About: Indo-Pacific

  • In recent years, the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ has become widely resonant in the geo-strategic discourse.
  • Geographically, the Indo-Pacific refers to the Indian and the Pacific Oceans between the east coast of Africa and the American west coast and their several littoral countries.
  • However, there are slight differences in what various countries perceive as the geographical spread of “Asia-Pacific”.
    • While a 2017 US National Security Strategy document described the Indo-Pacific as the region from the “west coast of India to the west coast of the United States”, India looks at it as a wider region, which extends all the way to West Asia and and the east coast of Africa.
  • It is both a strategic as well as an economic concept that includes important sea-lines of communication that connect the two oceans. Since it is primarily a maritime space, the Indo-Pacific is associated with maritime security and cooperation.
  • Strategically, the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ highlights the importance of the “Indian Ocean” in which India and ASEAN would play a greater role in the regional affairs.
    • This is a shift away from the Asia-Pacific concept that was prominent earlier, with China’s centrality and India sidelines.

News Summary:

3 visits, 1 theme:

  • In US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to all three countries viz. Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia, the message from US was that China is a lawless country and does not respect international rules.
  • It further claimed that China makes claims on territories that fall within the boundaries of other nations, and that the US will work to prevent that.

Sri Lanka’s visit:

  • China has a strong presence in Sri Lanka, where it has control of the Hambantota port.
  • It is also making a terminal at the Colombo port, a new city off the Colombo seafront and is involved in various other infrastructure projects.
  • In his visit to Sri Lanka, the Secretary of State claimed that China acts like a predator by trapping countries in debt traps, but the US works with countries as a friend and a partner.
    • Debt traps are situations which make it difficult or impossible for the borrower to repay the loan, including through high interest rates.

  • However, the Sri Lankan President did not agree with America’s claims that Sri Lanka was caught in a debt trap with China and claimed that China had provided crucial assistance to Sri Lanka in the last 10 years.
  • He further shared that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was not aligned with any specific country and welcomed more American investment.

Visit to Maldives:

  • In the Maldives, which signed a framework defence and security agreement with the US in September, Mr. Pompeo repeated that China operates in a lawless and threatening manner with other countries.
  • Since 2018, when Ibrahim Solih became President of Maldives, the country has dropped its earlier shift towards China, and its foreign policy now focusses on other ties that have existed since a long time, which includes India.
  • India, which had prevented a US-Maldives defence treaty back in 2013, welcomed the new agreement and said that the treaty was aligned with India’s interests and regional stability.

Visit to Indonesia:

  • In Indonesia, America appreciated both Indonesia and ASEAN for their strong leadership and for rejecting the unlawful claims by China in the South China Sea (SCS).
    • Jakarta in Indonesia is the headquarters of ASEAN.

  • China and ASEAN nations are hoping to complete negotiations for Code of Conduct (CoC) in the SCS by 2021, but there are fears that China might use its influence to suit its own interests.

Highlights from the Indian visit

  • With India engaged in a military conflict with China, India is moving into a closer relationship with the US and has increased engagement with US in the Indo Pacific region.
  • In reference to China, the two sides stressed their commitment for a rules-based international order and to maintain a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous Indo-Pacific.
  • Signalling that China’s dominant behaviour in Asia works against India’s interests and aspirations, India shared that a multi-polar world must have a multi-polar Asia as its basis.
  • At the meeting both the countries also recognised the important role of people-to-people linkages in strengthening the overall bilateral relationship and economic ties.
  • India is also looking to work with US for increasing predictability in the visa regime and to minimise the inconvenience faced by those in the US or those who need to travel to the country for genuine reasons.

International Relations