Can it counter China?
On 29th May, the United States military renamed its Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command. Although the plan was already disclosed, the announcement garnered worldwide attention for Washington’s Asia strategy. Analysis focused on the symbolic and real significance of the name change and many media outlets viewed the decision as Washington roping in India to exert more pressure on China. That is one important strategic consideration for the US. But, China feels that Washington eyes long-term goals for its Indo-Pacific strategy: first, to instigate China and India into long-term infighting; second, to cope with the inevitable rise of India and strengthen Washington’s control over the Indian Ocean.
The Trump administration in the United States has opted for the term Indo-Pacific to describe its larger strategic area of interest across the pan-Asian region. Fully realizing the potential of this strategy will require reconciling differences over the boundaries of the Indo-Pacific and what can and should be done across this enormous geography.
The term’s descriptive value matters strategically. As Australian national security strategist Rory Medcalf wrote in 2013, the term Indo-Pacific recognizes deepened connections between the Indian Ocean region and the Western Pacific. China’s increasingly active presence in the Indian Ocean (e.g., a military base in Djibouti and intensified ties with countries such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives) illustrates a new reality in this maritime space.
As important, the Indo-Pacific framework inherently places India at the heart, rather than as an appendage to a concept of Asia focused on East Asia. Indeed, as C. Raja Mohan has written, the concept of Indian centrality revives a colonial-era framework that situated India in the middle of a larger maritime strategic space. This larger maritime area, described as the “confluence of the two seas” by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a 2007 speech to the Indian parliament, has important implications.
It’s hard not to see India’s inherent relevance in this broader region – a country on the brink of becoming the world’s most populous; a stable democracy with the world’s sixth-largest economy, third-largest military by personnel strength, and fifth-largest defence budget; and a commitment to rule of law and the liberal international order.
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