Indian Ocean of Contradictions: How to Avoid Confrontations and Ensure Prosperity?
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia

Along with China and the EAEU countries, India is one of the most important strategic partners of Russia, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. The increasing influence and economic growth of India makes it pay more attention to its security, especially in the Indian Ocean. On November 29, the Valdai Club hosted a closed-door expert discussion on the maritime security of India and the challenges facing the country.

Since the end of the Cold War India’s global role has increased significantly. It took the function of security control throughout the Indo-Pacific region, with its Navy becoming one of the most important ways of communication with the outside world: for example, through the creation of new ports the country promotes international trade and builds ties with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The decisive role of India in the region is a frequent topic in speeches by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the experts’ goal was to clarify his position on the issue. First of all, India always advocated the creation of a free cooperation architecture in the region, which would be built on solidarity and friendship between the peoples. It believes that it is crucial to observe the regional rules of interaction and the primacy of international law and to try to the resolve all problems on the basis of consensus. Recognizing the possibility of peaceful competition, India opposes conflicts, which could weaken both individual countries and the region as a whole.

The importance to ensure the security of the Indian Ocean is due to many factors: according to one of the speakers, the population of its coastal areas is increasing and experiencing an economic boom, a lot of freight traffic passes through them, including hydrocarbons. Difficulties with building a sustainable security architecture are related to the fact that the fate of the world is decided by a small number of countries with competition and the desire for domination becoming the defining principle of international politics. Many powers do not recognize any interests other than their own, and this creates volatility and uncertainty in the region. Moreover, there are other problems – piracy, smuggling, proliferation of weapons due to technological growth and rampant terrorism, which must be dealt with jointly by means of international law.

Although India is located in the center of the Indo-Pacific region and took on a serious responsibility, it is attentive to other nations’ interests and does not attempt to make decisions alone. It also undertakes humanitarian initiatives to help other countries in natural disasters or military crises. India recognizes the importance of other powers’ presence in the maritime space of the region – Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, as well as the UN and NATO, which maintain a balance and help to cope with conflicts.

A separate issue during the discussion was the development of Russia-India relations and the cooperation potential. One of the speakers noted that active military-technological exchange, cooperation in the field of defense and security have already been established between the countries, and naval exercises are held regularly to share experience, often with the participation of third or fourth countries. The Russian participant in the discussion emphasized that Russia sees itself as a continental Eurasian power, which needs strong partners – these are primarily China and India. The destabilization of the region, as he noted, is linked to the presence of the United States, which is openly hostile to both Russia and China. Along with the long-established bilateral cooperation, Russia and India are actively communicating within the framework of international institutions, such as the G20, BRICS and the SCO, often speaking in one voice on a number of issues. One way or another, countries should strive to integrate various “regions” into a single Eurasian space.

In turn, an Indian expert drew attention to how China is changing the status of the South China Sea, “appropriating” a number of islands. In this regard he considers such behavior irresponsible, pointing to the importance to be consistent in international politics and not “replaying” the past, especially since a significant percentage of Indian trade with China, Japan and South Korea passes through this sea route. Some participants expressed doubts about the wisdom of China’s investments in the ports of Sri Lanka, Maldives and other countries in the region, although they recognized its growing maritime influence.

During the lively discussion the experts agreed that although strengthening of the Indian Navy is important to solve the problems of the region, and its cooperation with many countries contributes to this, tensions in relations with a number of external forces and the small scope of its influence create certain difficulties. Ultimately, for the welfare of the Indo-Pacific region, it is impossible to isolate oneself within its borders, but one needs to go out into the big world – which is what India is doing.