Distinguished Lectures Distinguished Lectures

The significance of the Indo-Pacific Region in India's foreign policy

  • Distinguished Lectures Detail

    By: Amb (Retd) M. Ganapathi
    Venue: Sikkim University
    Date: September 18, 2019

Lecture organised under the Distinguished Lecture Series of the PD
Division of the Ministry External Affairs

Ambassador (Retd) M. Ganapathi
Former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs
The significance of the Indo-Pacific Region in India's
foreign policy
SIKKIM UNIVERSITY, GANGTOK; SEPTEMBER 19, 2019


Heads of faculties and Coordinators, Sikkim University,
Dear students,
Friends,


I would like to thank the administration of the Sikkim University for the invitation to deliver this lecture under the auspices of the Distinguished Lecture Series of the Ministry of External Affairs. I am grateful to the Ministry of External Affairs for supporting and working out my visit.

I thank the Sikkim University for the excellent arrangements. My special gratitude to Prof Dipmala Roka for attending to all details with meticulous care.

This is my second visit to Sikkim. I had visited Gangtok in 1977. Since 1977, considerable development has taken place in this beautiful State. Even after 42 years, the beauty of this place continues to be fascinating and enchanting.

While discussing the various elements of my visit with Prof Dipmala Roka, we agreed that I speak on "The significance of the Indo-Pacific Region in India’s foreign policy”. This region has been in the headlines and will continue to be so for geo-strategic and geo-economic reasons.

The world has changed significantly since the early 1900’s to reshape not only geography but also the contours of international relations. Many of the countries formed after the two Wars, including the Soviet Union, no longer exist. The agreements between then colonial powers reshaped the map of the world. Their legacy continues to bedevil interstate relations even today. Non-alignment with India among its founding fathers was born as a counter to the militarised alliances. And non-alignment as we knew in 1961 does not exist any longer.

The course of history was determined by European powers and later the United States until the end of last Century. The map of Europe has undergone a sea change. The Cold War has been succeeded by a sort of cold peace. The United States seems to be ostensibly withdrawing from many of its global political and economic commitments. However, only the uninitiated would believe that the days of the United States are numbered – the USA will continue to be strong in both financial and strategic terms. The economic rise of China has created a new paradigm in international relations. The challenge posed by the hard-nosed Chinese leadership is the subject of discussion in every Chancellery. Russia had slipped from a position of strength but is rallying back. Brexit has tied Britain into knots. New and uncertain problems have defied solutions; the world continues to grapple with many knowns and unknowns.

With the redrawing of maps and the emergence of new countries, the challenges facing the global community have also increased. The comity of nations faces new threats. Traditional rivalries and conventional problems have given rise to asymmetric and complex equations. Development has created new paradoxes. Threats as may arise have to be countered singly and jointly.

The US-China trade debate has created more uncertainties than solutions. The world powers debate the challenges that have arisen with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. The robust reaction by the West towards Russia and its leaders has led to a strong Russia-China partnership. The situation in West Asia continues to be in a state of flux. The epicentre of global terrorism is in our neighbourhood. International relations and foreign policy are in a dynamic mesh.

New partnerships and alliances have become the norm in today’s world. The Euro-Atlantic dimension of global developments has shifted eastwards. The Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific Region now dominate global headlines. The 21st Century belongs to the Indo-Pacific Region, stretching from Africa well into the western seaboard of the Pacific Ocean. This is where the power centre of the future will lie.

The term Indo-Pacific is not a recent nomenclature. It has been in vogue for sometime.

The thrust of India’s foreign policy in pursuit of its national interests has been a work in continuity in response to the various global developments. By and large, there is across the board political consensus on the thrust of our foreign policy barring some differences in nuances.

The Neighbourhood First dimension of our foreign policy is an area of priority impinging on our strategic, political and economic security. The States of ASEAN and Japan come under the ambit of our Act East policy. The States of West Asia and the Gulf are important pillars of our Think West thrust. We accord importance to the members of the UN Security Council Permanent-5 and the European Union. Greater attention is now being focussed on countries in Africa and those in Latin America and the Caribbean and Oceania. Our leaders have visited many of the countries in these regions which had never seen an Indian VVIP earlier.

In this construct, what constitutes India’s policy towards the Indo-Pacific Region? This region has been integrated well into India’s foreign policy calculations by the announcements of the Look East Policy in 1994; the Act East Policy in 2016; and with emphasis on the Indo-Pacific Region in recent pronouncements. The Shangri La Dialogue of 1994 and 2018 were a common platform to state the significant aspects of India’s approach to the region.

India is a founding member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). It initiated the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of SAGAR, Security and Growth for All in the Region, ideally coalesces into India’s Indo-Pacific Policy.

To provide greater attention, the Ministry of External Affairs has set up an Indo-Pacific Division.

India has had extensive interaction with countries of East and South East Asia and beyond over the centuries. The influence of Indian art, culture and religion is significant in many of these countries. Buddhism acquired strong roots in the region while the influence of Hinduism is seen in some of the countries. The Kalingas had trading relations and the Pallavas and the Cholas ventured politically, economically and culturally into many of these countries. These could be characterised as the first movement towards the evolution of India’s Look East-Act East-Indo-Pacific policy. The Asian Relations Conference and the Bandung Conference brought the countries of the region closer together.

India's vision for the Indo-Pacific Region was enunciated by Prime Minister Modi in his address to the Shangri La Dialogue in June 2018. The main elements of this vision include:

1. India’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific Region – from the shores of Africa to that of the Americas - will be inclusive.

2. A free, open, inclusive region, which embraces all in a common pursuit of progress and prosperity.

3. Southeast Asia is at its centre. And ASEAN has been and will be central to its future.

4. The region’s common prosperity and security would require evolution, through dialogue, of a common rules-based order. And, it must equally apply to all individually as well as to the global commons.

5. There should be equal access for all as a right under international law to the use of common spaces on sea and in the air that would require freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.

6. The region has benefitted from globalisation. But, there is growing protectionism – in goods and in services. Solutions cannot be found behind walls of protection, but in embracing change.

7. Support for rule-based, open, balanced and stable trade environment in the Indo-Pacific Region. That is what is expected from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). RCEP must be comprehensive, as the name suggests, and according to its declared principles. It must have a balance among trade, investment and services.

8. Connectivity is vital. It does more than enhance trade and prosperity. It unites a region. There are many connectivity initiatives in the region. For these to succeed, not only infrastructure must be built, but also bridges of trust. And for that, these initiatives must be based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, consultation, good governance, transparency, viability and sustainability. They must empower nations, not place them under impossible debt burden.

9. Competition is normal. But, contests must not turn into conflict; differences must not be allowed to become disputes.

10. All of this is possible, if we do not return to the age of great power rivalries: Asia of rivalry will hold us all back. Asia of cooperation will shape this century.

While speaking at the Majlis or Parliament in the Maldives in June 2019, Prime Minister Modi stated that the Indo-Pacific is our shared region, a region with 50% of the world’s population, and with enormous diversity of religions, culture, languages, history and political and economic systems. But it is also a region with many unanswered questions and unresolved disputes.

The Indo-Pacific Region shares 44% of the world surface area; includes 65% of the world population; accounts for 62% of the world GDP; and contributes to 46% of the world’s merchandise trade. About $3.5 trillion of international trade is supposed to flow through the South China Sea/Pacific Ocean. The entire trade of the most important economies and India’s trading partners, the United States, China, Korea and Japan goes through the South China Sea/Pacific areas. Nearly 50% of India’s trade is centered in the Indo-Pacific Region. The Indian Ocean carries 90% of India’s trade and its energy sources.

In June 2019, ASEAN released its Outlook on the Indo-Pacific which consisted of the following elements:

ASEAN will continue to play a central and strategic role in the Indo-Pacific.

A perspective of viewing the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, not as contiguous territorial spaces, but as a closely integrated and interconnected region.

An Indo-Pacific region of dialogue and cooperation instead of rivalry.

An Indo-Pacific region of development and prosperity for all.

The importance of the maritime domain and perspective in the evolving regional architecture.

Exploring potential synergies with sub-regional frameworks, such as, IORA, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), Mekong subregional cooperation frameworks, etc.

India welcomed the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. India’s position and the ASEAN Outlook converged in their views to a large extent.

The United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy calls for a free and open Indo-Pacific and "seeks to build an Indo-Pacific where sovereignty and territorial integrity are safeguarded.” It does not express inclusivity. It supports the centrality of ASEAN and its institutions and has welcomed the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. However, the Indo-Pacific Region as seen by the United States covers the region from "Bollywood to Hollywood”.

China calls the region Asia Pacific and does not recognise the idea of an Indo-Pacific region. While aggressively pursuing its interests in the South China Sea, China sees the Indian Ocean region as an important element in its Belt and Road Initiative.

The Japanese Prime Minister had talked of the significance of the Indian and Pacific Seas (Oceans) in his address to the Indian Parliament in 2007. Japan’s Indo-Pacific policy notes that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly becoming the centre of the global economy and hoped it would be a part of the free, open and rules-based global commons. Japan also concedes to ASEAN’s centrality and unity in the Indo- Pacific.

Situated as it on the mouth of the approaches to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Indonesia has a crucial role in the future of the Indo-Pacific. It literally oversees the Malacca, Lombok and Sunda Straits. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia in June 2018, India and Indonesia issued their Common Vision on the Indo-Pacific.

Russia does not subscribe to the idea of a Indo-Pacific, calling the region Asia-Pacific.

With possessions in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, France sees itself as a Indo-Pacific power.

Australia’s 2017 White Paper accords significant importance to the Indo-Pacific region. It recognises ASEAN’s central role in the region.

ASEAN celebrated its 50th Anniversary in August 2017. It is the most successful and harmonious regional grouping. India commemorated twenty years of its Partnership and ten years of Annual Summits with ASEAN in 2012. It saw 25 years of its association with ASEAN in 2018 as a "historic milestone”. India’s relations with ASEAN as a group and bilaterally with each of the individual ten countries have increased exponentially in these 25 years. As ASEAN’s strategic partner, India is actively associated with various ASEAN-related defence and strategic institutions. These include the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADDM+) and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum.

Indo-ASEAN trade in 2017-18 was $81.34 billion (approximately 10.6% of India's overall trade) and in 2018-19 $96.79 billion (approximately 11.5% of India’s overall trade). ASEAN is India’s 5th largest trading partner. India is the 8th largest trading partner of ASEAN. Cumulative FDI inflows into India from ASEAN from April 2000 to March 2018 were US$ 68.91 billion, with cumulative FDI outflows from April 2007 to March 2015 about US$ 38.67 billion.

There are sub-regional multilateral forums such as the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and BIMSTEC, which have provided additional platform for engagement between India and ASEAN. India has been conducting an annual Track 1.5 event with ASEAN, the Delhi Dialogue, to discuss politico-security and economic issues. India has also proposed a new forum, the South Asia sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC), which includes Myanmar.

The excellent rapport between the Prime Ministers of Japan and India continues to augur well for India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership. Japan ranks 11th as India’s trading partner and is an important source of investment. The India-Japan proposal of an Asia Africa Growth Corridor provides an innovative opportunity for bilateral and trilateral cooperation. India has formalised defence related cooperation with Japan and has concluded a civil nuclear agreement.

India’s relations with South Korea will continue to be governed with trade and economic cooperation predominating – South Korea ranks among the ten top trading partners of India. There are overlapping areas of interest in India’s Act East Policy and South Korea’s New Southern Policy.

Indo-Australian strategic partnership in the political, economic and defence areas has been strengthened considerably and is significant.

India’s engagement with the Pacific Island countries has been formalised through the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC).

India’s relationship with the Russian Federation has been one of the outstanding partnerships. This special and principled strategic partnership is comprehensive and all encompassing. Its strength was reflected during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Vladivostok in September 2019.

India has a stable and growing partnership with Africa. The India-Africa Forum Summits give it strength and substance. India recognises Africa’s concerns and gives respect to African requirements.

India-US relations have overcome the hesitations of history. The US sees India as an important partner in the Indo-Pacific Region. The United States was India’s largest trading partner in 2018-19 with a total trade turnover of $87.95 billion. Trade was in India’s favour at $16.86 billion. The adverse balance of trade has brought in a harsh reaction from the President of the United States with increased tariffs and other steps. The Commerce Ministers of the two countries are expected to meet shortly to discuss and resolve the issue.

There are reports that President Trump might drop by at Houston during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the USA beginning September 21 with the possibility of more detailed talks in Washington.

Indo-U.S. defence and security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific is exceptional. The US has renamed its Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command. India and the US have signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA); and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).

India, Japan, Australia and the USA have held meetings between officials and leaders under the ambit of the Quad. Responding to Chinese statements, the Ministry of External Affairs has pointed out that Quad was "primarily focused on cooperation based on members converging vision and values for promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected region that they share with each other and with other partners”.

India has concluded a bilateral military logistics agreement with France. It is in the process of concluding a similar agreement with Australia.

India’s relationship with China is multilayered. Both countries have subscribed to a Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity. With two strong leaders at the helm of affairs in India and China, the relationship should have been stable and secure.

India’s handling of the Doklam issue showed maturity, a subject closely followed in ASEAN Chancelleries. India has told China that their differences should not be converted to disputes. India has also emphasised that competition with China is unnecessary as the world has enough space for both of them. That was the Wuhan message of June 2018 which is supposed to have set the tone for an Annual informal Summit between the Prime Minister of India and President Xi Jinping. India will host the second informal Summit sometime next month.

China was India’s second largest trading partner in 2018-19 with a total trade of $87.07 billion. The balance of trade is in China’s favour at $53.56 billion. India has sought greater market access for its products into the Chinese market. Investments from China have been rising. China has asked India to take a fair decision on including Huawei in its 5G trials.

The border will continue to be major outstanding issue between the two countries. Despite five major border related documents and over 20 rounds of talks between Special Representatives, no breakthrough seems to be in sight. China has been reluctant to move ahead in resolving the issue. The Chinese side has not been willing to provide its version of maps relating to the Line of Actual Control. It seems to be changing goalposts depending on the bilateral, regional and international environment. While provocations continue, with the Pangong Lake scuffle last week being the latest, no bullet has been fired in anger in the border areas. China’s over the top reaction to India’s scrapping Article 370 and Article 35A brought in a carefully calibrated response from our spokesperson. Our reaction to various issues relating to China in our interactions should be measured, but more importantly confident and self-assured.

Sino-Pak relations will continue to be closely watched. China’s unequivocal support to Pakistan as an all-weather friend continues to be undiluted at the cost of further strengthening of Sino-India relations. China’s indemnity gives Pakistan immunity to act against global concerns on terrorism and particularly State-sponsored terrorism directed against India. China has been unequivocal in its objections to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It has been ambivalent on India’s candidature for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

China and India are part of the RIC that bring together Russia, India and China. They are also members of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

At their November 2012 Phnom Penh Summit, Heads of States/Governments of ASEAN and ASEAN’s Free Trade Agreement partners endorsed the "Guiding Principles and Objectives for Negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership” adopted by their Economic Ministers in Siem Reap, Cambodia in August 2012. The objective of the RCEP was to "achieve a modern, comprehensive, high-quality and mutually beneficial economic partnership agreement; establishing an open trade and investment environment in the region to facilitate the expansion of regional trade and investment and contribute to global economic growth and development; and boost economic growth and equitable economic development, advance economic cooperation and broaden and deepen integration in the region through the RCEP.” This was supposed to build upon the existing economic linkages of the partners.

The members of the RCEP include the ASEAN 10, the ASEAN+3, viz. China, Japan and Republic of Korea and the three Dialogue Partners, viz. India, Australia and New Zealand. The agreement aims to cover goods, services, investments, economic and technical cooperation, competition and intellectual property rights. The RCEP membership would represent 47.4% of the global population, 32.2% of the global economy, 29.1% of global trade and 32.5% of global investment flows. RCEP Ministers have noted that it is "the most important trade agenda in the region, supportive of an open, inclusive, and rules-based trading system, and an enabling trade and investment environment”.

26 rounds of talks have been held among RCEP members towards negotiating an agreed document. At the 26th Meeting in Melbourne in July 2019, India’s Commerce and Industries Minister said "India looks at RCEP as a logical extension of its Act East Policy and it holds enormous potential for economic growth and stability for the entire region,”

At the 8th RCEP inter-sessional Ministerial meeting in Beijing in August 2019, India sought greater market access from China for its products like sugar, rice and pharmaceuticals besides some other items to narrow the trade deficit. The subject of relaxation in conditions of the business visa regime by China for Indian workers was also discussed. With ASEAN, India discussed an improvement in ASEAN’s offer in goods and services.

Ministers from RCEP Participating Countries (RPCs) met in Bangkok in September 2019 for the 7th RCEP Ministerial Meeting to review developments following the Beijing meeting. They "recognised that negotiations have reached a critical milestone as the deadline for the conclusion of negotiations draws near”. Ministers noted that while certain developments in the global trade environment may affect individual RPC positions during the negotiations, "RPCs should not lose the long-term vision of deepening and expanding the value chains in the RCEP” adding "RCEP will provide the much-needed stability and certainty to the market, which will in turn boost trade and investment in the region”. Ministers underscored that RPCs were working on addressing outstanding issues that are fundamental to conclude the agreement by November 2019 as mandated by the Leaders.

At the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok in June 2019, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suggested that he was ready to push forward in concluding the Agreement even without some members for the time being, implicitly excluding India. India has said that it is also keen to conclude the Agreement by the next 35th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok but would like its concerns adequately addressed by then. Australia and New Zealand also have some concerns on the RCEP document as it stands now.

At the Shangri La Dialogue in June 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined India’s determination to push ahead with RCEP negotiations. He supported its early conclusion and did not want India to be seen as holding out. He however, said that India needed an RCEP outcome that is a win-win for all and based on mutual trust.

Significant progress has been made in the market access negotiations of goods. Similar efforts are called for towards making progress in negotiations relating to services, as they constitute more than 50% of the GDP of the most of the RCEP countries. Services are expected to play an important role in the future.

India’s main areas of concern include lack of transparency in the conduct of business in some partner countries; India's burgeoning deficit in trade in goods (In 2018-19, India registered a trade deficit with as many as 11 RCEP member countries; trade deficit with China and RCEP members in 2018-19 standing at $53.6 billion and $105 billion respectively); taking advantage of loopholes in the rules of origins provisions; difficulties in market access; lack of interest by partners in satisfactorily addressing India’s concerns on services; among others. RCEP members have pressed for tariff elimination in goods with no reciprocal commitments in services particularly in the area of work visas. Offer of Mode 4 in services has not been forthcoming. India had called on its negotiating partners to agree on a modern, comprehensive, balanced and mutually beneficial agreement as outlined at the November 2012 ASEAN Summit.

While looking for a win-win RCEP, India would like to ensure that the agreement is balanced not only across its key chapters - trade in goods, services and investment - but also within each chapter. India has said that there should not be an unequal balancing of tariff reductions in goods and services - partners need to ensure equal high level of tariff reduction in services as in goods, with binding commitments. Right now ASEAN has proposed a common concessions approach in goods with upto 92% tariff elimination, 7% tariff reduction and 1% in the exclusion list. India is also concerned at some of the provisions of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process (ISDS). Many industry groups have submitted memoranda to the Government highlighting their concerns regarding India joining RCEP noting that previous free trade agreements had not achieved the desired results. The industry is also concerned over giving China increased access to Indian markets without adequate safeguards or reciprocal offers.

Following the Bangkok Ministerial in September 2019, Commerce and Industries Minister said "Prime Minister Narendra Modi has directed me to enter RCEP negotiations while taking all steps to protect the domestic industry. At the same time, we have to keep in mind the opportunity to increase business activities of new technology, new foreign investment and opening up of the services sector, new market access to Indian exporters. Otherwise, Indian exporters will be at a disadvantage”… He added "National interest cannot be hijacked by one or two sectors. National interest has to be seen in the overall context. Having said that, we will certainly balance even those industries which feel that there could be at an unfair advantage to Chinese companies and ensure that whatever agreement we make, will be good for India in the balance of convenience. But you will certainly appreciate that if I have to look at 100% sectors, then no negotiation can ever be complete". He also said "the sooner RCEP is concluded with adequate protection for domestic industry, the better it is for India”.

Following the Bangkok meeting, India had invited RPC representatives to a meeting in New Delhi on September 14-15 to discuss "India's suggestions to make it a more robust mechanism”. India’s concerns do not seem to have been adequately met casting doubts on India’s possibility of joining in the RCEP by the November deadline.

At the same there have been suggestions that India should look at review of FTA’s with some of the countries following ASEAN’s agreement to review its trade pact with India. India has requested Japan and Korea to review their FTAs with India.

Providing connectivity is a key element in India’s economic diplomacy. It is a vital cog in the wheel of progress. Straddling as it does the sealanes, India addresses connectivity issues in a whole of the situation.

ASEAN-India connectivity is a priority for India as also the ASEAN countries. In 2013, India became the third dialogue partner of ASEAN to initiate an ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee-India Meeting. India shares a seamless boundary with the ASEAN countries through Myanmar. Upgrading and strengthening connectivity should provide avenues for development and progress in the North-Eastern States of India.

The recent announcement of the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime link binds India closer with the Indo-Pacific geo-sphere. This would provide easier access to the Arctic Region and provide considerable help in India’s energy security. India’s links with the west coast of the USA is reasonably well taken care of. India has regular maritime connectivity with Africa’s East.

China’s proposal of a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013 has been seen as a form of neo-colonial approach towards dominating or taking over assets in debt-laden developing countries. The Belt and Road Initiative is supposed to connect 65 countries and the total cost outlay is over $1 trillion. Nearly $750 billion has been committed to BRI projects in ASEAN. [ASEAN-China trade reached $441 billion in 2017 or 17.1% of ASEAN’s total merchandise trade. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows from China to ASEAN amounted to $11.3 billion in 2017, or 8.2% of total ASEAN FDI]. Pakistan will get around $69 billion; with most of the funding in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Recently EU countries, Greece and Italy in particular, have shown interest in the BRI. There is a possibility of some investment in Germany. At the same time, certain countries have started asking questions on some of the projects. The classical Chinese pattern of using inducements, threats and force would make smaller nations succumb to Chinese pressure.

India’s reservations on the BRI are well known – the absence of transparency and responsibility, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, among others. Its passage through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is unacceptable. China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its pro-active approach towards projects under the BRI in this region does raise significant concern. The possible development of Chinese bases in the Indian-Ocean Region as in Djibouti, Gwadar and other ports consolidates China’s forward march policy into the Indian Ocean.

China’s aggressive stance in the South China Sea has been viewed with concern by its neighbours and also by those in the region and beyond. China’s disdainful reaction to the International Arbitral’s decision on the subject of the Filipino Islands was too evident to underscore what an analyst called as international law being powerless against the powerful and powerful against the powerless.

To counter the Chinese thrust of the BRI, US President Trump brought in the Better Utilisation of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act in October 2018. This legislation is supposed to reform and strengthen U.S. development finance capabilities into a new federal agency to help address development challenges and foreign policy priorities of the United States. The "U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) will be a modern, consolidated agency that brings together the capabilities of Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and USAID’s Development Credit Authority, while introducing new and innovative financial products to better bring private capital to the developing world”. The US expects to have more flexibility to support investments in developing countries to drive economic growth, create stability, and improve livelihoods. DFC will start functioning from October 1, 2019.

India has been unable to accede to APEC due to a moratorium declared by the organisation in the early 90’s. There have been calls for India’s inclusion in APEC by some of the leading members of the organisation. Some other members have expressed their reservation on India’s membership.

The challenges confronting India and its partners should lead to enhanced joint cooperation in confronting the malefic effects of international terrorism, piracy, organised crime, drug trafficking and arms trading. Hopefully, there would be greater support from partners to the Indian draft document on a Comprehensive Convention for International Terrorism at the UN. Question of freedom of navigation and overflights will continue to be a subject of discussion. The security dimension of India’s cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries has been remarkably good and mutually beneficial.

One area where India has done exceptionally well has been the projection of its soft power and in enhancing people to people contact with the countries in Indo-Pacific. The role of the Indian Diaspora has been an additional asset in this regard.

India’s engagement with ASEAN and its other Indo-Pacific partners has paid good dividends and we need to continue to maintain the momentum in this direction. India and its partners need each other in a complex region where one super power is seen to be stepping back allowing a more combative and supremely ambitious power into the area. While India partnership in the political and security, cultural and people to people areas has been exceptional, a lot more will need to be done on the trade, economic and connectivity fronts to help the relationship blossom further. Environment and climate change are challenges demanding joint action. New areas of cooperation will have to be identified to give greater content and strength to regional and bilateral partnership. This will provide traction for growth, development and security for India and the countries in the Indo-Pacific region as a whole.

We need to approach these issues with greater energy and commitment to enable India’s growth and development and reach a $5 trillion economy by 2024.

Before I conclude, I would like to welcome some of you to consider the possibility of joining the Indian Foreign Service. The Ministry of External Affairs would welcome bright young officers into its fold and shape them into the leaders of tomorrow in a globalising world.

I will be happy to take questions that you might have not only relating to India’s Indo-Pacific policy but on India’s foreign policy as a whole.

Thank you!