The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is much more than just the Quad. There are multiple centres of power that encompass the region today. Here, I analyse the term’s metamorphosis from a geographic convergence of two oceanic landscapes into its current form as a geostrategic deterrent to the expansionism of one single power.
The Malabar naval exercise kicked-off this month with all four ‘Quad’ partners as participants in India’s maritime sphere nearly after 13 years since Canberra walked out of it, even though its continued participation in the coming years is not a guarantee. But it is certainly a possibility worth reckoning, considering Canberra’s close security relationship with the United States and also taking its own troubles with Beijing into account.
However, the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is much more than just the Quad powers alone. Its metamorphosis from the conceptualization of a geographic convergence of two oceanic landscapes into its current form as a strategic deterrent to expansionist endeavours of one single great power is an engrossing story to tell.
Origin, break-up, and re-birth of the idea
Even though this concept today finds an irreplaceable place in the daily foreign policy lexicon of all key democracies in Asia, Oceania, and most recently with Europe’s two great powers – France and Germany – the idea has its actual origins in the writings of Karl Haushofer, a German geopolitician, in the first half of20th century itself.
But, with an initial stall, the idea wouldn’t resurface in the public domain until former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, rejuvenates it in his 2007 address to the Indian Parliament, titled, ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’. But, the idea was brewing up in the strategic circles of New Delhi to imbibe its new avatar in the mid-2000s itself.
Haushofer looked at the inter-related cultural dimension of the region from a German perspective alone. But today, it has evolved into a broader strategic construct that could potentially act as a ‘balance of power’ mechanism, while it can also be imagined as a geographic region.
And, with multiple centres of power in existence, differing in conceptualization of the term, unlike the politically neutral term ‘Asia-Pacific’, the region in the 21st century, could potentially rise to the significance of what the North Atlantic was in the previous century.
Asia-Pacific’s striking absence of India
What necessitated a transition from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific? To understand that, the term ‘Asia-Pacific’ needs an introspection first.
Asia-Pacific emerged in the mid-1980s as a means to ensure co-operation in trade and commerce. But, it never included an unavoidable Asian power, both geopolitically and demographically in a stronger position, India.
Not only the Republic of India, but the Subcontinent and Ocean named after India also never found its place in this initial conceptualization of the geographic continuum that was restricted to the east of the Straits of Malacca, comprising of Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific only.
Asia-Pacific was focused more on trade and commercial co-operation. But, Indo-Pacific does have a political dimension, as it considers including ‘democracies’ primarily, along with other considerations like the geographic setting of the country.
Moreover, regional organizations like the Singapore-based Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) and the Jakarta-based Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have significant potential to influence multilateral trade and international relations of the Asia-Pacific region.
Well, what about West Asia then? The need to include that region never arose at point of time, as it went with the socio-culturally different Middle-East, which glued well with North Africa owing to their similarity of Arab-dominant culture.
Rising China as a contributing factor
The significance of the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean surged in the evolving geopolitical and geoeconomic scenario marked by a U.S. – China face-off that specifically deteriorated after 2012, when the over-ambitious Xi Jinping rose to power in Beijing, adding to America’s trepidations of a new superpower competitor from Asia.
In the past seven to eight years since Xi Jinping is elevated as China’s Supreme Leader the country gave revisionist expressions through its new policies and projects around the world, particularly like the 2013-initiated Belt and Road Initiative – the most ambitious infrastructure development project in modern history – spanning three geographically connected continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe –with China as its centre.
Beijing’s increased presence in areas where it historically never involved in, such as the Indian Ocean, in the past five years, where a strategy known as the ‘String of Pearls’ in which Beijing attempts to build or take control of strategically-located ports and bases in a way encircling India, has been perceived as expansionist.
It’s renewed aggressiveness with regard to Hong Kong, where Beijing recently established a security office and Taiwan where threat of an overnight invasion looms, or its building of artificial islands from previously what was coral reefs in the South China Sea for military purposes.
Beijing’s vaguely perceived historical claims to the sea as expressed in the ‘Nine Dash Line’ theory all have exacerbated Western and Indian fears of an expansion, which in turn necessitated the ideation of an alternative mechanism for balance of power, as articulated by Indo-Pacific. If the circumstances where such that Beijing’s rise was zero-disruptive to the existing world order, then perhaps, Asia-Pacific remained the same. But, that’s not the case now.
Thus, from an Asia-Pacific that was restricted to those countries in Asia and Oceania that shared maritime borders with the Pacific Ocean, a strategic thought-shift to include the ‘Indo-sphere’, consisting of the subcontinent and waters beyond the Straits of Malacca till the eastern shores of Africa took effect, as conceptualized by the ‘Indo-Pacific’. But, there was another problem – differing perceptions on the ideation of Indo-Pacific.
Power centers and differing outlooks
Well, it is widely perceived that the ‘Quad’ grouping of India, United States, Japan, and Australia is the major power center of the region, may be militarily. But actually it doesn’t give a complete picture.
There are other power centres, namely the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), and the European Union, represented individually by France and Germany. Each of these nations and ASEAN as a whole has their respective separate outlooks on how to perceive the term Indo-Pacific, whether as a containment strategy aimed at Beijing, or as an all-inclusive one.
New Delhi views it as a region for mutual co-operation, rules-based order, without excluding any players, and it do not wish to view Indo-Pacific as a limited club of nations as articulated by PM Modi, two years back, in Singapore. However, it could be in line with New Delhi’s ‘Act East’ and SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) policies.
Tokyo’s strategy is also multilayered, from minilateral cooperation to an emphasis on more multilateral initiatives as articulated by the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ outlook while maintaining a conditional engagement with Beijing. It envisions a hybrid future regional order in the Indo-Pacific.
ASEAN wishes to shield itself from a potential great power competition with an emphasis on mutual economic co-operation and rules-based order in the region.
But,the United States, particularly under Donald Trump, has been openly critical of Beijing’s moves in the region and never wishes to include China in its conceptualization of the Indo-Pacific, as it lacks the democratic values it stands for.
Washington, therefore, wants a containment of China’s expansionism to deal with the threat posed to American dominance in the region. Washington even renamed its Hawaii-based Pacific Command as the ‘Indo-Pacific Command’ in 2018 to reflect the importance of the term in a symbolic gesture. It wants to ensure that Beijing occupies only its rightful place in the world.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked on an Asia tour in the last week of October, this year, including India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia, and Vietnam to strengthen Washington’s ties with friends and allies in the region and to bring more countries on its side.
Australia has its shores both in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Canberra views that it’s economic and security engagement in the Indo-Pacific will be anchored by long-term interests of Washington, with which it has a security alliance.
What France and Germany has to do with the Indo-Pacific?
French President Emmanuel Macron, in his speeches, reiterates that France is a great power in the Indo-Pacific. This is vindicated by the fact that Paris has its presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans with five overseas departments or territories — New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the Pacific, and Reunion Island and Mayotte in the western Indian Ocean near to the shores of Africa.
Considering the aforementioned fact, with the region’s increasing geopolitical significance highlighted, France has recently appointed its first envoy for the Indo-Pacific an additional charge given to its Ambassador in Canberra.
Paris also wishes to focus its attention on regional peace and stability through confidence-building measures, maritime cooperation and sustainable development, among other things.
Germany is the most recent, and the second, European power to devise a strategy, or rather a policy, for the Indo-Pacific. For the EU’s economic heavyweight, this came as a means to secure its commercial and economic interest in the region.
At a time when the Berlin holds the EU Presidency, the German outlook for the region aims to promote a European Union strategy for the Indo-Pacific’ of which it will be a segment of, without exercising any real power, but with a support for multipolarity of the region.
Two months after Germany unveiled its Indo-Pacific policy, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer recently stated that a German warship will patrol the Indian Ocean from next year, as part of Berlin’s plan to deal with Beijing’s recent moves in the region that has triggered a ‘rethink across Europe’.
This is significant considering New Delhi giving its approval for such a move in its own backyard. Same with the United States being permitted to open it’s first-ever Embassy in the Maldivian capital, Male, during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to the archipelago. This can be seen as the beginning of a new geopolitical script being written in the Indian Ocean.
Potentiality of a new North Atlantic
With more and more countries rising up to Chinese expansionist and revisionist tendencies, particularly in the South China Sea, it naturally drives them closer to the United States and the Ind0-Pacific in the context of an unfolding cold war between Washington and Beijing. However, both sides have their own strategic, diplomatic, and economic leverages at use.
In the near future, the mechanism could possibly turn into an alliance if New Delhi dares to shed its highly-held policy of ‘strategic autonomy’ and apathy towards the alliance system.
The new logistics agreements which New Delhi signed in the past four years to expand the operational reach of the Indian Navy and the foundational agreements that it signed with Washington could see an upscale in terms of military-level and diplomatic-level engagements.
The other three Quad partners are already in formal security alliances with Washington, which makes India as the only country in the grouping that could determine the success or failure of the grouping in the near future.
The US has more overseas military bases than any other country on the planet. But, Beijing with challengeable economic and technological power, moving ahead with BRI projects and an expanding People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which recently became the world’s largest navy as estimated by the US Department of Defense in a report submitted to the US Congress this year.
The faultline of Taiwan is poised to escalate into a wider conflict in the near future as Beijing turns impatient on re-uniting the island with the mainland. Same with worldwide distrust of Chinese 5G technological companies such as Huawei and ZTE, that allegedly has links to Chinese Communist Party ruling establishment.
More national governments could follow Canberra and London soon in banning these companies for 5G trials and rollout, including perhaps New Delhi which has banned Chinese apps recently owing to the clashes it has with Beijing in their Himalayan borders.
Meanwhile, countries like Sri Lanka, where Beijing successfully operationalized its irrevocable ‘debt-trap diplomacy’, will be left with no other option but to throw their weights behind Beijing, and the same goes with many African countries where China is making huge investments despite having losses, supposedly for strategic gains.
With all pieces in place, the world may witness the Indo-Pacific emerging in this century as what the North Atlantic was in the past century. However, the region still lacks an institutionalized framework or organizational set-up like NATO or OSCE to formalize and legalize its purpose, which might see a change soon enough as more and more countries come out recognizing the looming threat posed by Beijing.
As Sri Lanka struggles with Chinese debt-trap, Maldives moves closer to the Quad
The Indian Ocean’s geopolitical currents have witnessed drastic transformation this year, particularly in the past three months, with India shedding the exclusive right of its sphere of influence over the Indian Ocean, by allowing the United States in its own backyard. Washington and New Delhi seems to have entered into what few analysts call a ‘soft alliance’.
Sri Lanka and Maldives are strategically located in the northern section of the Indian Ocean, and have long been historically, culturally, and geopolitically under India’s sphere of influence. But, things are beginning to change as Chinese debt-trap looms over these islands.
The Quad grouping, consisting of India, Japan, the United States and Australia, has demonstrated its collective military might in the maritime sphere of India with the recently concluded annual Malabar naval exercise. It also led to the emergence of new dynamics of cooperation in previously reticent areas, built upon confidence in each other’s abilities and consciousness of where it stands in the newly unravelling geopolitical equation.
India’s new strategic comfort with bringing in partners from the Quad partners lying external to the Indian Ocean Region, namely the US and Japan into its long-held exclusive sphere of influence signals a tilt in strategic imperatives for New Delhi in favour of the US that too in an evolving cold war-like situation involving Washington and Beijing with different set of countries rallying behind each side.
India has recently welcomed the US-Maldives Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in September, this year. The following month saw US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Male where he announced Washington’s intent to open an embassy soon.
Less than three months after the defence pact with Washington, Male signed a new agreement with Tokyo this month, for availing a Japanese grant of $7.6 million to strengthen the archipelago’s Coast Guard capacities, in a second major pact with a Quad member.
New Delhi’s newfound willingness to work with external actors in the Indian Ocean is a sign of strategic comfort stemming out from realist foreign policy considerations to expand its circle of friends and coalition partners in its own backyard against a common and more powerful adversary, Beijing, with which it also have decades-long tensions in the Himalayan frontiers.
Even though both these two countries succumbed to disproportionately superior Chinese economic might since the past one decade, it seems Maldives has somehow managed to come out of its dangerous level of dependency on China since Ibrahim Mohammed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party assumed presidency of the island nation two years back in November 2018.
The Sri Lankan economy went into a tailspin since the civil war ended in 2009. The country’s exchequer was badly in need of financial support to sustain itself. It was also the time when Beijing just began to project its military and economic power in its neighbourhood and beyond as the flamboyant 2008 Beijing Olympics concluded.
The island of Sri Lanka soon acquired new geoeconomic significance when President Xi Jinping launched the most ambitious infrastructure project of this century in 2013, the Belt and Road Infrastructure, connecting three continents with the Indian Ocean as its epicenter of vitality.
With BRI, a tangled web of debt-trap rapidly began to loom over Sri Lanka as Beijing pumped-in investments into the war-battered island with malicious intentions.
The story of handover of Hambantota port, strategically located in the southern tip of Sri Lankan coast, to China for a 99-year lease in 2017, and the Colombo Port City project being built with Chinese assistance are just examples of how economic leverage gained geopolitically advantageous positions for Beijing overlooking the Indian Ocean. These assets are going to play a significant role in the connectivity of BRI’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ aspect.
Chinese-led projects are built and managed by Chinese workers themselves as they do in any other part of the world, naturally bringing presence of Chinese personnel to the areas where it operates.
The BRI, however, enhances Sri Lanka’s significance in what theorists call the String of Pearls, wherein Beijing attempts to encircle India by a series of ports and maritime installations under its control in the Indian Ocean such as the overseas military base in Djibouti, Gwadar in Pakistan, and the ports in Bay of Bengal under Chinese influence hosted by either Bangladesh or Myanmar. Chinese submarine presence is also a new reality, particularly in areas surrounding the Malacca Straits.
All these factors naturally brought New Delhi closer to Washington to formulate a ‘collective strategy’ against the expansionist tendencies manifested by Chinese behaviour. At the same time, India has been taking proactive steps in its individual capacity to boost ties with other island and littoral states in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), like Mauritius and Seychelles where India’s listening posts to monitor sea-lanes also operate.
The Indian Navy has always been the first responder to any HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) situations in the IOR which earned significant soft power and respect for India in the countries of the region. This vision has been immortalized in India’s maritime doctrine for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean, SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region), that was unveiled in 2015.
With the entry of the US, which already has its presence in the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia lying mid-way of the ocean, that too with India’s approval, and France in Reunion in the western Indian Ocean, the geostrategic picture of IOR is beginning to change.
Maldives stands as a good example of how to overcome Chinese dominating agenda by boosting cooperation among democracies. But, the Abdullah Yameen-era nightmare of Chinese debt burden is still far from over. In fact, Sri Lanka too is well aware of the Chinese trap from which it yearns to decouple itself. But, Colombo is left with limited options or alternatives to do so.
The renewed Indo-US strategic cooperation, if not translated into offering a viable solution to the debt-trap conundrum, Sri Lanka might irreversibly evolve into another extension of Beijing’s legs in the Indian Ocean threatening the sovereignty of democracies in the region.
Recent steps in the strategic realm are welcome, but the Indo-Pacific democracies, particularly India and the US, should cooperate with these two key island states more in the economic realm as well, if possible near to the extent of Beijing as a collective move.
The Dysfunctional Pakistan’s Legislature
The legislature of Pakistan has several problems and because of this very reason governments are unable to make any landmark laws for the state that can prove to be effective in resulting some socio-political or economic changes in the society. The noncooperation among the parties in the house is the major problem that leads no healthy debate. People have never seen the political parties having a healthy debate among the political parties on some key matters that need to address. Political parties prefer crosstalk on each other that mostly ends up on the dismal of legislature. Mostly in the house the opposition and the party in power never each on consensus on anything that shows their no seriousness towards the legislation.
In my opinion the opposition of Pakistan perceives its role to be negative always. The opposition perceives as their duty to walk out from the house, make fun of their fellow colleagues, bringing our historical facts to propagate negativity about the agenda. This attitude results in no fruitful law-making.
The scenario of national assembly of Pakistan is that if the ruling party does not has two-third majority in the house they will be paralyzed as the opposition has imagines role of not supporting the government to pass laws and bills that can benefit their reputation among the public. In this game of interest the parties forget the importance of legislation and national interest rather they are more focused on protecting their own interests and interests of their political parties.
The tussle between the government and the opposition is endless that is negatively impacting the legislative system of Pakistan.
Another factor that weakens the legislative process of Pakistan is the issues within the upper house. This plays a vital role in enacting the laws without senate’s cooperation legislation cannot improve and strength.
The sustained bitterness and confrontation with the government and opposition leads to no progress in the making of legislation and strengthening the rule of law. For example the PTI coalition passed the bills and introduced 8 ordinances in its first year of government.
The ten bills passed by national assembly faced a new challenge which was the Senate of Pakistan where PTI also does not hold the majority. Ten out of 4 bills sailed through Senate whereas 3 remained pending in Senate. Only 7 bills turned into acts in the first year of PTI government.
The lack of coordination and seriousness in the parliament is affecting the progress of Pakistan. Without rules and making of new legislation how can the country progress? In a democratic system the rule of law is one of the pillars for true democratic practices but unfortunately in Pakistan we only see leg-pulling and blame game between the institutions. The lack of political consensus among the parties is another problem. On the other hand the formation of Standing Committees of national assembly is important for the functioning of the system. According to the Rules of Procedure of national assembly the members of Standing Committees has to be elected within 30 days after the elections of the leader of house but according to the data of PILDAT previous assembly managed to form these in 3 months instead of 30 days. This indicated lack of seriousness of the members.
The current government has only got the executive authority and not the legislative competence that makes them dysfunctional as they are dependent on the opposition and then Senate for passing of the legislation and making it a law.
Another factor that weakens the legislative system of Pakistan is the overactive judiciary and the intervention of the military in law making. Through this intervention the legacy of the military rule is still being kept alive. Most of the time the Supreme Court and the judiciary intervene in the legislation to serve their interest and weaken their opponents sitting in the government. The overactive judiciary encroaches the governance agenda, legislative advice etc. the legislative procedure in Pakistan is still developing its institutional identity.
The duty of the legislature is to respond to its public needs and also exercise oversight of the executive, but there is not engagement in the civil society and no research is being conducted on the public policy for better and effective policy making.
In the end it can be concluded that the system is also faulty but the attitude of the parliamentarians is more disappointing and discouraging. The whole system is unsuitable for a less educated population of Pakistan as most of the parliamentarians are unaware of policy-making and its importance for the state. The process is also complex and complicated as it has to go through several steps for making a bill a law.
Through this process, law-making on controversial issues is nearly impossible because in Pakistan people protect their interest instead of their state. Even if the government is serious for law-making the judiciary, military and bureaucracy will not allow the government to do its job. This is high time to adopt a new system in this country and draw lines for every institutions particularly judiciary that is the most rigid institutions and creates hurdles for every government by interrupting them.
Reinforcing the Role of the International Community in Resolving the Rohingya Crisis
Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees since August 2017. The United Nations defined Myanmar’s August 2017 atrocities to the Rohingyas as “Textbook case of ethnic cleansing”. On July 02, 2018, during his visit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General noted that “I have no doubt that the Rohingya people have always been one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world, without any recognition of the most basic rights starting by the recognition of the right of citizenship by their own country – Myanmar”. Thus, the severity of the Rohingya crisis is well-recognized by the international community. This article focuses on the necessity of the international community’s role in facilitating a safe and sustainable Rohingya crisis solution.
The ironic story is that though it is already three years passed, no concrete action is manifested to facilitate the Rohingya refugee repatriation. In the United Nations Security Council, Russia and China applied veto power in the case of Rohingya refugee resolution, which made strong impediments to the repatriation process. Russia and China did this calculating their narrowly defined interest rather than humanity which is in fact, ironic for the world. Thus, the United Nations could not play a crucial role in facilitating the Rohingya refugee repatriation.
Bangladesh is one of the densely populated countries in the world. Though Bangladesh is a rising economic power, feeding more than 170 million people is not an easy task. Also, more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees have added extra socio-economic pressures in the country. For Bangladesh’s continued growth, prosperity, and stability, there is no alternative to repatriate the Rohingya refugees in Myanmar as early as possible. Since Myanmar committed ethnic cleansing to the Rohingyas, and the country is not interested in taking back the Rohingyas, only the international community including the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) can pressurize Myanmar to ensure a safe and sustainable repatriation.
Bangladesh strongly believes that the international community can play an essential role in resolving the Rohingya refugee crisis permanently. For instance, at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, offered five points proposal including the full implementation of recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission, and the establishment of civilian monitored safe zone in the Rakhine State to the international community to resolve the issue. Similarly, at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina offered a four points-proposal to resolve the Rohingya crisis highlighting the role of the international community. Sheikh Hasina emphasized that the international community must ensure that the root causes of the Rohingya problem area addressed and the violation of human rights and other atrocity crimes committed against the Rohingyas are accounted for.
The good news is that the on November 19, 2020, the United Nations has adopted a resolution on “The Situation of Human Rights of the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar” while Bangladesh seeks a peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. The Resolution called for taking concrete actions by Myanmar to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis, i.e. granting them citizenship, ensuring the safe and sustainable return of the Rohingyas to their homes by creating a conducive environment. Bangladesh Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Rabab Fatima notes that “As a country that hosts over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingyas, Bangladesh continues to seek a peaceful solution to this crisis, which lies in their safe and dignified return to Myanmar”.
Notably, Germany on behalf of the European Union and Saudi Arabia on behalf of the OIC co-tabled the Resolution which was sponsored by the 104 member states including the USA, Canada, and Australia. It is also a positive development that a total of 132 countries voted in favour of the Resolution while nine countries voted against and 31 countries abstained. It demonstrates that most of the countries in the world want a permanent, sustainable and peaceful solution to the Rohingya crisis. It also signifies that these countries care for the humanity while the nine countries who voted against the Resolution only care for their narrowly defined interest. The future generations will undoubtedly read and know the actions of those nine countries who do not care for humanity. Those nine countries need to know that despite several domestic challenges, Sheikh Hasina has shown kindness, humanitarian gesture and thus protected and sheltered those Rohingyas from killing by the Myanmar armies.
Notably, Bangladesh is one of the top ten countries in the world in terms of hosting refugees. This will remain as a humanitarian example in the world. One also needs to keep in mind that the socio-economic realities of Turkey (who is the top in hosting refugees), and Bangladesh is not the same. While the GDP (per capita) of Turkey is US$ 9043, Bangladesh’s GDP (per capita) is US$ 1856, the population density of Turkey is 108 per square kilometres, and Bangladesh’s population density is 1116 per square kilometres. Thus, considering the contexts, and socio-economic realities of Bangladesh, the international community needs to reinforce the Rohingya refugee repatriation process. Most importantly, the international community needs to execute the adopted Resolution as early as possible for the sake of humanity, for the sake of a just cause. The future world will certainly note the noble actions taken by the international community for such a just, and reasonable cause.
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