Great Power Competition in the Indo-Pacific


Waseem Shabbir

Geopolitical dynamics are rapidly shaping up in strategically important regions of the world heralding no sign of peace, cooperation and interdependence among international power blocs in near future. It is a political phenomenon that alliances and pacts among states change with the change in their interests. Consequently, the international political system is bound to be transformed from multipolar to bipolar to ultimately unipolar world order and vice versa.
Before WW1 and WW2 respectively in 1914 and 1939, the world was divided into a multipolar world. The end of WW2 in 1945 then led the world to a bipolar world order, which was an epoch of new power rivalry dubbed as the “cold war” between the US and the USSR. The grand sequence of major events that occurred during the cold war precipitated the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 31, 1991. This biggest geopolitical tragedy of the USSR’s collapse had altered the world order from bipolar to unipolar, which finally made the US emerge as the sole superpower on the world map.
At present, the dominant unipolar world order (after three decades) has begun decaying by repeating its cycle and budging fast towards its transition to a bipolar or multipolar order. The gradual shifts in the current unipolar world order have brought US hegemony into a state of jeopardy. Thus, the United States will not be averse to going to any extent to dispel these evolving shifts which are posing a great threat to its worldwide unilateralism. However, to safeguard its interests and sell weapons, the US has always pursued a realist approach by opening up various war fronts and funding proxies in multiple parts of the world.
In the wake of numerous other paradigm shifts at the global stage, it is solely the economic, military and strategic rise of China through its billion dollars mega-project of connectivity called BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) linking China to Indo-Pacific to the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean, which is becoming a formidable challenge to US unipolar world order, adding to its consternation. “Rachel Esplin”, a research associate in the East-Asia Programme at Quincy Institute, states that the immediate shifts in the prevalent unipolar world order will be a disaster for the US hegemony.
Thus, after decamping from Afghanistan and several other countries including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Libya in the Middle East which are no more relevant, the US, to shield and protect its global dominance and world unipolar political structure, has resorted to staging a new war theatre in the Indo-Pacific with the single objective to contain, hinder and coerce China’s advancements and ascendancy in the region with full cooperation from its allies.
While pursuing aggressive manoeuvres, Washington on 16-Sep-2021 forged a new trilateral security agreement with UK and Australia named (AUKUS). Under the garb of “freedom of navigation”, “free and open Indo-Pacific” and “rule-based order” this new coalition entirely aim at countering Chinese power in the Indo-Pacific. According to this pact of $ 66 billion, Australia will be assisted to build 12 nuclear-powered submarines. These efforts will enhance Australia’s naval power to impede and challenge China’s preponderance in the Indo-Pacific. China’s embassy in Washington accused the pact as a coordinated effort towards a “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice”. France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also views the new agreement as a stab in the back of France after it lost the deal to Australia.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated the deal would seriously undermine regional peace and stability and would severely intensify the “Arms Race”. The imminent nuke race in the region will however violate the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty signed in 1968. Now, after seeing the US forging new alliances and building military capabilities in the Ocean, China too will expedite its ICD “Integrated Counter Diplomacy” and build up more nukes, frigates, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers to protect its stakes; thus making the region more volatile and vulnerable. Possibly China will further harden its stance on Taiwan with increased naval activities in the South China Sea which would lead to the path of naval confrontation between the US and China.
Japan and South Korea survive under US influence even in today’s age and they don’t pursue their independent foreign policies. However, Australia was the first time made a scapegoat solely for US interests. A great resentment among Australian people was seen through several demonstrations they carried out against their government for becoming a US partner in war and belligerence than drawing its attention towards the solution of many other serious issues including COVID-19, climate change and rising inflation.
Moreover, it would be completely unfair to not mention the existence of another security coalition named “QUAD” comprising of the US, India, Australia, and Japan in the Indo Pacific. Anticipatedly, this security alliance will be vibrant and active in its naval activities solely to contain China. However, India here will be given a special role against China’s ascendancy. For that, US-India defence trade cooperation is likely to expand with existing agreements named (LEMOA), (COMCASA) and (ISA) between them. To perform its role against China, India’s dream of building Blue-Water-Navy can also be accomplished with US support, anyhow this seems unachievable for some reasons.
China will certainly focus on Pakistan and strengthen its military to counterbalance India’s hegemonic designs. Now, Pakistan’s alliance with China and India’s with the US will further intensify the rivalries between India and Pakistan and repercussions of this aggravated hostility would be devastating for the whole region.
Amidst this rising power contest, the US with the full support of its allies and partners likely to target China’s (BRI) maritime and mainland projects of connectivity now. The certain sensitive geographic points which are on US radar to be targeted are the Strait of Malacca, Taiwan Strait, Kyaukphyu Port of Myanmar, Gawadar Port of Pakistan and Hambantota Port of Srilanka. Among all the aforementioned projects, the Strait of Malacca through which a quarter of all world trade flows is the most vulnerable point to be blocked by the newly emerged security coalition that will be a great jolt to China to throttle its maritime trade. Currently, 80% of China’s oil alone, also passes through Malacca Strait, and this oil supply is becoming highly risky and unsafe by heavy militarization by the US nexus with its allies in the Indo-Pacific.
Moreover, any armed conflict in the “South China Sea” where China is already aggressively asserting its claims to the disputed territorial waters encircled by the so-called Nine-Dash Line, will have catastrophic implications for the whole region. However, the risk of sabre rattling and spontaneous confrontation between China and AUCUS will mount only if the vessels patrol the water and aggressive military exercises are carried out. Steve Crabtree, a research analyst at Gallup, asserted “A war in the Indo-Pacific region involving the US and China in the next ten to fifteen years is plausible.”
It is a fact that US supremacy is presently suffering seismic blows. After failing on various international fronts, this new adventure is going to yield no sufficient leverage to the US over China. Today’s China unlike Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria and many other war-battered countries are much stronger, politically stable, militarily potent and economically powerful to counter all impending warmongering and military posturings of the US. Furthermore, Asia-Pacific countries which benefit through both huge trade with China and investment flow from China, will possibly not go against it in this dreadful game of power projection.