North East as Gateway to Indo-Pacific Strategy
05, Dec 2022
Prelims level : International Relations Mains level : GS-II International Relations | India & Its Neighbourhood - Relations
Why in News?
- India’s ‘Look East’ and ‘Act East’ policies have moved into the phase of Indo-Pacific policy and strategy. But what we in the national capital interpret as the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is different from the perceptions of this policy in North-eastern and eastern India.
What is Indo-pacific?
- The Indo-Pacific is geographic region interpreted differently by different countries.
- For India, the geography of the Indo-Pacific stretches from the eastern coast of Africa to Oceania whereas, for US, it extends up to the west coast of India which is also the geographic boundary of the US Indo-Pacific command.
Importance of North-East:
- Security of India: The Northeast which comprises seven ‘sisters’ or States and one ‘brother’, Sikkim, has been witnessing transformation as it heads towards better security conditions and development
- Geography and Biodiversity: North-eastern Indian States are blessed with a wide range of physiographic and ecoclimatic conditions and the geographical ‘gateway’ for much of India’s endemic flora and fauna.
- Siliguri corridor only connecting link: North-East is home to 3.8% of the national population and occupies about 8% of India’s total geographical area. Siliguri corridor, a narrow strip of land in West Bengal, popularly known as “chicken’s neck” connects this region to the rest of mainland India.
Present condition of north east
- Improved security: Security conditions have improved significantly since 2017. However, the core issues behind the insurgency have remained unresolved.
- Serious non-traditional threats: A notable contrast in security assessments of the authorities and others came to the fore. The official perspective was that the pernicious phenomena of smuggling, drug trafficking, transnational border crime, insurgent activity, and the influx of refugees (from Myanmar) represented serious non-traditional threats.
- Chinese hand in nefarious activities: China was viewed as a ‘constant player’ behind these nefarious activities. This has necessitated vigilance and strict action by the Assam Rifles and other security agencies.
- Sensitive border management: The insensitive handling of those engaged in lawful exchanges with the neighbouring countries. A balanced view indicates that considerable scope exists for more effective and people-sensitive border management in the future.
Development as priority in North East
- Rising road infrastructure: The Northeast is on the right path to concentrate on economic development. More is awaited through improvement in roads linking north-eastern towns and job creation for thousands of graduates produced by local universities.
- Hub of medical tourism: Manipur needs to be promoted as the hub of medical tourism for other Indian States and neighbours such as Myanmar.
- Investment needs to increase: The State’s research and development facilities to leverage the region’s biodiversity should be expanded. Accelerated development requires increased investment by Indian corporates and foreign investors as well as better management.
- Blueprint for economic development: Strategic and business community to contribute to crafting a concrete blueprint for leveraging opportunities relating to commerce, connectivity, and human capital development.
Cultural diplomacy from North east
- Showcasing the culture of north east: An ambitious endeavour by 75 artists from nine countries highlighted the region’s ‘unity in diversity’ through music, dance, drama, and cuisine.
- Education, tourism and trade: Clearly, expanding the reach of cultural diplomacy and people-to-people cooperation through greater educational exchanges, tourism, and trade is desirable.
- Regional cooperation through cultural exchange: Harsh Vardhan Shringla, former Foreign Secretary, aptly stressed that the “shared culture, history and mutual social threads that tie the region with India also an important component towards fostering regional cooperation”.
Cultural dimension to Indo-Pacific:
- Geo-cultural dimension: At Kolkata, intellectuals and performers in the cultural domain from India, the U.S., Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh reflected on the Indo-Pacific construct’s cultural dimensions. Moving beyond geopolitics and geo-economics, neighbors should focus on “the geo-cultural dimension” of the Indo-Pacific.
- Expanding people to people cooperation: Diplomats from the region agree on the importance of expanded people-related cooperation which would lead to wider acceptance of the Indo-Pacific and consolidation of the Quad.
- While implementing India’s Indo-Pacific strategy, voices from Northeast and eastern India must be heard. Thus, beyond ‘Look East’ and ‘Act East’ lies ‘Think and Relate East’, especially within our own country.