As the geopolitical churning on the concept of free and open Indo-Pacific is gaining traction, New Delhi hosted two Track 1.5 dialogues, including the 6th Indian Ocean Dialogue and Delhi Dialogue XI. The objective was to debate on the strategic conceptualisation of free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific following the pronouncement of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific in June 2019 and India’s articulation of its vision for the Indo-Pacific at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018. This is the first instance when these two Track 1.5 dialogues were hosted consecutively.
India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar articulated that India’s vision for Indo-Pacific includes the geographical latitude encompassing the western ocean including the Gulf and African nations as well the eastern Indian Ocean. The deliberations revolved around identifying tangible components for cooperative initiative despite nuanced divergences in each stakeholder’s interpretation of the concept of Indo-Pacific. India has launched the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative in November 2019. The objective is to create a cooperative platform to work together on various contours of maritime security including managing the maritime environment, disaster risk mitigation and sustainable use of marine resources.
In addition, building sustainable infrastructure and regional connectivity supported by high quality financing, in alignment with Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity, opens opportunities for cooperation among stakeholders. Further, partnership-building projects including technology sharing to promote low-cost, energy-efficient desalination facilities or the ‘Grand Challenges’ scheme for the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) or a fellowship scheme for post-doctoral studies can promote tangible component of cooperation beyond conceptual discussion. Discussions at the Delhi Dialogue focussed on several key themes including the emerging architecture and building bridges in the Indo-Pacific, and industrial revolution 4.0.
Secretary General of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Dr. Nomvuyo Nokwe argued in favour of exploring potential synergies among regional frameworks such as IORA, ASEAN and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Coming together as a collective in the Indo-Pacific ought to be guided by the three principles of IORA charter including inclusivity and consensus; sovereign equality and rules-based international system; and peaceful cooperation for mutual benefit among partners.
Foreign Minister of Indonesia Ms. Retno L.P. Marsudi highlighted the positive contours of ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific at a time when this maritime super-region is marked by increasing trends of rivalries between major powers, protectionism, and decreasing trust on multilateralism. Open, free and fair multilateral trading system is the way forward. Given the strategic significance of critical sea-lanes in the Indo-Pacific, she said that Indo-Pacific must be defined by inclusivity, transparency and openness, and regard for international law. Ocean defines common future and prosperity since more than 40 percent of the global trade value pass through the ocean, 61 percent of world crude oil production is distributed through the ocean, and world maritime resources is valued at US$24 trillion. Thus sea should unite and become a source of cooperation and not conflict.
Deliberations reflected that promotion of India-ASEAN maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific is a necessity to manage the traditional and non-traditional security challenges. Besides, India-ASEAN maritime economic cooperation offers opportunities to cooperate including in maritime infrastructure and connectivity projects. Indonesia invited India to participate in the Indo-Pacific Infrastructure and Connectivity Forum in 2020. Talking about concerns emanating from overlapping connectivity projects in the Indo-Pacific, it is important to create synergy among various initiatives.
The challenge of constructing an Indo-Pacific community lies beyond the cultural and historical linkages, and necessitates a robust strategic imperative. Discussions in these 1.5 Track Dialogues with the IORA and ASEAN partners advance the conceptualisation of Indo-Pacific underpinned by the elements of openness, freedom, inclusion, rules-based architecture and equality of all nations.
Script: Dr. Titli basu, Strategic Analyst on East & South East Asia