than a common regional vision, the distinctive domestic and foreign
policy priorities of the U.S, Australia and India are driving their new
attention to the ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a geostrategic category
States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Australia’s Defence Minister
Stephen Smith, India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and
Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai have all spoken of the “Indo-Pacific” — a
region spanning the Indian and the Pacific Oceans — as the world’s new
“strategic centre of gravity.” What is
behind this new-found discovery of the Indo-Pacific and does it imply a
strategic convergence between these three
closer analysis suggests that the Indo-Pacific regional construction is
driven more by a desire to resolve distinctive domestic and foreign
policy preoccupations rather than promote a common regional vision.
the U.S., central policy issues include reversing the slide in its
economic fortunes and dealing with the shift of power to Asia in ways
that preserve existing international rules and the U.S.’s position as
the world’s foremost rule-maker.
has long been preoccupied by the disjuncture between its geographical
positioning in Asia and its historical links with the West. The
implications of continuing a close alliance with the U.S., while growing
increasingly economically enmeshed with Asia, have dominated recent
Indo-Pacific regional construction is a key part of the U.S.’s “pivot
to Asia,” which Australia has supported. For both the Australian and
U.S. policymakers, adopting and shaping the “Indo-Pacific” as a
geostrategic category helps them resolve their key domestic and foreign
policy dilemmas while maintaining their positions in the global order as
a great power and middle power respectively.
Fitting in India
how does India fit into this emerging concept? While India supports a
basic adherence to international law, freedom of navigation and peaceful
dispute settlement, it is increasingly clear that its preferred
regional architecture in the “Indo-Pacific” will be shaped by
the demands of
its domestic economic restructuring and its continuing adherence to the
principle of strategic autonomy.
this reason, any assumption that India will sign up to an Indo-Pacific
security architecture devised in Washington and Canberra fundamentally
misreads the domestic political projects that animate India’s own vision
of the Indo-Pacific.
see how different domestic imperatives lead to distinctive Indo-Pacific
regional constructions, we can examine some of the major regional
initiatives that have recently been promoted by the U.S., Australia and
Leaving out China
U.S. has recently launched the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),
trade initiative that does not involve China and includes trade,
investment, intellectual property, health care, environmental and labour
standards. It has also called for a “regional architecture of
institutions and arrangements to enforce international norms on
security, trade, rule of law, human rights, and accountable governance”
in the Indo-Pacific region.
regional initiatives are built on the promotion of regulatory
frameworks in the Indo-Pacific — in areas such as intellectual property
rights — that serve domestic political and economic agendas, namely
increasing the competitiveness of the American economy and maintaining
U.S. prominence as a global rule-setter. It is thus central to emerging
geo-economic competition over the regulation and rules of the regional
and global political economy.
The Australian bridge
meanwhile, is attempting to act as a classic middle power bridge
between the East and West by balancing its commitment to a U.S.-driven
framework of rules and regulations with the knowledge that its economic
future is increasingly intertwined with Asia and China, in particular.
To manage these growing tensions, it has encouraged the U.S. pivot to the Indo-Pacific while
advocating greater political, economic and strategic enmeshment between
the U.S. and China and refocusing its attention on the Indian Ocean
Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC).
has also welcomed both the U.S.-centred TPP as well as the Association
of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)-centred Regional
Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The RCEP includes China and focuses on a narrower set of issues than the TPP,
excluding issues such as labour standards, which would deter China from
ascension. Despite the differences between the two schemes, Australia
regards the TPP and RCEP as complementary pathways to a regional free
trade area and has vowed to promote the inclusion of elements such as
environmental and labour standards during RCEP negotiations. Despite
embracing the Indo-Pacific concept, India is not a member of the TPP but
has joined the RCEP. The TPP’s rigid objectives of regulatory coherence
do not fit with India’s stated desire for a “plural, inclusive and open
security architecture in the Indo-Pacific” and India has long resisted
the inclusion of non-trade related provisions in multilateral trade
provisions for “the different levels of development of the
participating countries” and ASEAN’s
emphasis on consensual decision-making are far more conducive to the
type of regional architecture that India desires, since they are more
congruent with its domestic imperatives of development and autonomy.
This suggests the contested nature of the Indo-Pacific.
imperatives also drive India’s increased attention to regional
groupings like the IOR-ARC and smaller, more specialised forums that
deal with issues like piracy, energy and food security. These
initiatives focus on non-traditional security issues, which India sees
as posing the most significant external threat to its economic
development. This bottom-up, issue-driven approach to Indo-Pacific
regionalism may prove, over the long run, to be more sustainable than
the elite-driven regional projects that were the hallmark of
a new “Indo-Pacific” era may well be dawning. But the adoption of the
concept in the foreign policy debates and vocabularies of India,
Australia and the United States reflect a heightened focus in all three
countries on domestic political and economic challenges rather than a
strategic convergence or a common regional vision.
(Priya Chacko is at the University of Adelaide and the author of Indian Foreign Policy: The Politics of Postcolonial Identity from 1947 to 2004, Routledge, 2012.)