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Shangri-La: Modi’s Vision for the Indo-Pacific and India

Anindita writes, policy of non-alignment which has been the core of India’s foreign policy since its independence is easily showcased throughout Indian PM Narendra Modi’s speech at Shangri la Dialogue.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Friday, became the first Indian to give the keynote address at the Asia’s premier security summit organised by IISS, at Singapore, the Shangri-La Dialogue. People have gone on to call Mr. Modi’s speech as a recreation of Nehru for the 21st century[1], while there are others who have said that this speech highlights how “India is in a “Talk East” limbo between “Look East” and “Act East”.[2] What exactly does the speech at Singapore mean for the future of the East and South East Asia?

It is easy to say why Modi’s speech can be seen as a reiteration of Nehruvian foreign policy, throughout his speech Mr. Modi spoke about the resourcefulness of the Indo-Pacific region, and the need for cooperation between the ASEAN countries and the various other leading countries in the region. He called it to be the “rising East”[3], the area with massive potential for the future. The speech “encapsulates India’s deepest multi-faceted engagement with the world but it also reflects India’s profound loneliness among the big powers, where it needs to engage with all, without relying totally on any of them.”[4] The policy of non-alignment which has been the core of India’s foreign policy since its independence is easily showcased throughout his speech.

Modi has also emphasised the importance of a “stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region”, calling it an essential stalwart for India’s strategic partnership with the United States.[5] The US military has also renamed the Pacific Command to the Indo-Pacific Command in official US documents. Although this is mainly symbolic, it does highlight the growing importance of India in the global world order, as well as the increasing partnership with the United States of America, and India’s strategic importance with concern to the United States.[6]

Not only did Modi talk about India’s relations with the US, he also spoke out the informal meeting held in Sochi with Russian President, Vladimir Putin last month, where both the representatives of State, agreed to “strengthen their relationship and work towards a strong multipolar world.”[7] This again highlights that, India is seeking out multiple partners in the international forum, and looking towards both the leading global powers.

In his speech, President Modi also went on to mention the importance of Africa, and the aim for India to develop further partnership with Africa, since that too shares the waters and the region of the Indo-Pacific.

Hence, we see how, the essence of the Prime Ministers’ speech does indeed place prominence on the non-alignment policy of India, but then again, with the great importance he placed on the “Look East” and “Act East” policies of India, there needs to be concrete action to back these visions, else, it is nothing but hot air.

Though the Prime Minister did address India’s relationship with China as one which has “many layers”[8], he did not go on to ever directly mention any of the pressures exerted by China, be it the growing pressure in the South China Sea or the Doklam standoff[9]. In his speech, the Prime Minister pointed out a few key reasons for the importance of the Indo-Pacific region while saying that “inclusiveness, openness and ASEAN centrality and unity lie at the heart of the Indo-Pacific”[10]. Most of these points, though, do covertly cast a shadow on the actions undertaken by China; the Prime Minister, never blatantly spoke of the Chinese policies, some might say, diplomatically handling the situation. Firstly, he said, the Indo-Pacific needed to be a “free, open, inclusive region which embraces us all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity”[11]. He also believes that “South Asia is at the centre”[12] of this region and hence cooperation between the countries is imperative, another point on the list, which can indeed be understood as a “wish list”[13] for India, was the “equal access as a right under international law to the use of common spaces on sea and in the air.”[14]

With the global order in flux with Donald Trump as the US President, and India gradually moving into the Lok Sabha elections, it is highly unlikely that anyone will stick its neck out for any tangible actions against the anger against China.[15]

Modi’s speech was filled with aspirations and visions for the region of the Indo-Pacific, and reflects the principles India wishes to assert for the prosperity of the region, but will India take any action on its own? Will it prove to be a leader for the other countries in the region to follows its example? Or will it be riled up with domestic politics with the coming election year?

End Notes:

[1] Mehta, B.P (2018), “The Shangri-La Moment”, The Indian Express, New Delhi, 6 June 2018.

[2]Venkataramakrishnan, Rohan (2018), “Narendra Modi’s Shangri-La speech suggests India is still more about ‘Talk East’ than ‘Act East’”, Scroll.in, 2 June 2018.

[3]Modi, Narendra (2018), “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Keynote Speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore”, PMO India, Youtube.com, 1 June 2018.

[4] Mehta, B.P (2018), “The Shangri-La Moment”, The Indian Express, New Delhi, 6 June 2018.

[5]Kaura, Vinay (2018), “Narendra Modi at Shangri-La Dialogue: India aligning with the US to balance security concerns emanating from China”, Firstpost, Mumbai, 5 June 2018.

[6]Kaura, Vinay (2018), “Narendra Modi at Shangri-La Dialogue: India aligning with the US to balance security concerns emanating from China”, Firstpost, Mumbai, 5 June 2018.

[7]N.m (2018), “At Sochi Meet, Modi, Putin vow to work towards multipolar world, step up economic cooperation”, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 21 May 2018.

[8] Mehta, B.P (2018), “The Shangri-La Moment”, The Indian Express, New Delhi, 6 June 2018.

[9]Venkataramakrishnan, Rohan (2018), “Narendra Modi’s Shangri-La speech suggests India is still more about ‘Talk East’ than ‘Act East’”, Scroll.in, 2 June 2018.

[10]Modi, Narendra (2018), “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Keynote Speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore”, PMO India, Youtube.com, 1 June 2018.

[11]Modi, Narendra (2018), “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Keynote Speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore”, PMO India, Youtube.com, 1 June 2018.

[12]Modi, Narendra (2018), “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Keynote Speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore”, PMO India, Youtube.com, 1 June 2018.

[13] Venkataramakrishnan, Rohan (2018), “Narendra Modi’s Shangri-La speech suggests India is still more about ‘Talk East’ than ‘Act East’”, Scroll.in, 2 June 2018.

[14]Modi, Narendra (2018), “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Keynote Speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore”, PMO India, Youtube.com, 1 June 2018.

[15]Venkataramakrishnan, Rohan (2018), “Narendra Modi’s Shangri-La speech suggests India is still more about ‘Talk East’ than ‘Act East’”, Scroll.in, 2 June 2018.

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2 thoughts on “Shangri-La: Modi’s Vision for the Indo-Pacific and India

  1. Nitya says:

    Raises pertinent questions. Well written.

  2. Shuchi says:

    The questions raised make it relevant and thought provoking, well written.

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