While the American Indo-Pacific policy centres on the quadrilateral format of US-Japan-India-Australia, India has a broader view of its regional policy. It has made its intentions clear as to the inclusion of Russia into its policy framework when India’s Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran remarked that expansion of ties and partnership with Russia was an integral of India’s Indo-Pacific policy.
India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s speech on June 1, 2018 at Shangri-La dialogue underlined similar ideas on India’s Indo-Pacific policy. It is noteworthy that while containment of China and formation of a closed group of allies steer the Indo-Pacific policy of the rest of the three partners of the quad, India is looking at the region more from an energy security perspective. On the one hand India is trying to improve its relations with China as Modi’s visit to China suggests, it has been less enthusiastic in promoting the quad on the other as India’s decline of a request of Australia to join the Malabar naval exercises with other quad members suggests.
The Indo-Pacific region assumes importance from an energy security perspective for a developing country like India for multiple reasons. It is well-known that the global strategic and economic centre of gravity is gradually shifting towards the Indo-Pacific region. It is rich in natural resources; especially hydrocarbons which fuel the industrial engines of the world’s economies and encourage competition not only between the established powers but push the emerging powers to scramble for scarce resources as well.
Apart from this, this region is also emerging as a centre of international trade and investments by throwing up a large market of nearly half of the world’s population. There are in fact many reports which predict that by 2050, half of the world’s top 20 economies will be from the Indo-Pacific and countries like India, China, Indonesia and Japan will be among the top five economies in the world. Needless to say that economic growth of these states will also fuel their energy demand and hence stiff competition among them. The South China Sea is a crucial sea lane for energy security involving a transaction of almost 1⁄3 of global crude oil/over 1⁄2 of global LNG. Additionally, the South China Sea in itself is resource rich by some estimates; it has 2.5 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of gas underneath.
Therefore, freedom of navigation and maritime security assumes significance in view of the presence of many of the world’s vital choke points including the Straits of Malacca of the South China Sea in the Indo-Pacific region for global commerce, ninety per cent of which is sea borne. It is quite palpable that there is a hiatus between Indian and Chinese perspectives on and roles in the Indian Ocean region.
While China depends on South China Sea for 80% of crude oil imports and assert its sovereignty in the energy rich region to feed its energy requirements of its fast growing economic economy, over the years, India’s trade and economic linkages in the Pacific are becoming stronger and deeper as energy needs of the country continue to grow rapidly. ASEAN and the far-eastern Pacific countries are considered a vital facilitator of India’s economic development and energy security and purpose of its “Act East” policy.
Major powers like the US, Japan and Australia are not only the traditional players in the region, they are in fact accentuating their role in the geo-strategically vital area and preferred the term “Indo Pacific’’ to ‘’Asia Pacific” underlying the importance of India and the Indian Ocean in their geo-strategic calculations. But underlying their new conceptualization of the region, containment of China and formation of an exclusive group of allies are the driving factors. While India shares the ASEAN member-states’ concerns over the expansionist claims of China in the region, it seeks to make the region more open and cooperative by including powers like Russia which can bring in more dynamism and open up various trade and investment links.