Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered the keynote address at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, just days after the United States renamed its, “U.S. Pacific Command,” to, “Indo-Pacific Command,” in a nod to India’s rising security role in the region.
Modi’s speech was confident yet relatively subdued. He called for ASEAN centrality and unity, and endorsed a vision where middle powers, rather than superpowers, serve as anchors of stability and prosperity.
“Inclusiveness, openness and ASEAN centrality and unity, therefore, lie at the heart of the new Indo-Pacific. India does not see the ‘Indo-Pacific’ Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members,” said Modi.
According to Senior Colonel Zhou Bo, the director of the Center for Security Cooperation at the Office for International Military Cooperation at the Chinese Defense Ministry, Modi played down the military implications of the Indo-Pacific Command concept.
“This Indo-Pacific concept is actually not very much hype as it was before the meeting because Prime Minister Modi from India actually played down the military significance of this idea. Actually I don’t think he has ever touched upon any possible military significance of this idea,” said Zhou.
In a striking contrast, the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis took a hardline tone in his presentation, reiterating his country’s centrality to preserving a rules-based order in Asia.
“Make no mistake: America is in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ to stay. This is our priority theater, our interests and the regions are inextricably intertwined,” said Mattis.
Lan Xinxiang, a professor with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies said that the United States is trying to create a regional security framework that is dominated by itself.
“At the same time, the U.S. is hoping to get as many partners in the region for the purpose of restraining or they probably like to use rebalancing the rise of China. The problem for that strategy is that it declares the strategy being free and open but the way Mattis expressed or described, it looks very exclusive rather than inclusive,” he added.
Talking about a rules-based order makes no sense when only applied to the area of security. As for the name change from Pacific to ‘Indo-Pacific’, Colonel Zhou quoted Shakespeare as saying, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But if it’s not a rose, even if you change the name, it will not be fragrant.”