India looks beyond QUAD: Bats for a sustainable Indo-Pacific initiative

Indian Navy exercises with Russia, 'Quad' countries.

New Delhi, (Asian independent) In his recent remarks at a national business event, External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar expounded on Indias engagements in the Indo-Pacific, a formulation that combines the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. He labelled these as the “bread-and-butter expression of our political, economic, connectivity, travel and societal interests”. To give shape to these, Jaishankar alluded to the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) announced in November 2019 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Bangkok, Thailand.

The IPOI is an open, non-treaty-based global initiative and aim at practical cooperation in seven thematic areas : Maritime Security; Maritime Ecology; Maritime Resources; Capacity Building and Resource Sharing; Disaster Risk Reduction and Management; Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation; and Trade Connectivity and Maritime Transport. The IPOI subsumes “Security and Growth for All in the Region” (SAGAR), another Indian initiative announced by Prime Minister Modi in 2015 which encourages States to conserve and sustainably use the maritime domain, and to make meaningful efforts to create a safe, secure and stable maritime domain.

India hopes to promote the IPOI by drawing upon existing regional cooperation mechanisms such as the EAS as also by creating new partnerships with likeminded countries as far as western Pacific Ocean. The initiative is already resonating with Australia and Japan who have agreed to lead IPOI pillars on Maritime Ecology and Connectivity respectively, while India would take the lead in Disaster Risk Reduction and Maritime Security. India is also hoping to encourage other Indo-Pacific nations to join the IPOI or even lead other thematic areas under the initiative. In this context, India’s recent engagements with the Pacific Island nations are warming experiencing. New Delhi is also reaching out to Canada. Besides, it wants to leave its footprint in Latin America as well.

Interestingly, Japan and the ASEAN are also promoting their respective versions in the dynamic Indo-Pacific region. Japan’s Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP) builds around ‘two continents’, Asia and Africa, and ‘two oceans’—the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. The concept is not entirely new. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had alluded to ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ during a speech at the Indian Parliament in August 2007.

The Japanese FOIP endorses cooperation with countries who share common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific. Its vision is to contribute to Indo-Pacific economic prosperity through physical connectivity (quality infrastructure development), people-to-people and connectivity (human resources development), institutional connectivity and strengthening economic partnership and improving business environment. Furthermore, the FOIP aims at providing capacity-building assistance to countries in the region through maritime law enforcement against piracy, counter-terrorism, and non-proliferation, Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief