Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy By Shazia Anwer Cheema

While no less than 42 countries of the world were attending the 19th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2022 held in Singapore on June 10-12, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was in China holding meetings with the Chinese military leadership. Pakistan refrained from the Singapore gathering this year even though it had been participating in the Dialogue in past.

There was, as expected, a heavy firework in the meeting. The speech of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ignited the firework added to by Zhang Zhenzhong, the deputy chief of the Joint Staff Department in the Central Military Commission of China. I have been writing that since Joe Biden took the Oval Office, the apparent target is ‘One China Policy’ with the Taiwan issue thrown on the global stage once again. Encircling Chinese waters through Indo-Pacific Strategy, the US along, with its NATO allies, is aggressively playing in the region. Zhang was of the opinion that the US had already turned the Middle East and Europe into a mess, “does it want to mess up Asia-Pacific next?”

A deep analysis of the US working to curtail Chine reveals that QUAD, a strategic dialogue-based formation including the US, Japan, Australia and India; the Five Eyes (FVEY), an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US; multilateral UKUSA Agreement, a treaty for cooperation in signals intelligence to block the flow of information to and from China; AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK and the US; and now Indo-Pacific Framework comprising the US, Japan, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei are too much to instigate China to respond. And this time China has strongly responded to these developments. China, which has a history of cool diplomacy, did not hide its reaction and stated that the US allies were trying to maintain the US hegemony, creating divisions and fanning confrontation in the region.

China believes that Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy is designed to trap the Asia-Pacific region into a geopolitical game and confrontation; and this situation is surely hampering ASEAN-centred regional cooperation architecture and seriously harms the overall and long-term interests of countries in the region.

Growing tension between the US and China is actually squeezing diplomatic space for Pakistan which needs cordial relations with both the US and EU for many reasons, foremost of all being the economy. It’s because over 80% of total Pakistan’s exports go to Europe and North America through the US and EU countries. IMF, World Bank and ADB are economic pliers that can cut oxygen pipes Pakistan’s needs at the economic ventilator. FATF is another long story. China, on the other hand, ensures the strategic and geopolitical survival of Pakistan which has unfriendly neighbours at its eastern as well as western borders. Options are limited, with no grey zone left for Pakistan diplomatically.

The only project that can grow economic opportunities for Pakistan is CPEC, which is cent per cent funded by China; and even for military hardware, Pakistan has to look at China. If, as believed by China, the US strategy is designed to destroy peace in Asia-Pacific and fan military confrontation by sending warplanes to showcase its military might in the South China Sea, and launching military drills with allies for creating tensions in the region, then how long can Pakistan stand indifferent to such developments?

Enhancing Indian role in Washington’s Asia-Pacific strategy alarms Pakistan, leaving virtually no place but to further consolidate the strategic partnership with China and enhancing military diplomacy and military-to-military cooperation with it. The recent daylong visit by Gen Bajwa makes him the only military leader to visit China on the invitation of President Xi. Gen Bajwa led Pakistan’s tri-service delegation at the apex meeting held on June 12 while the Chinese side was led by Vice Chairman Central Military Commission of China General Zhang Youxia. I believe China has to look after Pakistan economically given that one of its strategically important partners in the Indo-Pacific water, Sri Lanka, has collapsed economically and China cannot afford to see the same scenes in Pakistan. Options are limited also for China, not just for Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2022.​

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