Indo-Pacific Under Limelight By Muhammad Abubaker

AMERICAN political entrepreneurs coined the term ‘Pivot to Asia’ back in 2011, since then it has guided the US manoeuvres and policy in the Indo-Pacific region.

A new phase is being witnessed under the Biden Administration where the US side has prioritized partnership and commitment to open, connected, prosperous, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific region.

The US side is actively building webs of alignment with the ocean-going maritime democracies in the region with the sole purpose to try and manage the rise of China.

The US and China’s strategic rivalry is the epicentre of political debate and discussion around the world.

Moreover, the tussle between the two geopolitical giants has created pervasive challenges for the regional countries.

The recent visit by the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan in 25 years has heightened tension between China and the US.

China termed it intrusion of its sovereignty and urged the US side to respect ‘one China policy’.

The countries in the Indo-Pacific are anxious about the unfolding situation and stressed upon a non-partisan approach as they want to refrain from joining any political bloc.

The recently held 32nd NATO summit 2022 in Madrid has endorsed a ‘New Strategic Concept (NSC) that for the first time recognized China as a ‘systematic challenge’ to the US.

It highlights the US policy that it does not want a challenger either in Europe or in the Indo-Pacific region to safeguard the US preeminence as a superpower.

The NSC reflects that the US feels threatened due to China’s rising influence in the region and beyond.

They have devised a full-blown China containment strategy to prevent China from exerting its influence, especially in the Asian affairs and impeding the geopolitical, geo-economics and geostrategic interests of the US.

To achieve that end goal, they are roping in many regional countries by building multilateral alliances and partnerships.

The US side took many initiatives under its Indo-Pacific strategy; the most important among them was the revival of QUAD.

It is an informal security grouping of likeminded democracies like Australia, India, Japan and the US.

The main purpose behind the formation and revival is to make a security partnership against the Chinese perceived threat, deter coercion and to secure open and free Indo-Pacific region.

Moreover, US also focused on its engagement with the ASEAN bloc to lure it into its sphere of influence.

The revival of QUAD, multilateral exercises in the Indo-Pacific, arms sales and political support to the island of Taiwan visible from the Nancy Pelosi’s trip, strategic competition act, AUKUS like initiatives, support to Japan-Australia, (Reciprocal Access Agreement) and the US led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework are part of wider strategy to maintain a balance of power vis-à-vis China.

These developments also revealed that strategic collaboration can actually enable stronger glue for economic collaboration.

In this anti-China equation, Indian case is very unique. India and China have very complex and ambitious relationship.

At one point China is second largest partner of India and on the other hand it is ostensibly prepared by the US as a counterweight against China under QUAD umbrella.

The relationship between these two Asian giants has great relevance to what happens to Asia and impact the political landscape of this continent.

The border dispute that has been lingering since 2020 has slowed down the trust building and resultantly, foreign policies become relatively assertive.

This situation favoured the US Administration which is capitalizing on these Indian apprehensions against China and trying hard to mould it in such a manner that can contribute in achieving the US vested interests.

Today, Asia has potential for conflict, the most likely triggers for such a conflict lie in the Asia-Pacific.

We are aware about competing claims over South-China Sea, Taiwan-strait and political tension over Hong Kong and Xinjiang region.

Any conflict in Indo-Pacific is bound to involve the US and the effect may not be dissimilar to that on Europe today.

A military conflict would be disastrous for the region and could overturn any calculation.

Any misadventure in pursuit of questionable goals could upset the web of economic and political relations.

A heavy responsibility lies on the US, China, QUAD, ASEAN, and other important stakeholders to avoid igniting conflicts and destabilizing the Indo-Pacific region.

They should think about a new inclusive & open co-prosperity compact for Asia based on economic cooperation rather than injection of quasi security groupings.

China views its economic prowess and clout as its biggest asset. It is well aware of the fact that a military conflict will be so costly, so it is seeking other ways to counter the US led containment efforts in the Indo-Pacific.

It has used Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) like projects to foster ties with the regional countries to neutralize an all-out anti-China coalition in Asia.

It is also strengthening its diplomatic engagement and power projection capabilities to protect its core national interests of maintaining unity, preserving sovereignty and territorial integrity, safeguarding its people, projects, and maritime rights.

Despite these differences, there is a desire and willingness to have a functional relationship between the US and China.

They are making efforts to avoid steering their relationship into a deadly conflict.

To dial down their differences they should review their bilateral relations from a long-term perspective, should view each other’s development with the win-win mentality and should participate in a multilateral process with cooperative postures.

—The writer an independent analyst based in Islamabad who has previously worked with the Islamabad Security Dialogue at National Security Division (NSD).

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