A day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed that the Indo-Pacific initiative is targeted at containing China’s influence in the region, the US and India on Thursday said the concept is not aimed at excluding any country and called it a “principled vision”.
US Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, during a panel discussion at Raisina Dialogue, slammed Lavrov for saying that the Indo-Pacific initiative was aimed at disrupting existing regional structures. He said it is a community of countries that respects the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the sea and sky.
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, who was also part of the panel, agreed with Pottinger’s views that Indo-Pacific is a principled vision and Asia-Pacific was a colonial concept. “India was connected to China and Southeast Asia for millennia. That connect was broken by colonisation…. (Today) global commons are important and Indo-Pacific is a global common,” he said.
Responding to the “broadside” against the term “Indo-Pacific”, Pottinger said it is a principled vision. “It is a community of countries that respects the rule of law, stands up for freedom of navigation in the seas and skies above, promotes open commerce, open thinking and, above all, defends the sanctity of each nation’s sovereignty. So it is free and open, does not exclude any nation, but does ask each nation to respect and promote those principles that we hold in common,” he said.
Countries that support the notion of a free and open Indo-Pacific are those that have citizen-centric visions, rather than regime-centric visions, Pottinger added.
He also hit out at the visions competing against the Indo-Pacific such as the Eurasian economic project, saying these were less free, less open, less flexible and tended to be more hierarchical and coercive.
Gokhale cited Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks to highlight what Indo-Pacific is about.
“Other countries have articulated their vision. There is a difference in scope, geographies and content. If we consider democracy as a value which we all share, we must accept that there are different points of view. We do not necessarily share that point of view,” he said in an apparent reference to Lavrov’s remarks.
Gokhale said, “All those who have supported Indo-Pacific as a concept believe that this is relevant to the region and is going to be beneficial economically as well as in terms of security. From India’s perspective, we have to see what the Prime Minister said, and what he said was that it had to be inclusive, had to guarantee security for all and did not leave anybody out.
“If some people felt that there were other concepts, they were welcome to lay it on the table and we can talk about it.”
The Foreign Secretary said, “The Asia Pacific as a concept is essentially a colonial concept. We ignore the fact that long before colonies came up in Asia, India was connected with the Southeast Asia and China and other parts of the world for millennia.”
That connect, he said, was broken because different colonial powers divided those parts of the world and therefore, there was no trade. But that did not mean that “we keep concepts that were determined in the 20th century”, Gokhale said.
“I think the 21st century is a time when connectivities are important, global commons are important and Indo-Pacific is a global common,” he said.
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