India has not just mainstreamed the expression “Indo-Pacific”, but has also encouraged others to perceive and define the region in its full extent

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday said 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 said the Indo-Pacific has become an essential concept in international relations today and that no foreign policy conversation is complete without discussing this vast maritime space stretching from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa.

“Over 50 per cent of global trade traverses this maritime domain. It is also home to over 60 per cent of the world’s population and the global GDP. And so, the security, stability, peace and prosperity of this vast region is vital for the world,” the Foreign Secretary said in his inaugural address at the India-France-Japan workshop on the Indo-Pacific.

Whatever the navigation map, it is an indisputable fact that the Indo-Pacific is the 21st century’s locus of political and security concerns and competition, of growth and development, and of technology incubation and innovation.

“India has not just mainstreamed the expression “Indo-Pacific”, but has also encouraged others to perceive and define the region in its full extent. That is why countries such as Germany and Netherlands, physically distant but economic stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific, have released strategies for the region. We understand that the EU is also working on its strategy for the Indo-Pacific,” the Foreign Secretary said.

“To understand India’s Indo-Pacific vision it is important to understand why we define it the way we do, and to the extent we do. There are many reasons for this. The first and most obvious is the Indian peninsula, which thrusts into the Indian Ocean and gives us two magnificent coasts and near limitless maritime horizons to both our east and our west,” he added.

Monks and merchants, culture and cargo have travelled from India on those waters, to our east, west and south. 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 with the Gulf states have been constants of Indian economic life. These experiences are our past and our future and therefore determine our concept of the Indo-Pacific.

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.

In 2019, at the East Asia Summit in Bangkok, Prime Minister Modi took the idea of SAGAR further and announced the “Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative”.

“Using this Initiative, India plans to support the building of a rules-based regional architecture resting on seven pillars. These are: maritime security; maritime ecology; maritime resources; capacity building and resource sharing; disaster risk reduction and management; science, technology and academic cooperation & trade connectivity and maritime transport. I am happy to note that today’s workshop is focussing on two of the pillars namely maritime security and connectivity,” Foreign Secretary Shringla said.

India has acted on these principles through both thematic and geographical initiatives. We have sought to strengthen security and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific by becoming a net security provider – for instance in peacekeeping efforts or anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. Sharing what we can, in terms of equipment, training and exercises, we have built relationships with partner countries across the region. To cite some examples, we are active in networks such as the Quad, with India, the United States, Japan and Australia as participants, and the India-Japan-US, India-France-Australia and India-Indonesia-Australia trilateral arrangements offer cases in point.

It is therefore natural for India to be engaged in cooperation with the key actors in the region, notably France and Japan.

“With France, we have a highly developed maritime security partnership. We conduct the joint naval exercise VARUNA and are working to enhance our maritime domain awareness. One mechanism in this respect is the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region where we host a French Liaison Officer. Another is the White Shipping Agreement, signed in 2017, which enables us to monitor vessels across the region and exchange information on maritime traffic,” the Foreign Secretary said.

“India and France also cooperate in multilateral institutions in the region, such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and the Indian Ocean Rim Association, which France recently joined as a full member. We welcome the French Navy’s proposal to conduct the first IONS HADR Joint Exercise. We even have a trilateral dialogue with Australia that focuses on various aspects in the Indo-Pacific such as the blue economy and protecting marine global commons,” he maintained.

Similarly, India and Japan enjoy a relationship that is crucial to the Indo-Pacific architecture. India’s SAGAR vision for the Region and Japan’s concept of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), both are convergent in principles.

“Whether it is enhancing maritime security, connectivity for shared economic prosperity, or increasing resilience to meet natural disasters through HADR efforts, India and Japan frequently find themselves working together. In fact Japan has agreed to lead the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative pillar on connectivity,” the Foreign Secretary said.

With respect to maritime security, several steps have been taken in recent years including the conclusion of the Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services Agreement.

“This agreement along with other initiatives such as the bilateral maritime exercise JIMEX will enhance our maritime domain awareness as well as promote interoperability and joint operational skills between our defence forces,” Shringla maintained.

“With both countries, as with the rest of the world, we are focusing on economic resilience and recovery. Our response to the current global uncertainty is reflected in the vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (or self-reliant India), articulated by Prime Minister Modi, which is a vision of “a self-reliant India which is also a reliable friend for the world,” he added.

It envisages making India an integral part of global supply chains as well as promotion of international trade and commerce. One specific example of cooperation in this area is our working with Japan and Australian on a supply chains resilience Initiative.

India, France and Japan are leading stakeholders in the region and with other like-minded countries, it is upon us to ensure that the Indo-Pacific remains peaceful and open, taking into account needs and concerns of all its inhabitants.

“I hope the outcome of today’s workshop will result in materializing concrete cooperation by infusing life into the pillars of India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans’ initiative,” Foreign Secretary Shringla said.