India at centre stage as ‘Indo-Pacific’ gains currency

New Delhi, which has been put at the centre stage through the use of the phrase Indo-Pacific, appears to strike a balance and maintain a more restrained approach, even as it becomes a part of grouping that has the US and its allies.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | Manila | Updated: November 14, 2017 6:18 am
narendra modi, manila, asean summit 2017, indian express Manila: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses businessmen in a parallel event of the 31st ASEAN Summit and Related Summits Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 in Manila, Philippines. India is one of Eleven “Dialogue Partners” of the ASEAN. AP/PTI

Having held the first quadrilateral, India, USA, Japan and Australia, in an unusual manner, put out four different statements instead of a joint statement.

While the readouts reflected the countries’ own concerns and priorities, India appeared to be the most cautious in its use of phrases that may antagonise Beijing. New Delhi also carefully avoided catchphrases which have been used in various other bilateral joint statements in the past.

Although Indian diplomats repeatedly said that the grouping is not directed at a particular country, a careful reading of the four official statements give us a picture that India is possibly most mindful of China’s sensitivities, followed by Japan.

It is learnt that the idea of an official-level meeting was arrived at after a leaders-level meeting was knocked off.

New Delhi, which has been put at the centre stage through the use of the phrase Indo-Pacific, appears to strike a balance and maintain a more restrained approach, even as it becomes a part of grouping that has the US and its allies.

Here is a theme-wise unpacking of their statements, which were put out within 12 hours of each other.

Interestingly, only the US and Australia used the term “Quadrilateral” in their statements. Perceived to be more mindful of Beijing’s concerns and sensitivities, Japan and India did not use the phrase.

– Free and Open Indo-Pacific: All four countries mentioned the phrases, indicating their common meeting ground on the issue. The shift from Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific was endorsed by all countries, putting India at the centre stage.
India: A free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region serves the long-term interests of all countries in the region and of the world at large.
USA: Shared vision for increased prosperity and security in a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
Japan: Measures to ensure a free and open international order based on the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific.
Australia: A shared vision for increased prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific region and to work together to ensure it remains free and open.

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– Freedom of navigation and overflight: The common theme of freedom of navigation and overflight was curiously missing from New Delhi’s statement, while they have reaffirmed in the past, especially in joint statements with the US and Japan. All three mentioned it.
India: Not mentioned.
US: Freedom of navigation and overflight.
Japan: Ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.
Australia: Freedom of navigation and overflight.

– Respect for international law: This, again, was absent from the Indian statement, whereas it has been staple in Indian joint statements with the US and Japan.
India: Not mentioned.
US: Respect for international law.
Japan: Respect for international law in the Indo-Pacific.
Australia: Respect for international law.

– North Korea: India was cautious and did not name North Korea. But it subtly drew links between Pakistan and China with the North Korean nuclear programme. Japan talked about “maximum pressure”, the US wants to “curtail”, and Australia touched upon weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
India: Proliferation linkages impacting the region.
US: Further cooperating to curtail North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and unlawful acts.
Japan: Tackling proliferation threats, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues, against which maximised pressure needs to be applied.
Australia: Address threats to international peace and security posed by the proliferation of WMDs, including DPRK’s nuclear and missile programmes.

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– Terrorism: The formulation ranged from “addressing”to “countering” to “coordinating”, and it showed the importance attached to the issue — New Delhi identified it as a common challenge.
India: Addressing common challenges of terrorism.
US: Coordinating on counter-terrorism.
Japan: Countering terrorism.
Australia: Coordinate on efforts to address the challenges of countering terrorism.

– Rules-based order: India gave it a miss. The others mentioned the phrase. India has insisted on rules-based order in its past statements.
India: No explicit mention, but “cooperation based on their converging vision and values for promotion of peace”.
US: Upholding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.
Japan: Direction for cooperation, including with countries in the region, in upholding rules-based order and respect for international law in the Indo-Pacific.
Australia: Upholding rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.

– Connectivity: This is an indication that they discussed One Belt One Road, but the US was the most vocal as it articulated the concept of “prudent financing” — indicating the debt traps. Japan avoided any mention.
India: stability and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected region that they share with each other and with other partners, and enhancing connectivity.
US: increasing connectivity consistent with international law and standards, based on prudent financing
Japan: Not mentioned
Australia: increase connectivity

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– Maritime security: India gave it a miss, although all three partners were very specific in coordinating or upholding maritime security.
India: Not mentioned.
US: Coordinating on…maritime security efforts in the Indo-Pacific.
Japan: Maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.
Australia: Upholding maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.

Future direction: Except for India, all three said that they will “continue” discussions – implying that the meeting is first of its kind.
India: highlighted India’s Act East Policy as the cornerstone of its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.
US: The quadrilateral partners committed to deepening cooperation, which rests on a foundation of shared democratic values and principles, and to continue discussions to further strengthen the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.
Japan: affirmed their commitment to continuing discussions and deepening cooperation based on shared values and principles.
Australia: committed to continuing quadrilateral discussions and deepening cooperation on the basis of shared values and principles.

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