New Delhi-Beijing cooperation key to building an ‘Indo-Pacific Era’

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By Liu Zongyi

In recent years, the geopolitical concept of the “Indo-Pacific” has gained currency. The concept was first developed by Australian scholars and promoted by Americans after the Obama administration put forward the strategic rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific.

Now, more and more scholars and officials from Australia, the US, India, Japan and Indonesia have begun to use this term, fleshing it out from their own perspectives.

The aim of US “Indo-Pacific” geostrategy is to balance and even contain China’s increasing influence in the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean, with the help of some countries in the region.

For the US and Japan, India is the “linchpin” in the “Indo-Pacific” geostrategic system. Many Indian officials and scholars appreciate this idea. The term “Indo-Pacific” has appeared more than once in Indian official documents. However, the Indian government and scholars have different perspectives from the US and other countries on this point.

On the one hand, India sees the Indian Ocean within its own sphere of influence, with the intervention of other powers forbidden.

China’s increasing cooperation with other Indian Ocean countries rankle on India. It has used this as an excuse to energetically develop its navy.

But at the same time, India knows well that the dominant power in the region is still the US. India is reluctant to play the leading role in the Indian Ocean as the US wants, due to its own limited capabilities.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the focus of India’s “Look East” policy gradually expanded from economic and cultural fields to strategic and security fields, and from Southeast to Northeast Asia.

In 2011, India interfered with South China Sea disputes by declaring that it would cooperate with Vietnam on oil fields exploitation in this region.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power, the “Look East” policy was developed into an “Act East” policy. India has enhanced its strategic and military cooperation with countries around China, such as Japan, Vietnam and Australia.

But meanwhile, India also hopes to maintain prosperity and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, and benefit from regional economic development.

Modi has promised to give the Indian people a powerful India in a decade, and wants India to become a manufacturing hub.

Therefore, he wants a peaceful and stable periphery that will allow him to concentrate on domestic economic structural reform and infrastructure building.

Modi needs to maintain stable relations with China, Pakistan and other countries, and needs to absorb investment and technologies from countries like China, Japan and Singapore.

China has put forward a package of projects to boost the development of its periphery, which includes the Silk Road economic belt, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is in fact a geoeconomic “Indo-Pacific” plan. It will boost the Indo-Pacific region into the “Indo-Pacific Era.”

China hopes to cooperate with all the countries in the region, and expand Northeast Asia’s industrial and financial networks to the Indian Ocean region.

This will create more prosperous Indian Ocean countries. India is interested in this idea to some degree; hence the Indian government’s decision to become a founding member of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

In order to realize the “Indo-Pacific Era,” China and India should overcome both foreign and domestic obstacles.

The foreign obstacles come from some countries’ Indo-Pacific geostrategy that would establish an exclusive political, military and economic alliance from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean, which would lead to strategic and military competition, and even conflict.

The domestic obstacles are some vested interest groups, especially the Indian defense and strategic industry.

Although Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s visit to India in September was a big success, the effect of border confrontation during the visit on leaders’ conversations is evident.

Furthermore, the Modi government needs to eliminate two misconceptions when developing relations with China. First, India thinks China should make concessions on border disputes because China is facing pressure from the east. Second, India believes China would turn to India for help to digest its excess capacity and huge foreign reserves.

Border issues are the largest obstacle for bilateral relations, but they can only be resolved by mutual understanding and mutual accommodation.

The author is a research fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and visiting fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Source: Global Times