NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
Cover Story Changing Tides: The Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue 2018 The partnership between The Indian Navy and The National Maritime Foundation has resulted in the discourse named The Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue.
By Sea and Coast | 17/08/2018

The conference, called the Annual Maritime Power Conference earlier, and rebranded as the ‘Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue’ with effect from 2018,is in actuality an Annual Review of India’s Opportunities and Challenges, based on the Indo-Pacific Region and was conducted at the Manekshaw Centre, New Delhi on the 27 and 28 Feb 2018.

The seminar was attended by several dignitaries, including Honourable Minister for Shipping, Road transport and highway, Shri Nitin Gadkari, Honourable Minister of Defence, Smt Nirmala Sitharaman, Admiral RK Dhowan, PVSM, AVSM, YSM (Retd), Chairman National Maritime Foundation and Former Chief of the Naval Staff, Chairman Chief of Defence Committee and Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba, PVSM, AVSM, ADC , Mr Stephen Lovegrove, Pmt Secy for Ministry of Defence, UK,  Admiral RC Wijegunaratne, WV, RWP, RSP, VSV, USP, ndu, psc, MNI, Chief of Defence Staff, Sri Lankan Armed Forces, former Chiefs of Naval Staff, Ambassadors and other diplomatic staff, senior officers from the armed forces, serving and retired distinguished guest, eminent participants and members of the media. The opening note was delivered by Admiral RK Dhowan, Chairman, National Maritime Foundation wherein he emphasised that the objective of the seminar was to analyse the prospective growth of the ‘Indo-Pacific Region’.  Accordingly, the discussions were to be centred on the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, which has, in recent years, grown quite decisively from its initial form. He reiterated that the origin of the Indo-Pacific goes beyond the discipline of ‘biogeography’ venturing into ‘geopolitics’ and hence it is quite apparent that the latter is more powerful an option to acquire a considerable amount of traction.

But what exactly does the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ region refers to?

To put simply in spatial terms, the Indo-Pacific boils down to a predominantly maritime space, and expands its horizon to, as far as India as a nation is concerned, all the littoral states of West Asia and Africa, incorporating every piece of land that exists across the stretches of Indian Ocean in its entirety. The vast space that envelops all of SE Asia (ASEAN), also stretches its waters into the Western Pacific to engulf all the littorals of East and Northeast Asia. The peripheries of which encircle all of North and South Korea, Japan and China while it also reaches the stretches of Australia and New Zealand in its vast sprawl of southern Pacific Island-nations.

Then there is the question of how important the region is.

Put simply, encircling this vast network of nations, Indo-Pacific encounters an exhilarating fusion of maritime connectivity, collaboration, cooperation and competition. This very region has been rendered to be of the most imminent importance to India, to Asia, to the whole world. For India, it’s a huge leap to focus on its prosperous prospects. The dialogue involves several of these processes including collaborative, cooperative or competitive, all of which are simultaneously taking place on the planes, both the tangibles and the intangibles. It makes way for a high-pitched drama that is on its way of unfolding, inviting its inhabitants and its influencers to project the attractions or distractions of the region and its way of life— the very norms and nomenclatures that they either approve of or outrightly reject, both collectively and individually. The region is of utmost importance, not only now; rather it has always been, historically. But, growing towards a newer world, ridding the once wondrous civilizations of the region and its inheritors of the imbalances, that were left behind as the residue of the colonial era, the people of the very region are once again prepared to maneuver and occupy what they once perceived to be their rightful place under the sun. Indeed, it is a historic restoration of the global-power-balance.

Re-balancing the Global Powers

One of the significant signaling factors is the rapidly rising numbers of Asian nation-states including India, China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, and the ten constituent nations of ASEAN. What is the most intriguing factor is that Indo-Pacific region is right in the middle of it all, at the cusp of maritime change, a change of both order and magnitude that was beyond conceptions even a few short decades ago. The result delivers the promised drama. The multinational, rule-based order, which was exemplified by the consensual entry into force of the 1982 UN Law of the Sea, was able to sustain the maritime interrelations between the nations thus far but the question lies ahead. It is now under a great threat as more of the emerging powers have begun to offer alternative interpretations of the maritime order. It is more promising and assuring to have an inclusive economic growth through the balance of their own connectivity models. India, like any other resurgent maritime nation, has sought to emphasise on its powerful civilizational and cultural heritage through its maritime connections offering the region an inclusive model of constructive engagement.

The region encircles other major civilizations as well such as that of Iran, China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, and South Korea, who are all in solidarity with their common strife to break free from the shackles of relatively modern history, be it Colonial or not, to regain their prominence and re-stablish their predominance. These Indo-Pacific Nation-States are struggling to win over the multi-faceted challenges that the globalised world has to offer in their struggle to find their lost identities. But when we do think about globalization, we know that the model is based on the global economic interdependence as well as on the centrality that has offered to the international trades—the very trades that dwell on the waters, international waters. The bulk of all the International trade, the supply and shipping, are carried over the seas.

Welcoming Change at Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue-2018 addressed by Admiral RK Dhowan, PVSM, AVSM, YSM (RETD)

A dialogue, especially the one deciphering the future of world’s emerging powers in the Indo-Pacific region, demands a grand introduction, a contextual, substantial and expansive welcome note. The Seminar on Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue-2018 began with a grander one with the words of Admiral RK Dhowan, PVSM, AVSM, YSM (Retd), Chairman National Maritime Foundation and the former Chief of the Naval Staff.


Admiral RK Dhowan brought out that the Annual Maritime Power Conference had been conducted by the National Maritime Foundation since 2006. The theme of the last year’s conference was focussed on the concepts and constituents of the Blue Economy Development but this year onwards this annual Conference has undergone major rebranding and the new brand that it has shaped up to is the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue 2018. The Conference explores the avenues as it reviews the opportunities of India and the diverse range of challenges that are due in the Indo-Pacific Region. The dialogue is the apex-level seminar conducted by the Indian Navy in seamless partnership with the National Maritime Foundation.

The Indo-Pacific Question

‘Indo-Pacific’ is the term that is reinventing itself from its origin, especially in recent years, and has transformed decisively from bio geography venturing into the realms of geopolitics. The contemporary tides in the Indo-Pacific Region have enabled it to emerge as the economic as well as the strategic centre of gravity of the world, focusing in the maritime domain. If we take expanse alone, the span of the Indian Ocean stands as the third largest water body in the world encompassing an enormous area of 68.5 million sq. km. No lesser than the 38 countries standing on the rim of the Indian Ocean inhabit almost a third of humanity. Add to that the 35 countries which are situated along the Indo Pacific Rim and you get nearly 60% of the world’s population fitting into the entire Indo Pacific Region. It’s vast, to say the least, it’s populous and it’s powerful, collectively.

Positioning India

Amid all of this, India is situated astride the busy sea lines of maritime communication which has made it more helpful for the nation to venture across the Indian Ocean. Not to forget nearly 120,000 ships which transit every year across the very Indian Ocean shipping 66% of the world’s oil, 50% of the world’s container traffic and 33% of the world’s Cargo traffic. To quantify, it would cross the bar of one billion tonnes of oil that pass through the Indian Ocean Region, each and every year. Where does it lead to? The oil arteries along the lines of the trade routes would lead further east stretching to ASEAN and other countries like Japan, China and South Korea. Putting an amount to its head the commercial shipping and energy supplies would cross nearly 5 trillion dollar worth transiting through the South China Sea every year. Least to say, the economic significance is beyond comprehension.

The Four Themes of the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue 2018

The Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue 2018 presents us with a list of questions that warrants immediate attention. It is time to discuss about the specifics and discover the rules of this spatial power-game. Some of the more pressing dilemmas have been addressed through the course of the Conference. Let us explore the queries raised and move on to the possible answers. The 2018 edition of the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue strives to address these and allied issues such as:

  • What are the central nodes that might define the security dynamics of the Indo-Pacific from India’s perspective and the perspectives of its maritime neighbours?
  • What are the more significant of maritime challenges in this region and what ought to be India’s strategies for risk-mitigation?
  • Since every challenge is simultaneously an opportunity, what are the opportunities that present themselves before India’s maritime policy-shapers, policy-makers, and, the practitioners of these policies?
  • How should other regional players react to the geopolitical game-moves by India and other major players within the Indo-Pacific?

The 2018 edition of the Conference addresses these issues by reviewing the opportunities and challenges that India can enact upon playing its role in the Indo-Pacific region. This year’s Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue majorly focused upon four basic themes that is centrally relevant to its regional geo-politics.

  1. Maritime Merchandise Trade

The very first theme that was discussed over the course of the Conference is Maritime Merchandise Trade. The environmentally sensitive course of its development has played an important role in constituting the Blue Economy. But more importantly, it is the centrality of the region’s maritime geopolitics which has been preceding the present economic conception for several centuries if not millennia. It goes without saying that the discussions about the growths and vulnerabilities of maritime merchandise trade will most definitely include infrastructural association including ports and multi-modal connectivity. The Maritime Trade aspect of the Indo-Pacific region and the complex way it courses through the international waters do impose strong geo-political connotations and the 2018 edition of the dialogue has been centering upon the discourse of maritime merchandise trade and all the other related industries for the very same geopolitical considerations. This is the key reference for the established and the emerging powers of the Indo-Pacific region with which these powerful regions will now strive, collectively and individually. These discussions will go beyond the limitations of mere trade growth, vulnerabilities, opportunities and mitigation-options only considering major regional players like China, Japan, and India etc. They would instead try a more open option, an inclusive approach so that other players can get the benefits too. This will enable a more powerful impact to incorporate other dynamic regional players like North and East Africa, West Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia for which the same trade growth, vulnerabilities, opportunities and mitigation-options will be explored with equal intensity.

  1. Regional Connectivity Models

The second theme in line that has been discussed in the Indo-Pacific dialogue in this year’s edition focused upon the theme of regional connectivity-models, the likes of the BRI, the International North-South Transit Corridor (NSTC), the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), Project MAUSAM, the SAGAR concept, etc. Encompassing the collective regional structures residing within the IOR including the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), after a scrutiny and examination, this very theme will also correspond with the structures residing in the Pacific segment of the Indo-Pacific, for example the ASEAN and the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS).

  1. Changes and Challenges of Indo-Pacific Maritime Environment

The third theme that has been discussed in the 2018 edition is the diverse changes that the region is going through and the various challenges of the overall maritime environment of Indo-Pacific. Among them are the trials and tribulations of the persistent and sustaining sea surveillance as well as the increase of digitations in the generic maritime space alongside the issues that come along the cyber-malpractices. These are already aggregated into serious maritime concerns.

  1. Role of Indian Industry in Private and Public Sectors

The fourth issue at hand and the final one in the 2018 dialogue focused upon the significant role of the Indian Industry not only in the private sectors, but in the public sectors as well. The discussion in turn aimed to decipher how to enable an enhanced holistic maritime security. There are two key aspects to focus upon: The industrial partnership between bilateral, trilateral and multinational industries which is a virgin space to warrant further discussion and a promising one with glaring opportunities and to highlight the prospects of ‘Make-in-India’ integrating it in the maritime domain. Special attention has been given to the latter to seek out the optimal manner employing which India’s massive potential in terms of shipyards and the glamour of the MSME sector can be optimally materialized and leveraged. 

Changing Tides with Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue-2018

To understand the massive significance of the overall issue of Indo-Pacific dialogues, one must keep in mind its vast spatial expanse. The changing tides in the international waters are unfolding a new era, an era of restoring the glories of the golden days. Colonialism rode through the rising tides of the same international waters and now it’s time for the emerging waters to re-embark and prove their prominence. The 2018 Edition of the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue has been able to realize and recognize the contemporary dynamic of the maritime-security and the tides of the vast oceanic expanse it encircles. It’s a learning curve now that will soon empower India to learn and master the skills that dominate the strategic moves and counter-moves. The region is now home to three ascending major powers, China, India and Iran, two static major powers each of them with sharply declining population, Japan and Russia and at least four supporting and facilitating powers including Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam alongside one revisionist power, North Korea, and one superpower, the USA.

The Conference on Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue: 2018 Edition, this year, seeks to enable and supervise intensive and extensive scholarship to master the geopolitical game moves focusing on these imminent issues. This is a powerful battle for India and the other home countries of Indo-Pacific region who have ridden on the tide to dominate the International power, individually and collectively.

The Vulnerabilities of the Oceans

The Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue 2018 has brought to attention some of the more pressing issues as well. The Ocean has disclosed its vulnerabilities like never before. The seas are no longer benign not anymore in the safe heavens of the medium, with globalisation on its peak it has revamped into the turbulent globalised waters with no stringent legislations over it. The unbound waters are just an inch away and a small hole in its deck can sink a sail. Let us explore the vulnerabilities that the Ocean endures.

Piracy & Terrorism

Among the many threats and challenges on the Into-Pacific waters, there lies a persistent and non-traditional one, the threat of piracy and maritime terrorism that stretches its arms to trafficking, drugs smuggling, poaching even human trafficking. 

Pollution & Climate Change

Another major concern now is the indiscriminate pollution of the seas which has aggravated a major detrimental impact with the climate change on the oceans. The climate change issue has consequently accelerated extreme climate conditions which in turn transforms into natural disasters and the zones stormed by this issue, in the span of Indo-Pacific Region, stand in the very eye of the danger prone areas. The Indian Navy as well as the Coast Guard are facing a potentially fatal situation and have to be always prepared with urgent responsive support providing the people at-risk all the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster relief that it can arrange and deliver. 

Fragile Waters

The turbulences and the instabilities occurring in some of the parts of this gigantic Indo-Pacific region invites the unrest and can affect major areas spilling over the maritime domain. The situation is such grave that it is described at best, fragile, at worst, fatal. The situation is kept under strict surveillance and the consequent patrolling of Navies from nearly 20 nations who are present all the time in the Indian Ocean Region has been safeguarding the maritime interests.

Chinese Imposition

To add to all of the above vulnerabilities, there is another one posed by one of the neighbouring countries, China. The enhanced deployment of PLA (Navy) in the Indian Ocean by China has been a constant sore and they have not fell short of displaying an aggression towards the region in the South China Sea. This issue regarding the South China Sea has maligned the relation between the two nation in the name and claims of sovereignty and territory. The matter, as suggested by China, is about freedom of navigation through which the objective is to control the maritime resources of the region. This is an imposing issue waiting to expand. The expansion of the Chinese influence in these waters invites strategic assertions, coupled with the issues of instability in the oil-rich West Asia. This majorly impacts in the security of transporting energy in the Indo-Pacific Rim. These are some of the more significant challenges that are waiting to unfold in the region.

No International Legislation

Thankfully, India has been able to advocate an adherence to the international laws which in turn has made it easy for the promotion and sustenance of peace, environmental and international stability alongside assuring the maritime safety and security, while also enabling the freedom of navigation. It has in turn also helped the flights navigating over the region. But more curiously, it is still a raising concern for maintaining the international laws, even after any and all precautions taken. High seas have always been the least protected areas on the world and are no way near in recovering from this dire state. What is more alarming is that these waters envelop nearly 50% of the Earth’s surface. Such a vast span of earth, protected to its least, is one of the most pressing burdens on this planet. More surprisingly, there isn’t any internationally binding treaty that claims the legislation of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ).

The lack of the legal framework, pertaining to the turbulent waters and high seas had been addressed by the United Nations General Assembly back in 2004. After the UN summit the Adhocc Informal Working Group was constituted. This working group, over the years, had held multiple meetings some of them more significant than the others. The meeting of 2015, held in New York, recommended of building up and developing an Internationally Legally Binding Instrument (ILBI). This draft of ILBI has been finally submitted to the UN General Assembly in July 2017. According to Admiral RK Dhowan, PVSM, AVSM, YSM (RETD), “at this point therefore it can best be described as work in progress.”

The turbulences of the international water bodies are unpredictable at best, the measures are definitely due, but with the Indo-Pacific resources the issues can surely be handled and curbed collectively which will in turn contribute towards an inclusive growth.