- The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is a vital maritime area spanning over 36 littoral and island countries. The region is strategically important due to its significant trade routes, natural resources, and geopolitical importance. It is home to some of the world’s busiest sea-lanes, including the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca, which serve as a conduit for international trade.
- The region is also rich in marine biodiversity, with various endemic species and coral reefs. However, the Indian Ocean faces significant challenges such as piracy, illegal fishing, and environmental degradation. Climate change is a significant threat to the region, with rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and increased frequency of extreme weather events.
- India is a key player in the region, with its growing economic and strategic influence. Other major players include China, the United States, and various regional organizations. Cooperation in the region is vital for addressing common challenges and ensuring sustainable development.
Importance of the regions
Demographic dividend: Major portion of the world population and comparatively younger population resides in this region.
- Privileged location: Most of the world’s goods trade and oil trade passes through this region and there are three important chokepoints in this region namely Strait of Hormuz – located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
- Growing Economies: Economies of many Indian Ocean countries are growing rapidly and are attracting huge investments such as India, Malaysia, and Tanzania.
- Abundant natural resources: IOR is rich in natural resources and world’s 40% oil exploration is done from this area only.
- It contributes nearly 15% in total fishing of the world.
- Many mineral and natural resources like iron, copper, Zinc, manganese, gold and silver are explored in this area only.
- Influence of China: China being a huge economy, plays role of a big investor, pushes its Belt and Road Initiative, giving huge loans to smaller countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives Kenya etc. There is a growing assertiveness of China in this region which is cause of worry for many nations.
- Countering China: US and other nation are trying to counterbalance China and that is why they are taking many initiatives in this region and are focusing on infrastructure development in the countries of IOR.
- India has also increased its activities in this region and is engaged in promoting cooperation and strengthening trade and investment ties. African countries are of focus now.
- Security issues: This region is home to many threats like piracy, illegal and unregulated migration, and presence of extremist and groups for example in Somalia, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.
First responder: Due to its strategic location and capabilities, India can play a pivotal role in this region specially during disasters and crises. Till now, it has played positive role and at the time of need has readily helped smaller countries of the region such as Maldives (Operation NEER), Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh etc.
Groupings and Forums: There many groups and forums in this region which are comprised of neighboring countries such as:
- BIMSTEC – which represents Indian Ocean Countries. It aims to promote trade links.
- There are many regional groupings also in this region such as ASEAN, SAARC, GCC, and SADC etc. These countries have come together because of their interests which are more or less identical.
Significance for INDIA
- Location: India is located at the Ocean’s center and has a long coastline of almost 7,500 kilometers.
- Security dimension to India’s engagement: Due to its long coastline India is always prone to terrorist attacks and security breaches. Smuggling, illegal fishing, and human trafficking are other major concerns.
- Strategic Importance: India is engaged in various connectivity projects and is trying to extend its reach such as Chahbahar Port Development in Iran and ”infrastructure development rights’’ in Mauritius and Seychelles.
- Economic significance: India does most of its trade through this trade route and is heavily dependent on this route for its oil supplies.
- India explores resources of the Indian Ocean. Fisheries and aquaculture industries are major sources of exports.
- Mineral resource extraction: India has exclusive rights to explore the Central Indian Ocean and has the licenses for the Indian Ocean ridge. These have opened new opportunities for deep seabed mining.
- Monsoon Mechanism: The Indian Ocean plays an important role in keeping Monsoon mechanism in favor of India. La- Nina and El-Nino phenomenon occur in Indian Ocean and affect Indian Monsoon.
- Foreign Policies: Time to time India has formulated various Foreign policies to cater the needs of small countries of this region and has always promoted peace, cooperation and harmony with these nations.
- India playing it safe: Joining of QUAD by India signals that it continues to practice strategic ambivalence in the Indian Ocean. India is playing safely and hence kept Australia out of Malabar exercises because it does not want to antagonize China.
- India as a “Net Security Provider”: Currently, India is not capable of proving security to the whole region.
- Chinese challenge: Chinese army and Navy are increasing their presence in this region, and it raises security alert for India and other small nations.
- China and West: Considering its rivalry with West, China is trying to obtain long term relationship in this region, so that it can become bigger than western powers in this region.
- Less spending by India: India’s expenditure on Navy is very less than other major powers. In this way it will be difficult to gain superiority over other powers.
- For Australia advocates for a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ establishing a regional architecture with fellow democratic countries to help in maintaining the ‘rules-based order.’
- For a ‘free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific,’ refers to a multipolar regional order. India wants to secure its strategic autonomy, project its own leadership ambitions.
- The island nations are badly hit due to covid-19, where India shall act as a friend in need: it will have to – be the first responder and provide security and support to the countries to get back their support in future.
- Delhi is seeking for a balance between its “Act East” and “Look West” visions. The consolidation of its IOR vision will be crucial for straddling its two subtly variants visions for the two ends of the Indo-Pacific seaboard.
- To counter China: Rather than competing with China, India should continue a goodwill factor approach and must gain support and control in this region.
- India must take necessary steps to increase investments in its navy.