Over the last half of the 20th century, international bodies often referred to a meeting of minds along the two sides of the North Atlantic. Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar observed that Europe tends to think its problems are the world’s problems while the world’s problems are not its own. In the 21st century, the fulcrum of the free world rests not in Europe but in the Indo-Pacific.
During his March 2023 visit to India, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida articulated Japan’s new plan for a FOIP. As flagbearer of the Global South, India would do well to do the same. The two nations may herald the Indo-Pacific era by directly responding to the Global South’s concerns. India and Japan are firmly establishing the Indo-Pacific as the geoeconomic and geopolitical centre of the world and as the engine for prosperity for the Global South.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has jolted the world economy and regressed its growth. But the global economic impact of a China-induced conflict in the East or South China Seas would surpass that of the Russian war. The Indo-Pacific accounts for more than half of the world’s economy and population and is the thoroughfare for over two-thirds of global commerce.
Outside of Ukraine and Syria, the Indo-Pacific is one of the world’s biggest tinderboxes, with China engaging in territorial disputes with all its major neighbours and expanding its military might to achieve its claims. The Indo-Pacific is the bellwether and the bulwark for a free and open rules-based world.
The idea of a FOIP has found growing convergence between Japan and India. Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have called for a forceful defence of peace and derided the use of force to undermine sovereign territories. They have championed individual-centric representative governance.
At its core, a FOIP respects sovereignty, accountable governance and the rules-based order. India and Japan emphasise a FOIP’s inherent attributes, encompassing inclusivity, diversity, resilience and openness. Taken together, these words are antonyms for autocracy and totalitarianism in international affairs.
India and Japan are well situated to demonstrate their ability and willingness to back their calls for a peaceful, free and open rules-abiding region. In addition to defending peace, the two nations are primed to be the drivers of a free and open economy and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific. Japan has invested heavily in India’s major industries, including trade and transit corridors, high-speed rail systems, cloud infrastructure and submarine cables, the Indian Institute of Science and smart cities. Expanding joint ventures across the region is in both India’s and Japan’s interests.
India and Japan should champion closer coordination and integration of free and open economies of the Indo-Pacific. Japan has led from the front through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Access to regional markets is a necessary precondition for India to meet its economic and employment goals, which has led it to negotiate free trade agreements across the region. Supporting a congruence between the CPTPP and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is in both countries’ interests.
The FOIP’s strength and value in bettering Indo-Pacific residents’ lives will hinge on its ability to meet regional infrastructure demand of over US$1 trillion per year. Japan leads from the front as the region’s largest source of foreign direct investment. India should join the effort by extending India–Japan infrastructure investments in India across the region.
The two nations should lead the effort to establish a FOIP Infrastructure Fund of US$100 billion per year to leverage private capital with the United States, Australia, South Korea, Europe and others. Trade and Transit corridors from Dacca to Danang and submarine cables from Mombasa to Mumbai to Manilla should be of high priority. Energy security and the transition toward a carbon-neutral Indo-Pacific merit similar investments and priority.
The Indo-Pacific’s primacy in global security and prosperity should be reflected in world institutions. Leading free and open Indo-Pacific economies including India, Australia and South Korea should join their Atlantic counterparts in the G7 to form a G10. A new G10 would be more representative of leading liberal economies and better equipped to ensure a free and open rules-based international economic order. As the host of the G7 in 2023, Japan is well suited to jumpstart this institutional evolution.
2023 has the making of a transformative year in ushering in the Indo-Pacific era. India and Japan as the hosts of the G20 and G7 respectively can lead by example in ideas, actions and institutions to redress the fulcrum of a free and open world for the 21st century. The two are well positioned to act in consonance to not only establish the Indo-Pacific as the global centre of gravity but to also demonstrate the ability and willingness of Asian nations to sustain a rules-based order for the world’s benefit.
Kaush Arha is President of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Forum and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University. He is the former Senior Advisor for Strategic Engagement at USAID.