Seminar on “Asia-Pacific Power Dynamics: Strategic Implications and Options for India”
JRD Tata Auditorum, National Institute of Advanced Studies, March 10, 2014
In the emerging geopolitical discourse today, the Asia-Pacific region has emerged as a major centre of geostrategic interest. Accompanying this change in perception is a change in scope, with strategists not just considering the typical Indian Ocean, but also the western, and sometimes even central Pacific Ocean. The Asia-pacific ranges from East Africa to the western and central Pacific, including Japan and Australia. Asia-Pacific concept reflected a new reality shaped by the rise of China and India, a revitalized Japan, along with the continued primacy of the United States and also signifies the accelerating economic and security connections between the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean thus creating a single strategic system. There are several reasons for the growing importance of Asia-Pacific region as a geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic space today.
First, with all the countries focusing more on the sea and adopting maritime oriented geo-strategies, it becomes evident that seas would continue to remain a vital part of the well-being of many national economies, commerce and security landscapes. This is demonstrated by a growing demand for resources—both living and non-living, expanding maritime trade, rising maritime boundary disputes and political tensions. Second, the region’s strategic and economic significance has also been growing exponentially. Especially with the rise of Asian powers like China and India, trade has surged. In fact, Asia-Pacific in a sense is all about the growing centrality of these two emerging powers to global geopolitics. Incidentally, the Asia-Pacific incorporates some of the busiest sea lanes in the world and has important choke points. Undoubtedly, the rising energy and investment flows along with above factors make Asia Pacific an important area to examine and study the developments of strategic relations and power dynamics.
Finally, the growing economic and military power of China has unsettled many regional countries prompting them to encourage other major regional and external powers to engage in the region. Many are apprehensive that their political and strategic interests may be under threat with the rise of powerful China and its assertive maritime behaviour. It is in fact these concerns that have aided in advancing the concept of ‘Asia-Pacific’ and ‘Indo-Pacific’, which is evident with the U.S. pivot to Asia and the direct mention and discussion in Australia’s Defence White Paper (2013). Incidentally, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too referred this terminology last December 2012, when he moved to enhance India’s relations with ASEAN.
In this context, the important questions are what is India’s role in the changing geopolitical power dynamics in Asia-Pacific region? And where does India stand in the emerging systems of alliances formation? Asian countries vary in the extent to which they seek to formalize Asia-Pacific alliances. While it is expected that the U.S., Japan and Australia would be more proactive in seeking formal arrangements, India is likely to be less willing, albeit still keen to work with other countries in the region to ensure peace and stability. For New Delhi, a degree of ambiguity and equivocality serves its interests in the region. Perhaps any direct and vocal engagement with one group will not only run the risk of antagonising China; but it will also diminish the freedom of action that India associates with its non-alignment policy. Its hesitancy notwithstanding, India may invariably find itself a part of this collective security framework, within which it will need to work with countries such as the U.S., Japan and Australia. Notably, the US pivot to Asia entails a strategic realignment that would accord an important role to India and the Asia-Pacific in the near future. But undoubtedly India is an important stakeholder in the Asia-Pacific region and as a responsible actor, it will have to employ some astute diplomacy by demonstrating that it can work equally well with China given the latter’s respect for Indian concerns.
It is in this context that the International Strategic and Security Studies (ISSSP), National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, is organising the above seminar. We hope the seminar will facilitate a debate on the concept of Indo-Pacific region, the emerging strategic trends in the region and ramifications in policy formulations among a number of Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean countries, particularly India and its relevance for regional stability and security. The conference aims to bring together scholars, experts and analysts to deliberate on the issues related to the Asia-Pacific region and the complex relationship matrix among the relevant countries. The conference will be divided into four sessions.