April 21, 2024

Lukmaan IAS

A Blog for IAS Examination

ALL EYES ARE NOW ON THE INDIAN OCEAN REGION

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THE CONTEXT: The Indian Ocean region faces many traditional and non-traditional safety and security challenges and is vulnerable to criminals and anti-national activities. While the Indian government’s focus from January 2021 was fixed on the Indo-Pacific with a sustained endeavour to strengthen the Quad, policy attention has shifted back to the Indian Ocean since October 2023.

THE POLICY SHIFT

  • Indian ocean active again: Both the Western Indian Ocean littered with island nations and the Northern Indian Ocean stretching from the Arabian Sea to the Suez have become active geographies again
  • Issue in transit through suez canal: The gradual regionalisation of the Israel-Hamas conflict, as reflected in the attacks by Houthi rebels on international shipping, has now led to a massive drop in transits through the Suez Canal. The diversion of ships to the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope adversely affects all nations in the region.

Countries stance:

  • Maldives: Maldives, with Mohamed Muizzu as President, seems to be at loggerheads with India. Despite India’s diplomatic tact, madives continues to deepen its ties with China.
  • Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka showed greater sensitivity to India’s security concerns by imposing a year-long moratorium on foreign research ships, including Chinese ones, to its ports.
  • Mauritius: Recently, India’s SAGAR policy produced a valuable outcome as the Prime Ministers of India and Mauritius inaugurated a new airstrip and a jetty in the Agalega Islands, boosting Mauritius’s capability to curb illegal activities in its vast Extended Economic Zone.

CHINA’S ANGLE

  • Objective of dominance: The new chain of developments is set to expand the Chinese Navy’s footprint in the region and to attain its broad objective of dominance. With the Maldives as a willing partner, China announced a new agreement under which unspecified military assistance would be extended to Maldives.
  • China-India contestation: The strategic contestation between China and India is intensifying. Much of China’s trade and energy supplies pass through the region, so its case for security for its supply routes cannot be dismissed. But China’s strategic intent to create an adverse environment for India’s security by turning the country’s neighbours against India is worrisome.
  • Alignment of countries towards China: A clear pattern is emerging behind China’s quest for naval bases in Djibouti, Kyaukphyu, Gwadar, and Hambantota. This, combined with the nearly four-year-old border standoff, which has defied a diplomatic resolution, has meant the two nations continue to confront each other as adversaries. Each of these players seeks closer economic and security cooperation with India, and incremental progress is taking place. But they display a ‘studied ambiguity’ when it comes to interpreting China’s behaviour and the long-term motivations driving it.

OTHER MAJOR ISSUES IN INDIAN OCEAN REGION

  • Geopolitical Competition: Indian Ocean region is a hotspot for geopolitical competition among major powers and regional actors. The competition involves strategic interests, influence, and access to resources, leading to tensions and potential conflicts. The Indian Ocean occupies a central position because of presence of key chokepoints such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the Malacca Strait which further enhances its strategic significance.
  • Maritime Security Threats: The region is vulnerable to various maritime security threats, including piracy, smuggling, illegal fishing, and terrorism. The vastness of the Indian Ocean makes it challenging to monitor and secure its maritime domain effectively.
  • Environmental Challenges: Climate change, rising sea levels, coral reef degradation, and marine pollution are significant environmental challenges in the region. These issues affect coastal communities, marine ecosystems, and the livelihoods of millions of people.

THE WAY FORWARD:

  • Indo Pacific: India and the U.S. are key stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific strategy covers both the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but when danger deepens, the immediate neighbourhood matters more than distant shores.
  • International Cooperation: International cooperation is needed to address the strategic competition with China. Collaboration in underwater domain awareness has been identified as a key goal in dealing with the “emerging” threats.
  • Global leaders: Geographic proximity to the region demands that the global leaders as UK, EU takes clear approach on China’s activities. While they are concerned about China’s illegal claims in the South China Sea, they must see that a similar kind of assertiveness and hostile intent is building up in the Indian Ocean too.
  • India’s stand: India needs to convey a clear message to its strategic partners that while it is conscious of its Indo-Pacific responsibilities, it prioritises the Indian Ocean region.
  • Critical audit of IORA and CSC: A critical audit of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Colombo Security Conclave (CSC) is needed. While IORA is underperforming and has become too complicated to be effective, the CSC faces the danger of losing a key member, the Maldives, if the island nation’s partnership with China deepens.
  • Mechanism for blue economy: India should encourage the creation of a new mechanism with the objective of enhancing maritime security and optimising the potential for the Blue Economy. This group could comprise four nations from the neighbourhood (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar) and four island states (Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros, and Madagascar). The ninth seat may be kept for the Maldives if it adopts a sensible policy. This group can be named the ‘Indian Ocean Cooperation Organisation.’
  • Strengthening Navy: Foreign Affairs Insights & Review ranked the Indian Navy the seventh most powerful in the world. As India aims to become the third largest economy, it should find new budgetary resources for its Navy to make it the third or fourth strongest.

THE CONCLUSION:

As, both the Western Indian Ocean and the Northern Indian Ocean have become active geographies again. There is a need for sustained international cooperation to enhance maritime security in the region. A rule based approach is needed for freedom of navigation, the sustainable exploitation of maritime resources, and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

UPSC PREVIOUS YEAR QUESTIONS

Q.1 Discuss the major challenges for India in framing a credible Maritime Doctrine.(2021)

Q.2 As a rising China projects its economic and military power into the Indian Ocean, any strategy for regional balance by the government in India would necessarily involve the economic and military development of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Examine. (2019)

MAINS PRACTICE QUESTIONS

Q.1 Discuss the strategic importance of Indian Ocean with respect to recent policy shifts in the region. How can India respond to the debate by endorsing a multiple stakeholder approach to enhancing maritime security in the region.

Q.2 Securing Indian Ocean Region is of central importance to enhancing maritime security of the region. Comment.

SOURCE: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/all-eyes-are-now-on-the-indian-ocean-region/article67964873.ece

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