Strategic location of India in the Indian Ocean

Strategic location of India in the Indian Ocean

India wishes to build and strengthen its global image, commensurate with its size, population and the strength of its economy.  It espouses the ideals of democracy, secularism and peaceful co-existence. These aspirations, however, are challenged by a range of factors: a large population; ethnic, religious and federal-state differences; food, water and energy security concerns; and the realisation that it may face a challenging China and an unstable, nuclear-armed Pakistan. Yet, to sustain its current growth and achieve its great power ambitions, India sees the Indian Ocean Region as critical to achieving its national interests.

As India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, the demand for energy has also grown substantially and will continue to present a major challenge to India’s quest to achieve energy security.

the success so far behind India’s foreign policy in the Indian Ocean has been due to its focus on: using trade and investment; concessional loans; diplomacy, including the upgrade and creation of new embassies or consulates; multi-lateral initiatives, such as the India Africa Forum and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium; education/training placements for foreign students through the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation, Tele-Education, Tele-Medicine and Pan African E-Network programmes; training billets in Indian military academies for foreign military personnel; capacity building programmes in education, government and military affairs; and defence cooperation.

The role of naval diplomacy in enhancing India’s influence is an increasingly important feature of its strategy for engaging Indian Ocean littoral states. India is currently engaged in modernising and expanding its navy, which is very much in line with its strategic objective to become a major Indian Ocean powerbroker. The salient aspects of its naval modernisation programme include: upgrading naval base facilities and listening stations, acquisition of a nuclear-powered submarine capability and aircraft carriers.

 

India-South Asia Relations 

Unlike other regions throughout the Indian Ocean, expanding relations with neighbouring South Asian states has been a greater challenge for India. For example, relations with Pakistan have been historically poor and remain seriously strained. They are characterised bythe perennial dispute over Kashmir and, increasingly, tensions over water-sharing rights. Although, more recently both countries have made attempts to stabilise relations, little progress appears to have been achieved.

India, however, has had more success in making inroads in Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. Since late 2009, the latter has been incorporated into the Indian Navy’s southern naval command. In Nepal, around 44 percent of Foreign Direct Investment is from India. Two-way trade has reportedly increased from US$1.8 billion in 2008 to nearly US$3 billion in 2010. India is also a significant investor in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, especially since 2009 when India signed 12 agreements pledging assistance and financial aid in a number of key areas, such as: enhanced co-operation in law enforcement, defence, civil aviation, search and rescue operations, health, and information technology. Salient examples include assistance in setting up ten hydro-electric projects by 2020, which will generate 11,000 megawatts of power.

India is clearly intent on expanding its influence in South Asia, which is where it appears to feel most strategically vulnerable, especially in the face of China’s rising influence. Therefore, bolstering India’s influence in neighbouring South Asian states is likely to constitute a primary strategic and foreign policy objective over the next decade and beyond.

‘Look East’ Policy

The Southeast Asian and Indian Ocean littoral nations that retain primary significance for India are Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam, all of which are of increasing strategic importance to India.As Myanmar is the only ASEAN country which India directly borders, the country is of critical importance to India’s security, especially given the serious insurgency-related problems that plague Northeastern India. Myanmar’s abundant natural resources have also attracted Indian firms, some of which are active in hydro-electric power projects, construction of roads and railways, and investment in Myanmar’s energy sector. To strengthen bilateral relations, India has jointly set up several educational institutes, such as: the India-Myanmar Industrial Training Centre, Myanmar-India Centre for English Language; Myanmar-India Entrepreneurship Development Centre; and the Myanmar Centre for Enhancement of IT Skills.

India’s relations with Indonesia have expanded rapidly over the last decade. In 2005, the two countries signed a Bilateral Strategic Partnership Agreement, followed by a defence cooperation agreement in 2006. India’s interests in accessing energy reserves have become increasingly important in shaping relations with Indonesia. Presently, India is Indonesia’s most significant buyer of crude palm oil; Indonesia provides nearly half of India’s coal imports; and up to 40 Indian companies are reportedly active in Indonesia’s mining and exploration industry.

India-Middle East Ties 

Arguably, due to its shortfall of domestic energy reserves, for India the Middle East is the most strategically important region in the Indian Ocean. Apart from significant two-way trade and investment, the region also employs millions of Indian expatriates. While counterbalancing Pakistan and also the threat posed by Islamist terrorism, remain high on India’s Middle East engagement strategy, its primary interest in the Middle East stems from its dependence on energy. Presently, India imports 70% of its oil from the Middle East.

The Indian Ocean island states of Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles have grown in their significance for India’s broader interests in Africa. ndia-Madagascar relations have taken on a new dimension in recent times; as seen in mid-2007, when Madagascar sanctioned an Indian listening and surveillance station using radars. This marked the first time that India had set up a listening and surveillance station on foreign soil.

Based on India’s interaction with Indian Ocean Region countries, a clear pattern has emerged showing that India’s interests are heavily focused towards improving trade, investment and economic growth; while it also attempts to secure access to hydrocarbon reserves and arable land, to strengthen its food and energy security. Due to its heavy dependence on inbound seaborne trade, India has placed a premium on developing its naval capabilities to safeguard and project its influence across the Indian Ocean. Given that India sees itself as a major power with strategic interests across the Indian Ocean, and that its requirements for access to natural resources are set to grow, it is likely that India will aim to significantly expand its influence across the Indian Ocean in the years ahead.

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