Nisha Biswal, Senior Vice President for International Strategy, US Chamber of Commerce and President, US India Business Council
Kurt Campbell, Indo-Pacific Coordinator, US National Security Council
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S L Narasimhan, Director General, Centre for Contemporary China Studies
Ms Tanvi Madan, Brookings Institution
At the outset, I would like to thank the Ananta Centre for organising a session on this important subject.
2. The Indo-Pacific region is one of the most populous and economically active regions of the world which includes four continents: Asia, Africa, Australia and America and two of the great oceans of the word, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The dynamism and vitality of the region is self evident – 60% of the world's population and 2/3rd of the global economic output makes this region a global economic center. This region is also a great source and destination for FDI. Many of the world’s critical and large supply chains have an Indo-Pacific connect. It is indisputable that the Indo-Pacific is the 21st century’s locus in political and security terms; competition, technology incubation and innovation.
3. Indo-Pacific is a recent addition to the geopolitical lexicon and has come into prominence in the past decade. However, India’s engagement with the region spans centuries – and includes historical, cultural, maritime, economic and cultural linkages. For India, the Indo-Pacific region is part of our extended neighbourhood – our foreign policy outreach towards the region has been multifaceted and extensive. India’s Indo-Pacific geography can perhaps be best described as a succession of semi-circles. The innermost semi-circle incorporates our closest neighbours, that share our civilizational and cultural heritage. The arc of the outer neighbourhood covers the Gulf states to our west and Southeast Asia and the ASEAN countries to our east.
4. For India, the Horn of Africa, the western Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca are a seamless region.
5. In our approach, the Indo-Pacific region stretches from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa. From our vantage point, South East Asia is at the center of the Indo-Pacific, with ASEAN architecture assuming a prominent role.
6. Our vision of and approach to this region was succinctly articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore in 2018. India stands for an open, balanced, rules-based and stable international trade regime in the Indo-Pacific. Our approach is based on cooperation and collaboration, given the need for shared responses to shared challenges. This was elaborated through the vision of SAGAR, which means "Ocean” in several Indian languages - and stands for Security and Growth for all in the Region. SAGAR also guides our approach towards both the Indo-Pacific region and issues related to the maritime domain.
7. To implement the vision of SAGAR, the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative was launched in 2019 with ASEAN and ASEAN-led mechanisms as the primary platforms and the East Asia Summit as a premier leaders-led forum. High level participation in these platforms provides an opportunity to discuss regional issues and constructive ideas.
8. Given its central location in the region, India has been a net provider of security, first responder and a development partner. We work towards enhancing security and ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific – through participation in peacekeeping efforts and anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
9. As a net security provider we are implementing a range of maritime security initiatives.
10. Our HADR assistance takes many forms. India was the first to reach Sri Lanka after the tsunami of 2004 and responded quickly to support Sri Lanka following the Cyclone in 2016 and floods in 2017.
11. Indian aircraft and naval vessels shipped supplies to Bangladesh in 2017 and 2018 after the sudden influx of displaced persons from the Rakhine State in Myanmar.
12. Our development partnership in the Indo-Pacific extends to the Pacific Island States, the Indian Ocean Region, our neighbourhood and Africa. This is a practical demonstration of our goodwill and our capacities, through execution of projects and strengthening capacities in local communities.
13. We deploy significant resources through development partnerships, which are demand driven and guided by the principle of "Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. Our development projects are diverse and encompass financial assistance, technical cooperation, capacity building and infrastructure projects all of which meet the needs of our friends – and are guided by their priorities and preferred roadmaps.
14. More than 2/3rds of our lines of credit are extended to countries in the Indo-Pacific to support infrastructure and connectivity for construction of roads, railways and metros, ports, bridges, dams, housing, and projects related to power and renewable energy.
15. India has been proactive in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by according priority to our neighbours and partners in the Indo-Pacific through supplies of critical medicines, vaccines, Liquid medical oxygen, capacity building, and sending rapid response teams of medical personnel. As COVID-19 continues to impact the region, we are working with our partners and friends to contain the pandemic.
16. In Pacific Islands we are implementing High Impact Community Development Projects aimed at their socio-economic development. We have set up FIPIC or Forum of India-Pacific Islands Cooperation to strengthen our outreach to the Pacific Island Countries.
17. Our presence and partnership with Africa has expanded -with an agenda inclusive of development partnership, connectivity, energy, digital diplomacy and defence and security. The India Africa Forum Summit has been the primary outreach mechanism in recent years .
18. India has taken the lead to establish regional architecture in the region - the Indian Ocean Rim Association, Indian Ocean Naval Symposium and BIMSTEC are some notable examples.
19. As part of our engagement and approach to the Indo-Pacific, we are a member of the Quad. This plurilateral group brings together four countries which have similar values and attributes. They are democracies, market economies and pluralistic societies that are committed to the vision of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. They are committed to respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as equality of all nations, irrespective of size and strength. They believe that countries should have freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce in accordance with international law.
20. The Quad framework became active in 2017 with regular meetings of officials and Foreign Ministers. As you are aware, it was elevated to Leaders’ level in 2021. Quad Leaders met twice this year, most recently in Washington DC in person. Quad adopting a Joint Statement on both occasions reflects growing consensus on issues of mutual interest.
21. The Prime Minister made the point at the Summits that the Quad is a partnership for global good. The Quad has adopted a positive and constructive agenda, which includes contemporary issues such as vaccines, climate change and emerging technologies.
22. Broadly, there are three kinds of initiatives that the Quad is handling – the first set has a practical implication and is aimed at the well-being of the people of the Indo-Pacific region. The prime example is the Quad vaccine initiative which seeks to supply one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine to countries in the region by the end of 2022.
23. The second set of Quad initiatives will bring together the four countries to address contemporary issues such as cyber Security and 5G where Quad seeks to adopt and implement shared standards, principles and norms; and promote secure and trustworthy equipment and infrastructure.
24. Under the third category, Quad countries will collaborate amongst themselves through initiatives such as the Quad Fellowship program.
25. The way ahead will involve regular coordination among the Quad countries to implement the vision of our Leaders and crystallize the constructive spirit of the grouping. The COVID-19 vaccine initiative under the Quad framework, in particular, reflects the Quad’s collective commitment to combat the pandemic. Timely delivery of vaccines will require all four countries leveraging their respective capacities.
26. The vaccine initiative will enhance global vaccination efforts and build resilient supply chains. It could also become the template for our work together in combating future pandemics, natural disasters, or building resilient supply chains.
27. Quad partnership has the capacity to address contemporary global challenges and mutual concerns, while highlighting the importance of a rules based international order. Our ability to work together as democratic nations would also bolster respect for international law and ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
28. The Quad partnership is one of the ways in which we could address strategic competition and geopolitical challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.
29. In recent times we have seen several countries articulating their vision and strategies for the Indo-Pacific. We welcome this trend, which is an indication of the growing significance of the Indo-Pacific and the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region.
30. I will end by saying that our collective efforts will contribute to the maintenance of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, where there is respect for territorial integrity, peaceful resolution of disputes and adherence to international rules and norms.
31. I look forward to our discussion today.