In post-1962 phase India began thinking about its foreign/diplomatic relations with countries surrounding the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in order to counterweight Beijing in regional and global politics. In succeeding years it cultivated its relations with Southeast Asian countries but in 1991, during the Premiership of P.V. Narasimha Rao, adopted a more focused policy known as India’s Look East Policy which was later pursued by the governments of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh. In response, although, China also increased its
anti-India activities in India’s neighbourhood, especially with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh and deadly supported the military junta od Burma where the brutal suppression of democratic rights took place in 1988.
Under the new announced policy Indian influence began to improve in Southeast Asia, East Asia as well as member countries of ASEAN. During these years, India established economic, commercial and cultural relations with nations of these regions including the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and Cambodia while it also signed free trade agreement s with Sri Lanka and Thailand. Apart from making a good relations with so many regional countries to minimise Chinese influence in the area, India always remained a supporter of ‘One China’ policy and accepted Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan and never developed any type of relations with the country. Keeping in view the overall nature of India-China relations New Delhi expanded its relationship and co-operation in spheres of counter-terrorism, humanitarian relief, anti-piracy, maritime and energy security, confidence-building and balanced the relations of other powers in the region.
Background of rivalry in Indo-Pacific
Basically, as we are aware, the idea of Indo-Pacific first came in the works of Karl Haushofer who envisioned the idea to counterweight or rebalance British, American and the Western European domination with a view to develop the region in the way by the powers of the region and make it a commercial as well as hub of commerce and trade. Almost by the same time it was also highlighted by Kalidas Nag, an Indian historian, in the 1940s, in his book titled, ‘India and the Pacific World’. Once again, the issue of Indo-Pacific became focal point among nations with the rise of China as emerging global power in economic and other respects and simultaneously decline of the Power and influence of the United States of America at regional and world levels.
This development inspired the nations of the region including Japan, Australia, India and others including the USA to curb/control Chinese expansionist activities in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in the South China Sea. Gradually, the nations of the area along with USA planned to encircle China in South China Sea and its surroundings whose first hint was given by the Shinzo Abe, the prime Minister of Japan, in his address to the Indian parliament in August 2007. He maintained that the two seas of the time is coming together which will bring a dynamic coupling of freedom and prosperity. The basic idea of Indo-Pacific began taking shape in succeeding years 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 when the detailed framework of the vision and strategy of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) elaborated and nations of the area agreed on the formula.
India’s role in Indo-Pacific
In the light of growing Chinese presence with power in the Indo-Pacific region led the formation of several multilateral and minilateral platforms aiming co-operation and security dialogue among stakeholders. To face the Chinese challenge, the Quadrilateral security dialogue (Quad) formed earlier was made active keeping in view the Chinese threat which include India, the US, Australia, and Japan; the India-Australia-Japan and the India-Indonesia-Australia trilateral; and the newly created AUKUS, an alliance of Australia, the UK, and the US. These forums have enough potential to expand the security base through co-operation in spheres of economy and health security.
In addition to active participation in the above platforms, India being an aspiring power in the region after China, has been an active participant of East Asia Summit Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, ASEAN Regional Forum, BAY of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Co-operation (BIMSTEC), and India-Pacific Islands Co-operation. Not only that along with these steps, India has also been active in initiating and developing multi-layered engagements with China and Russia to play an assertive role in the Indo-Pacific region. While it has grew naval co-operation with Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia, on the other developed a dependable strategic relationship with Japan since the early 2000s.
In last one decade several developments took place in the region which showed that a number of countries outside the area are also taking keen interest in the economy, security and strategic perspectives of Indo-Pacific. They also believe in forming associations and platforms apart from the existing organisations such as, ASEAN or ASEAN-led initiatives. These powers are well-off enough to collaborate each other on different schemes and projects relating to the common welfare of the countries of the region. Especially after the coming of Modi Government in India Chinese encirclement of China has increased and through bilateral and multi-lateral relations New Delhi has succeeded in giving Beijing a neck to neck fight on several counts.
It was the year when a Forum for India-Pacific Islands cooperation (FIPIC), comprising 14 countries of the region was formed whose first meeting held in November 2014, following the second in Jaipur, India, on 21 August 2015. Next to it is the Quadrilateral security dialogue (Quad), which continuously remained in focus because of its initiatives for presenting hurdles before the Beijing in its smooth sailing in the region and outside. By the time it was revived in 2017 during the ASEAN summit in Manila all the four members expressed their avowed to present it as an alliance to counter China militarily and diplomatically in the Indo-Pacific, especially in the South China Sea.
The rising tension and fear between the Quad members and China have been apprehended by many as a new cold war in the region. Now, considering China as a threat for the security and prosperity of Indo-Pacific, the Quad members are meeting on short intervals. Months earlier, in March 2022, the third meet of Quad leaders held via video conferencing where they reaffirmed their commitment to Indo-Pacific region and discussed the issues involved in the larger interest of the area.
(Dr. Rajkumar Singh is presently Professor and Head, 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).
Dr. Rajkumar Singh