or the German Republic the idea of an economic zone was conceived and compared to the industrialisation of Europe at an early age. During the US-India Strategic Dialogue of 2013, with the direct involvement of the US, it was hoped the region would grow and emerge as an Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor. The approach will transform the economies of South and Southeast Asia into Indo-Pacific economic corridor as a centre of development and investment with trade and transit.

New developments

In the strategy to downsize China, most countries of the region including the USA have focused on its economic dimensions and laid emphasis on mutual co-operation in the larger interest of nations. In this context, on 23 May 2022, Joe Biden, the President of the US has initiated a new scheme called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) which includes a large number of nations such as, Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Together all countries represent about 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The main purpose of this programme is to create a resilient economy through better supply chain commitments to clean energy, de-carbonisation and green infrastructure which will also help strengthen efforts to crack down corruption, effective tax implementation and anti-bribe regimes. If not countries of the region, the US and Japan, in particular, have kept strategic considerations side by side to minimise Chinese influence in the region and want a helping hand of other who don’t have capacity to face China directly.

As a result, the situation has deteriorated much in recent 3-4 years on account of trade war between Washington and Beijing during the presidentship of Donald Trump. However, despite American differences with China on economic issues, other countries- India, Japan, Australia, and the US share a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific which gives priority to infrastructure development in the larger interest of the region and the globe. 

About the Author:

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is the Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science and Dean of Social Sciences at B.N. Mandal University, Madhepura (Bihar), India. His 21 books published in addition to 900 articles in national and international journals and daily newspapers from 25 foreign countries.

By Dr. Rajkumar Singh