India Sets Up New Indo-Pacific Desk, Experts Laud ‘Strategic Move’
India has set up a new Indo-Pacific division in the foreign office, to specifically deal with the region’s policies. The division will reportedly be headed by joint secretary Vikram Doraiswami as an additional charge, along with Bangladesh and Myanmar, according to The Times of India (TOI).
The Quad, a group of like-minded democracies comprises the US, Japan, India and Australia across the Indo-Pacific region.
Strategically Important To Bring Region Under One Umbrella: Vishnu Prakash
Former diplomat Vishnu Prakash said that the move is an effort to bring the nations of the Indo-Pacific region under one umbrella.
“At the moment, we have a desk looking after the Asean region, we have a desk looking after the Indian Ocean countries. As the concept of the Indo-Pacific comes of age, the rules are becoming clearer and the idea is to have a unified approach because you do not want to compartmentalise your outlook and approach to the Indo-Pacific region. So the effort, perhaps, is to bring all under one umbrella for greater cohesion and focus,” said Prakash.
Referring to PM Modi’s address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Prakash said that it’s natural for India to play an active role in the region.
“I would refer to what the prime minister said at the Shangri-La-Dialogue in Singapore. I think the contours are very clear. It is natural for us to play an active role in the region. We are important in the Indo-Pacific region. So it's stating the obvious,”he said.
“The Indo-Pacific concept is a geographic concept, an inclusive concept. Basically, what we stand for is a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region,” it added.
In his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018, PM Modi had said:
“ I am convinced that ASEAN can integrate the broader region. In many ways, ASEAN is already leading the process. In doing so, it has laid the foundation of the Indo-Pacific Region. The East Asia Summit and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – two important initiatives of ASEAN – embrace this geography.”
Military Strategy for US, Diplomatic Strategy for India: Manoj Joshi
The US military in May 2018, renamed its Pacific Command the US Indo-Pacific Command, in a largely symbolic move underscoring the growing importance of India to the Pentagon.
US Pacific Command, which is responsible for all US military activity in the greater Pacific region, has about 3,75,000 civilian and military personnel assigned to its area of responsibility, which includes India.
International affairs expert Manoj Joshi said that for the US, a role in the Indo-Pacific region is a military strategy, but for India, it’s a diplomatic one.
“Now that we have appointed a secretary to look after the Indo-Pacific region, we have a point man,” said Joshi.
“China will also understand. After all we have not appointed a general or an admiral or created a military command to deal with the Indo-Pacific. We have a clear idea that this is a diplomatic issue,” he added.
India Should’t Care What China Thinks: Rear Admiral (Retd) Raja Menon
Rear Admiral (Retd) Raja Menon said that while the international community might be favourable to India over this move, China might not be.
“It’s a very good idea. Originally, the area is geographically important for India, but now they have also made it a strategically important area. The Indo-Pacific is one important strategic hold. If they’re going to deal with it from that one desk, it makes a lot of sense,”he said.
“The Pacific and the Indian Ocean is one strategic space. The US navy is going to be operating in both Indian and Pacific Ocean. And the Chinese Navy is going to be operating soon in the Indian Ocean. So soon it will be one strategic space. So to put it at two different desks doesn't make sense,” Menon said.
“China will probably respond unfavourably but I don’t think we should take that seriously,”he added.
According to a Observer Research Foundation (ORF) report by Vivek Mishra and Udayan Das, while the nations have committed to the idea of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, the cohesion is still loosely arranged and has not yet been formalised at the ministerial level.
The report further states:
“India has distinctively carved a space with its emphasis on the principle of freedom of navigation and respect for the laws of the sea, finding resonance with the central ideas of the Quad. However, India’s increasing tangible cooperation with the Quad nations, its reservations about a more formalised security structure in the region, while still balancing at home and its desire to avoid being identified with any particular group with regional security implications at the international stage, is compounding complications in India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific and its vision of the Quad. India’s de-hyphenation of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad not only eclipses clarity but underscores the need for a regional security architecture that emphasises on a strategic continuum rather than geopolitical fragmentation.”
(With inputs from TOI and ORF)