India is at the critical juncture of being a state with strategic location and modest economy. Back in 2000s, the international community expected India to be an economic power house. However, such expectations lost vigour a decade or so later only to become more reasonable. Yet again, another decade later, the expectations have undergone a shift with India’s Indo-Pacific vision.
Even when Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) is in its institutional infancy, the concept of Indo-Pacific has emerged as a politico-economic vision to assert the power of the Indo-Pacific states and shifting the overruling power of China in the said region to periphery. Both the concepts Quad and Indo-Pacific have China at the nucleus, without which they might cease to stand. Yet, it might be said that there is a slight difference between them. Quad is a forum for strategic and military consultations or a military-strategic vision among India, U.S, Australia and Japan, while as Indo-Pacific, as a politico-economic vision is one with grand connotations. It has to be seen beyond military alliance. Quad has been designed to keep a check on China’s Indian ocean ambitions. However, Indo-Pacific vision has come up with a complex political and economic picture of its countries while taking China as a strategic challenge. It has anti-China overtones but certainly not to the level of Quad. China has been a strong pole of power in the Indo-Pacific for long, trying to assert its economic presence in the countries that form it. Be it the strengthening of physical connectivity by BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) or that of digital connectivity, China has remained unparalleled by any of the Indo-Pacific states. Now that the Chinese assertion has begun to take new strides, especially in the Ladakh region, the need to counter has become all the more important, especially by India because it is grappling with this for nine months now with several rounds of talks proving futile. Here, the Indo-Pacific vision as a political and economic construct comes into play, provided India’s strategy is strong and smart enough.
Nevertheless, the question that remains is whether or not India’s stance in the Indo-Pacific is satisfactory. This is because India is the most strategic state of the Indo-Pacific and moreover the latest target of China’s assertiveness. Therefore, it becomes all the more important for India not to take a backseat, but pedal the boat of Indo-Pacific vision. For it to become a success, only strategic talks and military cooperation will not do. India needs a more strategic approach of developing economic linkages and relationships with other Indo-Pacific states. So far, China’s economic engagements with Indo-Pacific regions are far better than that of India. Economic engagements are the signposts for India’s way forward to counter China which will positively play a pivotal role in shaping realities in favour of the Indo-Pacific vision. If economic engagements are not given a first hand attention, India’s role in the Indo-Pacific will remain much limited and the aim of the vision will dissipate like sea foam.