The Indo-Pacific region serves as one of the emerging power centers in the present geopolitical landscape. Often termed as an emerging global center of gravity. If we closely pay attention the Indo-Pacific region has an immense strategic value which puts this region into the limelight in the calculus of major powers. The region serves as an interconnecting space to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the two important oceans from a security and commerce perspective. If we put a little spotlight on how the Indo-Pacific region bears potential importance from a commerce and security perspective. We will see that European countries have handsome commercial and trade stakes and interests in the Indo- Pacific Region which make Europe and Indo- Pacific account for over 70 percent of global trade in goods and services, and 60 percent of global foreign and direct investment flows. The security perspective deals with maritime security, terrorism, trafficking, organized crimes, etc.
The Indo-Pacific Vision and Center Staging of QUAD.
The Vision of Indo- Pacific region mostly rests upon the beacon light of the United States(US) which is free and open trade and ensuring maritime security and cooperation. However, with the changing geopolitical landscapes and rising regional geopolitical anxieties, the Indo- Pacific vision witnessed a multidimensional opening where the ASEAN Countries and Indo-Pacific countries played a major role in shaping and expanding the Indo-Pacific Vision from security to strategic interests to political and economic interests. For instance, if we pay attention to the vision of Indo Pacific it aspires to become a secure and free maritime zone. But ever since China has been on the rise and doing hegemonic maneuvers in the regional geopolitical landscape the Indo-Pacific vision and region are witnessing multidimensional openings and geopolitical activities. We see the coming together of the US, Japan, Australia, and India and thereby center staging of QUAD and revving itself on the geopolitical map. This also has strengthened the Island/ smaller state’s togetherness and contributed to the vision.
On the other hand, the ASEAN plays an active role in the region. If we see closer, we see that with the onset of QUAD, the Indo- Pacific vision and region have started to take geostrategic shape or absorb the strategic colors to counterbalance the hegemonic and expansionist China in the South and Southeastern Asian region. Whereas the ASEAN outlook and contribution to the Indo-Pacific vision is more or like a shared vision of economic and trade cooperation promoting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, with ASEAN-led mechanisms, such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), as platforms for dialogue and implementation of the Indo–Pacific cooperation. The recent Quad Summits in September 2021 discussing the various emerging and relevant issues of contemporary times like climate change show how Indo- Pacific region’s vision is going through multidimensional openings. The very recent summit in the backdrop of Russia Ukraine crisis also shows another example which shows how the Indo pacific outlook is evolving, expanding, and touching sensitive issues around the globe. In summation, it can be said that Indo-Pacific Vision has witnessed enlargement of the vision and strategically positioned itself in the geopolitical landscape ever since it got revived after 2008.
Convergence of Strategies and Flashpoints of Indo-Pacific: Carving of AUKUS and Adding Realism
Ever Since QUAD has started to revive in the region and started addressing the Indo-Pacific Vision, especially the strategic ones which involve counterbalancing Chinese hegemonic power and given the advantages which emanate out of the region we see that there is the convergence of various strategies with various multiple interests converging in the region. Japan and Australia focus on economic interests. India’s expanding its maritime interests and strengthening maritime cooperation with Island and Indo Pacific nations. United States strategy on Indo Pacific continues to ensure and maintain peace and stability in the region and echo for an open Indo Pacific. Apart from converging interests in steering Indo Pacific vision, there is one commonality that every Indo Pacific player is facing is the pool of strategic competition and flashpoints in the region. The strategic competition and challenge between US and China, the prevalence of security headaches and flashpoints such as Taiwan Strait or Korean Peninsula, regional competition/ territorial disputes in East China and the South China Sea, and the regional dominance fight between China and Japan. The security dynamics of the Indo-Pacific are filled with flashpoints, competitions, and uncertainties. However, in the recent past, there is cautiously and strategically baked developments taking place in the security calculus of the Indo-Pacific region- a minilateral venture carved out from the Indo-Pacific region i.e., AUKUS- A military alliance keeping Australia in the center to counter China. Furthermore, due to the existence of complex and uncertain security dynamics of the Indo-Pacific, it has been observed that gradually the major players of Indo Pacific region are realizing these complexities and have started to add realism to the dynamics of Indo-Pacific region, especially in the security domain. Wargaming, Joint Naval Exercises- Five Day Joint Naval Exercise Between India and Australia in September 2021 and US Indo Pacific Exercise- one of the largest Indo Pacific drills launched by the US around August 2021. Most importantly the grand military exercise -RIMPAC 2022 is going to be held in the summer this year but this year’s exercise is going to witness an interesting change i.e. the addition of Taiwan to the exercise as of now Taiwan was not part of the exercise. China also used to be a part of the exercise but in the recent past, China was excluded from the exercise because of its rouge actions on the global landscape. The exclusion of China and the recent decision of adding Taiwan to the exercise gives out a clear message of counterbalancing China’s power in the maritime domain, especially in the South China Sea. Such proactive measures from major players of the Indo-Pacific region especially from US-Indo Pacific Command(UIPC) signal reducing security and strategic anxieties in the region with a special focus on China. It can also be said that such moves are aimed at cultivating trust in the region which would have been affected due to a tight strategic and security flashpoint in the region.
India’s Dilemma and Russia-Ukraine Conflict Spill Over on Indo-Pacific.
New Delhi’s tacit support to Moscow and absorbing the pressure of the West to openly condemn the Russian aggression has put New Delhi in a diplomatic dilemma after the Israel and Palestine face-off last year. Even most Indo-Pacific countries are on the west’s side and condemn the Russian aggression which is also a pressure factor for New Delhi as far as its cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries is concerned. However, apart from seeing the diplomatic picture of conflict spillover in the Indo-Pacific, it is imperative to see and assess the strategic axis or picture of conflict spillover in the Indo-Pacific. The strategic and security axis of the region might witness a shift with China gaining predominance in the region by flexing its muscles on Taiwan. It cannot be denied nor ignored that China has reaffirmed its goal of Taiwan unification as its major foreign policy goal last year and therefore chances of the Chinese invading Taiwan cannot be brushed away under the blankets. This situation might translate into reality if Russia engages with NATO or even normally China might get inspired by the present situation and might attempt to annex Taiwan because US’s deliberative ambiguity towards Taiwan just like Ukraine would give confidence to China to go ahead with an invasion option or carry out limited offence following attrition method and steeping up it as the war progresses against Taiwan. Therefore, an alteration attempt in the geopolitical and security axis of Indo Pacific by China cannot be ignored. Secondly, the increasing strategic partnership of Russia and China may become severe security and strategic headache for Indo Pacific in the future. Presently China is the front seat watcher of this conflict and is learning or observing how to tackle similar situations of sanctions and international pressure that would arise after China commences its military adventure in Taiwan. A quid pro quo situation would arise like China shielded Russia and vetoed resolutions against Russia at UNSC and covertly or overtly backed Russia through various means. Similarly, China would expect Russia to lend political support at global forums and shield China in an event of war with Taiwan. Given the current situation, China is nurturing and deepening the trust and cooperation in Sino- the Russian relationship to use it as a shield in the future. The strategic advantages for China do not end here, the strengthening of the Sino- Russian relationship especially the strategic calculus of the relationship would increase complexities for the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the Indian Ocean. Russia might try to counter American dominance in the maritime domain, especially at the west of Malacca Strait, and influence in the Indian Ocean. The reason is obvious and not hard to speculate- Increasing Maritime Cooperation between China and Russia in the Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific regions- Two naval exercises of Russia and China in 2020 have shown the potential of doing the same. Therefore, apart from China being the sole biggest threat in Indo Pacific, China may bring Russia to complicate the strategic and security calculus of Indo Pacific region in the future.
Where does India stand? Will It Assume A Role of Crises Balancer?
India’s vision and contribution to the Indo-Pacific region are substantial and effective. India has been seen as a major player in Indo Pacific region and QUAD. India’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) idea, initiating forums like the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). IPOI appears to be India’s way of developing a mechanism for cooperating with like-minded countries to pursue a ‘free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific. It has been said that IPOI is being built on the pillars of India’s ‘Act East policy. Now a big question that will India assume the role of Crises balancer and counterbalancer to China if China goes for the annexation of Taiwan and the situation at Indo- Pacific gets complicated. The answer to the question is a Yes. India among other QUAD members can thwart the Chinese military adventures at Sea or at least complicate China’s military and strategic maneuvers in the maritime domain. Therefore, India’s role or becoming a potential Crises balancer or counterbalancer in the Indo-Pacific region cannot be taken lightly or ignored if things get strategically complicated in Indo- Pacific region.
In conclusion, we can conclude that the spillover of the conflict in the Indo-Pacific or the scan of Indo- Pacific on this conflict would not be a light impact, the spillover of this conflict has the potential to impact and shake the strategic and security calculus of the Indo-Pacific region. It would severely tighten the situation because the region is already filled with flashpoints and strategic competition and in such circumstances, if those flashpoints get activated and geopolitical alteration by China gets forced upon the region then it would destabilize and push back the vision and future of Indo- Pacific region. A light is being seen on India’s active role as a crises balancer with other QUAD members but how effective a response that would be and how the international community would react or take measures because the Russian factor in the conflict cannot be ignored completely.