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Changing Security Dynamic in the Indo-Pacific

– Saranya Sircar and Sanjay Pulipaka


The East Asia Research Programme at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) organised an international conference titled ‘Changing Security Dynamic in the Indo-Pacific’ on 15th and 16th February 2017 in Hyderabad, India. The Conference witnessed the participation of senior scholars from countries such as Australia, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, and India. Some of the major themes highlighted are discussed as follows:

  • The Conference reflected onthe power shift in the global politics and its implications for India and its extended neighbourhood. It was pointed out that Asia is experiencing twin dynamic of growing economies, and also increased tension because of the territorial conflicts. This dichotomy cannot be sustained over the long run. To address this security dynamic, the necessity of a more inclusive regional framework in the Indo-Pacific region was stressed. It was also pointed out by scholars that the ‘new powers’ should not demonstrate callousness towards global norms, and, instead, should recognise that playing by rules will have a long-term benefit.
  • The evolution of the concept of Indo-Pacific received considerable attention. The Indo-Pacific region will account for 60% of world’s GDP very soon, and this will have an impact on global power politics. Therefore, countries in the region are taking Indo-Pacific as the platform to operationalise economic, political and security strategies. For instance, Japan has articulated a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.” It should be noted that this strategy is a continuation of the vision that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speech in the Indian Parliament in August 2007 wherein he referred to the confluence of two oceans.
  • It was noted that the growing use of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is also a consequence of India’s steady rise in global politics. India has recently announced a shift from ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East Policy’. This shift is marked by expanded engagement of India in the Indo-Pacific region, a more forthright articulation on security issues, and also increased emphasis on cultural engagement.
  • Given India’s increased engagement, the success of “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” will be contingent on India experiencing sustained spells of political stability and stable policy environment. India should scale up its engagement to engage like-minded East Asian countries in generating capital for its infrastructure projects.
  • Some scholars called for the intensification of the “Rest of Asia” approach by the democratic countries to enhance the multi-polarity in the Indo-Pacific region. India and Japan should exchange notes and collaborate with greater intensity in developing connectivity networks to facilitate the emergence of free and open Indo-Pacific region. It was also pointed out that India and Japan should have a coordinated approach to developing friendly relations with countries such as Vietnam.
  • Japan has scaled up its engagement withSouth and Southeast Asia. India has scaled up its policy from Look East to Act East. The US is also rebalancing to the region. Hence, these countries should have expanded regional cooperation. This could include:
  • Greater dialogue on the creation of pan-Indo-Pacific multilateral frameworks, tangible cooperation to address non-traditional security challenges, building a stable regional balance of power, and intensified regional economic interactions will go a long way in ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Some scholars noted the necessity of trilateral cooperation in developing connectivity networks that will result in equitable outcomes. These connectivity projects can be operationalised to establish networks that integrate Southeast Asia and South Asia. For this, Japan, India and the US should pool in resources, such as human capital, financial capital and technical expertise.
  • Continued US rebalance to Indo-Pacific region is of critical importance to maintain a balance of power in the region. The current uncertainty regarding US policies should not prompt disengagement by the regional players. On the contrary, the regional players should make consistent efforts to ensure that the US maintains its presence in the region.
  • India, Japan and US should work to strengthen maritime security by ensuring open sea lanes of communication and combating maritime piracy. The three countries can also collaborate to destroy trafficking networks pertaining to drugs, arms and humans.
  • The trilateral countries should work with other like-minded countries in developing intra-operability of doctrines, logistic systems and operational processes.
  • Countries should exchange notes on AirSea battle concepts and responses to grey zone violations. 
  • The role of regional organisations (such as the ASEAN and SAARC) in promoting and maintaining peace in the region was an important theme in the Conference. Reference was made to the challenges that confront the existing regional frameworks. For instance, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) emerged under the leadership of the smaller states and they did not possess skill-set for quick decision-making. Nonetheless, it was pointed out that ASEAN is a stable framework to develop a security architecture around it.
  • The Bay of Bengal can become a new locus of economic development in Asia. The necessity of building bridges between South Asia and Southeast Asia may propel the existing frameworks such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) to emerge as a major trade bloc in the region. However, the growing presence of extra-regional navies in the Bay of Bengal region with purely security intent requires deft handling.
  • The Conference also witnessed substantive discussions on thesecurity developments in the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific. The deliberations reflected on the South China Sea Dispute and the policies of the countries in the region. It was noted that approximately 5 trillion dollars of trade is conducted through the SCS. Therefore, maintaining peace in this region is of critical importance. Referring to the South China Sea dispute, some scholars noted the necessity of adhering to international law. It was pointed out that other powers in the region such as India have abided by the international legal frameworks with reference to the Bay of Bengal region. Therefore, there is a regional precedence. Some scholars pointed out that the arbitral tribunal categorically declared that China’s nine-dash line claim finds no basis in international law and is incompatible with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It was argued that the failure of a regional power to abide by the PCA ruling undermines peace and security in the region. Some advocated the necessity of important players working to strengthen the confidence of smaller countries in their responses to the SCS dispute.
  • Some scholars noted the necessity of scaling up India’s economic and naval presence in the Indian Ocean. This is necessary to ensure India’s legitimate economic interests. The sustained economic growth of India will result in greater economic integration with Southeast Asia and the larger East Asian region. As a consequence of this integration, India should understand the societies, politics and military postures of these countries.
  • The possibilities of expanding cooperation in the realm ofHumanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) also featured in the conversations. Like-minded countries should cooperate to protect the maritime ecology and promote coastal tourism, and coastal shipping is necessary.
  • There was a suggestion regarding the necessity of establishing a ‘Corpus Fund’ with a partnership among India, Japan and Australia for promoting Blue Economy (ocean economies) in the Indian Ocean Region. The scholars also pointed out to the possibility of India-Japan collaboration to mine the precious polymetallic resources in the Indian Ocean. 
  • Some scholars noted that many internationally reputed defence companies are willing to manufacture defence equipment as part of Make-in-India initiative. To fully leverage this interest, it was pointed out that India should collaborate with like-minded countries in enhancing its domestic defence capabilities and coordinate with others on various international platforms to promote Indian interests. It was noted that cities such as Hyderabad have many natural advantages such as defence research labs and robust educational network to attract international defence companies to establish their units in India.
  • The emergence of Free and Open Indo-Pacific will be determined by greater democratisation, especially in the realms of increased access to education, development of robust infrastructure and empowered representative governments that facilitate robust collective action at the grass roots.

The delegates stressed on the need for continued conversations to identify measures to address the security issues in the Indo-Pacific in a non-confrontational manner.