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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : Accepting the new normal in the Indo-Pacific contestation

 

Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: Current events of national and international importance(indo-pacific, QUAD, BRI, Hambantota port, Act east policy,
  • Mains GS Paper II: Bilateral, regional and global groupings involving India or affecting India’s interests, Significance of Indo-Pacific for India etc

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • The world is embracing a ‘new normal’ where new fault lines are being reconfigured in the Indo-Pacific.

 

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

Indo-Pacific:

  • The Indo-Pacific is a geopolitical construct that has emerged as a substitute to the long-prevalent “Asia-Pacific.
  • Indian ocean and pacific ocean: It is an integrated theater that combines the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, and the land masses that surround them.
  • Strategic and economic: It is both a strategic as well as an economic domain comprising important sea-lines of communication
  • Maritime security: The Indo-Pacific is also associated with maritime security and cooperation.
  • US: It describe the Indo-Pacific as a region that starts at the:
    • Western shore of the Americas and ends at the shores of the Indian subcontinent.
  • India and Japan: the concept is much broader in expanse, extending to the shores of the African continent.
  • Major stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific include: India, U.S.A., Australia, Japan, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members and other maritime nations that occupy the strategic positions in the Indian and Pacific Ocean including small island countries.

 

Significance of Indo-Pacific region for India:

  • Strategic significance: The Indo-Pacific is a multipolar region that accounts for over half of global GDP and population.
  • Mineral Resources: Maritime regions have also become important storage areas for essential resources such as fish stocks, minerals, and offshore oil and gas.
  • Economic Growth: The Indo-Pacific area accounts for approximately 60% of world GDP, making it the most important contributor to global growth.
  • Commerce: Many of the world’s most important choke points for global trade are located in this region, including the Straits of Malacca, which are crucial for global economic growth.

 

Current Issues:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Nepal, the Maldives and Bhutan are struggling with depleting forex reserves.
  • Bangladesh has reached a bailout agreement worth $4.5 billion with the International Monetary Fund.
  • Sri Lanka is yet to chart its way out of the economic crisis.
  • Energy shortages, inflation, and negative or slow economic growth are disrupting day-to-day activities in these countries.

 

Present developments:

  • The Indian Ocean and South Asian regions: They are at the heart of this contestation, considering their geo-political and geo-economic prominence and India’s emergence as a major power.
  • Tensions between an aggressive China and an emerging India intensify: Quad partners are also making inroads, ushering significant changes in the region.

 

China’s widening outreach:

  • Outreach in South Asia: It has increased manifold in the early 2000s with its economic boom.
  • Strategic ends in the region through
    • Loans
    • Financial incentives
    • Mega-infrastructure projects
  • BRI: Launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013.

 

How did it help China?

  • Investments enabled China to access the Indian Ocean.
  • Promote political and security ties in the region
  • Harbour military vessels and submarines
  • Take certain islands and ports on lease (including the Hambantota port of Sri Lanka).

 

Steps by India and Quad:

  • Maldives-‘India First’ policy: With massive economic assistance, grants, and infrastructure projects and by also cooperating on maritime security.
  • In Nepal, Prime Minister Deuba’s government: It has attempted to improve Nepal’s overall bilateral relations with India.
  • In Sri Lanka: India has provided economic and humanitarian assistance and investments worth $4 billion.
  • Close cooperation with Quad: It has ensued among partners to collectively push against China and offer genuine alternatives to the BRI
    • They have also been assisting Sri Lanka throughout the crisis.
  • Japan: It is also finalizing its talks with Sri Lanka on debt restructuring.
  • In Maldives: Australia and the S. have committed to opening their embassies and new areas of cooperation.
  • The U.S: It signed a defense and security framework with the Maldives.
  • Nepal: It ratified the U.S.’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (Nepal Compact).

 

Why does it have no Impact on China?

  • It is unlikely to deter China from furthering its presence in the region
  • Chinese surveillance vessel Yuan Wang-5: It had docked in Sri Lanka in August re-entered the Indian Ocean.
  • Another vessel of the Yuan Wang series entered the Indian Ocean: coinciding with the test flight of Agni-series missiles.
  • China hosted its first-ever China-Indian Ocean Region Forum, to institutionalize its presence in the region.

 

Way Forward

  • Possibility of a two-front war persists: Pakistan’s strategic isolation, economic and political fallout, and border and terror challenges emanating from Afghanistan have minimized the likelihood of its aggression.
  • China will continue to leverage its financial and economic might and political influence in South Asia.
  • South Asian countries would hesitate to completely move away from China: They hope to exercise their agency by balancing with China and India essentially making this competition a ‘new normal’.
  • India and its partners: They have started to make recent gains against China, and should be ready to embrace these challenges.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

Q. Evaluate the economic and strategic dimensions of India’s Look East Policy in the context of the post Cold War international scenario.(UPSC 2016) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)