Positing the Indo-Pacific:
Different approaches of IR theories can be use to specify whether the concept of Info-Pacific is really possible or not. The Realist Lens Indo-Pacific is a “balancing strategy” against China. From the liberal point of view it aims to form a new “institution” to open cooperation among states across the Indian Ocean. While from the constructivist perspective Indo-Pacific is “ideational construct” for prevailing value and norm based diplomacy. “Positing the Indo-Pacific”!
Different forms of Realism suggest that “balancing behavior” is a normal state behavior which it performs under anarchy . As some scholars argue that the fear of China’s dominance in the regional security perspective is the major reason for Japan, India, Australia, and United States to form an alliance for promoting the Indo-Pacific concept. In particular the Indo-Pacific concept have three set of reasons.
Balance of Power:
Firstly, as a rising power, India is a natural balancer against China but still India’s role in regional security is limited, as it was seemingly dismembered of the Asia Pacific after cold war era because it had to join APEC. Although India joined ASEAN regional forum (ARF) in 1996 and also it became the member of the EAS in 2005. However Indo-Pacific provide an opportunity to India to play its role in regional security and counter balance China increasing power. As Green and Shearer point out, “the rise of India is itself an inherently stabilizing Development in the security order of Asia” Moreover, with increase in the scope of regional security from Asia Pacific to Indo-Pacific, China’s dominance would dilute if united State withdraw from the region.
The Indo-Pacific concept have the potential for better alliance formation beyond the US hub and spoke system. In 2010, China passed Japan to become the second largest economy in the world after the United States . In 2014 IMF report announced that China is the biggest economy in power purchasing party (PPP) crossed united State. Such a boom in its economy from the rest of the world especially west has created suspicion in particular for the United States. That’s the reason behind the “US pivot” or rebalance strategy after 2010 in Asia and the revival of Indo-Pacific concept especially in Trump tenure. In its pivot or rebalance strategy, united State has extended cooperation with its traditional allies, especially India. “Positing the Indo-Pacific”!
Read More: https://ceoworld.biz/indo-pacific/
Defense, Trade and technology initiative (DTTI) and 2014 both counties signed a joint statement defense cooperation as the core of bilateral relations. In recent visit of prime Narendra Modi to the US during the Trump administration, both states release a joint statement that their “relations are never been stronger and never been better” as it is today, also the US supported India’s opposition against china “Belt and Road initiative”.
However there are three problems which can distort this balancing strategy of Indo-Pacific. Firstly, although India is a rising power but it’s reluctant to formally balance against china. On one hand India is the founding member of Nonalignment movement (NAM) . The NAM embed India’s foreign policy to form formal military alliance with any state including US.
Secondly sino-india dispute is on land not extended to maritime. The Chinese military has extended its activities in the Indian Ocean to form “strings of pearl” but it’s military projection capabilities are still limited . Thirdly, both China and India are largest trading partner, so it will be too costly terms of economic calculation for India to form any Military alliance against china with others states given its deep economic involvement with china.
A strategic priority of the U.S:
Second, the United States’ strategic priority is still lies in Asia Pacific not in Indo-Pacific. Japan, Korea, Philippines, Australia and New Zealand are former allies of United States which is in comparison to china there is no equivalent in security perspective for united State to maneuvers in the Indian Ocean.
As Bisley and Phillips argue, the Indo-Pacific concept is “recipe for overextension” for the United States because “the cost of a more expansive strategic vision is a loss of focus on vital Interests
Thirdly, there is no “common threat” among the Asian countries to make an anti-alliance against China. Since in 2008, Global Financial crises (GFC) China was the power house for the region. As the largest trading partner of the world, China is also the largest trading partner of Asian countries.
It’s obvious that economic interdependence will not prevent war but at least these countries would be ready to form any Military alliance against China. “Positing the Indo-Pacific”!
Liberalism has two schools of thought, in who economic liberalism focuses on the role of economic interdependence and the other one is institutional liberalism emphasize on the importance of institutions in facilitating states cooperation . In 2012 Australia’s white paper suggest that Indian Ocean has replaced Atlantic Ocean making it the world’s busiest and important trade corridor carrying 2/3 of world oils shipments and 1/3 of bulks world’s cargo. Such economic logic make Indo-Pacific the world’s economic and trade strategic center of gravity in the views of Indo-Pacific proponents.
Furthermore, the proponents also argue that Indo-Pacific have Institutional support. For example Medcalf suggest that when East Asia Summit (EAS) accepted India, Australia and New Zealand, the era of Indo-Pacific begun. According to this logic of EAS backing Indo-Pacific, means the existential extension of EAS would be the Institutional setting in the Indo-Pacific.
There are two main flaws in this concept. One is that economic center of gravity is still Asia Pacific around china not Indo-Pacific around Indian Ocean. India rise is fabulous but it’s still 1/5th of china’s real GDP in 2016. Moreover economic interdependence in south Asia is much lower than in East Asia.
According to World Bank the intraregional trade in South Asia is less than 5% as compared to East Asia 35% and Europe 60%. With such low level of economic integration, South Asia which is the main part of Indo-Pacific is hardly comparable with East Asia and Asia Pacific in general.
It might be possible that India gain a momentum of boost in its economic to reach such level to be ready to encircle trade around her in the next 20 years but for the near future it’s impossible to replace Asia Pacific into Indo-Pacific. Therefore economic logic behind Indo-Pacific lacks the foundation. “Positing the Indo-Pacific”!
The institution logic of Indo-Pacific is more problematic. One on hand the proponents of Indo-Pacific says that it’s not easy for a single multilateral institution to handle Indo-Pacific and on the other hand they says EAS as beginning of Indo-Pacific institutional settings as mentioned earlier.
Although it’s an offspring of ASEAN led multilateral institution in Asia Pacific. Moreover the Future of ASEAN is suspicious as it has casted doubts because of regional affairs.
In order to solidify the foundation of an institution, the proponents must work out to find an institution based on geographic region as SAARC, but SAARC is also posing threats on the ground reality because of India and Pakistan rivalry.
Social constructivism highlights the role of ideas, values and norms in construction of state’s behaviors and world politics. According to this the Indo-Pacific a new social construct based on shared values and identity. Therefore democratic norms and values are becoming the new social glue to connect states in the Indo-Pacific.
For example Abe in his speech in 2007 in India Parliament, emphasized on “ shared values such as freedom, democracy and the respect for human rights” as the strategic global partnership between Japan and India. In 2012 Abe proposed the idea of establishing “democratic security diamond” in among the likeminded states to have firm alliance against China’s naval might.
Therefore democracy is become a bond to connect Japan, India Australia. In 2016 white paper suggest that Australia is committed to “work with united State and likeminded states to maintain rule based order . It is obvious what likeminded states or rule based order means, definitely it converge to Indo-Pacific concept
Besides Australia’s shared norms and values, the Indo-Pacific is also seen as a platform for Australia as “norms entrepreneur” who can play its critical role in conflicts management and prevention As Andrew Carr and Daniel Baldino point Out. Here Australia’s role as norms entrepreneurship is linked to rules based order something that have the potential to develop Indo-Pacific security.
Obstacles in the fulfillment of constructivist ideas:
There are three main obstacles in the fulfilment of these constructivist ideas. First, Democracy is been in decline around the world. As Larry points out that democracy broke down in 27 countries, among them Kenya, Russia, Thailand and Turkey” .
To make things worse democracy itself lost its appeal. Many emerging democracies failed to fulfill the demands of its citizens like freedom, security and economic growth including the United State have grown increasingly dysfunctional. “Positing the Indo-Pacific”!
The second problem is the shaky nature of ideational foundation of shared norms and principals of an Indo-Pacific that lacks common ground among the parties due to the limited foundation of institution. Although ASEAN way has created a unique way in managing regional security but it has been criticized for “making process not progress” in the challenges of the region especially South China sea dispute.
More importantly there is lack of true common consensus among the parties. For United State it’s only the extension of hub and spoke system. For Australia Indo-Pacific is an opportunity to play its entrepreneur role. For India however it’s a double sword game, in which on one hand it provide an opportunity to become a powerful player in the region and in the world in general on the other hand it has to face as Frontline player to China either it’s ready or not.
The proliferation of institutions:
In explaining the proliferation of institutions building in Asia Pacific Kai He provided two strategies one is inclusive institutionalization and other one is inclusive institutionalization. In exclusive institutionalization a target is excluded from the institution to isolate it and vanish its influence and in inclusive institutionalization the target is included to keep his power within the framework of the institution and to follow its norms and values. “Positing the Indo-Pacific”!
In case of china in exclusive institutionalization of the Indo-Pacific, China can be excluded but if it became a common enemy or a threat to all the parties in the region and participants. In the inclusive institutionalization if China is included in the framework of the institution it would be keep in the refrigerator to not fire up the situation or influence in the region but there would be two problems.
One that Indo-Pacific institution must have a specific function that differentiate from the EAS. Relying on EAS would not be a good idea because a legitimate question can be arise by the ASEAN states that EAS is already covering all the regional states and their need.
The second one would be the leadership problem where both US and China are influencial bodies the competition between these two is inevitable. However this problem can be sorted out by Co-chair in which each state lead the institution for certain time.
This article is written by Siddique Ullah who is currently studying International Relations at the National University of Modern languages, Islamabad. He is interested in Indo-Pacific, global powers, and diplomacy.