The India-Italy Connect In The Indo-Pacific – OpEd
By Observer Research Foundation
By Harsh V. Pant
In the last few years, there has been an impressive acceleration in Italy’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific and not only in terms of economic presence, which was already very marked, but also political attention.
This transition has received support from New Delhi where India’s inclusive vision of the Indo-Pacific region aims to create a space of cooperation with like-minded partners to foster mutual prosperity and security. On 2 March, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will be inaugurating the 8th Raisina Dialogue, India’s flagship annual geopolitical conference co-hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs and Observer Research Foundation. The dialogue will be provide a forum to Meloni to enunciate her vision for an Italian engagement in the Indo-Pacific.
Underlying Rome’s rapprochement with the Indo-Pacific is its awareness of the region’s importance for its own economy, both in terms of the strategic maritime routes for the supply of key resources and the volume of trade with players in this area. Europe’s second-biggest industrial power and eurozone’s third-largest economy in terms of GDP, Italy counts India among its major trading partners in the Indo-Pacific. Within the European Union (EU) framework, Rome, in turn, is a reliable and strong economic partner for a growing economy like India.
The Narendra Modi government’s Make in India programme, which was launched in 2014 and has found wide interest from foreign partners, is the natural destination for many Italian companies interested in entering the nascent Indo-Pacific ecosystem. The guarantee of sustainability and security provided by the commonality of values and mutual interests between India and Italy represent a positive alternative to the supply chain crisis exacerbated during the pandemic.
Strengthening the ties
Parallel to the economic priorities lie the benefits of the Italy-India rapprochement in terms of Rome’s sensitivity to the risk generated by China’s assertiveness. Meloni had spoken out strongly against Chinese threats to Taiwan during her 2022 election campaign. This month, Italian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Matteo Perego Di Cremnago attended Aero India 2023 in Bengaluru and met with Indian Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Di Cremnago expressed Rome’s interest in elevating bilateral relations with New Delhi to the level of a strategic partnership. A few weeks earlier, Meloni had concluded a similar agreement with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Reports of an incoming Italian naval mission to the Indo-Pacific — just days before Meloni’s visit to Delhi — underscores a new seriousness in Italy’s view of the strategic importance of the region. The Indian government’s decision to bring Italian aerospace firm Leonardo back into its defence market and the contribution of shipbuilding company Fincantieri to the construction of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant bodes well for strong India-Italy ties.
With a military base in Djibouti, and a constant presence in the Western Indian Ocean due to the EU’s anti-piracy initiative Operation Atalanta, the Italian Navy is a natural partner for the Indian Navy. The appointment of a naval observer at the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region further strengthens the interconnectivity of the two armed forces within the framework of a common holistic maritime security vision. Rome’s upcoming naval mission in the Indo-Pacific will be a part of the larger interaction with friendly countries and an opportunity for the Italian Navy to explore new forms of mutual understanding with the Indian Navy. This is considering the centrality of the maritime component in the Indo-Pacific concept.
Taking this momentum forward, India and Italy must work to further strengthen their partnership by exploring areas of concrete cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Characterised by the varied presence of plurilateral initiatives, the Indo-Pacific’s dynamism is the result of the possibility for the various actors to cooperate in different platforms on projects of mutual benefit. The contribution that Italy can make from maritime security and energy transition to the restructuring of supply chains, including technological and economic development, must be included in the existing spectrum of initiatives. These include the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), of which India is a leading promoter through its SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) policy.
The India-Italy-Japan trilateral mooted in 2021 would be a meeting point for the technological and commercial partnership and the growing need for collective security in the region. Italy and Japan, both high-tech countries, can have in India and its vast market a resilient alternative to the growing instability generated by China’s aggressive policies. Moreover, the troika would be a natural meeting point between India’s vision of the Indo-Pacific and Italy’s of an enlarged Mediterranean. It will create a permanent channel between Europe and Asia through a maritime connection with the Indo-Pacific.
This commentary originally appeared in ThePrint.