The alteration in global geo-strategic dynamics over the previous decade has led to the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a fresh arena for rivalry between the two principal global hubs – Beijing and Washington. This region holds significant strategic value because of its expansive population, substantial military footprint, and crucial maritime passages. Encompassing the span from the western shores of the United States to the eastern shores of India, this expanse blankets a considerable territory that interlinks 24 nations and bridges the connection between two important seas (Ali, 2022). This struggle for authority and supremacy has disrupted the equilibrium of power within the Indo-Pacific domain, influencing not solely the existing global strategic landscape but also posing a challenge to the established international order.

The government of the United States has emphasized the Indo-Pacific’s role as the most pivotal region shaping America’s forthcoming course, given its perceived monumental strategic significance.

Likewise, in the preceding ten years, the ascent of China has injected heightened competition into the region, prompting both Beijing and Washington to compete for influence (Ali, 2022).

The American Indo-Pacific Agenda

Although there have been significant changes in the US foreign policy since 2016 there are notable similarities between the US’s inclination to the Indo-Pacific and a significant shift from the Pivot of Asia. The ‘Pivot to Asia’ transformed into ‘Americas Pacific Century’ (Chong-Han Wu, 2022) during the last term of Obama’s administration that sharply turned to the Indo-Pacific once Trump entered the Oval Office. In late 2017, the Trump administration introduced the concept of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (Advancing a Shared Vision, 2019).

In the past decade, the US has pivoted its strategic focus to the Pacific and has drastically increased its arms spending in the region (Amt, 21 C.E.). To cement its dominance, influence, and commitment, many US officials have traveled to the Indo-Pacific region and Asia to garner support for Washington’s drive to dominate the Indo-Pacific region as it was increasingly becoming important at the geopolitical level (ISPI, 2018).

Multiple mini blocs, such as the Quad, were also revived, reflecting the increase in the United States’ concern towards China’s expanding regional impact. For the US, Quad has become a key policy guideline to maintain dominance in the Indo-Pacific and more so as a means of countering China’s moves(The Guardian, 2022).

The importance of the Indo-Pacific for Washington can be further proven by the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) enacted by the Trump administration in 2018.

The act allocated $1.5 billion for various US initiatives in East and Southeast Asia, to establish a long-term strategic strategy program and comprehensive, diverse, and principled US policy towards the region (Saha, 2020).

The Biden administration has placed even greater emphasis on the region by working with regional allies and partners. The administration further plans to develop an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) (The White House, 2022) that prioritizes labour and environmental standards in trade.

The policy outlines five objectives (The White House, 2022)

  1. Promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.
  2. Strengthening connections within and beyond the region.
  3. Driving regional prosperity.
  4. Enhancing security.
  5. Building resilience to transnational threats for Indo-Pacific region. (The White House, 2022b)

It continues to prioritize support for India’s rise as a regional leader (Freeman et al., 2022), like its predecessors. The policy pundits at the Capitol believe that India is a like-minded partner and leader in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region and it shares similar policy views on China. Under its Indo-Pacific approach, New Delhi has made substantial attempts to re-establish ties with Europe both through the European Union and bilaterally. Moreover, the Quad for the US has become an engine that drives connection with other regional forums in the Pacific for regional growth and development (Gurjar, 2022).

China’s Regional Vision

China claims that the US Indo-Pacific Strategy is focused on creating various small groups by ganging up on others under the label of freedom and openness (Yi, 2022), For China, the Indo-Pacific region is a means to gain influence over oceans. Through its claim of the nine-dash line (Beech, 2016) and the presence of its forces in the East Sea, China has implemented the string of pearls and the maritime Silk Road strategy.  China operates seaports in its closest ally North Korea to Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Pakistan, each considered a pearl in the string (The Chinese String of Pearls or How Beijing Is Conquering the Sea, 2019).

The Maritime Silk Road Initiative aims to develop three blue economic passages that will link Beijing with major economic hubs across the globe (P. Funaiole & E. Hillman, 2018).

It is seen as a vital component of China’s maritime renaissance as it has enabled Beijing to boost its $1.2 trillion blue economy, enhancing its food and energy security, protecting its sea lines of communication, and strengthening its international standing.

Furthermore, this initiative is expected to significantly expand China’s maritime strategic reach beyond its adjacent waters (Ghiasy et al., n.d.). China’s overall Indo-Pacific is approach is probably evolving. The MSR projects are neither purely military nor purely commercial (J. Green, 2018).

In order to respond to external challenges and safeguard its national sovereignty and benefits within the seas of the Indo-Pacific, China places great importance on developing a strong Blue Water Navy (Indo-Pacific Region in Major Powers’ Strategies – National Defence Journal, 2022). While China’s ambitions in the region remain economic and principled, the United States and India claim that through its String of Pearls and Maritime Silk Road Strategy, China is dominating and containing India in the Indian Ocean and also protecting its trade interests (EurAsian Times, 2018).

According to the annual report released in December 2020 by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional advisory body, there were 94 ports worldwide that were either partially owned or operated by Chinese companies as of February 2020. It expressed concerns about the potential for these ports to serve as entry points for the Chinese military’s overseas deployments (Makita et al., 2022).

Pakistan’s Relevance to the Indo-Pacific

Pakistan is an important player in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as it is home to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), BRI’s flagship project that connects Sea Lines of Communication of Indo-Pacific through roads and railway networks (Shakir Khawaja & Raza, 2022). Growing intensive competition between two major powers can bring challenges for its allies and partners. In this regard, the US-China competition in the Indo-Pacific region may present a litany of challenges and implications for Pakistan in the future. While the power competition brings many challenges for Pakistan, it also presents multiple forms of opportunities for the country.

  1. Pakistan’s geographical location makes it an important country for many international and major powers as it sits at the crossroads of the Middle East, Central Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the Strait of Hormuz.
  2. By opening an independent economic corridor towards the Indo-Pacific, Pakistan can demonstrate its commitment to an independent and equitable foreign policy by engaging with partners and players in the region through frameworks that align with its national interests.
  3. Given the worsening economic crisis, Pakistan needs to explore innovative approaches to diversify its economic partnerships beyond the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and participate in regional and extra-regional economic initiatives and forums such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Trans-Pacific Partnership, or Indo-Pacific Economic Forum (IPEF).
  4. In this regard, President Biden’s blueprint for economic engagement in the region through the IPEF presents an opportunity for Pakistan to explore select pillars in the framework that align with its interests instead of dismissing it solely because it has the term Indo-Pacific in it (Saha, 2023).
  5. The Quad’s revival has enhanced Indian status by making it strategically bold by becoming the US closest ally in the region, multiplying strategic challenges for Pakistan (Ahmed, 2022).
  6. The US support for Indian hegemony to contain China has created significant problems for Pakistan, including an existential threat.
  7. On multiple occasions, Washington and New Delhi have tried to oppose the CPEC projects to counter not only China’s increasing influence and connectivity but also hamper Pakistan’s economic as well as infrastructural development under the CPEC projects.
  8. India has been actively involved in a massive military build-up, not only for power projection within South Asia but also in the broader Asia-Pacific region. It also pursues doctrines that include seeking space for conventional war with Pakistan despite the existence of nuclear deterrence (Akram, 2018).
  9. This has also enabled New Delhi to become more hegemonic towards neighbors, both large and small, as it engages in the irrational and unreasonable showcase of muscle power.
  10. For Pakistan, solid diplomatic relations with ASEAN can open the gates of economic partnerships in the Southeast Asian region (Rizwan, 2020). The region is not only a theatre of power struggle but also a place where people live, cultures grow, and economies develop.
  11. With around $7 billion in bilateral trade with ASEAN, Pakistan has an opportunity to enhance its strategic and economic stability and promote regional cooperation.
  12. Moreover, it is crucial to recognize that the Indo-Pacific is a region with its own identity, history, and communities that must be considered when discussing its geopolitics in the 21st century. Hence, strengthening the ties and connectivity with ASEAN will aid Pakistan in executing the Vision East Asia policy. (Pakistan Joins ASEAN in 55th ASEAN Day Celebrations – Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2022)


Economic interests, military presence, and ideological differences drive the competition between the US and China in the Indo-Pacific region. So far, neither China nor the US is winning this competition for influence in the Indo-Pacific, as both have varying degrees of influence across the region. The US is losing influence through making military alliances with the regional states, while on the other hand, China is deepening its roots through economic partnerships under the BRI.

The American blatant support to India and its rise as a regional leader is increasingly becoming a challenge for Pakistan and China as it imbalances the arms race in the region as well as hamper peace and security.

In the new world order, states are shifting their focus from the balance of power to a balance of interests. Keeping this in mind, Pakistan needs to balance its foreign policy without being trapped in the new Cold War. CPEC projects can be a game changer for Pakistan. However, it still needs to look towards new initiatives and opportunities and multi-focus its economic approach rather than completely relying on a singular economic partnership.


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