As the key idea of the Indo-Pacific gains prominence, for political leaders to be more effective, they must recognize the differences in perspective among the countries that subscribe to it, writes Zenel Garcia.
It also reveals the growing recognition by US officials of the region’s economic dynamism and complex geopolitical environment. The country is not alone in this endeavor, however, given that under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan began to promote an Indo-Pacific vision in 2007, culminating in a Indo-Pacific Strategy in 2016. Other players, including Australia, India, ASEANand the European Unionfollowed suit.
However, while there are points of convergence in how these actors perceive the Indo-Pacific, there are also places where they diverge. Understanding these will be crucial for security and defense policy makers when assessing possible areas of cooperation and conflict.
First, consider what is widely agreed upon.
The first is that all of these actors recognize that the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, both economically and politically, are coming together. In this sense, there is a shared understanding that development and security in one of these spaces increasingly depends on events in the other.
The second is the mutual recognition of regional membership by the main promoters of the Indo-Pacific idea. This is an important component of regional training, as it identifies “key players” and plays a role in legitimizing their political goals.
Finally, the third concerns the basic norms of Indo-Pacific construction. In general, there is consensus on the importance of the rule of law, transparent governance, development, trade, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and freedom of navigation – to say the least. cite just a few.
There is a broad consensus on what the Indo-Pacific region is, which countries influence it, and what their political priorities are. Apparently, such a broad agreement should pave the way for significant political cooperation and coordination in the region.
To some extent, that’s true. But there are also disagreements, and they impact cooperation and policy coordination efforts in the region.
The first concerns the geographical limits of the region, which various actors define differently. the regional spaces shape how states formulate and implement policy, whether by choosing their security partners, allocating resources, considering membership in institutions, or choosing to try to set a political agenda in a given region.
To illustrate this gap, look no further than Japan and India. Both are members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – or “the Quad” – which serves as a key platform for promoting Indo-Pacific construction.
Yet Japan, as the main promoter of the Indo-Pacific, has a much more extensive geographical understanding of the region. In Japan, the Indo-Pacific encompasses everything from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the Americas. His strategy seeks to combine free trade agreements, economic corridors, foreign aid programs, as well as strategic partners and allies in this vast area.
India, on the other hand, has more limit framing the region’s borders, focusing primarily on the Indian Ocean region and the South China Sea, where major choke points for international trade are located.
While the two countries remain likely to find several avenues of cooperation in India’s areas of interest, this would likely not be the case further afield, such as in Northeast Asia or the South Pacific.
The second point on which the key players diverge relates to their approaches to guaranteeing freedom of navigation. While there is consensus that freedom of navigation is an essential norm for the region, there is less consensus on what it precisely means.
For its part, the United States has the broadest interpretation of what achieving “freedom of navigation” entails.
For the United States, ‘innocent passage‘ should apply to military vessels, and military operationsincluding surveillance, in the exclusive economic zones of another State are legitimate under the law of the sea.
India, however, interprets the law of the sea differently, asserting its law for to require notice for military vessels to conduct innocent passage and to require prior authorization for them to conduct exercises in its exclusive economic zone. It is important to note that India is not alone in this interpretation – many ASEAN members too.
This interpretation is in fact much closer to that of Chinadespite the fact that many Indo-Pacific proponents imply criticism of Chinese activities when they focus on protecting freedom of navigation.
Understanding these disagreements is crucial to this process, however, and policy makers must avoid seeing the various key players in the Indo-Pacific as a monolithic block. If, on the contrary, they seek to understand this divergence, they can prevent it from negatively affecting the political future of the region.