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Nepal And Indo-Pacific Strategy

December Issue 2018

Nepal And Indo-Pacific Strategy

Siddhi B Ranjitkar


Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali visited Washington at the invitation of his American counterpart Michael Richard Pompeo. Why such an unexpected invitation to the Nepali foreign minister after so many years of ignoring Nepal? The Nepalese intellectuals have different views on the foreign minister’s Washington visit. Some intellectuals say that the US is an eagle whereas Nepal is a chick. So, any eagle preys on chicks whenever necessary. It might be the same this time, too. Is Nepal becoming the pawn in the hands of the Americans and Indians in the new cold war?


Speaking to the anchor of the Radio Nepal morning program called ‘antar-sambad” on December 23, 2018, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali was explaining about his Washington visit. When the anchor asked about the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and whether Nepal is going to be a member of it.  The foreign minister first simply laugh at it and then said that Nepal was not going to be the member; however, the US officials had said that Nepal could play a vital role in it; and they even have said that it has a huge fund and Nepal could use it for its development; however, Nepal could not use it without knowing the terms and conditions of the funding and its utilization.


At the press conference, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said that the US officials had asked about SAARC and BIMSTEC. Probably, the foreign minister must have said that the SAARC had been disabled for some time because of India not willing to hold the annual summit whereas BIMSTEC must be for isolating Pakistan from the rest of South Asian countries. However, it has not have even its charter, yet.


It clearly supported the idea one of the Nepali intellectuals floated in the facebook. Katak Malla wrote in the facebook on December 19 titled “Gyawali meets Pompeo:” it is meaningful that after 16 years Nepal’s foreign minister is invited for a meeting with the US Secretary of State. After the meeting the two sides are reported to review and upgrade political and strategic ties. It should be known that super powers either show sympathy or pressure (or both) to small power states because the powerful states want much power. They often talk about economic aid and assistance but now it is well known and it is proved that aid-assistance from powerful states to small powers is a ‘bribe to keep the status quo’ intact (Morgenthau) or to expand superpower interest. US obviously want to counter China’s rise from different fronts and Nepal is one of them. Can Nepal maintain its strategic relationships with China as well as with US in this scenario? If Nepal can remain out of the US trap in the coming decades vis a vis US-India-China struggle for power will be a success for Nepal’s foreign policy. But once you are in the geo-political game it will be difficult to remain outside the game.”


Obviously, the US wanted to pull Nepal to its side; however, what the Nepali foreign minister said to the anchor of the Radio Nepal is one hundred percent correct then the foreign minister must have disappointed the American counterpart and other high officials. They wanted to bribe the Nepali minister offering some financial assistance from the fund of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. However, Minister Gyawali had obviously politely rejected it.


Minister Gyawali also rejected the Nepalese media reporting that Nepal had fallen in the trap the Americans had set for. Nepal is not going to be the member of the Indo-Pacific Strategy at any cost. The Nepalese media had even stated that Nepal had already irritated the Chinese officials because of Nepal taking the interest in the Indo-Pacific Strategy.


After so many years the US had shown so much of interest in Nepal, and invited its minister to the US, and even offered some financial assistance from the Indo-Pacific Strategy fund, which is obviously an incentive or bribe the Americans had given to the Nepalese foreign minister.


The news posted in “gorkhapatra” on December 20, 2018 stated that the foreign minister and the American officials discussed the subject matters on keeping the Indo-Pacific Area independent, open, and prosperous. However, the news did not go beyond it to explain about the independency, and openness and prosperity of the area; and why the US needed to take interest in it.


Certainly, any small country becomes a chick whereas the US is an eagle. Naturally, any eagle preys on chicks. The US went to South Korea, set up its own puppet removing the then president, and became active in the war between North and South Korea. Similarly, the US went to Vietnam and engaged its military for 15 only to get defeated by such a tiny country. These wars were indeed the indirect wars between the then Soviet Union and the US.


However, Nepal is not any other small country that could give in easily. It has the history of fighting against the British colonel power from 1814 to 1816 and forced the then superpower to negotiate with the tiny Nepal in other words Nepal proudly remained free from the long hand of the British empire, and the British Army built the statues of the Nepalese warriors in Deharadun, India honoring their bravery (Historian Dinesh Pantha).


Some views of the Nepalese foreign relations experts on the visit of the Nepalese foreign minister to the US from December 17 to 21, 2018 published on as follow.


“This is an interesting development in terms of Nepal’s foreign policy. It has increased the strategic importance of Nepal in South Asia and the world,” said Prof. Dr. Shambhu Ram Simkhada: former Permanent Representative to the UN and former Ambassador. He also has said that the US, India and China are the strategic players in the region and their roles can be cooperative or competitive at times so the FM (foreign minister) can use the visit to request the US not to view the bilateral relations with Nepal from Indian perspective; however, America has been saying that the US Mission and development support to Nepal show that it respects Nepal as an independent power and follows its own perspective.


Former Ambassador to China Hiranya Lal Shrestha said that the visit could boost international aid and investment in Nepal. “Within 10 years, Indian and Chinese railways are crossing each other in Nepal. It will create a reliable connectivity to the two largest markets in the world which may be a matter of prime attraction to the US and other multinational corporations,” he said. Shrestha said that there was a possibility that the USA would be more focused on supporting Nepal in its development rather than showing its concerns towards Tibet-related activities and issues.


However, former Ambassador to India Suresh Raj Chalise said that the visit could be Nepal’s effort to improve relations with the USA as the latter was ‘not so happy’ with Nepal’s vote against the US at the United Nations regarding recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “This adventurous move from Nepal has disappointed the USA which is its one of the major development partners. Nepal should have been absent in the voting process instead of disappointing two old development partners,” he said, Nepal should have maintained neutrality in such situation.


It has come at a time when the USA has announced support of 500 million dollars through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Experts said that the FM’s visit would ensure the support to Nepal.


The news on made the following statements:

“Gyawali and Pompeo also underlined the importance of early implementation of Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact to realize the benefit it offers. As part of the program, the United States has already extended a grant assistance of $500 million for strengthening Nepal's energy and transport network.


The visit of the Nepali foreign minister to the United States comes at a time when the United States is willing to establish 'strategic partnership' with Nepal as part of its 'Indo-Pacific strategy'. The US launched 'Indo-Pacific Strategy' aims to use political, economic, diplomatic, military, and other means to co-opt China's neighboring countries including India and Nepal to contain China's rise.”



Anil Giri writing an opinion article titled “US says Nepal is part of its Indo-Pacific strategy” on on December 20, 2018 stated the following.


United States officials have said Nepal is a part of their ambitious Indo-Pacific Strategy, a new strategic initiative undertaken by the Trump administration that focuses on developing opportunities across a range of issues across the broader pan-Asian region.


The announcement was timed with the visit of Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali to Washington, where he met with US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo. In a statement released by the State Department on Tuesday, Robert Palladino, the deputy spokesperson, said Nepal’s “central role” in a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific among others was discussed during the meeting between the two leaders.


But Nepali officials downplayed the announcement made by US officials, saying that Nepal had not taken a decision to participate in the US-led strategy, which is seen by foreign policy experts both in the United States and Asia as a counterbalance to the growing Chinese clout in East and South Asian regions.


Contrary to the statement released by the State Department, the Nepali Embassy in Washington did not mention the discussions about Nepal’s role in the Indo-Pacific Strategy. According to the Nepali statement, Nepal and the United States have agreed to widen and deepen their seven-decade-long partnership and take their relationship to the next level.


Foreign policy experts say that Nepal’s involvement in a new geo-strategic initiative aimed at countering China could invite friction between Beijing and Kathmandu, especially because Nepal is a signatory to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.


Following the State Department’s statement, former Foreign Secretary Madhu Raman Acharya said the United States appeared to want to induct Nepal in its “strategic sphere.”


“Nepal’s diplomacy must have achieved new heights to play a “central role” in such issues as Indo-Pacific and North Korea, especially if the Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State is saying so!” he wrote on Twitter. When asked what it means for Nepal, Acharya had words of caution. “Major powers are trying to induct Nepal in their strategic ambit but we should be careful.”


Before leaving for the United States to hold talks with his US counterpart, Gyawali told the Post that Nepal would secure its interest without compromising on its national interest while forging a strategic partnership with global powers. “We want to conduct independent foreign policy and will partner with global powers based on our interest but won’t align with anyone.”


Meanwhile, government officials in Kathmandu said they were not aware of the new initiative or what kind of role Nepal would play in it. “We are very much engaged with America in multiple bilateral issues but we are not participating in any multilateral initiative undertaken by America,” said Rajan Bhattarai: foreign relations adviser to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.


Asked to elaborate on Nepal’s participation in the US-led Indo-Pacific Strategy, a US Embassy spokesperson in Kathmandu said: “Yes, Nepal is part of the larger Indo-Pacific Strategy as part of the strategy is to increase regional connectivity, which Nepal can do through its role in SAARC and BIMSTEC and also through its unique land-linked position between major economic markets.”


“Global funding tied directly to the Indo-Pacific Strategy was already indicated to further strengthen and grow Nepal’s role in UN Peacekeeping operations, for example, as well,” the spokesperson said. “The US looks to further deepen and strengthen the partnership.”


In a phone interview, Arjun Karki: the Nepali Ambassador to the United States said from Washington that there hasn’t been a formal request from the American side for Nepal to become a part of such a strategy.


“We discussed military co-operation, and we are supposed to purchase four Sky trucks from America as well as some weapons,” Karki said. “I think the US officials were referring to that.”


Published: 20-12-2018 07:15



The news titled “Modi criticized for Nepal’s ban on some Indian banknotes” posted on stated on December 19, 2018 stated the following.


Senior leader of the Indian National Congress Shakeel Ahmad Monday blamed the “arrogance” of the Modi-led Indian government for Nepal’s ban on currency notes of denominations higher than Rs 100 and demanded that urgent steps be taken to resolve the issue.


The former Indian Union minister said the ban was causing great inconvenience to the people living along the Nepal-India border. “Our relations with Nepal have been under strain on account of the immaturity and poor understanding of diplomatic matters of the current dispensation. It started with [PM Narendra] Modi’s address to Madheshis during his visit to Janakpur,” PTI quoted Ahmad as saying to reporters.


“The minister for external affairs offended the people of Nepal by saying Modi had addressed Indians living in Nepal. Historically, Nepal has never been a part of India. The Madheshis may have much in common with us in terms of customs but they are, nevertheless, Nepalese citizens,” Ahmad said.


Ahmad claimed that there were protests in the neighboring country but the Modi government, in its “arrogance”, did not pay any heed. “This has now led to the situation that Nepal, the only country other than Bhutan where Indian currency is in circulation, has disallowed transactions in high denomination notes. Millions of people live along the Indo-Nepal border and they are facing a lot of inconveniences,” he alleged.


Modi visited a renowned Hindu pilgrimage center believed to be the birthplace of Goddess Sita, Janakpur in May. The remark by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for which she later apologized, had led to a Nepalese lawmaker terming the lapse a casual undermining of Nepal’s sovereignty. “We request the Centre to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with Nepal which has led to the embarrassing situation,” the Congress I leader added.



Modi imposed sanctions on Nepal in 2015 when Nepalese leaders did not comply with the wishes of Modi to postpone the promulgation of a newly crafted people’s constitution. However, Nepalis stood up to Modi and bent him down rather than meeting his wishes. It had opened up the Chinese territory and seaports for Nepal to have an access to the third countries. China also helped Nepal with 1.2 million liter petrol gratis to mitigate the shortage of fuels the Indian sanctions had created. Actually, the Indian sanctions had been the blessings in disguise.


India and US helped the Tibetan rebels Khampas that took up arms against the Chinese administration in Tibet providing them with weapons and telecommunication equipment and so on in 1970s. However, Nepal helped China to crush the rebels sending its army to the border areas and stopping them to use the Nepalese territory for fighting against China.


China might bring its railroads down to the Nepalese border, and then even helped Nepal to build railroads from there down to Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini and near the border with India. Thus, China and India might link with railroads via Nepal in the years to come.


In view of all these past events, Nepal needs to take steps toward a matured foreign policy so that the American eagle would not prey on a Nepali chick, and the Indian bully would not trouble Nepalis any more.



Horimoto Takenori writing an opinion article titled “The Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy: India’s Wary Response” on expressed the following views on October 9, 2018


The United States has signed on to Japan’s concept of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy aimed at preserving the international order in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. As the two countries seek to promote this strategy, which is seen as being a response to China’s growing presence, they have drawn Australia and India into quadrilateral security consultations. New Delhi, however, remains somewhat wary in its response to this initiative from Tokyo and Washington.


Japan and the United States have adopted the Free and Open Indo-Pacific or FOIP, as a regional strategy and have sought to give it body through the Quadrilateral Strategic Approach, or Quad, a framework for security cooperation among four major democracies: Japan, the United States, Australia, and India. India also uses the Indo-Pacific (the Indian and Pacific Oceans) as a strategic regional concept, but meanwhile it has been maintaining its strategic autonomy at the policy level, as can be seen in its posture toward FOIP—a stance of being involved but also maintaining a certain distance.


A Japanese-Born Strategic Concept

The idea of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy was originally advanced by Japan, although the regional concept of the Indo-Pacific was truly sparked by the former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. As noted in the 2017 edition of Japan’s Diplomatic Blue Book, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō first presented FOIP to an international audience at TICAD VI, the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which was held in Kenya in August 2016. In his keynote address to the conference Abe declared, “What will give stability and prosperity to the world is none other than the enormous liveliness brought forth through the union of two free and open oceans [Indian and Pacific] and two continents [Asia and Africa]” (MOFA 2017a). And when US President Donald Trump visited Japan in November 2017, he agreed with Abe to pursue this strategy.


In a press release on November 12, 2017, titled “Australia-India-Japan-U.S. Consultations on the Indo-Pacific,” the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported, “Senior officials of diplomatic authorities in Japan, Australia, India and the United States, met in Manila, the Philippines on November 12, and discussed measures to ensure a free and open international order based on the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific,” and noted, “The participants affirmed their commitment to continuing discussions and deepening cooperation based on shared values and principles” (MOFA 2017b). These Quad discussions represented a step toward realization of FOIP. Another round of four-way talks was held in June 2018.


Negative Responses from China

The Quad talks are a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative and other moves to expand its global presence. From Beijing’s perspective, they are nothing other than a means of containing China. In 2007, when such Australia-India-Japan-US moves first surfaced, the Chinese showed a strong negative reaction. They view such frameworks, whether quadrilateral or trilateral (involving the United States and two of the other three countries) as being aimed at encircling them (Garver and Wang 2010). And their response to the 2017 Quad session was the same. One Chinese expert wrote that the four-way talks were meant to contain China and warned that they would hinder regional development (Lian 2017). Another declared that the FOIP strategy, aimed at blocking the Belt and Road Initiative, was doomed to fail (Liang 2017). Critics also asserted that the Quad countries were establishing an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In a press conference on November 13, 2017, Geng Shuang, deputy director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Information Department, expressed concern, noting that such multilateral initiatives should promote cooperation among countries concerned and not be turned into exclusionary frameworks.


The Trump Administration Goes Along with the Strategy

Two distinctive features of the recent Quad consultations are (1) Japan’s role as the main mover behind the talks and (2) India’s full-fledged participation. The United States appears to have been more of a supporter than a leader. Meanwhile, Australia has also supported the Quad process, as seems only natural in view of its alliances with Japan and the United States.


One issue, though, is the degree of commitment to FOIP on the part of the “America first” Trump administration. Under President Barack Obama, the United States was promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the mainstay of its economic policy toward Asia, paired with a “rebalance to Asia” as its overall strategic policy toward the region. But Trump has taken the United States out of the TPP and has abandoned the Asian rebalance policy. T. J. Pempel of the University of California has summed up Trump’s first 12 months as a period of “absenteeism from Asia” (Pempel 2017). When Trump made his tour of Asian nations in November 2017, since he had no Asian policy of his own, going along with Japan’s FOIP initiative was his only option.


Even before Trump’s visit, however, US administration officials had been discussing quadrilateral cooperation. For example, in an address on October 18, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke of extending the trilateral engagement among the United States, India, and Japan to include Australia. And National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster is said to have started frequently using the term “Indo-Pacific” shortly before President Trump’s Asian tour (Japan Times, November 4, 2017). Then, in the National Security Strategy released by the White House in December, the United States clearly expressed its wariness toward China and Russia and desire to promote quadrilateral cooperation, declaring, “China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor,” and stating, “We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defense partner. We will seek to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India” (White House 2017, pp. 25, 46).


It would be impossible to attribute the policy change entirely to the change of the US government. In a pre-Trump-era work, Sheila Smith, an American scholar on Japan, noted the importance of both China and Japan for the United States, writing, “The biggest challenge for U.S. policymakers will be developing a cooperative relationship with Beijing while not undermining the United States’ close alliance with Tokyo” (Smith 2015, p. 260). In this respect the Quad consultation framework at the diplomatic level is probably the most suitable approach for Washington at this point. And John Mearsheimer, American international political scientist, pointed out that for the United States, which has a rich history of acting as an “offshore balancer,” the ideal strategy for dealing with China is to leave the task of containing it almost entirely up to the countries of the region, remaining in the background as much as possible (Mearsheimer, 2014, p.385). The Quad process may be seen as a reflection of this sort of thinking.


India’s Wary Posture

India, meanwhile, has yet to fully commit itself to the FOIP strategy and the Quad consultations. As noted in the 2017 Diplomatic Bluebook, “During Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi of India’s visit to Japan in November 2016, the two leaders shared the view to take the initiative for the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region by enhancing the synergy between Japan’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ and India’s ‘Act East Policy’ through collaboration” (MOFA 2017a).  But New Delhi has not given its full approval to FOIP or the quadrilateral framework. In his keynote address at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue on June 1, 2018,(*1) Prime Minister Modi used the term “inclusive” four times, stressing that the Indo-Pacific envisaged by India must be a free, open, inclusive region—“FOIIP” rather than “FOIP.” Prime Minister Abe also said in his January 2018 policy speech to the National Diet that Japan would “work with China” based on the overall direction of the FOIP strategy. His inclusiveness looks no more than diplomatic rhetoric.


In short, Modi’s references to inclusiveness mean the inclusion of China. For New Delhi, relations with Beijing are a top foreign policy priority, and in order to maintain a stable bilateral relationship, India has been both engaging China and hedging against it (Horimoto 2018). Shortly after Modi took office in 2014, Sandy Gordon, a South Asia specialist at the Australian National University, suggested a possible scenario under which “India would seek the best deal it can from China, both economically and in terms of a possible border settlement, while attempting to maintain its hedge against a possible difficult rise of China with powers such as the US and Japan” (Gordon 2014). At the moment, India cannot confront China just by itself, nor can it do so by teaming up with Japan. It will have to rely on the Quad framework.


New Delhi can use the Quad as a hedge against Beijing, taking the Chinese criticism of the four-way framework as coming from the bureaucratic rather than political level. While continuing to be a regular member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (an eight-country grouping that includes China and Russia) and to participate in the BRICS summit (an annual gathering of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), India will probably agree at any time to upgrade the Quad consultations to the foreign-ministerial or prime-ministerial level. Meanwhile, from 2002 through 2017 India has held the RIC foreign ministers’ meeting among Russia, India and China on 15 occasions.


New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific strategy is informed by the idea of balancing China and Russia against Japan and the United States, and it may be seen being an expression of “strategic autonomy”—a term that has been widely used within India as an expression of the country’s new foreign policy stance since the start of the current decade— accompanied by its multi-aligned approach to the world (Ayres, 2018, p216).  Looking at it from another angle, we can see it as a policy of cooperating with Australia, Japan, and the United States in the seas and with China and Russia on the Eurasian landmass. But for India the strategically crucial waters are the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, rather than the Pacific Ocean.


Since around 2010 India’s foreign policy has been conducted on three levels: global, regional (Indo-Pacific), and local (South Asia) (Horimoto 2017). New Delhi’s main troubles now are with antagonists at the regional level (particularly China) and at the local level (particularly Pakistan). Now that China and Pakistan are moving even closer together with the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), India may look at the pursuit of the FOIP strategy and Quad consultations by its diplomatic authorities as a realistic option for hedging against China while avoiding causing excessive friction.


International Implications of Closer Japan-India Ties

International politics in the Indo-Pacific region as of now ultimately boil down to the issue of how to deal with China, which seems to be working to replace the United States as the regional hegemon and establish a Sino-centric international order. With the rise of China’s power and the relative decline in that of the United States in the region, the United States is no longer capable of holding China down as it could before. In this context, FOIP and the Quad can serve as effective approaches.


India aims ultimately to become a great power in its own right, but at the current stage its only options involve cooperation with other countries. For Japan, meanwhile, the alliance with the United States has served as the linchpin of its foreign policy, but the foundation of dependence on Washington is becoming less solid. It is in this context that the relationship between Tokyo and New Delhi has been continuing to grow closer and stronger.


Japan, meanwhile cannot place its entire reliance on the United States as its sole ally. India stands to play a supplementary role in this connection. For India, Russia previously acted as a quasi-ally, providing support for New Delhi’s foreign policy in the post–Cold War period, but since the mid-2010s Moscow has been shifting visibly toward Beijing. In addition, China and Pakistan have been moving fast toward closer ties, both with the development of the CPEC and with the deterioration of relations between Washington and Islamabad. So, even though India is taking a cautious attitude toward the FOIP strategy, it sees Japan as a welcome partner. It is hard to predict how the situation will develop against this complex background.



Dingding Chen writing a commentary titled “The Indo-Pacific Strategy: A Background Analysis” on stated the following.


"Indo-Pacific" is originally a geographic concept that spans two regions of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The " Indo-Pacific " used by Trump means that India, the United States, and other major Asian democracies, especially Japan and Australia, will join in curbing China in the new framework of growing "Cold War" influence.


In recent years, the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Quad concept have been introduced and advocated by various countries at various points in time. Shinzo Abe held talks with Indian Prime Minister Modi and promoted the "Indo-Pacific Strategy" several times. On the one hand, he praised India's "Eastward Action" policy. On the other hand, he expressed the need to strengthen cooperation with India. The Trump’s visit to Japan formally called the “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” reflecting the US-Japan interest in this strategy.


Chinese scholars believe that the geopolitical changes brought about by China's rise are the main reason Washington is devoting efforts to boost Indo-Pacific alliances, and the Indo-Pacific Strategy is intended to hedge against China’s foreign and security policy behavior. On the other hand, many scholars also argue that Trump's Indo-Pacific Strategy is an update of Obama's “rebalance.” Xue Li, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes that the new strategy is needed because of the strategic culture and the need for balance of power in the United States.


The United States is the leader of the " Indo-Pacific Strategy“. At present, the United States has put forward the "Indo-Pacific Strategy" which reflects the attention of the United States to the Indian Ocean region. Through its economic rise in recent years India has become a leader among emerging economies. The "Indo-Pacific Strategy" is the expansion and revision of the "Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy." The purpose is to contain China's rise and safeguard U.S. leadership in the region.



Japan, as an important ally of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, plays an important role in the conception and promotion of the India Pacific. Apart from its own insecurities as an island nation, the reason that Japan is so clearly united with India and the United States is Japan’s vigilance against and concerns about China’s rising economic and military capabilities.



India has always been a country with great national ambitions and is one of the most important advocates of the concept of "Indo-Pacific Strategy“. India can take this opportunity to promote the justification and rationalization of its interests in Southeast Asia; expand its presence in East Asia, strengthen its political, economic and military cooperation with the United States and its allies, and comprehensively increase India’s influence in international affairs.



Australia was one of the earliest countries to introduce the concept of “India”. In the 1960s, Australia discussed the exertion of its influence in the “India” region to avoid its own difficulties in the Cold War. Today, Australia actively welcomes the “Indo-Pacific” strategy promoted by the United States and emphasizes its important position in the United States’ “Indo-Pacific” strategy, not only because Australia wants to enhance US-Australia trade relations, but also it wants to improve its presence and scope of interest in Southeast Asia.



Indonesia and Singapore are also supporters of the "Indo-Pacific Strategy" concept. Due to the location advantages of Indonesia and Singapore, the concept of “Indo-Pacific” will have the opportunity to enhance its strategic position. Small and medium-sized countries are caught between China and the United States. On the one hand, they are afraid of the regional order changes brought about by the rise of China on the other hand they do not want to lose their share of the dividends brought about by China's economic development.


The "Indo-Pacific" strategy has made South Korea and Southeast Asian countries allies at a loss, emphasizing the "pillar of four countries" and ignoring the status and role of South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore and other countries in the framework.



The views of the editorial board expressed in the article titled “India’s cautious courtship with the US-led order in Asia” and posted on on September 24, 2018 are as follow.


The origins of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ idea lay in US maritime security strategy and the ambition for naval dominance of the two great oceans that surround continental Asia. It has been part of US military security dialogue for some time. All coyness about these origins was cast aside when the US Armed Forces renamed its US Pacific Command in Hawaii US Indo-Pacific Command earlier this year.


India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) poses for a picture along with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis before a meeting in New Delhi, India, 6 September 2018 (Photo: India's Press Information Bureau/Handout via Reuters).


The original Indo-Pacific idea has transmogrified into other variants, though it has a lineage that is clear in the US-led regional military security order.


In Japan, the talk is of a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific that promotes its South Asian and African economic diplomacy as a counterweight against China, under the surface connecting tightly with United States’ maritime security strategy. But it’s talk, with piecemeal, contradictory action, especially as doubt about America’s strategic reliability under President Trump has grown. In the United States, the Indo-Pacific idea was introduced into US security rhetoric by Hillary Clinton and her Assistant Secretary for East Asia Kurt Campbell under the first Obama administration and entrenched in the language of the US Pacific Command. In Australia, the idea was suckered from its roots in the US alliance relationship and given a boost in a conference held by the US Naval War College and the Lowy Institute in Sydney in early 2011. It was written into documents issued under Australian governments since Julia Gillard’s prime ministership and embraced fulsomely in the Foreign Policy White Paper launched by the Turnbull government as a basis for reorganization of the operations of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the thrust of Australia’s foreign policy. But there is little evidence that it has yet worked as a critical mode for foreign policy coordination and strategic action.


The putative locus of the Indo-Pacific idea is in the stillborn Quad, which aims to tie the four corners of the Indo-Pacific together in high level security dialogue among the four ‘like-minded’ democracies — Australia, Japan, India and the United States (absent Indonesia). It remains an officials-level forum on the margins, sure in its distrust of China but unsure of whether and how to build a coalition to counter it. The idea of Indonesia as the maritime fulcrum of the Indo-Pacific came more recently, built on the geographical reality that that country lies at the intersection of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, although it implies an optimistic assessment of its tenuous Indian Ocean ties.


At a generous stretch, the Indo-Pacific idea acknowledges the shifting weight of economic and political power westwards in Asia towards India, at the same time as it linguistically under-weights the centrality of China and continental Asia to its continuing economic and political momentum. At its core, it is the military–security element of America’s response to the complex problems we now all face in managing the rise of China’s power, through developing a strategy that seeks to engage India as a military counterweight to China. It is a conception that underestimates the complex economic and political interdependence with mainland Asia that Mr Modi in New Delhi, Mr Xi in Beijing and Mr Trump in Washington and everybody else in the region have to deal with day by day.


In this week’s lead essay, Jagannath Panda throws doubt on the idea that this strategy makes sense for India. ‘The US vision for the regional security order is based on an anti-China shift in US security strategy’, says Panda bluntly. That contradicts ‘India’s vision for a regional order which is “inclusive”. Though China is viewed by India as an adversary in some respects, New Delhi also sees Beijing as an important partner in bilateral and global affairs’.


This is the view that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi championed at this year’s Shangri-La dialogue, Panda points out. Modi gave no credence there to the notion that the ‘Indo-Pacific Region is a strategy or is a club of limited members’. Including both China and Russia as regional partners provides clear indication that India’s vision of regional order does not have strategic consonance with that of the United States.


Panda notes that India’s absence from the US-led Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Washington a couple of months ago was a telling sign of New Delhi’s unwillingness to be locked too tightly into a political–security embrace with Washington. ‘This forum was convened along with Japan and Australia to encourage investment in infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific. The United States announced $US113 million for investment in areas such as digital connectivity, energy and infrastructure’ says Panda. This was meant to push the US ‘strategic partnership’ approach to the region in the hope of balancing China’s ‘strategic dependence’ approach that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it’s said, offers to the world. ‘Given India’s own objections to China’s Belt and Road Initiative’, Panda says, ‘it may have seemed appropriate for India and “like-minded” countries to come together in this forum. But India’s absence confirms its hesitance to accept US-led schemes to counter China’.


Panda also points out that the ‘strategic partnership between India and the United States is deepening. The civil nuclear agreement signed in October 2008 marked a new beginning. And both the 2016 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement and the 2018 Communication, Compatibility, Security Agreement have strengthened the relationship further. The US decision to rename the Pacific Command the Indo-Pacific Command also gave a symbolic nod to India’s centrality in the region’. India is similarly building its bilateral ties with Japan and Australia separately, each at their own pace.


India’s message is clear: it sees itself as no pawn in the game the United States seems to be shaping up to play against China or compliant partner in a US-led political–security order that would put at risk the development of its important relationships with China and others in the region.


The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.


December 26, 2018

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