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India needs to re-strategize in the Indo-Pacific region

The Korea Times
By Professor  

The Indo-Pacific region is one of the world's most significant geostrategic and economic features, replacing the emphasis enjoyed by the Atlantic-Pacific region. With a high volume of seaborne trade passing through the Strait of Malacca, the Straits of Singapore and the Gulf of Hormuz, the region has become a theater of competing claims and power plays.

Due to increasing threats to its waters over protection of sea-lanes of communication, maritime trade, freedom of navigation and deep seabed exploration, the region has become a point of convergence for India, the U.S., Japan, Australia and Vietnam. The common ground achieved between these players is centered on China's rise to power and its increased aggression in the South China Sea.

India's ambitious "Act East Policy," America's renewed "Pivot to Asia" and Japan's bid for a "Confluence of the Oceans" share a common strategy for the future of the region. This realization has given rise to new alliances with the primary aim of countering growing Chinese interests through policies such as the Look East Policy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. 

On the other end is an increasingly aggressive China that is expanding its influence in the region through strategic partnerships and financial assistance. China has embarked upon forging strategic partnerships with some of India's critical neighbors in the Indian Ocean region. 

Additionally, its "String of Pearls" strategy and the Belt and Road Initiative possess the capability of alienating India in terms of connectivity and trade. China's clout in the region is supplemented by its increasing military presence in the South China Sea. 

Due to competing claims over sovereignty and authority, the region has emerged as a hotbed for possible conflict being played out between regional players, coupled by external powers to expand their own interests in the region. The aforesaid reasons have led to partnerships with a common objective of securing peace in the region, away from Chinese influence. 

The trilateral partnership between India, Japan and the U.S., the Malabar Naval Exercise, and the Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean region are some examples. 

New Delhi's renewed focus in the region has been complemented by similar policies being pursued in Japan, the U.S., Australia, Vietnam and France, among others. 

However, these strategies lack a comprehensive plan of action to combat Beijing's rise to power. Any treaty that aims to secure the region needs to confront issues relating to not only defense, maritime trade and security but also technology, connectivity and the blue economy. 

Therefore, the changing contours of security in the region call for greater participation by India in pursuance of its bid to become a responsible regional power. 

The Indo-Pacific region constitutes significant strategic and security interests for New Delhi, which is why attempts at increasing engagements and alliances in the region need to be comprehensive. Such initiatives need to incorporate traditional and non-traditional aspects of security in order to attain an all-inclusive regional framework. 

Due to the evolving nature of the dispute, there is an urgent need to ensure the security of India's maritime and coastal borders through strategic investment in naval capabilities, advancement in information technology and communication, digital connectivity, maritime research and critical infrastructure development. 

The decisive shift in New Delhi's strategy for the region signals the rising importance of the Indo-Pacific region in determining India's peace and security, countering Chinese influence and emerging as a responsible regional power. 

Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen is associate professor and executive director at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. Shagun Nayar is a master's student and research assistant at the center.