India has tried to strengthen security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla who has reached London in the last and final leg of three European nation tour, has asked the United Kingdom to “finalise its Indo-Pacific strategy soon” to achieve a rules-based international order in the region which has emerged as a “driver of international trade and well-being.”

“The Indo-Pacific ocean system carries an estimated 65 per cent of world trade and contributes 60 per cent of global GDP. Ninety per cent of India’s international trade travels on its waters. For us, and for many others, the shift in the economic trajectory from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific has been hugely consequential. The rise of China and the imperative for a global rebalancing have added to the mix. A rules-based international order is achievable only with a rules-based Indo-Pacific,” Foreign Secretary Shringla said while speaking at Policy Exchange in London on Tuesday.

A vast maritime space stretching from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa, the Indo-Pacific, he said, is the 21st century’s locus of political and security concerns and competition, of growth and development, and of technology incubation and innovation.

And this is the reason “why a country like Germany, physically distant but an economic stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific, has released a strategy for the region. After France and the Netherlands, it is the third European country to do so,” the Foreign Secretary informed the audience at Policy Exchange, a leading think tank of the UK.

Giving a perspective of India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific, he said, “During the Cold War, the Indo-Pacific was sliced and diced into different spheres of influence and military theatres, and made subservient to bloc think. To India, this made little sense. Whether it was the forces of nature – the monsoon winds for instance – or our maritime and trading history, we found it impossible to see the Horn of Africa and the western Indian Ocean on the one hand and the Straits of Malacca on the other as disconnected. For us, they have always been a seamless whole.”

As about the term Indo-Pacific, he said, “While an Indian maritime analyst is believed to have used the term as far back as the 1990s, ‘Indo-Pacific’ is a fairly recent addition to the geopolitical lexicon. It has come into prominence in the past decade. India has used it in joint statements with a series of partner countries, including but not limited to the United States, Australia, France, Indonesia, Japan, and of course the United Kingdom.”

Talking about the use of the term Indo-Pacific and the creation of a separate Indo-Pacific division in the Ministry of External Affairs, he said, “It figures in our meetings with our ASEAN friends and has helped advance the Quad consultations. That our Ministry has recently set up an Indo-Pacific Division as well as an Oceania Division, and placed them under the same Additional Secretary level officer, is a sign of India’s commitment to this critical geography.”

Highlighting India’s thousand years of association with the region, the Foreign Secretary said, “India’s great religious traditions, such as Buddhism, spread far and wide in the Indo-Pacific. Some of the oldest and most impressive Hindu temples are found in Vietnam, remnants of the Cham kingdom. A thousand years ago India’s greatest coastal empire, the Cholas, sent maritime expeditions and trading ships as far east as Sumatra, to ancient China, as well as to the Abbasid empire in what is today Iraq.”

“Another empire, the Pallavas, had a flourishing trade relationship with Southeast Asia. Sea-borne trade with Africa and the Gulf states have been constants of Indian economic life. These experiences are our past and are our future; these experiences determine our concept of the Indo-Pacific. As a country with an intimate maritime history in the Indo-Pacific, the UK would surely appreciate this,” he added.

With regard to the launch of strategy towards the region, Foreign Secretary Shringla said, “India’s Indo-Pacific strategy was enunciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech in Singapore in 2018 as the SAGAR doctrine. In Sanskrit, among other Indian languages, the word “Sagar” means ocean. The Prime Minister used it as an acronym for "Security and Growth for All in the Region. This aspiration depends on securing end-to-end supply chains in the region; no disproportionate dependence on a single country; and ensuring prosperity for all stakeholder nations.”

“An Indo-Pacific guided by norms and governed by rules, with freedom of navigation, open connectivity, and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states, is an article of faith for India,” he added.

The Foreign Secretary said India has tried to strengthen security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific by becoming a net security provider.

“In the past six years, India has provided coastal surveillance radar systems to half a dozen nations – Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar and Bangladesh. All of these countries also use Indian patrol boats, as do Mozambique and Tanzania,” he said.

“Defence training programmes have increased. Mobile training teams have been deputed to 11 countries – from Vietnam to South Africa, as well as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar in our immediate neighbourhood. Located just outside New Delhi, the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region has enhanced maritime domain awareness among partner countries,” the Foreign Secretary informed the audience at Policy Exchange.

In the area of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), he said, India has not only built robust capacities it has also established itself as an instinctive and unstinted early responder and a credible friend. Notable HADR missions in the Indo-Pacific in recent years have included Operation Rahat in Yemen in 2015 – when India rescued and evacuated 6,710 persons, including 1,947 citizens of over 40 other countries. Whether it was the cyclone in Sri Lanka in 2016, the earthquake in Indonesia in 2019, Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, or the flooding, landslides, deaths and large-scale displacement of people that occurred in Madagascar in January this year, Indian assistance and an Indian ship have never been far away.

The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI)), co-founded by India and the United Kingdom in 2019, is a corollary to such efforts. Along with the International Solar Alliance, another institution co-founded by India to evangelise renewable and specifically solar energy, CDRI is intrinsic to India’s regional and global commitment to taking on climate change.

“As the Covid-19 pandemic hit us earlier this year, India did what it could to support its friends. Rapid response medical teams were sent to countries as far apart as Kuwait and the Maldives, and on their request. Through the lockdown, food supply lines were kept alive for the Gulf nations as well as for smaller island states such as Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros,” he said.