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The Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), in collaboration with the US-based Hudson Institute and Japan Institute of National Fundamentals (JINF) organized a trilateral dialogue on 17 February 2017, to discuss shared concerns among India, US and Japan arising out of strategic dynamics in the Indo-Pacific region. The growing entwining between the political and economic sphere in Indo-Pacific has led to a web of diverse interests and priorities among countries. In this scenario, the dialogue sought to address the growing military activity and the lack of an overarching security framework that has infused a sense of suspicion and apprehension in the region. The trilateral dialogue was attended by esteemed scholars from the three representative think-tanks and leading members of the strategic community in India. A keynote address was also delivered by Dr S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary of India. The key concern of upholding freedom of global commons served as the main theme for the discussions and deliberations held during the course of the dialogue.
A number of salient points were raised during the dialogue. A point most reiterated was the need for stronger economic growth of India that by itself could be a major factor in mitigating the instability in the region. Connecting South Asia with Southeast Asia would energize the slowing and dull economic environment for both regions. Hence, India’s economic dynamism and multi-pluralism would not only assert the viability of democratic principles for the entire region but also offer a buffer from radicalism of West Asia to reaching East Asia. Further, India could also counter the unequal dependencies that most countries have built up with China through absorbing a large share of global manufacturing and services with its young and skilled working population. Another significant issue that was raised was of Japan’s need to define its role and contribution to the stability of the region in present day context.
Chinese intentions and procedures over mega-ventures such as Belt & Road, Maritime Silk Road and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor raise serious concerns of buying political influence through economic projects. In this context, the need for India, US and Japan to reach out to the region including Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Russia, Australia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Afghanistan, and Taiwan through bilateral and multilateral partnerships and dialogue assumes prime priority. In fact, many argued for reinstating the Quadrilateral Initiative between India, US, Japan and Australia to reign-in the growing militarization in the maritime domain.
Though Trump’s election rhetoric raised serious anxiety over US’ security commitment, it was principally agreed that US engagement was indispensable to Indo-Pacific. Among the recommendations placed, it was expounded that President Trump should initiate an ‘Act West’ policy to give US and the region a thorough direction. It was also argued that under Trump administration there could be a resurgence of geo-economics along with geopolitics. Also while the Obama administration had in all honesty welcomed China’s rise through its G-2 initiative, the failure on its pivot to Asia strategy had led to a latent ambivalence in the region.
Furthermore, reinvigorating the trilateral relations would require all partner countries to endorse each other’s strategic conceptions and territorial integrity. There had to be greater defence cooperation, technology transfers and larger people-to-people interactions for the trilateral to have an enduring character. A significant point of agreement was on the need to reach out to Russia.
Overall, the dialogue saw enthusiastic participation by all delegates. It was agreed upon that the three preeminent think tanks had to shoulder the responsibility of encouraging greater cooperation between their three countries. Proposals for engaging in joint-studies and the need to turn the initiative into an annual feature were mooted by all participants.