Observations on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategy

 Observations on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategy

by Mr Zhao Shiren Consul General of China in Lahore

WITH the recent news of the six US senior trade officials intending to resign from their positions mainly due to the lacklustre implementation of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), one of the key pillars of the US geo-economic policy towards Asia-Pacific region plus the Indian Ocean, the intrinsic flaws of the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) have been further exposed. Coupled with the impending elections in the US and India, domestic political developments in Japan and the lack of sustained engagements from Australia, the Quadrilateral Security Agreement (QUAD), another geo-strategic and regional security pillar of the IPS, has neither seen any substantive progress so far, thus emerging the paradoxes and fallacies of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy.

The term “Indo-Pacific” was indeed artificially coined out of the thin air. Until quite recently, the term Asia-Pacific was used by comity of nations to refer to the areas along the rim of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. There is no “Indo-Pacific” in any political discourse or geographical literature until it was first introduced by the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. The respective US administrations simply followed the suit, while taking advantage of the evolving world landscape to explore its geo-strategic agenda towards the region. Literally speaking, the term “Indo-Pacific” doesn’t fully represent the Indian-Asia-Pacific region, since the strategy at the moment only includes the US, Australia, Japan and India. The Indo-Pacific concept covers both Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean with Asia-Pacific in between, but the geo-strategic dimension goes short of the geographic area.

The IPS has been ill-conceived ever since its inception. It is a narrative trap in its own right. The construct advocates for a “free and open Indo-Pacific region”, however, it is in practice exclusive given further scrutiny. The proclaimed “free and open Indo-Pacific” goes against the fact that by pursuing this strategy, the region will remain no more free and open. It will instead create a selected elite club of wealthy and powerful countries, and build small yard with erected barriers in the region. The IPS has conveniently ignored many other states and smaller, less economically powerful ones along the Indian Ocean in particular, as it is centered on four pillars. Pakistan, an important sub-continent country and a major Islamic state in the world, is not within the US defined “Indo-Pacific” parameter. It has every reason to stay away from this geo-strategic manoeuvring disguised in the IPS.

The Indo-Pacific construct is an idea for the United States to connect the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region, from a geopolitical perspective, to ensure its dominance in the region. The IPS not only aims to erase the name Asia-Pacific and the effective regional cooperation framework in the region, but also targets at effacing the achievements and momentum of peace and development fostered by regional countries with joint effort for decades. The US is teaming up with small selective group of countries under the banner of “freedom and openness’”, and attempts to make Asia-Pacific countries “pawns” of US hegemony. More importantly, the IPS, which was misconstrued from the start, by misplacing and emphasizing security dimension in the form of the QUAD and AUKUS, is widely recognized as a response to the Belt and Road Initiative put forward by China. It aims at offering alternative plans to the regional countries to hinder and halt the progress of the BRI, especially the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative.

The US has officially identified China as its “most consequential geopolitical challenge.” Senior government officials openly said that US policy to change China’s trajectory for the past 40 years has failed, that the United States should try to shape the strategic environment and regional dynamics around China to curtail China’s development. Therefore, its true intention of stoking a new Cold War in Asia-Pacific can not be kept under wraps. It is an open secret that the IPS is essentially a strategy or political manoeuvring to contain and encircle China, attempting to undermine China’s relations with the states along the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and to stop China’s peaceful development. Nevertheless, it would impose quite limited influence on China due to its internal and external restraints. Internally, the strategy has the loose network and financial difficulty, constituting major obstacles to the evolution of process. Externally, the different emphasis on the core element of the IPS between the U.S. and its partners constitutes another obstacle. The four pillar states have different objectives or perceptions on the policy.

Questions loom about whether the IPS can be implemented successfully. The small states in the region largely remain reluctant to take sides and thus have responded to the IPS in a reserved and prudent manner. In fact, they all have been anxious on what the possible long-term implications of the IPS for regional architecture would be. The persistent Ukraine crisis and the prevailing Israeli-Palestinian conflict have put heavy strains on the US pivot towards the “Indo-Pacific” region, thus disrupting and derailing its momentum. The IPEF, economic wing of the IPS, remains a vague “work in progress” and could face more serious headwinds going forward. The exit of the US government officials reveals not only the disillusion they felt on the slow implementation of the IPEF, but also underscores the futile efforts and pointless direction of the IPS. Last but not the least, China was not deterred and has already taken effective measures. The Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative (GSI) proposed by China are for shared growth, true multi-lateralism and common security. In the present scenario, they are indeed pathways to enhanced development and strengthened security of the region and the world at large. The IPS eventually won’t stick and will go nowhere further.


—The writer is a Consul General of the P.R. China in Lahore.

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