“India has set up a new Indo-Pacific division in the foreign office.” This sentence will not be able to be made head nor tail of by the common layman, unless we understand what the Indo-Pacific division is, and why the external affairs ministry of India has taken this big step.
Whether the government is justified in taking this decision is a matter we can discuss only after having comprehended what exactly this division is, what is its duties and the factors leading up to the creation of this division. Let us take a jump into these Current Affairs to delve and understand what this sentence means.
What is an Indo-Pacific Division?
The Indo-Pacific is a geographic region that covers only the Earth’s seas. It comprises the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, especially the western and central parts.
It also includes the seas that connect the above two water bodies, mainly in the Indonesian Area. It can be termed as a geopolitical area. The term “Indo-Pacific” refers to the maritime space stretching from the Indian Ocean, across the littorals of East Asia to the western Pacific Ocean.
To pinpoint the exact location, the region stretches from the west coast of the United States of America to the West Coast of India. It is a twenty-four nation regional framework.
The twenty four countries included are Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor Leste, United States, and Vietnam.
In 2018, during the Shangri-La Dialogue held in Singapore, our respected Prime Minister Narendra Modi articulated the Indian Cabinet’s decision to create the new Indo-Pacific Division in the Ministry of External Affairs, also known as the foreign office of India. At the same time, he made it clear that the creation of this strategy is not aimed at the containment of China.
It is very obvious that the oceans, especially the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, are extremely important for both the security as well as the commerce and trade growth of India.
This new division is also intended to give a coherent architecture to the new policy which was voiced out at the Shangri-La dialog, which is an intergovernmental security forum held annually by an independent think tank, the name of which is the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.
It is usually attended by the defence ministers, the permanent heads of ministries and the military chiefs of most Asian- Pacific states. It is also given the name IISS Asia Security Summit.
By setting up this Indo- Pacific division, the government is reaffirming India’s principle of strategic autonomy as well as cautioning the country against the return of great power rivalries.
What were the factors leading to creation of this Division and what is the significance of it?
The ministry of External Affairs will have accomplished a very big step by the creation of the Indo- Pacific division in their foreign office. This is because the territorial decisions of the ministry are crucial for policy making.
India is already part of multiple intergovernmental organizations already. Some of these include the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the Quadrilateral (the Quad). Setting up this Division will help integrate all of above three to the Indo- Pacific table.
Seeing as though the core of the Indo- Pacific policy is rooted in the Indian Ocean, India is planning to put in greater energy into the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) especially. This integrates the blue economy part of the Indian policy with the security part.
This is a trilateral security mechanism between India, Sri Lanka and earlier, Maldives. As of now, the Chinese government has drowned the Maldives out, but it might be resurrected very soon.
India has also repeatedly placed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the centre of its Indo- Pacific policy. The ASEAN has always kept out of reach of the greater political powers such as the United States of America and its allies. This is what India is aiming to change.
The policy in question will help the ASEAN to address and engage with greater political powers. Along with India, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia are the key partners in the region. Inclusiveness, openness, and ASEAN centrality and unity, therefore, lie at the heart of the Indian notion of Indo-Pacific.
Indo-Pacific has all the ingredients required to generate regional trade and investment opportunities, thereby benefitting the people of the region. So much so that our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was quoted saying that the Indo- Pacific region is India’s highway for trade and prosperity. It is nothing less than our lifeline.
The Indo- Pacific division will be headed by a joint secretary Vikram Doraiswami as an additional charge, along with Bangladesh and Myanmar reportedly. According to Mr. Vishnu Prakash, who is a foreign affairs analyst, an ambassador and a former diplomat, this policy is a move or an effort to bring the nations of the Indo- Pacific region all under one umbrella.
With the establishment of the Indo-Pacific division, there are now six divisions in the MEA managing this broader area: Indian Ocean Region, East Asia, ASEAN Multilateral, India-ASEAN Summit Secretariat, Southern Division, and the Indo-Pacific.
Although the policy is currently run by the Ministry of External Affairs, it is expected that as it moves along, it will work side by side with the defence ministry of India, which runs its own Indo-Pacific policy.
India obviously plays a very important role in the Indo-Pacific region. Hence, it is natural for our country to play an active role in its happenings. In addition, for the United States of America, a role in the Indo- Pacific region would definitely be a military strategy, but in the case of India, it is a diplomatic strategy.
Now, in addition to the region just being a geographically important place for India, the Indo- Pacific region will also become a place of strategic importance to us.
To support this decision of the Indian government, the United States of America also recently renamed its Pacific Command to the Indo-Pacific Command. This has given significance and importance to the Indo- Pacific Policy.
To conclude this essay, it is very clear that the decision that the government of India has taken is to create an Indo- Pacific division in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is in fact an excellent one. It is of great strategic importance to our country India and will most definitely aid almost four separate beings.
India herself, and the three organizations: the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the Quadrilateral (the Quad). It will most definitely become a region for shared prosperity. It is indeed, a most welcome development.