Accepting the new normal in the Indo-Pacific Contestation


    In News

    • With tensions between an aggressive China and an emerging India intensifying, there will be significant changes and challenges in the Indian Ocean and South Asian regions.

    Current Situation in Indo Pacific Region

    • Whole Focus on the Region:
      • The world is trying to come to a New Normal and the fault lines are being changed and managed.
      • The Indian Ocean and South Asian regions are at the heart of this contest.
    • China’s eye on Indian Ocean & South Asia:
      • China has long tried to mark its influence in these regions and enhance its strategic ambitions:
      • To limit Indian influence, military power, and status and to sustain its energy supply and economic growth. 
      • To further its strategic ends in the region through loans, financial incentives, and mega-infrastructure projects.
      • It was more institutionalised with the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. 

    Significance of Indo-Pacific region

    • Historical importance: 
      • The Indian Ocean has been one of the most important Sea Lane of Communication (SLOCs) for trade due to the faster development in the region since ancient times. 
      • The trade between the African nations, the Indian sub-continent and the East Asian countries including China kept the seas busy during early times.
    • Race for Domination: 
      • After the entry of Europeans, the Indian Ocean saw a race for dominance and search for strategic bases to exploit the resources and control the trade of the region. 
      • After world war II, it has been the US, which has been regarded as the top power in the region due to its superior naval capacity. 
      • However, of late, the control of the Indian Ocean has been defused in an increasingly multilateral world.
    • String of Pearls: 
      • China has established multiple bases in the Indian Ocean Region as a part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 
      • For e.g. recently China acquired the Djibouti base, in addition to the already existing Gwadar port, which is in the advanced stages of development. 
      • Also, there are a number of logistics bases of China in the region. For e.g. the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, Kyakpyu port in Myanmar etc.


    • Chinese Influence:
      • South Asian countries are hesitant to completely move away from China as they hope to exercise their agency by balancing with China and India. And this trend will only increase with new players entering the region.
      • China is keeping a close watch at India’s engagement through strategic dialogues, military exercises and security agreements with many Indo-Pacific countries.
    • Economic and Political Turmoil in Region:
      • A balancing outcome is very unlikely with most South Asian countries now facing economic and political turmoil. 
      • 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
    • Inflation and Slow economic growth:
      • Energy shortages, inflation, and negative or slow economic growth are also disrupting day-to-day activities in these countries. 
      • The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have continued to haunt the region with rising inflation, affecting the economies. 
    • Different Capacities & Capabilities:
      • The region is highly heterogeneous in terms of economic size and level of development, with significant differences in security establishments and resources.
      • There is a failure to better understand each other’s priorities and challenges in the region. 

    India Strengthening ties with Indo Pacific countries

    • Maldives: 
      • India has re-energised diplomatic efforts with Maldives by reciprocating the latter’s ‘India First’ policy with massive economic assistance, grants, and infrastructure projects and by also cooperating on maritime security. 
    • Nepal: 
      • The Indian government has attempted to improve Nepal’s overall bilateral relations with India. 
      • Earlier this year, Nepal also ratified the U.S.’s Millennium Challenge Cooperation (Nepal Compact), much to China’s displeasure.
    • Sri Lanka: 
      • India, this year alone, has provided economic and humanitarian assistance and investments worth $4 billion.
    • Quad: 
      • Close cooperation has ensued among these partners to collectively push against China and offer genuine alternatives to the BRI.
      • Japan is finalising its talks with Sri Lanka on debt restructuring. 
      • In the Maldives, Australia and the U.S. have committed to opening their embassies and new areas of cooperation. 
      • In 2020, the U.S. signed a defence and security framework with the Maldives. 

    Way ahead

    • Addressing China’s adventurism holistically: 
      • China has been involved with almost all its southern and eastern neighbours in boundary disputes. 
      • There needs to be a unified strategy and a common agenda to contain Chinese expansionist strategy in the Indo-pacific region.
    • Capturing the Opportunity: 
      • India and its partners which have only started to make recent gains against China, should be ready to embrace these challenges.
      • Most countries in the region count on India to balance out Chinese hegemony in the region. 
      • For e.g., smaller nations of South Asia, as well as, South East Asia are looking to counter Chinese influence by strengthening their own ties with India. 
    • Calling out China’s bluff: 
      • India needs to demonstrate to Russia and the other nations that Quad is not a result of its cooperation with the West. 
      • Instead, it is an outcome of Chinese aggression in the Ladakh region and in the South China Sea.
    • Upgrading the Indian navy to a blue-water navy: 
      • With China’s increased assertiveness in the Indian Ocean and a scramble for bases (even Russia has acquired a base in Sudan recently), India needs to realise the inherent importance of the Indian Ocean region. 
    • It is time to shed historical hesitation in allowing other like-minded nations to have deployments in the Indian Ocean Region: 
      • The flaw in the Indian foreign policy is that it is not letting its friend’s aid itself in the Indian Ocean region as they are sensitive to Indian concerns, while at the same time, it is unable to stop its adversaries from dominating the region.
    • Net security Provider: 
      • India has traditionally been the power upon which small countries in the Indian Ocean Region have depended. 
      • For e.g. the Indian navy supplied fresh water to the Maldives when its Reverse Osmosis plant failed. 
      • Similarly, the Indian military thwarted the attempts of mercenaries for a coup in the Maldives in 1988 under Operation Cactus.
    • Peaceful resolution of disputes: 
      • India has believed in resolving the disputes in a friendly manner as is manifested in its complete acceptance of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s award in favour of Bangladesh in the Indo-Bangladesh marine boundary arbitration. 


    Mains Practice Question


    [Q] There are going to be significant changes and challenges in the Indian Ocean and South Asian regions. Discuss in the context of intensifying tensions between India and China.