The concept of Indo-Pacific is a rejection of the spheres of influence and a reiteration that the world cannot be frozen for the benefit of a few even if that is the case with the United Nations, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Friday. Addressing a global town hall event via video-conferencing, Jaishankar also said that the Indo-Pacific was an indication of a future not a throwback to the past and "only those harbouring a Cold War mindset will see such intentions".
His remarks come in the wake of China's increasing military muscle-flexing in the region which has become a major talking point among leading global powers. Jaishankar said there has been a growing recognition of the logic of the Indo-Pacific in recent times and the ASEAN's outlook on it was a notable step.
"Apart from the nations of the larger region, we've also seen Germany, France and the Netherlands subscribe recently to this approach. The need of the day is to give it a practical shape, this can be done by plurilateral diplomatic consultations such as the QUAD or it can be furthered in a structured fashion by the Indo-Pacific Oceans initiative that India tabled at the East Asia Summit in 2019," Jaishankar said at the town hall session, titled 'The Indo-Pacific and the COVID crisis'. "This is built on the seven pillars of maritime security; maritime ecology; maritime resources, capacity building and resource sharing; disaster risk reduction and management; science, technology and academic cooperation; and trade, connectivity and maritime transport," he said.
Jaishankar said that from any objective viewpoint, Indo-Pacific is a more contemporary description of the current reality. Such a landscape creates an ethos for greater cooperation — one particularly necessary at a time when global goods are in short supply, he said.
Jaishankar said that when challenges multiply but capacities do not keep pace, the answer is only in more intensified cooperation. Issues like maritime security, transparent and market-based connectivity or counter-terrorism do require such solutions, he said.
"Indo-Pacific is also a rejection of spheres of influence and all that this may imply. It is a reiteration that the world cannot be frozen for the benefit of a few even if that is the case with the United Nations," Jaishankar said. "It is an indication of a future not a throwback to the past. Only those harbouring a Cold War mindset will see such intentions," the External Affairs Minister said.
Every era produces its own strategic concepts and analytical constructs and the current one is no exception, Jaishankar said, adding that after all the sharp distinction between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean theatres was only made after the World War II. On June 1, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined India's vision for the Indo-Pacific region in his speech delivered at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore.
India's concept of the Indo-Pacific is inclusive in nature, and supports an approach that respects the right to freedom of navigation and overflight for all in the international seas. Jaishankar said that it was natural that different ideas and suggestions were at interplay and harmonising them was very much part of the pluralistic political culture that many support.
In India's case, the Indo-Pacific was a natural extrapolation of its Act East policy that has made China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Australia, amongst others, its major partners, he said. In his address, Jaishankar also highlighted India's effective response to the COVID crisis and its emphasis on global cooperation to deal with global challenges.
Noting that India had responded with determination and discipline to the COVID-19 challenge, he said an economy which did not make ventilators, testing kits, PPEs and N-95 masks, today not only caters to its own needs, but those beyond. "more than 15,000 dedicated COVID treatment facilities, we created an infrastructure to respond effectively. A high recovery rate and low case fatality rate speak for themselves, indeed does the social distancing culture and mass adoption of preventive measures," Jaishankar said.
But, for the world what is more important is the emphasis India has put on global cooperation to deal with global challenges, he said. COVID-19 created a spike in demand for pharmaceuticals, especially for hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol, and India ramped up production, as it responded to the requirement of others, he said.
Pointing out that that now the focus has shifted to vaccine production and testing, he said both were essential to the return of travel normalcy. "India is deeply involved in many international collaborations and initiatives. Prime Minister Modi has committed to the UN that we will help make vaccines accessible and affordable to all," Jaishankar said. He also said that it was revealing that in the midst of a pandemic, Indian diplomacy has put the Indo-Pacific approach into practice and provided assistance to Solomon Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Tonga, Tuvalu and Palau for procurement of medical equipment and supplies to assist them in their response to COVID 19.
"In a world where trust and transparency are now at a greater premium, it highlights the importance of building more resilient supply chains. It is also a reminder of the importance of multilateralism and that in turn requires adherence to a rule-based global order," he said.