About the Author-
Aishwarya Singh Raikwar is a Research Scholar at the Hindustan Institute of Technology and Science, Chennai, India, presently in her second year of PhD. She is a UGC-NET qualified candidate and a certified Tourism Professional, with over 3 years of experience working in both industry and academics. She has completed her master’s from the Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management, Gwalior.
“Envisioning the Blue Economy and Maritime Tourism as soft power instruments for India’s positioning in the Indo-Pacific.”
India is one such country whose soft power is based on its civilisational heritage and cultural prowess. Unlike many other countries that have homogenised, or relatively “westernised,” their culture, India’s diverse yet coherent cultural fabric traverses the whole country. In addition, India’s prominence has grown recently in several multilateral fora, and Yoga and Ayurveda are becoming more popular. One of the most obvious manifestations of Indian soft power is the widespread use of Namaste as a greeting by the international community during the ongoing pandemic.
Our country is a culture-driven soft power. Joseph Nye (15 Aug 2021) stated India’s Soft Power Comes in Part from its Ancient Culture but also from Modern Culture. Since the 1980s, when American political scientist Joseph S Nye Jr. introduced the term “soft power” into the international relations discourse, nations have used it to uplift their global positioning and influence. Soft power refers to a country’s attempt to reach other nations through its culture, foreign policy, and political values instead of its military might. This understanding has laid a foundation for countries to pursue public diplomacy and increase cultural engagement with both state and non-state actors. Although the concept of soft power is only a few decades old, several countries are internationally known for their cultural assets and values that date back centuries and are still sought after today, and India is one such country.
India in the Indo-Pacific
The Indo-Pacific have its origin in the maritime realm, it’s a maritime stretch, and a confluence of the Indian and the Pacific Ocean and is increasingly becoming the theatre of geostrategic hustle. Indo-Pacific is a new entrant in the geopolitical domain and has recently gained importance in changing global order and public diplomacy. In the quest of making the most out of oceans, the countries have joined the “blue race”. Blue Economy is a concept of sustainable use of ocean resources for economic prosperity and improved livelihoods. India’s geostrategic location is an advantage and it realizes the geo-economic opportunity Blue Economy presents. The government of India’s move to draft the country’s first-of-its-kind Blue Economy policy is an example.
Thus, the saying of Alfred Thayer Mahan, a maritime strategist, back then in 1897 still holds relevance “Whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia. This ocean will be the key to the seven seas in the 21st Century. The destiny of the world will be decided on its waters”.
This is especially true in light of the conflict over maritime power in the Indian Ocean Region. India is now projected as the pharmacy of the world and the reason behind this is the Covid-19 pandemic. Cultural practices can also be “mainstreamed” to strengthen that process. Observing the International Day of Yoga or more prolific use of our languages in interacting with the world is an indicator of the changing equilibrium (Jaishankar, 2020). India does have the capabilities to balance the equations as it is positioned in the middle of the dramatic west and autocratic China.
The QUAD factor
No discussion of the Indo-Pacific is complete without discussing the four players shaping up the environment in the Indo-Pacific. The informal grouping of India, Australia, Japan and the United States of America which came into existence back then in 2007, collapsed in 2008 and eventually revived in 2017.
The nations of the Indo-Pacific region have one thing in common; they all have a trade or territorial disputes with China. Conflicts between South East Asian nations and the PRC over their exclusive economic zones persist. It has essentially become a threat to Indo-Pacific peace owing to its reluctance to abide by the rules-based orders and international maritime laws. The coalition needs to articulate its objectives since it cannot afford to remain an emergent alliance for very long. It must also shed its reputation as an anti-China grouping. Wars today do not necessarily involve an army; they can be fought through soft power and QUAD must evolve in this approach. To maintain its stature in the BRICS and SCO, where China is an active participant, New Delhi must strike a balance between its involvement in QUAD and those groupings.
The four Quad leaders wrapped up the recent in-person summit in May 2022 held in Tokyo with a joint enclosure towards their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient (Yeung and Steve George, CNN, 2022).
What’s there in for India?
A country with a glorious past and a promising future hold a key position in the Indo-Pacific region. Every state has its definition of Indo in “Indo-Pacific” the Chinese counterpart doesn’t like the idea of Indo-Pacific they consider it as a threat to their national interests. The USA considers India as a net security provider and an important partner in containing China in Indian Ocean Region, Japan and Australia define it differently. New Delhi has its ambitions and it has to work strategically towards them, and one such instrument can be tourism and soft power diplomacy. India has established itself as a cornerstone of American policy in the Indo-Pacific to confront China, being the largest democracy in the world and the leading regional power in South Asia.
Before the Pandemic, the tourism industry’s importance had never been felt so profound. The industry was the first to be impacted and will likely take the longest to recover. Covid-19 has impacted how people currently perceive this service sector, which contributes significantly to global GDP and employs billions of people worldwide. India Tourism has put a lot of work into establishing the economy as a tourism hub, but we are still focusing on the top 1% of the global tourist arrivals. Investing in its maritime tourism capabilities and infrastructure can serve major of three objectives;
This initiative will contribute to National Maritime Security, stabilise the region and open avenues for cooperation in the region.
This move will boost the economy and sustainable development adding to the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the country.
Introducing Maritime Tourism as a soft power tool will place India as an emerging Blue Economy Destination.
The global order is changing and it will be interesting to see how it will evolve especially in a post-COVID era wherein nations today, place a higher priority on nationalism than on multilateralism.
The Indo-Pacific region is increasingly becoming the hotspot of global power contestations. Some of the region’s complexities include diverse economies, unstable governments, land and border issues among littorals, terrorism, piracy, natural disasters, climate change and its impact on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The threat of climate change is mounting and it is one of the biggest challenges of this century. For them and other ocean-based economies, rising sea levels pose an existential threat and it calls for a collective effort and solution.
The way forward
India does have more flexibility than in the past to manage its rise, however, as the global architecture opens up and its own capabilities develop. There will be inherent risks with this practice that must be closely examined. Its vision as a developing nation and the character of the ruling government is dedicated to making it a global leader. India’s foreign policy has never been in such a good position as it is presently. Blue Economy can lead to the building of prosperous and resilient economies which are future-ready.
“Promoting good perceptions of one’s country is not new, but the conditions for projecting soft power have evolved substantially in recent years,” argues Joe Nye in his article on wielding soft power (joe_nye_ wielding_ soft_ power).
Recent studies have shown that several destinations are performing and scaling well on “hard aspects” which are tourist infrastructure, the economy and other allied services. The facet gaining importance and presenting a destination uniquely is the “soft aspect” which includes the environment, hospitality of the local community, art and cultural traditions, and leisure activities (Morgan et al., 2011). India has to gauge up in both aspects. Indeed, though we’ve a heritage of soft power there’s an urgency to develop our hard power prospect in this area, to contend with the world- class destinations.
Soft power is centered on the capacity to engage the opposition as well as the capability to persuade and mobilize people. To promote collaboration amongst actors, soft power makes use of the appeal handed by participating ideals as well as the rightness and responsibility of contributing to these values. Soft power diplomacy through maritime tourism will facilitate rules-based order, and sustainable development and enhance maritime collaboration among Indo-Pacific littorals. The advancement in Blue Economy and soft power can prove to be an instrumental step toward enhancing maritime capabilities and raising the diplomatic profile of India. It can also be a literal step in the country’s positioning in the Indo- Pacific region.