Indo-Pacific: A new theatre of opportunities and rise of China « Khabarhub
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Indo-Pacific: A new theatre of opportunities and rise of China


15 October 2021  

Time taken to read : 10 Minute


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The change in global geopolitical trends that prevailed before the onset of the COVID19 will magnify in its wake as the global competition will further be widened.

The ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a policy symbol of regional engagement has been adopted by many countries. As a result, several countries have initiated efforts to make the Indo-Pacific free and inclusive.

The evolving significance of the maritime domain for connectivity and trade has led to the seas and oceans becoming an arena of rivalries and regional supremacy.

The idea of the Indo-Pacific as a theatre of opportunities has emerged from time to time in the commentary and orations of political scholars and envoys which has altered contours of regional power relations thus making it the most contested maritime zone.

The struggle between the developing and the developed economies for influence over the sea lanes and maritime networks for resources, commerce, and connectivity has led to a shift in dynamic especially in the geostrategic construct of the Indo-Pacific and recent developments, indicates that the prominent skirmish will play out in the Indo-Pacific region. 

The geographical term ‘Indo-Pacific’ over a while has become widely recognized and is one of the, most intricate regions in the world. It includes a wide variety of diverse ethnicity, cultures, races, and religions.

The degree of political instability, governance, demography, ethnicity, state-to-state conflicts, and the momentum of economic growth cultivates a unique mix of opportunity and obstructions in each nation periodically influencing mid and long-term growth, thus creating situations that trigger the internal or civil conflict.

Even though BRI happens to be largely an economic initiative, but many scholars assume that the heavy Chinese investments in infrastructure and industries certainly will have significant geostrategic repercussions across Europe, Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. 

The Indo-Pacific region in the time has been drawing the world’s interest more due to its increasing economic pertinence and geopolitical prominence.

As a result, the great powers and regional countries, such as China, France, the United States of America (the USA), India, Japan, the United Kingdom(UK), and Australia, have increased their presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The growing importance of the region is mainly related to economic and geostrategic justifications, but the major question that arises is: How will it impact the power equilibrium pertaining to the big-power involvement?

The power game in the Indo-Pacific region where China is investing heavily in port developments and militarization of bases will help China rise as the dominant power.

In the present day, the Indo-Pacific increasingly is thwarted with a more complacent and proactive China that is augmenting its defense capabilities and is willing to expand its political, economic, and security interests. 

China’s geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific revolves around three maritime zones, i.e. the South China Sea, the wider Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. China’s maritime policy is majorly inspired by blue water navy, with aggressive projection into the South China Sea, and the evolution of a two-ocean navy operating not just in the Pacific Ocean, but also in the Indian Ocean under an arc-shaped strategic zone that covers the Western Pacific Ocean and Northern Indian Ocean.

China is one of the Indo-Pacific littoral countries, which has a wider presence and deep interest in the region; however, it is geopolitically confined and hindered by the Indo-Pacific strategy of the neighboring countries.

Therefore, China wishes to establish itself as a major maritime power to secure energy security flows in the Indian Ocean by monopolizing the choke points, under the maritime Silk Road initiative, and also gain influence in the disputed island in the East and South China Seas.

China’s grand strategy is to solidify a network of transportation (including aviation, road), port establishment near strategic choke points, and energy security infrastructure around the globe.

China’s wish to evade the “Malacca dilemma” has led it to develop two considerable alternatives to the Strait of Malacca.

China recommended the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), as the main pillars of China’s Indo-Pacific strategy, in 2013 and 2017 respectively.

The China-Myanmar energy Corridor (CMEC), includes gas line and oil pipelines projects running from the deepwater port of Kyaukpyu to Kunming in south-western China which was opened in April 2017.

China’s ambition in the Indo-Pacific and its growing presence across the Indo-Pacific is also triggering other actors to restrict China. China’s movement in the Western Pacific provokes security concerns for Australia, Japan, and, above all, for the USA. 

Second is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that runs from Gwadar Western coast of Pakistan up the Indus valley to Xinjiang, which connects the Maritime Silk Road to the Eurasian Belt under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Even though BRI happens to be largely an economic initiative, but many scholars assume that the heavy Chinese investments in infrastructure and industries certainly will have significant geostrategic repercussions across Europe, Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. 

Therefore, China’s maritime strategy is based on a simple assumption; to develop its maritime power capabilities while protecting its islands in the east and the South China Sea and energy & trade sea lanes.

The Chinese presence in the four northern Indian Ocean rim locations – Chittagong in Bangladesh, Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, and Sittwe in Myanmar is particularly aligned with its intent to develop infrastructure and port facilities in respective strategically important countries of the Indian Ocean.

By maintaining such a presence, China wishes to pursue its political influence as well as economic interests. China’s anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden have led to China gaining friendly access at Salalah (Oman), Aden (Yemen), and most recently Djibouti. 

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to increase its maritime power and secure its geo-economic goals.

This strategy encompasses various areas of focus, such as; the Blue Economy, Climate Change, Conserving Marine Environments & Maritime Resources, in order to protect China’s rights and interests in the near and high seas.

Within the Indo-Pacific region, China’s claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea have somewhat to do with energy security.

The Chinese claims over energy resources in the East China Sea have high pitched it against Japan, in the South China Seas, while seven other countries are also striving for maritime claims in the sea, additionally, of the claim of islands within other nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) has made it even more complicated.

As China continues to grow its economic and military strength, it strives for regional hegemony in the Indo-Pacific with an ultimate goal of global pre-eminence in the long term.

China uses economic incentives and sanctions while influencing military operations and persuading other states to kowtow with its agenda.

India with the formation of QUAD and BIMESTC and nurturing strategic relationships with the ASEAN over the last decade has emerged as a key regional player and created an important strategic space.

China is also investing in a wide range of military weapons and programs, those developed to improve power projection; modernization of nuclear capabilities; and administer highly complex operations in domains such as cyberspace, space, and electronic warfare operations. 

With China’s aggressive posture in the Indo-Pacific and the trade war between the USA and China, the largest power has lead to the development of several bilateral, trilateral and regional alliances.

China’s ambition in the Indo-Pacific and its growing presence across the Indo-Pacific is also triggering other actors to restrict China. China’s movement in the Western Pacific provokes security concerns for Australia, Japan, and, above all, for the USA. 

The geo-economic shift of power from the West to the East, particularly Asia, and the prospering geo-strategic and geo-political significance of the Indo-Pacific region have induced cooperation and rivalry among the developed and developing economies of the world.

Every country should focus on developing a multidirectional engagement with the regional and extra-regional powers to protect and promote its national interests.

India with the formation of QUAD and BIMESTC and nurturing strategic relationships with the ASEAN over the last decade has emerged as a key regional player and created an important strategic space.

In a true sense, the Indo-Pacific is unfolding unique trends and questions that offer extraordinary recourses and compelling challenges to every country.

(Divya Rai is Research Intern at Nepal Institute For International Cooperation and Engagement)

Publish Date : 15 October 2021 08:45 AM

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