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Diplomatic Dance: Navigating India’s Relations with Major Powers in the Indo-Pacific

by Himayu Pawar - 20 May, 2024, 12:00 494 Views 0 Comment

The Indo-Pacific region emerged as a pivotal geopolitical and economic centre with far-reaching implications globally. It boasts some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, including India, China, Japan, Australia, and contributes significantly to global GDP and trade. The region’s vital maritime routes, including Malacca Strait and the South China Sea, are critical for transporting goods, facilitating sustainable international trade and interconnectedness worldwide. However, the rise of China and its aggressive assertiveness, territorial claims, and ambitious infrastructure projects like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have raised concerns among regional and global nations. Moreover, the fierce competition between the USA and China has the potential to transform the geopolitical landscape of the Indo-Pacific region. Addressing multifaceted security challenges in the region demands global attention and diplomatic engagement of all stakeholders. Amid this, India has emerged as a key player in fostering diplomatic efforts to uphold rule-based order and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific Region. 

India’s geographic location and strategic approach towards the vast Indo-Pacific region hold immense significance in the region. “this 21st century beholds for the whole world because the destiny of the world will be deeply influenced by the course of developments in the Indo-Pacific region.” PM Narendra Modi’s keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June 2018 was a testament to it.

It was the first explicit articulation of India’s Indo-Pacific Vision. While defining the region, the PM said “India’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific Region – from the shores of Africa to that of the Americas – will be inclusive”. PM envisioned India’s Indo-Pacific approach as “It stands for a free, open, inclusive region, which embraces us all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity.” the PM said. “We believe that our common prosperity and security require us to evolve, through dialogue, a common rules-based order for the region” he added. 

peaceful dispute resolution, and fostering economic cooperation while adhering to the rule of law. It advocates a multi-dimensional approach, prioritizing economic and strategic partnerships with major powers such as Japan, the US & Australia and fostering dialogue and cooperation. The succeeding paragraphs will elucidate India’s diplomatic strategy in the Indo-Pacific Region and bilateral and multilateral relations to comprehensively understand navigating diplomatic relations of India with major powers in the Indo-Pacific Region.

Strategic views

India’s strategic interest in the Indo-Pacific region is multifaceted. India’s strategic location exerts influence over sea lanes of communication (SOLCs) essential for maritime trade. India’s economy is heavily dependent on maritime trade, ensuring freedom of navigation and securing routes is crucial for India. Further, India’s interest in the region is also shaped by balancing China’s presence. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, unlawful maritime claims, military build-up, and dept trap diplomacy have mounted concerns about regional stability and peace worldwide. 

Nevertheless, India has taken proactive measures, including the Look East Policy later upgraded to the Act East Policy, realising Southeast Asia’s importance. India established the Indian Ocean Rim Association in 1997 with the objective of regional cooperation and sustainable development among Indian Ocean Rim countries. Further, the SAGAR initiative started with the aim of promoting maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean region. Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) has been initiated to promote a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. India propounded the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) focusing on maritime safety and security, marine pollution, marine biodiversity, and enhancing maritime connectivity. Furthermore, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium facilitates dialogue, cooperation and confidence-building measures among the Indian Ocean littoral states. Strengthening India’s diplomatic ties with major powers in the region remains integral to India’s strategy.

Relations with Major Powers

India’s diplomatic ties with major powers like the U.S., Japan, and Australia are vital for fostering a free and open Indo-Pacific Ocean 

In navigating the complex dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region, India and the US find themselves as key stakeholders, bound by shared values and common interests, said India’s Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane in February 2024, highlighting India-US partnership military, economic and technological realm. Moreover, the US considers India as a counterbalance to China’s influence in the region. Defence cooperation is one of the key aspects of the Indo-US diplomatic relationship. Under Major Defence Partnership, both country’s militaries are accelerating joint exercises, information sharing, and operational activities. While referring significance of this initiative US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said “By bolstering the Indian military’s capabilities, we can work together to uphold a more stable balance of power across the wider Indo-Pacific”. In 2023, the US & India launched the India-U.S Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X) to expand strategic partnerships and defence industrial cooperation between the two governments, businesses and academic institutes.

Moreover, India has strengthened diplomatic relations with Japan as a special strategic and global partnership. “the India-Japan relationship is one of the most natural partnerships” PM Modi said. Both emphasize maritime security, connectivity and economic development. Additionally, Japan’s PM Kishida unveiled the Japanese plan for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) in concrete terms while delivering his speech on March 20, 2023. In the conclusion Japan’s PM said to achieve the objectives of FOIP, “India is an indispensable partner.” 

Australia is also India’s major focus in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Tailored with the US, Japan & India’s Indo-Pacific Vision, Australia supports a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. Both India and Australia conducted joint naval exercises such as the AUSINDEX series aimed at enhancing interoperability and cooperation in maritime security. Economically, the Australian Government commissioned the India Economic Strategy to 2035 to define a pathway for Australia to unlock opportunities offered by Indian Economic growth. India’s diplomatic relationship with Australia in the region is characterized by growing cooperation across multiple fronts, including multilateral engagement, and economic partnership.

Furthermore, India has actively engaged in multilateral relations to foster peace and stability in the region. Quad is a testament to its efforts in this domain. Quad, which comprises the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, is a platform for strategic consultation and cooperation on issues such as maritime security, infrastructure development and economic resilience. 

China Factor

China’s factor in the Indo-Pacific region is paradoxical it may create opportunities for regional developments, but it also remains a matter of concern. India perceives China as a strategic competitor in the region due to its military capabilities, assertiveness in territorial disputes and efforts to enhance regional influence. China’s assertion in the South China Sea and maritime presence has implications for freedom of navigation. India actively strengthens its defence cooperation with like-minded nations. Malabar Naval exercise demonstrate India’s efforts to bolster its strategic deterrence and maintain a balance of power.  

Conclusion 

In navigating India’s relationship with major powers in the Indo-Pacific region, India has initiated diplomatic engagement and strategic partnerships. India’s proactive approach is based on its vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific upholding the rule of law in the region and promoting peace, stability and prosperity. Through strategic initiatives such as the Act East Policy, the Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative, and the QUAD, India has strengthened its relations with major powers. By fostering strategic partnerships, and enhancing maritime security cooperation India ensures peace and stability in the region. 

Himayu Pawar
Author is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Studies, Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU)
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