Twenty first century is being called as the century of Asian countries, implying the resurgence of the Asian countries. Asia is flanked by Pacific Ocean in the East and Indian Ocean in the South. The Indo-Pacific zone is the new emerging power zone because of various reasons. It includes the rise of India, China, presence of US in its vicinity, strategic significance of the region; Geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific zone; Asian pivot theory of US; large trade influx in the area; high demographic dividend of the region etc. The Indo-Pacific zone, because of its unique geography and multiple vested interests of the littoral states has formed various supranational organisations. Recently the formation of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with twelve member countries has been widely discussed Various think tanks have interpreted TPP as an attempt by US to contain the rising power of China and defiant India (in forums like WTO).
US think tanks gave the theory of ‘Asian Pivot’. This theory was mainly directed at China, in order to sustain the hegemony of US. However, due to rapid strides of China in various fields, US had to take various steps in order to contain China and rebalance Asia. TPP is being considered as the economic arms of the Asian Pivot theory. However, exports are of the view that by clobbering TPP under the leadership of US the ramifications will be wide and deep. In the midst of these developments, the recent decision of the US President Donald Trump denouncing the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) came as a shock to the world community. The enforcement of the TPP could have yielded annual income gains of $ 295 billion, including $ 78 billion in the US alone. It could also unleash potential gains of as much as $ 1.9 trillion in the Asia-Pacific region through Free Trade. But the scenario has changed in the last few months. Global trade is going through turmoil, with growth declining and an increase in protectionism as countries are resorting to more and more non-tariff barriers, regulatory measures, higher standards etc
China has shown its expertise in infrastructure in the last few decades. In pursuance of the same, China has floated the idea of One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project. OBOR aims to connect countries of Asia and Europe through road and rail links. The project was opposed tooth and nail by US, despite such opposition many countries of Europe expressed willingness to join the project as it will induce trade in the region. The OBOR was the brainchild of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). AIIB aims to fill the gaps of global financial institutions viz World Bank, IMF etc. In this context OBOR and AlIB is representation of rising Asian Power and a shift towards a multi-polar world. The recent China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (China’s initiative) has emerged as a new threat to US as well as to India. The main aim of US is to contain China and not to promote it. China’s invitation to Afghanistan to join CPEC is further complicating the position. In such a scenario, it would be interesting to see how US will respond to the changing outlook of Asia.
Similarly, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a group of 21 Pacific Rim countries aims to promote free trade in the region. The main objective of APEC is to capitalise upon the potential of developing countries and to exploit the advancement in various fields of developed countries. The growing interdependence of these countries on each other aims to secure free trade and a robust economic partnership among the member countries. Some other supranational organisations where India has taken driver’s seat for fostering cooperation in the region are South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Indian-Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). However, the main drawback of all these organisations is the conflicted interests of the member countries, sharing similar interests in other organisations. Also, the lack of able leadership has marred the objectives of these organisations. SAARC has been less effective due to perception of India by others smaller countries and the obstructive attitude of Pakistan. Similarly, IORA is only partially successful due to its diffused objectives, promoting open regionalism for strengthening economic cooperation and social development.
On the similar lines, MGC could not reach its intended targets of cooperation in tourism, culture, education and transportation linkage due to lack of appropriate initiative and lack of proper steps to meet the intended targets in a set time frame. Similarly, BIMSTEC which aims to promote technological and economic cooperation could not take off due to conflicted interests of member countries in other similar organisations. As the Indo-Pacific zone is emerging in various fields, it is natural that countries of the region will vie for their superiority. This will place them at cross purposes with each other. Therefore, many irritants are also present in the region which are impediments in realisation of the full potential of the region. The rise of China has been a double edged sword for the region, it has benefited them and has also been a source of intimidation.
The conflict in the South China Sea is the manifestation of cartographic expansion of China. The littoral states of the region have staked claim over islands rich in mineral resources in the South China Sea. China with its superior naval power have been able to brow-beat the neighbouring countries. However, US has backed the littoral states indirectly and has supported their claims over the islands. Similarly, the theory of ‘String of Pearls’ given by experts has been an irritant for India. Based on this theory China has been surrounding India by developing infrastructure in its surrounding ports in Gwadar (Pakistan), Humbantota (Sri Lanka), Sittwe (Myanmar) are the manifestation of String of Pearls theory. Some areas of South-East Area are infested with drug trafficking and human trafficking countries like, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, etc are the hub of such crimes. This creates law and order and security issues in this area.
Therefore, proper cooperation and crackdowns on these cartel are necessary for development of this area to make the Indo-Pacific zone the Europe of 20th century. However, this will be realised only when big powers like India, China, Japan, US, etc are on the same page. The foreign policy of US of counterbalancing China has been a cause of concern for the region. Convergence of interest and cooperation in economic, social, political fields will go a long way in realisation of potential of the region. Therefore, prudent leadership by Asian giants will make the 21st century truly an Asian century.