Indo-Pacific as a New Theater for International Policies and its Impact on the Arabian Gulf Region

Mohamed Fayez Farahat | 09 Jun 2020

This paper deals with the rise of the concept of the Indo-Pacific as a new theatre for the interactions of international politics. It portrays the main drivers of the development of this concept and its security, political and strategic dimensions and implications, both at present and in the future. It also analyzes the nature of the general features of regional and international policies in the Indo-Pacific region and the extent of its actual and potential impact on the Arabian Gulf region.

The emergence and development of the Indo-Pacific concept

Despite the natural geographical contact between the Pacific and Indian oceans, the literature of international relations has not known the use of the Indo-Pacific concept in the geopolitical or geoeconomic sense except a few years ago. While some attribute the first use of the concept to the German professor of geopolitics Karl Haushofer who used it in 1920, the concept did not become popular in international relations literature until the early 21st century, specifically in 2005 when it was used by the New Zealand academic Peter Cozens in the context of his study of the maritime developments over sixty years in the regions of the Pacific and Indian oceans. He argued that both constitute a “maritime-strategic continuum”. However, the turning point in the use of the concept came after it was used by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his address to the Indian Parliament in August 2007 in which he proposed the establishment of what he called the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity in the Broader Asia”, underlining the existence of common interests between the international powers associated with the two oceans in the areas of trade and economic geography. Abe indicated that there are four major powers, namely India, the United States, Australia and Japan,[1] without referring to China which is indicative of the political dimensions behind the use of the concept.

Prior to the proposal of this idea by Abe, academic discussions had been developing between Japanese and Indian think tanks regarding a number of relevant security issues. The Chinese military rise received the greater part of this attention (particularly after China developed its attack nuclear submarines SSN 093).[2] Some international initiatives also played an important role in encouraging this discussion, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), put forward by the administration of President George W. Bush on 31 May 2003 which sought to build an international alliance to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Advocates of the Indo-Pacific concept sought to raise the possibility of the transfer of nuclear and missile capabilities from the northeast Asia region (North Korea) to the Middle East region (Syria and Iran).[3]

The concept received a strong impetus after it was put forward by Shinzo Abe, as its use became increasingly popular by Indian, Japanese and Australian academics. It was soon adopted by politicians. On 28 October 2010, the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the concept in the context of her assertion of the importance of US cooperation with the Indian navy within the framework of ensuring freedom of navigation in the region. In a clearer step, the Indo-Asia-Pacific concept was used in the report submitted to the US Congress in 2013 by the commander of the United States Asia-Pacific Command Admiral Samuel Locklear in which he indicated that his area of responsibility encompasses what he described as the “Indo-Asia-Pacific” region. Generally speaking, however, while the Obama administration used the Indo-Pacific concept, the use of the Asia-Pacific concept remained more prevalent.[4] On the other hand, the two concepts were noticed to be integrated in some cases, as reflected in the use of the Indo-Asia-Pacific concept.

However, with the advent of the Donald Trump administration, an apparently complete shift took place towards the adoption of the Indo-Pacific concept in place of the Asia-Pacific concept. This was manifested in the frequent use by President Trump of the Indo-Pacific concept during his visit in November 2017 to a number of Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines,[5] where it was noticed that he did not use the Asia-Pacific concept in a clear sign that his administration has given up this concept.

The same applies to Australia which responded quickly to the concept to the extent of incorporating it into a number of official documents, including the white paper entitled “Australia in the Asian Century” (October 2012), the “National Security Strategy” (January 2013), and the “Defence White Paper”, issued by the Australian Department of Defence (May 2013).[6] The matter was not confined to the main four powers that stood behind developing the concept; countries of southeast Asia also responded to it. Examples of this include the important remarks delivered by the Indonesian Foreign Minister at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in which he explained the Indonesian vision of the Indo-Pacific concept. He proposed a number of controls for international and regional policies in the region, specifying them as commitment to building mutual trust, peaceful settlement of disputes, and promotion of common security. He also proposed signing a treaty of friendship, peace and cooperation between countries of the region.[7]

There are no big differences over the geographical scope of the Indo-Pacific concept. In his address to the Shangri La Dialogue (organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Singapore) in 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi provided a definition of the geographical scope of the concept, stating that it encompasses the area extending from the Americas in the east to Africa in the west. In other words, it encompasses all coastal countries overlooking any of the two oceans in addition to the countries within their waters. He also indicated some of the controls which should regulate the concept, namely openness, inclusiveness and non-exclusion, the centrality of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, and non-targeting of specific parties (meaning China of course).[8] 

The region’s countries are distributed over eight subregions, namely East Asia (Japan, China, Russia, South Korea), Southeast Asia (Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar), South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives), North America (United States, Canada), Latin America (Mexico, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia), the Middle East (United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, Iran), East Africa (Somalia, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, Comoros), and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, FiJi).

The rise of the Indo-Pacific at the expense of the Asia-Pacific   

One of the main features of the rise of the Indo-Pacific concept is that it developed as an alternative to the Asia-Pacific concept, driven by important shifts in power balances and the emergence of a new network of international interactions and interests in the area extending from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Indian Ocean in the west. As in the case of the Asia-Pacific concept that had systematically been put forward in the 1970s and 1980s by Japan and Australia to assert their strategic relations with the US and as an embodiment of the historical and voluntary state of economic integration that had developed among the East Asia, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, North America and Latin America regions, the putting forward of the Indo-Pacific concept by Japan and India and its subsequent adoption by the US and Australia came as a result of a number of factors relating to important shifts in international power balances and as an expression of common interests between those powers in addition to the development of a number of new and non-traditional security threats that have added to the region common geopolitical and geoeconomic features which have enabled the use of the concept to refer to a specific meaning. Below is a review of the drivers that were behind the development of this concept.

First driver: rise of India and its increasing political and economic presence within the Asian regions. This presence took on stable and institutional dimensions with the adoption by India of the “Look East” policy in 1991, and subsequently the “Act East” policy in 2014. The Indian orientation came as part of the Indian openness policy in general in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. This entailed a change in the pattern of India’s external associations as part of the policy of opening up to Asian markets and development experiences with the aim of accelerating the process of economic development and economic reform. It also came at a subsequent stage as part of India’s cooperation with the US within the framework of the strategy of containing China. This Indian role within the framework of the Indo-Pacific region received a significant US support as expressed in the statements made by Hillary Clinton during her visit to Australia in November 2012 in which she underlined the importance of India as an important player in the Indo-Pacific region and called on Australia to develop its military relations with India.[9]

Consequently, while the Indo-Pacific concept refers essentially to both the Indian and Pacific oceans, reference to the “Indian Ocean” here has come ‒ partially ‒ as a kind of response to India’s rise in this important region. Given that the exclusion of India and the Indian Ocean in the Asia-Pacific concept had been the result of the absence/weakness of the Indian role, the rise of India and Indian interests in the region was a factor in favouring the Indo-Pacific concept to the Asia-Pacific concept. The latter is no longer sufficient to express the depth of the ongoing shifts in the traditional Asian regions that had historically made up the Asia-Pacific region.

Second driver: growing Chinese influence beyond the Asia-Pacific region to encompass the Indian Ocean region as well. This growth has been on more than one level. First, the putting forward by China of its huge “Belt and Road” initiative in 2013, which included a number of corridors related to the Pacific and Indian oceans, including two corridors within the framework of its maritime component (21st Century Maritime Silk Road); the first starts from the Chinese coasts and ports and passes the South China Sea to end south of the Pacific Ocean. The second extends from the Chinese coasts and ports and passes the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the African coasts to end at the European continent via the Red and Mediterranean seas.[10] The two corridors include building and developing a series of maritime ports, industrial and service zones near those ports, in addition to building a number of railway networks and airports to access regions and countries remote from maritime coasts (such as the railway network and airports connecting coastal African countries on the Indian Ocean with the continent’s depth).

The Initiative’s land component (the Silk Road Economic Belt) also includes three important corridors that will ‒ if implemented ‒ play a significant role in expanding Chinese influence within a number of coastal countries on the Pacific and Indian oceans. The first starts from China in the direction of South and Southeast Asia to reach the Indian Ocean. It is known as the China-Indochina Peninsula economic corridor and starts southward from the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone in the Guangdong province in south China, to Nanning and Pingxiang in Guangzhou province farthest south, then Hanoi in Vietnam, to reach Singapore. The second corridor is the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor. It includes building a network of land roads, railway networks and oil and gas pipelines among the four countries, in addition to developing some maritime ports. The third corridor is the China-Pakistan Corridor. It is one of the important corridors that is given a lot of attention by China. It extends 3000 kilometres from Kashgar in northwest China to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. It includes the development of Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea which is linked to the India Ocean, in addition to the construction of a railway network and a number of economic zones inside Pakistan (see the map below).

These corridors would increase Chinese influence in the Pacific and Indian oceans, or the Indo-Pacific region according to the new concept.

Second level: the tendency by China over the last few years to obtain a number of concessions to utilize maritime ports on the Pacific and Indian oceans (see Table 1). The agreements regulating those concessions limit them to economic use, including Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. In addition, complicated strategic balances in southeast Asia constitute an important control of the nature of those concessions (for instance, the historical relations between India and Sri Lanka have led to insistence by the latter on the inclusion in the agreement regulating the Chinese concession in the port of Hambantota of an express text banning China from using the port for military purposes and putting the port’s security under the responsibility of the Sri Lankan navy). Despite of all this, many analyses do not exclude the resort by China to using those ports for military purposes as required and in case it is exposed to specific threats.

In other words, in addition to the significant economic benefits represented by the Chinese concessions in those ports and their role in expanding the Blue Economy sector and its contribution to the Chinese economy, those concessions constitute, in the last analysis, important outlets for China on the Pacific Ocean, the China Sea and the Indian Ocean, and one of the dimensions of Chinese naval power in the overall sense.

Third level: attempt by China to build what can be described as “new maritime governance” in the Pacific and Indian oceans region. The features of this trend were manifested when China issued in June 2017 a document entitled “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative”.[11]

The document starts by underlining the importance of seas and oceans as a field of bilateral and multilateral international cooperation and a gateway to expand global consensus and accelerate development processes. The document contained a broad list of proposed ideas for cooperation among countries located along the Maritime Silk Road (connected to the Pacific and Indian oceans in addition to the Red and Mediterranean seas). These were distributed over five main areas. The first area, as mentioned in the original document and in the order of appearance therein, relates to marine ecological conservation, or what the document called the “embarking on a path of green development together”. This encompasses a broad list of cooperation areas, mainly marine ecological conservation and rehabilitation, expanding the scope of marine ecological services, safeguarding the marine ecosystem health and biodiversity, the joint building of cross-border marine ecological corridors, building joint systems for the control and monitoring of marine ecosystems, etc.

The second area relates to expanding the scope of sea-based joint development through cooperation in marine resource promotion and utilization along the Maritime Silk Road, starting from surveying resources and developing guides and databanks thereon, assisting developing countries overlooking the Road’s route to draft plans to utilize marine resources and provide the necessary technical assistance to them in this respect, upgrading marine industry cooperation, strengthening cooperation between ports located along the Road’s route, forging maritime port alliances, providing Chinese assistance in port construction and operation, expanding submarine optical fibre cable projects to improve connectivity and interdependence between countries located along the Road’s route.

The fourth area relates to encouraging knowledge and innovation in the area of marine research through the implementation of programmes for marine scientific cooperation among countries located along the Road’s route, execution of marine surveys, building infrastructure facilities related to marine research, building joint parks for marine sciences and technologies, encouraging cooperation through joint research institutions related to marine sciences between China and a number of countries located on the Road’s route, etc.

Despite the importance of the above areas, the most important was what was mentioned within the third and fifth areas. The third area relates to “common maritime security” through the enhancement of cooperation in the maritime service sector through the joint provision of maritime public services along the Maritime Silk Road, jointly building sea observation and monitoring networks, strengthening international cooperation regarding expanding the application of the Chinese Navigation Satellite System (BeiDou)[12] services and other important systems in this respect, developing cooperation in the area of the security and safety of maritime navigation through developing a bilateral and multilateral maritime navigation security and safety management and control mechanism, joint combating of sea crimes, and working on protecting the security and safety of maritime navigation. The document also underlined China’s readiness to shoulder its due international obligations in this respect.

The fifth area relates to the joint implementation of what the document refers to as “maritime governance” and the expansion of the areas thereof through the development of a high-level dialogue mechanism for maritime cooperation among the countries located along the Road’s route, signing a series of maritime cooperation documents among governments, and the joint development of cooperation plans and the implementation of different projects and cooperation fields.

Apparently, those three levels entailed a significant threat from the perspective of the rival major powers (the US, India and Japan). If completed, such shifts would maximize Chinese influence and expand it beyond the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean region to cover the Indian Ocean region and the water bodies and maritime ports linked to it and restructure power balances in favour of China. This explains the rapid US-Indian-Japanese consensus over re-defining the theatre of their action and the shift away from the Asia-Pacific concept towards the Indo-Pacific concept with the aim of creating a wider theatre for action and cooperation among them on the one hand, and dealing with the Chinese moves in the area on the other.

Third driver: growing list of common threats and interests. In this context, reference could be made to the development of a list of common interests among the powers that stood behind the development of the Indo-Pacific concept in several areas, mainly the increasing relative importance of maritime economy (Blue Economy) whose rate of contribution to the size of the region’s economies has increased. In contrast, reference could be made to a growing list of common threats, including floods, earthquakes, forest fires, piracy, human trafficking and illicit migration, and terrorism. The financial cost of some of those problems has reached huge amounts. For instance, the financial cost of the Japanese earthquake and the 2011 tsunami was estimated at nearly 210 billion dollars. The growth of some of those problems is attributable to the association of the areas to some regions with fragile states or areas of concentration of violent religious organizations.[13] While those threats are not limited to the major countries that stood behind the development of the Indo-Pacific concept, the increase of those threats has deepened the common interests between them.

General features of the regional and international policies in the Indo-Pacific region

The Indo-Pacific concept is still at its early stages. Thus, regional and international political and security policies and initiatives are still under development. In addition to the above-mentioned Japanese initiatives, which have not yet been transformed into specific political or security projects, in late 2017, US President Donald Trump put forward what he called the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Yet this Strategy is still uncertain, only including the proposal of some general concepts. Perhaps the only practical embodiment of the concept so far remains the quadripartite dialogue started between the four countries in November 2017.

Regardless of the nature of the initiatives or ideas so far put forward, they will most likely raise conflictual interactions in the region for the following reasons:

1- Increasing likelihood of the development of an arms race in the region, whether at the bilateral level between India and China, or at a collective level among the four countries and China. However, the arms race between India and China is the one likely to accelerate over the upcoming period in view of the India’s aspirations to become a global naval power and play a bigger security role in the region, in addition to its advanced defence relations with the US and the existence of a number of important security agreements between both countries, mainly the US- Indian Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, signed in January 2015, and the Logistics Support Agreement, signed in June 2016, allowing both parties to jointly use military bases. According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIRPI), India leads other countries with the highest arms purchases over the last few years.

2- The Indo-Pacific concept entails the likely expansion of the Indian security role to cover the South China Sea region which is of strategic importance for China and most of which ‒ from a Chinese perspective ‒ falls within Chinese sovereignty. This likelihood increases in view of the geographical location of India which has a huge coast on the Bay of Bengal which is in turn linked to the Strait of Malacca (point of crossing between the Pacific and Indian oceans). India has opened a space for Japan’s military presence in the region by allowing it in 2017 to take part in the joint Indian-US military drills (Exercise Malabar) in the Bay of Bengal.

3- The US, in collaboration with the other three powers, is expected to resort to reviving the “China Threat” theory which had been developed in the US following the end of the Cold War and which is based on linking China’s rise to threatening the world order. While political and academic circles in India, Japan and Australia will not have much of a problem in tending to adopt the assertions of this theory, this will not be enough. It will be important to promote the theory with the other countries of the region, including its different subregions. This would lead to deepening the state of polarization and greatly undermine Chinese interests.

 Ongoing and potential impact for the Arabian Gulf region

The Arabian Gulf region is connected to the Indo-Pacific region via the water bodies that are connected to the Indian ocean. This renders the Arabian Gulf region a natural extension of the Indo-Pacific region. This in turn raises a question regarding the impact of this important strategic shift in the Arabian Gulf region.

1- While the Arabian Gulf region does not represent a central region within the Indo-Pacific region in the geographical sense, representing one of its subregions, this does not prevent it from being possibly affected by the ongoing and expected (conflictual and collaborative) interaction patterns in the region for reasons that have to do with the heavy interactions and dealings between the Arabian Gulf region and all the other subregions constituting the Indo-Pacific region, from East Africa to Latin America and Oceania via the East, South and Southeast Asia regions. In addition, major economies in the Indo-Pacific region (particularly in East and Southeast Asia) rely on the Gulf region for the greater portion of their energy imports. This attaches a special importance to the Arabian Gulf region within the Indo-Pacific region. In light of this correlation, it is hard to exclude the spillover of the rivalry/conflict of this important theatre of regional and global policies into the Arabian Gulf region. Indeed, the latter could turn into one of the proposed theatres to manage this potential rivalry/conflict.

2- This negative effect is more likely in light of two additional factors: first, the prevailing trend of the expected patterns of international relations and policies in the region is that of the conflictual relations pattern, against the global context within the framework of which the Indo-Pacific concept or theatre has developed, and the drivers of its development, as indicated earlier. The second factor is the important location of the Arabian Gulf region on the route of the Chinese project Belt and Road, through the China-Central Asia-West Asia economic corridor. This aims to connect China with the Arabian Gulf region and the Mediterranean via Central and Western Asia through a network of proposed projects to transfer energy, build railway networks, and establish economic zones. Indeed, the Arabian Gulf region has already started to respond positively to the Initiative components. Therefore, in case the Belt and Road Initiative becomes a part of the global polarization or conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, countries of the Arabian Gulf may have to adopt specific positions vis-à-vis the project, or at least ease their commitments towards it.

3- Several models indicate that the Sino-Indian competition has already moved to the Arabian Gulf region. Two of these are mentioned here. First, the Sino-Indian competition over accessing the Omani Duqm port (overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean). The port has constituted one of the important areas of cooperation between China and Oman within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative through the establishment of the Duqm Special Economic Zone which was developed by a group of Chinese companies. This was followed by the signature by India of a number of agreements and memorandums of understanding with the Sultanate of Oman in February 2018, including a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation whereby Indian warships would have the right to enter the Duqm port and use the dry dock for ship maintenance.[14] There is an undeniable agreement  of interests between China and India with respect to the development of the Duqm Special Economic Zone and developing the Duqm port as this would facilitate chances of joint access to the Gulf energy sources away from the Strait of Hormuz. However, this did not prevent rivalry for access to the port and the attempt by India to balance Chinese influence by a parallel influence of its own.

The second model of these effects is the tendency by India to enhance its access to the Iranian Chabahar port to balance the Chinese influence in the Pakistani Gwadar port. The Indian-Iranian relations go beyond the issue of Chabahar port.[15] Reference could be made to the development of an “Indian-Iranian Axis” in the face of a “Chinese-Pakistani Axis”. In light of Indian fears of the strategic implications of the economic corridor (China-Pakistan) referred to earlier, India has sought to revive the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) that aims to link India (via Mumbai port, on the Arabian Sea) to western Europe via a number of different maritime and land routes. Despite the multiple routes proposed for the Corridor, the maritime route from Mumbai port to the Iranian Bandar Abbas port on the Strait of Hormuz, then the land route inside Iran through the railway network, constitute a main component of this project with its different routes.

The idea of building a trade corridor linking the regions of south, west and central Asia and western Europe dates back to past centuries. However, it did not reach the action stage except in September 2000 with the signature of an agreement by India, Russia and Iran to build the corridor. The agreement was later joined by a number of countries in Central Asia, Caucasia, the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East (Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Armenia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Syria and Turkey, with Bulgaria as observer). Despite the importance given by both India and Iran to this project, its chances of implementation were severely affected by the Iranian nuclear programme crisis and the associated waves of international economic sanctions on Iran. The start of the lifting of those sanctions after the signature of the nuclear deal in 2015 had led to the re-activation of the project when Iran attempted ‒ in coordination with its main partners in the project (India, Russia, Azerbaijan) ‒ to revive it. However, the recurrence of the Iran-US crisis and the resumed imposition of US sanctions on Iran have certainly contributed to affecting the chances of the project implementation.

Nevertheless, reviving the project and accelerating the pace of its execution cannot be ruled out due to factors related to the Indian-US relations on one hand, and calculations of the US conflict against China and the attempt to balance its increasing influence in Pakistan, on the other. The exemption by the US of Indian investments in the Iranian Chabahar port from the sanctions imposed on Iran constitutes an important example in this context. Furthermore, it could be said that in case of settlement of the Iranian-US crisis at any moment, this will certainly reflect on the chances of implementing the Axis.

The development of this “Indian-Iranian Axis”, including the development of Chabahar port and building the “North-South Corridor”, will certainly reflect on the Iranian weight in the Gulf region. It will also lead to increasing international interests around Iran, especially in case of the execution of some other projects that it looks forward to, such as the project of linking the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean or the Arabian Gulf, known as the Iran Rud (River). There are two proposed routes for the project. First, the western route or alternative. This aims to link the south of the Caspian Sea to the north of the Arabian Gulf. It is the shortest in distance, extending to nearly 950 kilometres, although it has the disadvantage of passing through the Zagros and Alborz mountains, especially in the Kurdistan and Hamadan regions. The second route, the eastern route, extends from the southeast coast of the Caspian Sea to the coasts of the Gulf of Oman. Its length ranges between 1465 and 1600 kilometres. The project is welcome by Russia (that has coasts on the Caspian Sea) because of the chance it offers to reach the warm waters.[16]

Consequently, these two models offer two important examples of the implications of the rivalry/conflict in the Indo-Pacific region for the Arabian Gulf region.

4- However, the above effects do not mean the absence of potential positive effects in light of the increasing relative weight of the Indo-Pacific region as a major theatre for global policies during the upcoming period and its economic weight within the global economic system (huge market, decision making centre for trade and investment, centre of gravity for major players within emerging international groups such as G20, BRICS, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and dozens of free and regional trade agreements). However, maximizing the gains of Arabian Gulf economies from the Indo-Pacific region equally requires the implementation of balanced policies towards major actors (China, India, the US, Japan, Australia) and staying away from polarizing policies. Indeed, the dilemma of adopting balanced policies will not be confined to the Arabian Gulf region; it also applies to most of the other subregions, including the southeast Asia region that is located at the heart of the Indo-Pacific region. This concern has been reflected in the remarks of Indonesia’s Foreign Minister referred to above in which he suggested the signature of a friendship and peace treaty in the region in a clear indication of the concern by the countries in the region about the risks of conflict and polarization.

Conclusions

  • The development of the Indo-Pacific concept has been the result of a number of important drivers, mainly the growing Chinese influence and its expansion beyond the region of the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean region and the group of subregions linked to it. This growth has been on more than one level, mainly the huge geographical area covered by the components of the Belt and Road Initiative, and its expansion to the main regions in the Pacific and Indian oceans’ region and the subregions linked to them, in addition to the growing Chinese concessions within a number of maritime ports on the coasts of the Pacific and Indian oceans, and the tendency by China to build a new maritime governance.
  • On the other hand, the development of the concept came as a result of the growing role of India inside Asian regions and the development of a state of agreement of interests among India, Japan, the US and Australia to rethink the theatre of their joint movement. This has led those powers to give up the concept of Asia-Pacific and adopt the concept of Indo-Pacific.
  • While the Indo-Pacific concept is based on common interests and threats in isolation from the Chinese influence, the main feature of the concept remains its development within a conflictual framework with China. This means that the prevailing trend of the patterns of the expected regional and international interactions in the region will be embodied in the conflictual interactions in view of the general context of the development of the concept and the drivers behind it. In other words, unlike the development of the Asia-Pacific concept within a collaborative framework only, the Indo-Pacific concept has been developed artificially, and in a conflictual rather than a collaborative context.
  • Despite the existence of chances for the benefit by the Arabian Gulf region from the Indo-Pacific region, in light of the circumstances of the development of the concept and its drivers, the likelihood continues of negative effects on the Gulf region and the chances of the transfer of the rivalry/conflict patterns to it. Some of those patterns have already emerged as was discussed earlier. This forces the Arabian Gulf countries to strive to stay away from the potential polarizing policies.

Endnotes

[1] For the text of the remarks, see: "Confluence of the Two Seas", Speech by H. E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan at the Parliament of the Republic of India, New Delhi, August 22, 2007. Available at: https://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/pmv0708/speech-2.html

[2] Examples of this include the dialogue organized between the Institute for Defence Study and Analyses (IDSA), a think tank close to the Indian Ministry of Defence, and the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA), a think tank close to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, held in New Delhi in 2006.

[3] The initiative constitutes a proactive effort that aims mainly to commit participants to interdict any illicit transfers of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems and related materials. The initiative seeks to develop partnerships of states working together, employing their national capabilities to develop a broad range of legal, diplomatic, economic, military, and other tools to interdict transfers of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems and related materials by air, land, and sea. Additionally, participating states agree to enact measures to ensure that their national facilities are not utilized to transfer illicit weapon cargoes. For more details, see the following link: https://www.nti.org/learn/treaties-and-regimes/proliferation-security-initiative-psi/ 

[4] Some studies have indicated that the documents issued by the White House during the period of the Obama administration used the Asia-Pacific concept 537 times compared to six times only for the Indo-Pacific concept. See: Wei Hongxia, “The Evolution of the “Indo-Pacific” Concept”, http://www.xinhuanet.com/globe/2017-2/02/c_136788048.html, quoted in: Jiadong Zhang, “The US’ Indo-Pacific Initiative and Its Impact on China”, in: Cuiping Zhu, (ed.), Annual Report on the Development of the Indian Ocean Region (2018), Indo-Pacific: Concept Definition and Strategic Implementation (Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd., 2019).

[5] “Trump gives glimpse of ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategy to counter China”, Financial Times, November 10, 2017. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/e6d17fd6-c623-11e7-a1d2-6786f39ef675

[6] For review of those three documents, see respectively: Australian Government, Australia in the Asian Century, White Paper, October 2012. Available at: https://www.defence.gov.au/whitepaper/2013/docs/australia_in_the_asian_century_white_paper.pdf; Australian Government, Department of the Prime Minister of the Cabinet, Strong and Secure: A Strategy for Australia’s National Security, 2013. Available at: https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/167267/Australia%20A%20Strategy%20for%20National%20Securit.pdf; Australian Government, Department of Defence, 2013 DEFENCE WHITE PAPER, 2013. Available at: https://www.defence.gov.au/whitepaper/2013/docs/WP_2013_web.pdf

[7] This proposal received a significant response and wide academic attention. See, for example: Vignesh Ram, “The Proposal for an Indo-Pacific Treaty of Friendship and cooperation: A Critical Reassessment”, Journal of ASEAN Studies, Vol. 3, no. 1, 2015, pp. 22-31. Available at: https://media.neliti.com/media/publications/27003-EN-the-proposal-for-an-indo-pacific-treaty-of-friendship-and-cooperation-a-critical.pdf

[8] Refer to the remarks of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before this important Dialogue: KEYNOTE ADDRESS OF SHRI NARENDRA MODI, PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA, AT THE 17th ASIA SECURITY SUMMIT: THE IISS SHANGRI-LA DIALOGUE, 1st JUNE 2018. Available at: https://www.iiss.org/events/shangri-la-dialogue/shangri-la-dialogue-2018

[9] David Scott, “The Indo-Pacific in US Strategy: Responding to Power Shifts”, Rising Powers Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 2, Aug. 2018. Available at: https://risingpowersproject.com/quarterly/the-indo-pacific-in-us-strategy-responding-to-power-shifts

[10] This was mentioned in the document entitled “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, to synchronize development plans and promote joint actions among countries along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, issued by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), representing one of the most important documents issued by the Chinese government in this respect and explaining in more detail the government’s vision of the Belt and Road Initiative.

National Development and Reform commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, China, 28 March 2015. Available at: http://en.ndrc.gov.cn/newsrelease/201503/t20150330_669367.html (accessed on 22 Nov. 2016).

[11] The document “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative”. Available at: National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the State Oceanic Administration, “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative”, 20 June 2017. Available at: https://www.yidaiyilu.gov.cn/wcm.files/upload/CMSydylgw/201706/201706200153032.pdf (English Version) Accessed on 20 Jan. 2018; https://www.yidaiyilu.gov.cn/wcm.files/upload/CMSydylgw/201706/201706200157017.pdf (Arabic Version). Accessed on 20 Jan. 2018.

[12] BeiDou is a Chinese satellite navigation system. So far, the system ranks fourth among the global satellite navigation systems after the US system GPS, the Russian system GLONASS, and the European system Galileo. China had started to build the system in 2000. As of November 2017, the total number of operating satellites had reached 29. The system started to provide positioning, navigation, timing and messaging services for civil use in China and parts of the Asia-Pacific region in December 2012. China plans that this system cover all countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative through the launch of more of the third-generation satellites of the network. The system is planned to provide world-class navigation services upon its completion in 2020. For more details on this system, see the white paper issued by the Chinese government in June 2016 about this system: The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, “China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System”, Beijing, June 2016. Available at: http://en.beidou.gov.cn/SYSTEMS/WhitePaper/201806/P020180608507822432019.pdf (accessed on October 20, 2019).

[13] For more details, see: Sanjay Pulipaka and Paras Ratna, “The Indo-Pacific and Non-Traditional Security Issues”, in: Indo-Pacific Report 2019: Indo-Pacific Partnership. Realising the Benefits of Economic and Maritime Cooperation (New Delhi: National Maritime Foundation, 2019), pp. 151-163.

[14] See: “Oman joins the solar energy international alliance . . . the Sultanate signs with India seven different memorandums of understanding and a judicial convention to establish common strategic relations”, Alroya newspaper, 11 February 2018. Available at: https://cutt.us/hXHan

-“From defence to space, Oman, India sign a clutch of MoUs”, Times of India, February 11, 2018. Available at:  https://timesofoman.com/article/127976/oman/sultanate-india-sign-a-number-of-memoranda-of-understanding

[15] For more details on the Indian role in Chabahar port, see: Jyotsna Mehra, Chabahar: Understanding India’s Rise: A Case Study of Changes in India’s Power Projection: Intentions and Capability, Thesis Submitted for the Degree of Master of Science in Modern South Asian Studies, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford, Trinity 2018.   

[16] For more details, see: “Russia & Iran negotiate canal from Caspian Sea to Persian Gulf”, RT, 8 April 2016. Available at: https://www.rt.com/business/338901-russia-iran-caspian-canal ; Andrew KORYBK, “A Caspian Canal? Not So Fast”, Oriental Review, 11/04/2016. Available at: https://orientalreview.org/2016/04/11/a-caspian-canal-not-so-fast

 

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