A Prosperous Indo-Pacific: Enhancing Cooperation in India's Northeast and Eastern Neighbourhood

Date:   Wed Jul 28, 2021 - Wed Jul 28, 2021 , Contact:   events@asianconfluence.org

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Introduction 
 

The vision of a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific is fast taking center-stage in the collective view of the global strategic community.  The United States of America, Australia, India and Japan (QUAD) have introduced their vision of Indo-Pacific cooperation. There is an agreement on several common denominators: that the region is one with great potential for trade, being naturally connected by shared waters, shared civilisation and shared values of respecting sovereignty, trust and freedom for inclusive growth.  In a recently published interview, the Australian High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell said “Power and wealth is shifting from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.  The Indian Ocean continues to be responsible for half of global trade, and it is important to each of the players in the QUAD.  China’s change of attitude in recent times probably has, to some extent, created an extra incentive, but I think the glue was there before”. i 

 

QUAD partnership has gained new dimensions along these lines transcending security lens.  Initiatives such as the QUAD vaccine partnership, the QUAD climate change working group and the QUAD Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group were announced at the QUAD virtual summit held on March 12 2021.ii  India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) launched in November 2019 identified 7 pillars including and beyond maritime security: maritime ecology; maritime resources; capacity building and resource sharing; disaster risk reduction and management; science, technology and academic cooperation; trade, connectivity and maritime transport.iii  Japan confirmed its “willingness to discuss concrete cooperation based on the initiative” in November 2019iv and “agreed to be the lead partner in the connectivity pillar” in October 2020. Subsequently, France and Australia have also shown interest becoming partners in IPOI. India is leading the maritime domain awareness and disaster management pillars. Australia is leading the maritime security pillar. 

 

The vision is also gaining momentum and a number of countries beyond the QUAD. In June 2019, ASEAN released its Indo-Pacific vision, namely, the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).  Smaller nations in the region such as Sri Lanka have supported the idea that an Indo-Pacific vision should look beyond just security.v And Germany , the Netherlands and France have come up with their own Indo-Pacific visions. Bilateral, trilateral or multilateral cooperation between the QUAD-plus nations to enhance collaboration on connectivity with conservation, commerce and capacity building with gender equity, carry enormous potential for realising this vision.

 

Against this larger backdrop, India’s North-Eastern states and sub-Himalayan eastern neighbours carry great significance. vi The region lies at the epicentre of a sensitive and compact “mountain to sea ecosystem” ranging from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.  If we were to draw a leaf from history, before to the partition of India, the GDP of the region was higher than the rest of India. Cooperation on connectivity at both a sub-national level and international level between the countries of the Bay of Bengal is a necessary building block for a prosperous Indo-Pacific. The northeast is India’s gateway to the ASEAN region. .  Trade and associated capacity building created through this connectivity carry great significance. 

As an example of bilateral cooperation, recent times have witnessed significant collaboration between India and Japan for enhanced connectivity in the region.vii In a recent dialogue organised by the Asian Confluence, the Japanese ambassador to India said: “Yaramaika” or the spirit of “let’s give it a try” and a spirit of “let’s do it” can catapult growth led by entrepreneurial minds from the region. The role of the states in North-Eastern India in this regard is gaining added significance.viii  The most recently launched Feni Bridge connecting the Indian remote state of Tripura to Bangladesh shortening the distance to the port of Chittagong is a striking example of a game-changerix.  The need of the hour is to convert such connectivity corridors to prosperous trade corridors for inclusive bottom-up growth. The creation of value chains for generating livelihood and growth from local produce, attracting further investment in soft and hard infrastructure is a definite way forwardx. 

 

The Asian Confluence in collaboration with the Australian Consulate in Kolkata, will hold an online dialogue on the theme: A Prosperous Indo-Pacific: Enhancing Cooperation in India’s Northeast and Eastern Neighbourhood to discuss the evolving dimensions in trade and connectivity in the region and the specific role of India-Australia cooperation along with other nations, north east India and India ASEAN engagement in the focus

 

The aim of this dialogue would be the following: 

    a) Highlight the on-going strides made in QUAD cooperation beyond the “security provider” narrative to highlight areas of connectivity with conservation and inclusive trade. 

    b) The significance of connectivity in the Eastern and North-Eastern region along with eastern neighbours in ASEAN, at both sub-national and international levels as an essential component of a free, open, connected, inclusive and prosperous  Indo-Pacific.

    c) How to create value chains based on this connectivity as an essential enabler for growth in this region. 

    d) Highlight possibilities of India-Australia bilateral cooperation in this regard and how they would directly benefit the people of the region. Further, ideate and brainstorm with experts on projects that can be implemented based on QUAD and QUAD-plus collaboration at a bilateral, trilateral or multilateral level, linking top-down macro and bottom-up micro viewpoints. 

    e) Be part of a larger process to create a “Third Space” community of champions in academia, policymaking, businesses and civil society on the opportunities presented by QUAD plus cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and its direct tangible benefits to the people in the region.