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Building India’s engagement with APEC through the Indo-Pacific foreign policy

By Srimal Fernando, Megha Gupta and Sharon Jose

Asia, Oceania and Americas are important geopolitical spaces of the Pacific Rim encircling some of the wealthiest counties of the world. Of the sixty five nations present in this rim, twenty one nations are a part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). APEC came into force to integrate the economies of the Asia Pacific region through promotion of trade and sustainable development. This association was formed a little less than thirty years ago and is home to around 2.8 billion people (APEC, 2017). Among these member states, US, China, Russia, Japan, Australia and Canada are some of the economically powerful nations present in this bloc. Additionally, the importance of this bloc lies in its representation of 60 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (APEC, 2017).

Due to these factors, India’s engagement with this bloc is important for its foreign policy transformation. Since the capacity of APEC has risen from USD 19 trillion to USD 42 trillion (APEC, 2017) just in thirty years, India’s foreign policy must work towards strengthening its position with the pacific rim states. Three years ago, the External Affairs Minister of India, Sushma Swaraj had announced that India would seek for an early membership of the APEC by working closely with U.S. and Japan. India’s association with the Pacific Rim states could be solidified further through its foreign policies of Act-East, Indo-Pacific, and important security dialogues like the Asia’s Quad. Under the present government, the Indian foreign policy towards East Asia has been transformed from Look East to Act East which has been trying to benefit from the 2.4 trillion ASEAN market. The APEC consisting of seven ASEAN members has one of the ASEAN member, Vietnam, which is currently holding the chairmanship. The Vietnam president, Mr. Tran Dai Quang expressed his view on India playing a major role in the Asia Pacific region further reiterating India’s use of ASEAN as a medium to reach the larger bloc of APEC. Hence, India being the world’s seventh largest economy could immensely contribute to the socio-economic progress of the Asia Pacific rim states.

India’s Act East policy becomes important for its further engagement in the Indo-Pacific region. The policy of Indo-Pacific aspires for a peaceful, stable and prosperous growth between the states within the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. Common concerns such as maritime security and economic challenges faced in the Indian ocean and the Pacific ocean could be dealt together through the integration of these regions. The Indo-Pacific policy connects the member states of IORA with the association of APEC enhancing economic connectivity between these associations. The emergence of the Indo-US partnership in the Indo-Pacific region further justifies India’s relevance in the APEC. The security agenda of the Indo-Pacific has been solidified through the formation of the quadrilateral security dialogue between India, Australia, Japan and US. The quadrilateral dialogue goes beyond the free and open Indo-Pacific policy by connecting the world’s leading maritime democracies. India, being an important player in both these initiatives, could contribute to the APEC member states by providing economic security. APEC has implemented two trade agreements such as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), among which India is a signatory of the sixteen member RCEP which comprises a GDP of about USD 50 trillion. Therefore, this endeavour can be achieved through India’s full membership in APEC. TPP with a collective GDP of about USD 10 trillion comprises of 11 members, including Australia, which is a founding member of APEC thereby acting as an important player in incorporating TPP in the association.

China and Russia, the two economic and military giants of APEC are also part of the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) of which India is an active member. India has cordial relations with Russia, which can be traced historically back to the Indo-Soviet treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation treaty and are currently cooperating in the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC). Looking at Indo-China relations, despite challenges being faced between the two, both nations are economically cooperating with one another with an annual trade amounting to around USD 70 billion in 2016. India through its engagement with China in APEC could peacefully engage with each other through the means of economic diplomacy.

Assessing the above facts, this scholarly contribution has raised a question on how Indian foreign policy can work towards strengthening its collaboration with the member states of APEC. In this context, the Indian subcontinent being geographically positioned in the centre of the two gigantic rims, Pacific and the Indian ocean, can positively impact the economic future of these rim states. India’s engagement with APEC through its foreign policies could lay a foundation to transform the dynamics of the global order.

Srimal Fernando a research scholar and an editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa; Megha Gupta, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business; and Sharon Jose, a scholar of Bachelors in Global Affairs at Jindal School of International Affairs.

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