The Indo-Pacific region has emerged as a key theater of engagement with the return of great power competition. China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the region based on their growing capability and influence across the Indo-Pacific raises pressing questions for Indian and the US strategy in the region and how they can best respond.
The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ has rattled the Chinese security establishment ever since and also the state funded think tanks. Every discussion revolves around IPS (as is the acronym for India Pacific Strategy in China). It would be interesting to understand their views on this initiative of the US.
Economic relevance and geopolitical significance have drawn attention of the world towards Indian Ocean and the Pacific. US, Japan, India and Australia have increased their Naval Cooperation for securing the sea lanes of communication over these oceans. It is in this context that the Chinese have proposed China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC). The Chinese believe that these two are pillars to its expansion in these oceans and littorals which has been furthered by Belt Road Initiative (BRI). Though, in the Chinese writings, it has often been stressed that BRI is an economic endeavor, the regional countries have viewed the development of ports, communication etc for logistics support becoming power projection tools down the line. In the opinion of the Chinese, US push for IPS is primarily to offer more beneficial alternative to regional countries, in a sense it is counter to the BRI. Revival of Quad and passage of Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) into law by the US for developing long term strategic vision and comprehensive, multifaceted and principled US policy for Indo Pacific Region and for other purposes is really a counter to the BRI.
Beijing has also assessed that China’s diplomatic outreach and political influence in the region is being perceived by regional countries like Japan, India and Australia as power imbalance and therefore their coming together for IPS or Quad. However, IPS being perceived differently by partner countries has lead to its slow progress.
Majority of think tanks in China are of the opinion that Indo Pacific Strategy will adversely affect China’s economic, military and strategic interests particularly the BRI and therefore Chinese countermeasures are compulsory.
Beijing has assessed that China’s diplomatic outreach and political influence in the region is being perceived by regional countries like Japan, India and Australia as power imbalance
Revival of Quad and passage of Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) into law by the US for developing long term strategic vision for Indo Pacific Region is really a counter to the BRI
The second challenge in reality expresses the Chinese desire to form a regional economic and security architecture in the Indo Pacific and more specifically Indian Ocean Region when it perceives military superiority over US/India combined. Chinese think tanks often refer to Military Strategy paper of 2015 which states that China will secure the trade routes internationally by deploying and basing PLAN. China’s economic interests need to be protected overseas.
This must ring alarm bells in US and India particularly. While ASEAN would take no sides, in effect it would be supportive of China. Sri Lanka may use its neutrality hedging and permit Chinese warships transit on pretext of security of SLOCS. On the west it has Pakistan and possibly some African peninsular countries which are by and large dependent on China.
Possibly time has come to put in place an architecture in the IOR and larger Indo-Pacific to ensure free and open trade routes, overflights and rule based order as they exist. Any delay could make democracies stare at fait accompli.
The Author is former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. A naval aviator of fighter stream, he has flown over 2700 hours and steered naval aviation acquisition as the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff. He retired in 2014 as the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command.