Sino-Indian Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific

 By Kanchana Ramanujam

As the world’s centre-of-gravity shifts from the West to the East, the Indo-Pacific has emerged as a region of immense interest for major global players. While there may not be consensus on the geographical scope of the Indo-Pacific, there are a number of areas for multi-lateral cooperation and growth. This article deals purely with non-military aspects of Sino-Indian cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

Indo-Pacific: Differing Interpretations

  1. India, Japan

India’s interprets the Indo-Pacific to extend from the western coast of continental America to the eastern coast of continental Africa, evident in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s keynote address at the Shangri La Dialogue on June 01, 2018, where he said that the Indo-Pacific extends from the “shores of Africa to that of the Americas”.[i] India underscores the centrality of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific. The Japanese interpretation of the region is congruent with the Indian understanding.[ii]

2. The United States

In the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report released by the US Department of Defense in June this year, the Indo-Pacific was defined as “spanning a vast stretch of the globe from the west coast of the United States to the western shores of India,…”, i.e., it does not include the shores of Africa or the Gulf countries as part of the Indo-Pacific.[iii]


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) brought out the ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’, but it does not go into the exact geographical scope of the Indo-Pacific. It, however, does refer to the Indo-Pacific as the “wider Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions”. [iv]

China’s Concerns

China sees the American pivot to the Indo-Pacific as a military move against it. It views the American interest in the region as being aimed at containing her in the South China Sea region. Mutual mistrust has led to unease in the region. One way of enhancing intra-regional trust is deepening cooperation on common concerns.

Avenues for China-India Cooperation

  1. Illicit Trafficking

The trafficking of humans, timber, wildlife, and drugs is rampant in this region. The infamous Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle lie in this region. Myanmar is the source of methamphetamine (also known as meth/blue/crystal) and synthetic drugs and Afghanistan of heroin.

Human trafficking is a major concern with many sub-regional patterns. Some countries in the region, such as Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam have certain shared concerns.

Wildlife and forest crime is one of the biggest transnational organised crimes in the East Asia and Pacific region. What compounds the problem further is the ease with which it can be disguised as legitimate trade.

India and China should take the lead in creating regional/sub-regional mechanism to address these issues. First and foremost would be to create sub-regional financial intelligence mechanisms to identify and disable the trafficking networks.

Second, India and China should focus on capacity-building in those countries which have the will but not necessarily the resources to combat this menace. We should have a strong, unified,   whole-of-region/whole-of-sub-region response focusing on border management, legal framework, and practical applicability of laws.

2. Natural Disasters/Environmental Issues

The Indo-Pacific is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. As such, it is prone to earthquakes, volcanoes, and other natural calamities. The islands and low-lying areas are especially vulnerable to the effects of global warming. There are enough avenues for enhancing cooperation in disaster mapping, monitoring, response, etc. Both the countries already have certain engagements in the fields of climate change, disaster management, etc. The need is to broaden and deepen this cooperation. According to a 2015 United Nations report titled ‘The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters’, the five countries hit by the highest number of disasters were US, China, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia – all in the Indo-Pacific.[v] In addition, Japan is prone to natural disasters due to its climate and topography.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s report published in February this year mentioned that China and India are leading the increase in greening on land.[vi] These two countries should initiate a whole-of-region greening plan so that the entire Indo-Pacific becomes a greener region. Other green initiatives, such as a plastic-free Indo-Pacific, should also be given a fillip by investing in biodegradable plastic.

Environmental issues have a tendency to transform into military issues and hence, need to be addressed in earnest. Submergence of low-lying areas could change the boundaries of a country. Over-fishing and unregulated fishing will not only lead to resource-depletion, but may also result in a country’s vessels venturing into another country’s waters in search of fish.

3. Health Issues

Many of the major infectious diseases such as Japanese encephalitis, influenza, tuberculosis, etc are endemic to the Indo-Pacific. Newly emerging viruses such as Hendra and Nipah are also endemic to the Indo-Pacific. A whole-of-region approach with emphasis on increased collaboration between the scientific, medical, and pharmacological communities will help the cause.

A rising concern is not only the emergence of multi-drug-resistant strains of bacteria, but also their spread. In January this year, the NDM-1 (New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1) gene which confers multi-drug resistance to bacteria, was found in the Arctic.[vii] India should take up the cause of popularising Ayurveda in the Indo-Pacific as microbes are not known to develop resistance against Ayurvedic medicines.

4. Terrorism

Many countries in the Indo-Pacific, including China and India, have been victims of terrorism. In the White Paper titled ‘Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang’ released in August year, China had stated that terrorist attacks had caused “heavy casualties and property damage” in countries such as India, the US, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, etc.[viii]

There are reports that South East Asia has become the new breeding ground for Islamic State terrorists.[ix] Hence, the countries in the Indo-Pacific should put up a joint front against terrorism. This involves, inter alia, demonstrable action against terrorists and no shielding of terrorists in any way at any forum.


India envisions the Indo-Pacific as an arc of prosperity. The first and foremost requirement for prosperity is stability. Problems of piracy, weapons proliferation, governance issues in certain countries, refugee problems, terrorism, etc. are destabilising factors. China and India, along with other countries in the Indo-Pacific need to work towards addressing these issues and ensuring that there is transparency, accountability, freedom of navigation/over-flight, access to commons, stability, and adherence to international laws in the region.



[i] (2018). Prime Minister’s Keynote Address at Shangri La Dialogue (June 01, 2018). [online] Available at:  [Accessed 15 Sep. 2019].

[ii] Towards Free and Open Indo-Pacific. (2019). [ebook] The Government of Japan. Available at: [Accessed 15 Sep. 2019].

[iii] Indo-Pacific Strategy Report. (2019). [online] United States Department of Defense. Available at:  [Accessed 16 Sep. 2019].

[iv] ASEAN OUTLOOK ON THE INDO-PACIFIC. (2019). [online] ASEAN. Available at:  [Accessed 15 Sep. 2019].

[v] The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015). The Human Cost of Weather Related Disaster. [online] p.08. Available at:  [Accessed 18 Sep. 2019].

[vi] Tabor, A. (2019). Human Activity in China and India Dominates the Greening of Earth. [online] NASA. Available at:  [Accessed 18 Sep. 2019].

[vii] Dall, C. (2019). Northern exposure: Scientists find resistance genes in Arctic. [online] CIDRAP. Available at:  [Accessed 18 Sep. 2019].

[viii] (2019). Full Text: Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang – China Military. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Sep. 2019].

[ix] Abuza, Z. and Clarke, C. (2019). The Islamic State Meets Southeast Asia. [online] Foreign Affairs. Available at:  [Accessed 19 Sep. 2019].