By Suman Sharma
New Delhi, Nov 13 : The Indo-Pacific region has once again taken centerstage in the midst of successive summit-level meets of different groupings.
Chaired by Russia on November 10, the 20th Summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Council of Heads of State held virtually, followed by the India-ASEAN Summit held on November 12—chaired by Vietnam, to be rounded off by the 12th BRICS Summit to be hosted on November 17 by Russia, all seem to have the Indo-Pacific in the background.
Interacting with the press, Roman Babushkin, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Russia in India articulated Moscow’s apprehensions about the various groupings and their policies. Taking on the “rules-based world order” mostly enunciated by Indo-Pacific nations, Roman Babushkin cites the examples of Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and World Health Organization (WHO) where such “rules” were used to increasingly politicize the activities of these institutions.
“However, it can be noted that an Indo-Pacific strategy is actively promoted by the Quad, but the understanding of this strategy is different even in the member-states. Let’s be very clear that it’s too early to expand this strategy to the whole region, and a comprehensive, all-inclusive, open-minded and forward-looking dialogue would be further required,” says Babushkin.
At the India-ASEAN Summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated, “There is ample closeness between India’s “Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative” and ASEAN’s “Outlook on Indo-Pacific”. We firmly believe that a “cohesive and responsive ASEAN” is essential for “Security and Growth for All in the Region”.
Additional Secretary (Indo-Pacific), Ministry of External Affairs, Reenat Sandhu while reiterating ASEAN centrality in the Indo-Pacific region said: “India and ASEAN share vast maritime space of the Indo-Pacific and, ASEAN is at the center of this maritime space. There is great convergence and synergy between our vision of the Indo-Pacific as articulated in ASEAN outlook for Indo-Pacific and in our Indo-Pacific Oceans initiative. We seek to build on this convergence for maintaining peace, security and sustainable development of the ASEAN Indo-Pacific and ensuring security and growth for all in the region.”
The Quad, which is often seen as a military alliance aimed at China, is currently engaged in a joint naval exercise at India’s west coast in the Arabian Sea, with Australian participation after a gap of 13 years. It’s interesting to note that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in January 2020 in his address at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi had slammed the Western idea of a ‘rules-based world order’ and questioned the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’, calling it a “reconfiguring of the existing structures.”
Lavrov reinforced, “Why do you need to call Asia-Pacific as Indo-Pacific? The answer is evident… to exclude China. Terminology should be unifying, not divisive. Neither SCO nor the BRICS grouping is exclusionary.”
Explaining the difference between both the concepts, Former Ambassador to Russia, PS Raghavan says: “Asia-Pacific, the term used by Russia, is an old Cold War concept and it does not include India. Asia-Pacific which included South East Asia eastwards was a US security umbrella over its allies, against the Soviet Union. But Indo-Pacific, which is a post-Cold War construct, is a space where countries, including India, are seeking to establish a cooperative order – which means preventing Chinese hegemony. Russia sees it as a security alliance being created by the US with Japan and Australia to promote its economic, political and strategic interests, especially against China and Russia. In our high-level dialogue with Russia, we have consistently conveyed that we do not see the Indo-Pacific as an alliance, nor as directed against Russia.”
But Babushkin calls it an attempt to create alienation in the region by promoting a philosophy of restricted security blocs and imposing forced changes in supply chains for geopolitical reasons, and cautions.
“It leads to even more mistrust and eventually brings Indo-Pacific idea away from the regional consensus replacing cooperation with competition and even rivalry. At the same time I would like to draw your attention to President Putin’s initiative on promotion of the Great Eurasian Partnership providing for cooperation among regional associations to deal with common challenges and threats on the principles of the UN Charter, international law and undivided security. Because global challenges require a unified agenda, and it’s now vital to unite the potential we have developed multilaterally. Conceptually, it may be called “integration of integrations.” For example, in line with this initiative we are promoting partnership between the SCO and ASEAN,” says Babushkin.
Moscow’s desire to promote partnership between ASEAN and SCO is outlined by former Indian Ambassador to Russia, Kanwal Sibal, who says: “Russia believes US has encroached on its strategic space whether it is disarmament or Indo-Pacific through the Quad. Russia is in SCO but does not have too much in ASEAN and it fears ASEAN might be roped in for support for the Quad. SCO is an Asian grouping excluding the West, hence building-up of SCO through promoting partnership between the SCO and ASEAN is understandable.”
The 12th BRICS Summit next week will be held under the motto, ‘BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth,’ which reflects comprehensive and long-term commitment to supplement response of the international community to current challenges and to increase potential of cooperation for the sake of well being of the people of the five nations.
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