China views Indo-Pacific as an 'exclusive' concept

A Chinese delegation says India missed a big opportunity by leaving ECEP

China-Pakistan China was very appreciative of Modi's inclusive vision on Indo-Pacific, but it feels not much work has been done on being inclusive.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's articulation of India's position on the Indo-Pacific notwithstanding, China views the concept as exclusive, spearheaded by the US to keep out certain nations. A delegation of Chinese academicians and think tank members, who are in New Delhi, noted that China was very appreciative of Modi's articulation about the Indo-Pacific, which he enunciated at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last year. Modi had said that India's vision of the Indo-Pacific was of a free, open and inclusive region in pursuit of progress and prosperity, and that it was not directed against any country, nor was it to be seen as a grouping that seeks to dominate. However, they pointed out that the developments in recent years did not actually live up to this idealistic vision. The delegation was led by the director China Institute, Fudan University, Zhang Weiwei.

Lin Minwang, professor at the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University, who speclialises in South Asia, noted that China understood India's need to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean region. “For that, however, you already have deep engagements with ASEAN, which according to you, is central to your Act East policy. What, then, was the need of a grouping that keeps out countries like Pakistan, China, North Korea and Russia? We were happy to hear of Mr Modi's inclusive vision, but not much work has been done on being inclusive,'' he said. 

China is particularly peeved with the regional grouping, the Quad, that includes India, Australia, the US and Japan. What is the need to have this hemming in of the region with these four countries, specially when there is no ASEAN or Chinese representation in the grouping, the delegation asked,wondering whether the Indo-Pacific was a natural region or constructed by Japan. “And with the Quad, are these groups really that innocent?”

While India's vision on the Indo-Pacific has been clear since last year, New Delhi treads with a certain trepidation in the Quad. The meeting of the Quad at the foreign ministers level, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meet in New York last month, therefore, has been a big step for India. So far, the meets had been at the level of officials. Sources in the external affairs ministry say that there is no decided periodicity on when and how often the external affairs ministers of the Quad should meet. 

The delegation also felt that India was losing out a big opportunity by keeping away from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). During Modi's recent visit to Bangkok for the East Asia summit, India announced that it was not signing the RCEP in its current form. Weiwei noted that India's concerns about protecting its manufacturers was understandable, and China had similar concerns about joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO). 

Zhu Caihua, deputy director, Institute of Foreign Trade which is under the Ministry of Commerce, said that India had not joined RCEP more because of the compulsions of domestic politics, and was thereby missing out on a great opportunity. She said, “Protection never creates great entrepreneurs. We have seen it during our last four decades, which is why China is opening the door even wider, even in this age of protectionism.” Caihua pointed out that India could actually speed up its industrial growth with access to market and technology through the RCEP. She felt that to ensure that this would be the Asian Century, it was important that the RCEP, the world's largest trade grouping, should be a success. She added that with India's Act East focus, it was important to be part of RCEP.