Mapping the Indo-Pacific

Over the past year, the term "Indo-Pacific" has gained currency in strategic discourse in India. From a geopolitical perspective it represents the inclusion of the Western Pacific within the range of India's security interests, thus stretching beyond the traditional focus on the Indian Ocean theatre.

It is a logical corollary to India's Look East policy having graduated to an Engage East policy. The fastest growing component of India's external economic relations is its engagement with ASEAN, China and Japan and, more lately, Australia. This has resulted in a growing density of maritime traffic through the Indian Ocean and radiating all along the Western Pacific littoral. These have created a seamless stretch of ocean space linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans. In another sense, it is also a reflection of the concept of the Asia-Pacific, which hitherto excluded India, expanding westwards to encompass the subcontinent as its integral part. As India's regional and global profile increases, it will inevitably gravitate towards the centre of this expanded geopolitical and geo-economic space. The concept of an Indo-Pacific theatre fits in neatly with this evolving trend.

The extension of India's strategic perspective to include the Pacific will undoubtedly have a number of consequences. China has already reacted by asking India to stay away from the South China Sea, which we have politely and rightly rejected. By contrast, most Southeast Asian countries and Japan welcome a larger presence of Indian naval assets in the region. If the ongoing upgrade of India-Australia ties endures, then it is likely that the stretch of ocean which lies between the two countries will become a shared responsibility along with Indonesia. India has, in the recent past, developed a network of security arrangements with several countries in the region. We expect this to continue.

As an interesting aside to the recent controversy over India's forays into the South China Sea, I wish to draw attention to a recent article by Zhang Wenmu in the Global Times, which appears to draw back from the severe threats issued to India. Zhang says: "Unlike Japan, India's intervention into the affairs of the South China Sea is at the most to just show its presence there. India's top priority in terms of national security lies in the Indian Ocean instead of the South China Sea." So there is nothing for China to get exercised about!

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