The Indian Ocean Policy of the Modi Government

China International Studies (English) - - Contents - Shi Hongyuan

With greater importance attached to the Indian Ocean, specific and systematic measures have been adopted by the Modi government for its Indian Ocean policy. This will not only have implications for the development of India’s maritime

Since coming to power in May 2014, the Narendra Modi government of India has endeavored to adjust the country’s foreign policy, with the most drastic changes taking place in its Indian Ocean policy. Modi’s strong personality, together with his Bharatiya Janata Party’s majority status in Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s bicameral parliament, helped lay a solid foundation for his brand of Indian Ocean policy. This will not only have implications for the development of India’s maritime strategy, but will also influence India’s interactions with other countries in this region, leading to an inevitable transformation of the Indian Ocean’s geopolitical landscape. Therefore, an in-depth analysis of this topic is of great significance.

Visions of Modi’s Indian Ocean Policy

Since winning independence from Britain in 1947, India’s policy on the Indian Ocean has been in a state of constant evolution, reflecting both regional and global power struggles. At the beginning of India’s independence when the Indian Ocean was still dominated by the British, India mainly relied upon Britain for protection of its Indian Ocean interests. Only towards the end of 1960s, when Britain withdrew its troops from the east of the Suez Canal, did India begin to pay serious attention to the formation of its Indian Ocean policy. In the wake of

the British withdrawal, India, with an aim to fill the power vacuum left by the British, began to actively develop its naval power, supported the Indian Ocean Zone of Peace proposal, and tried to prevent the Indian Ocean from descending into a rivalry arena for the US and the Soviet Union, the two superpowers at that time. Since the end of the Cold War, a prevailing objective for Indian policy strategists has been to restore India’s historical influence in the Indian Ocean region.1 Notwithstanding, this goal never cohered into a vibrant national strategy, as few Indian leaders managed to systematically elaborate on, let alone implement, their Indian Ocean policies.2 However, since the election of Modi as Prime Minister of India, this trend has been reversed. Besides sharing the common goal of shaping India into the dominant power in the Indian Ocean, the Modi government has demonstrated its own characteristic in its visions and measures regarding the future of the Indian Ocean. The Modi government is currently endeavoring to create a favorable maritime environment for the rise of India, shape a benign yet strong image of India to its neighbors, expand India’s influence, and maximize its interests in the region. Towards this end, the Modi government has proposed the following visions for its Indian Ocean policy.

Indian Ocean as an important region for India’s diplomacy

Owing to its geographic location, previous Indian governments had prioritized South Asia diplomacy, but lacked a clear position on the Indian Ocean. The Modi government is different in that it regards the Indian Ocean as an immediate and extended neighborhood, as well as an important region for India’s diplomacy.3 Modi’s invitation of the President of Mauritius, an island country in the Indian Ocean, to his inauguration ceremony as the only head of state ouside South Asia signaled a change 1 C Raja Mohan, “Modi and the Indian Ocean: Restoring India’s Sphere of Influence,” Insights of Institute of South Asian Studies of National University of Singapore, No.277, March 20, 2015, p.3.

2 Ibid.

3 The International Institute for Strategic Studies (UK), “India’s New Maritime Strategies,” Comments, Vol.21, No.37, December 2015, p.9. Strategic

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