Indo Pacific is the backyard of China as North Atlantic is to US in terms of its natural area of influence. And for all the good reasons. The region consists of over 65% of the global population and 60% of the world GDP. It’s a major maritime trading route and account for over 60% of the maritime trade. Since oil is a strategic resource which is imperative for the economically growth of every emerging economy, thus it becomes a security imperative and in turn a starting point for the shift in geopolitics.
China is the world second largest economy and one of the most prosperous nations of the region and is obviously trying to strengthen its economic and military influence in the region. Its GDP is envisaged to rise to 44.4 trillion dollars by 2060 and for that it requires continuous pouring of uninterrupted natural resources. In this regard, it has adopted a multi-faceted policy. It on one hand is projecting soft power through its culture and policy of non-interference in the affairs of other states & on the other is investing heavily in the countries of the region to safeguards its own long term interests.
In addition, it is trying to strengthen its strategic reach through Spratly and other islands by deploying military on these bases so to exert its positive control in the South China Sea. Furthermore, China has embarked on a realistic program of modernization of its armed forces. It is already the largest Navy and Air force in the Asia. It has successfully built its Aircraft Carrier and its inventory is full of modern weaponry. Chinese base in Djibouti is also direct threat the Western influence in the Red Sea.
In line with stated policy of patience and non-intimation of other powers, China has adopted a policy of Salami Slicing viz a viz ownership dispute of Islands in South China Sea with Vietnam and Cambodia.
Secondly, it is using its vast wealth to develop Ports and other projects in the regional countries i.e. Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka in order to make them stakeholder in the development of China. Thirdly, it is building alliances so to be not isolated from the commodity of emerging economies. BRICS, SCO and ASEAN+3 are few examples. Its mutual trade individually with regional countries has increased manifold in the last decade.
China emergence is a direct threat to US, as sole super power of the world. With Russia draining its resources in conflict with Ukraine, US is now more focused on containing China and according lot of importance to Indo-Pacific Region. It has adopted a policy of engagement and containment simultaneously.
Containment though making and revival of alliances with regional countries. Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly known as QUAD is a security dialogue alliance between India, Japan, Australia and US with the objective to contain China. Its objective is a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and a rules-based maritime order in East and South China Sea.
The US wants to counter the Chinese influence in Indo Pacific through India and Australia. In order to further tight the noose, in Sept 2021, US spearhead a security Pact alliance between UK Australia and US for Indo Pacific Region. Australia would be assisted in provisioning of Nuclear Powered submarine to ensure safety of navigation in Indo Pacific, more specifically in South China Sea.
Then in May 2022, US formed an alternate to ASEAN in orm of IPEF (Indo-Pacific Economic Framework) consisting of 14 members i.e. Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam and Fiji.
It is simultaneously engaging China as well as member of G7 and G20. The US is still China’s biggest trading partner and it suites both countries to continue engaging each other economically for mutual benefit of both countries. Notwithstanding, US freezing of Russian foreign reserves has led to point whereby BRICS will be considering alternate currency option in its summit in Johannesburg in August 2023.
The Cold war between US and China has thus started. Indo Pacific has the potential of becoming a theater of conflict if both the nations did not act pragmatically in this run for resources. US probably has to give some leverage to China in its efforts to gather resources for its country need without any effort of her economic strangulation. China is too big and strong an economy to be strangled otherwise. China on the other hand needs not to alienate a super power like US. The vast difference between GDP of US and West and China is a testimony that US supremacy can’t be challenged before 2050. However, any unnervisness by both nations would challenge fragile Balance of Power equation of region and can lead to conflicts in region. It is said in case of famine in the jungle, all the wolves sit in a circle and gaze in each other eyes. The one who wink first, other attacked him. Let’s hope it not be a case between USA and China in the contemporary world.
The writer is Islamabad based regular contributor.