The fourth 2+2 Dialogue Summit, a cornerstone in Indo-US bilateral cooperation, ended in Washington last week, discussing deeper security and defence cooperation, especially in the Indo-Pacific (IP), a point of convergence in interests of the two countries. Indo-Pacific as a region is identified as core to the US interests wherein India and other like minded maritime democracies are lynchpin to its Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy. India recognises the importance of a free, open, inclusive and rules based Indo-Pacific, featuring great power projection with varying degrees of cooperation and competition, high volume and value of maritime trade, and a vast wealth of untapped maritime resources. China’s aggressive foreign policy, predatory economics, and utter disregard for international law, territorial sovereignty, human rights and freedom of navigation are causes of concern to the Indo-Pacific maritime democracies.

China’s attempts to create a sphere of influence in the IP, combining its military, economic, technological might, and through coercive means is a bid to undermine the region’s enduring democratic principles. Many international relations experts suspect that the security pact signed last month with Solomon Islands, lying northeast to Australia, is the latest among many such attempts. Besides, China’s economic coercion of Australia, border skirmishes with India, bullying of neighbours, unlawful claims and territorial incursions in the South China Sea, all threaten the peace and prosperity of the IP. Such a predicament necessitates taking up a coherent and comprehensive IP strategy in order to balance China and its ambitions.

Convergences

US’ strategy for the IP region and a previously declassified document during Trump’s presidency together support India’s rise as a regional leader necessary to counterbalance China’s influence. The US’ perception of India as an active security partner in the IP can be traced back to 2009, and later solidified through signing the four foundational defence agreements, namely LEMOA, GSOMIA, COMCASA and BECA.

Regional stability through regional groupings is a prominent theme in Indo-US collaboration in the IP, with a multilateral framework for IP cooperation promoted through the ASEAN countries and the QUAD. Notably, the US also wants bridges to the EU, incorporating the UK and France in the security architecture of the region. This is an idea favourable to India as additional deployment means a watchful eye on the Chinese navy and island infrastructure.

Both countries explicitly identify Beijing as a source of mounting threat in the region and seek to strengthen the security architecture. For this, the US wants to enhance Major Defence Partnership with India, and introduce “Integrated deterrence” in cyber, space and emerging and critical technologies. This should be considered a prelude to a Maritime Security Initiative in pipeline which is expected to be outlined in policy papers in future.

The US’ objective is to shape the strategic environment within which China operates, in order to build a balance of power coordinating with its partners and allies in the region. The goal is in line with India’s ambitions to rise as a regional power and a net security provider in the region. Being a nation of maritime tradition, India’s understanding of global commons makes it a critical partner in the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy.

Other convergence points in the shared vision for IP are regional infrastructure development and collective capacity building, effective mechanisms to address climate crisis and public health challenges, and a comprehensive economic framework for the region to counter the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Indian and the US strategies to deal with China, especially after the pandemic and altercations in Ladakh, transformed into that of self-reliance and diversified partnership for supply chain resilience with an added emphasis on the regional partnership. Such an economic outlook is not only complementary but a prelude to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework proposed by the Biden administration for economic cooperation in the region for supply chains and emerging technologies. 

What needs to be done

It is high time that India adopts a coherent Indo-Pacific strategy accounting for the regional diversity and conceives tools to manage strategic competition with China. Trade with China in 2021 amounted to $125 billion with a trade deficit of $69 billion. It would be inordinately difficult to extract the Indian economy so abruptly out of the Chinese networks which leaves the delicate option of balancing competition and cooperation with China. For this, leveraging good relations with the ASEAN for a better understanding of the region and its sensitivities towards China would be an asset in India’s IP strategy.

Under the Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), India could collaborate with the US to provide options of infrastructure development in a bid to undermine Beijing’s influence. This builds on the long term goal of enabling developing countries in the region to advance on their own accounts through the path of economic freedom. Further, regional capacity building should focus on areas of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and maritime domain awareness.

Renewed trade partnerships in the region that India and US are part of must align with labour and environmental standards as a commitment to the SDGs. India can collaborate with Japan and the US in their FOIP vision in order to advance our IPOI strategy as well. In dynamic times, caution must be taken, while drafting India’s strategy for the region which has to be flexible and balanced at the same time. 

Furthermore, India and the US must prioritise regional connectivity, and trade and commerce as development agenda for the region. Deepening bilateral and multilateral ties with smaller and bigger nations from the IP, and also from the EU would be ideal in maintaining peace and security and enabling seamless defence technology utilisation. The Indo-US defence relations must also expand to cooperate in the domains of army, air force, marines, coast guard and special forces to enhance multi sectoral cooperation and interoperability.

Sharon Susan Koshy is a Research Associate at Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research. 

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Sharon Susan Koshy is a Research Associate at Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). She completed her Masters in IR and Political Science from Central University of Kerala, and MPhil in Political Science from the University of Hyderabad. For her MPhil thesis, she explored the themes of state and feminist negotiations in post-Arab Spring Egypt. Sharon had also secured the UGC-Junior Research Fellowship during her research period in Hyderabad and Chennai. Her academic interests pertain to IR theory, gender politics, refugee studies, intersectionality, and area studies of South Asia, West Asia and North Africa, and Indo Pacific.

Sharon Susan Koshy
Sharon Susan Koshy
Sharon Susan Koshy is a Research Associate at Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). She completed her Masters in IR and Political Science from Central University of Kerala, and MPhil in Political Science from the University of Hyderabad. For her MPhil thesis, she explored the themes of state and feminist negotiations in post-Arab Spring Egypt. Sharon had also secured the UGC-Junior Research Fellowship during her research period in Hyderabad and Chennai. Her academic interests pertain to IR theory, gender politics, refugee studies, intersectionality, and area studies of South Asia, West Asia and North Africa, and Indo Pacific.

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