The Indian Ocean region has become a hot topic of discussion in international relations as the increasing significance of the Indian Ocean is being acknowledged by the maritime policymakers around the world. Indian Ocean has a strategic significance both for the US and for the emerging economies of the littoral states in Indian Ocean region as the ocean is a hotspot of economic activities and has important sea lanes passing through it. Its increasing significance is also aided by the rise of India and other littoral states such as South Africa and Indonesia which are rapidly becoming key determinants of the Indian Ocean region (IOR) affairs. Another factor which is contributing to its increasing significance of the Indian Ocean is the increasing Chinese interests. China is vying for greater influence to support its growing trade across the globe, especially with its economic partners in IOR. US and its regional allies are concerned about the rise of China in the region. The US and its allies in both Pacific and IOR region have come up with multiple strategies including Indo-pacific strategy which is aimed at developing robust strategic and economic relations with the littoral states and to counter the rising influence of Beijing under its BRI project and its establishment of Maritime Silk Route.
The IOR is now a hotspot of naval activities of world powers. The ocean is surrounded by volatile nations and strategic choke points like Bab Al-Mandab strait, strait of Malacca and Strait of Hormuz. Many states in the Indian ocean are still holding the cold war legacy in this new Cold war between China and US, under these circumstances the region will soon become a new theatre for a global power struggle between different powers.
WHAT IS US-INDO PACIFIC STRATEGY?
The term Indo-Pacific is relatively new, and it has been in global geopolitical discourse since 2011. The term Indo-Pacific refers to the space stretching between the west coast of India across littorals of the South East and East Asia to the western pacific coast. This strategy is aimed at connecting a multipolar region across the pacific and Indian Oceans and to develop a robust economic and strategic partnership with the allies in the region. Indo-Pacific is a geographic concept created to sustain the process of globalization, freedom of navigation and international trade in these waterways. Although, it sounds like an optimistic and liberal approach towards the subjects Indo-Pacific strategy, formally adopted under the Trump administration is more like a containment policy towards China and its core interests in the region. Since the early 1990s till today, Beijing has dominated the political seascape of eastern pacific and now Beijing is setting a new precedent in the Indian Ocean Region with mega projects of immense potential such as BRI and maritime silk route, Beijing is becoming a potential rival to the US in the region and beyond and maybe an alternate mediator of affairs soon.
India is the backbone of this US designed Indo-Pacific strategy. US is facilitating Indian ambitions of becoming a regional power and which made India Strong ally of US with Joint Indo-Pacific Strategy. Rapid military modernization and an aggressive posture towards its smaller neighbours is a true indication that India wants to play big brother in the region. There have been significant advancements in the modernization of the Indian navy and slowly Indian navy is becoming the most significant part of the Indian model of power projection. With the procurement of two aircraft carriers India is undoubtedly the strongest naval power in the region and that with the support of the US and its allies such as Japan and Australia. India being the biggest US ally in the region has agreed with US over a join Indo Pacific strategy which is aimed at developing stronger maritime relations with the states of South East Asia and Asia Pacific regions such as Japan, Australia and South Korea.
ROLE OF INDIA IN INDIAN OCEAN REGION (IOR)
Despite having an enormous coastline, India has historically been a land power and when British colonized India with sheer naval prowess, it made India realize soon after its independence that India needs to develop a robust and active navy to expand its influence in the region and beyond. India is undoubtedly the most powerful state in the Indian Ocean region and it has been developing a strong navy to navigate the waters of the Indian Ocean and there is a huge emphasis on developing an active navy which could be used to project power in the IOR.
India has developed its naval command over Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean right at the mouth of the tremendously strategic strait of Malacca. India will use this naval base to keep a check on the Chinese maritime activity in the region. Keeping the strategic location of Andaman sea in mind, there are several small islands and Island chains scattered across the Indian ocean, China has also started developing its military infrastructure in Coco Islands owned by Myanmar, which are exceptionally close to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands administered by India. This came as a response to Indian development of military infrastructure for surveillance over Chinese activity in IOR.
INCREASING INDO-CHINA CONFRONTATION
India is undoubtedly the biggest competitor of China in the region. China is developing strong economic and defense ties with the littoral states both in India Ocean and Indo Pacific region. With great investment in the development of ports in many countries such as Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh. China is heading towards creation of a greater alliance with many developing and emerging nations in the region on its side. Beijing is providing technical assistance and naval modernization programs for countries across the region with great emphasis on developing ports. China is increasing its presence in the region with ports and investments in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Having good maritime relations with almost all of the nation’s neighboring India, China has gained an exclusive excess to much of the Indian ocean and from the strait of Hormuz to the strait of Malacca -India is concerned about increasing Chinese presence across the regions. But this is often perceived as a Chinese “encirclement of India” by the Indian naval experts. These developments are interesting, especially in the context “String of pearls strategy” where they have categorized the Chinese development of ports and bases in IOR as a continuous string of Chinese influence in the form of ports and naval bases all over the Indian Ocean Region.
India has come up with its strategy known as the “Necklace of Diamonds Strategy” which is more like a counter encirclement strategy to Chinese strategic interests in IOR. India is improving its relations with the strategically placed countries in the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean hence, making the US’ Indo-pacific strategy even more relevant. India has drastically improved its relations with countries like Iran, Seychelles, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan to counterbalance the supposed Chinese encirclement. So far, the Indian efforts have been counter-productive because these Chinese neighbors have a huge reliance on Chinese trade and commerce and India has failed to provide an alternative to their growing economic needs and these states are certainly not going to risk their extensive economic ties with Beijing.
Edited by Talha Ahmad (Editor in Chief PSF)