Countries which are adversely affected by the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct like China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian Republics, through strengthening their own strategic integration, can offset the negative impacts of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ project, writes Shahida Wizarat, Dean of the College of Economics And Social Development, Institute of Business Management (Pakistan). This article represents one of the opinions within the framework of the discussion among the experts of the Valdai Club on the topic “Asia-Pacific or Indo-Pacific?”
Until quite recently, the term Asia-Pacific was used to refer to the areas along the rim of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, but in 2007 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first introduced the term ‘Indo-Pacific’.
In 2010 Hilary Clinton also referred to the region as the ‘Indo-Pacific’, revealing a US tilt towards India and its geo-strategic agenda towards the region. And in 2017, the Trump administration referred to the region as the ‘Indo-Pacific’.
The Indian Ocean region is rich in mineral reserves , containing 35% of global natural gas, 67% of global oil reserves, 40% of global gold reserves, 60% of global uranium reserves and 80% of diamond deposits. The strategic importance of the region can be gauged from the fact that it contains seven of the ten largest armies in the world, six nuclear powers, contributes two-thirds of global GDP growth and 60% of global GDP. The region is also very important to China as it is the main route for the supply of oil to China, with 85% of Chinese oil imports passing through the Strait of Malacca. Wang Yi (2022) has very rightly stated that the ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategy “not only aims to erase the name Asia-Pacific and the effective regional cooperation framework in the Asia-Pacific region, but also aims to efface the achievements and momentum of peace and development fostered by regional countries with joint effort for decades.” He goes on to state that the United States is “ganging up on others under the banner of ‘freedom and openness' ...The strategy aims to contain China and attempts to make Asia-Pacific countries ‘pawns’ of US hegemony.”
Egorova (2021) states that Moscow does not endorse the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept as it is a remnant of the Cold War. She adds further that “Russia heavily opposes the Indo-Pacific as it regards the concept pro-American, which is directed against China and Russia. The ‘Indo-Pacific’ is seen as an echo of the Cold war by the country. Russia is not welcoming the idea of the Indo-Pacific as a new geopolitical construct that would replace the Asia-Pacific.” In 2019, the Russian Defence Minister stated that the switch from Asia-Pacific to ‘Indo-Pacific’ would “create dividing lines and tensions and restrain regional order.” There is a very real fear that such a move would take the region away from ASEAN and SCO centred interactions. With the exit of the US from Afghanistan, new energy routes and the economic integration of the region would be pre-empted by the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct.
Russia is apprehensive that the QUAD is likely to develop into an ‘Asian NATO’ and believes that these activities in the Asia-Pacific region constitute unilateralism and a US-centric world order, which the Russian Federation has been resisting. Moreover, Russia has economic interests in the region related to the exploration of natural resources, the export of energy resources and agricultural commodities to Asia, and positioning itself as a corridor between Asia-Pacific and Europe. All these economic integration activities are likely to be affected by the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct.
The Quadrilateral Security Agreement (QUAD) is a security dialogue between the US, Australia, Japan and India whose major preoccupation is to encircle China and curtail Russian influence in the region. It is a quasi-military alliance with a major thrust on non-military activities, but the holding of joint military exercises and its spread to other regions, e.g. a QUAD of West Asia or Middle Eastern QUAD, (Composed of India, US, Israel and UAE
) gives it muscle and adds stature. In September 2021, to add military muscle to QUAD, Australia, UK and the US established AUKUS, a military alliance which aims to provide collective security to the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region. AUKUS will provide long-range strike capabilities and nuclear-powered submarines to Australia. This is in violation of NPT Article I, which prohibits nuclear weapons states from transferring nuclear weapons or explosive materials to non-nuclear states, and NPT Article II, which prohibits non-nuclear states from acquiring such weapons.
China’s rise as a global economic power in 2010 and the introduction of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, involving almost 150 countries and organizations, resulted in the US, UK and their Asian partners India, Japan and Australia fighting back against this challenge to the present world order. The ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct is a response to the BRI, which is a very positive development initiative taken by China. The BRI aims to enhance infrastructure in countries in the developing world, where such investments have become elusive due to the antagonistic policies of rich countries and the harsh conditions imposed by the International Financial Institutions (IFIs). The availability of infrastructure would increase investment, yielding a rise in output and employment, creating virtuous cycles and leading to further increase in incomes, output and employment. That is why the BRI is called a ‘win-win’ model since it increases output, income and employment in both the host country as well as the investing country.
However, the BRI is in direct clash with the existing world order, which was established by rich countries that happen to be former colonial powers. This present world order is based on the creation of conflicts resulting in an increase in the demand for arms, increasing the GDP in rich arms-exporting countries, but causing a decline in economic activity due to conflict, capital flight, instability, death and destruction in the developing world. What is the gain of one is the loss of the other. This is, therefore, not a ‘win-win’ model. The present World Order ensures that the status quo is maintained and corroborates Gunder Frank’s theory that rich countries develop by under developing the rest of the world. That is why the US, UK, Australia, Japan and their protégés like India are reacting so violently to the BRI. The BRI is an economic and development initiative, while the US, UK, Australia and India are giving a military response to it in the form of the QUAD and AUKUS.
US National Security Strategy 2022 revealed on 14 October 2022 identifies China as United States’ “most consequential geopolitical challenge.” While Russia is the “second major threat to US global interests and has been condemned for unleashing the Ukraine war”. It is interesting to note that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are not even mentioned in the National Security Strategy. The non-inclusion of Pakistan is a welcome development, reflecting that there is realization about Pakistan’s lack of interest in fighting alien wars. But Pakistan’s interests are being adversely affected by the ‘Indo-Pacific’ on account of the militarization of the Asia-Pacific region. Pakistan has reason to be wary of the fact that its arch-enemy India is ganging up with powerful countries aimed at destroying regional peace, targeting CPEC and harbouring nefarious designs in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
India has been named as a “major defence partner” in helping to achieve the vision of a “free and open” ‘Indo-Pacific’. The document goes on to state that “the United States and India will work together, bilaterally and multilaterally, to support our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.” India’s role in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is very dubious and intriguing. On the one hand, it is a close friend of the Russian Federation and a major beneficiary of cheap Russian oil. India will be strengthened by Russia economically, and the strength so obtained will be used against the same power that strengthened it. For Russia there appears to be a trade-off between Russian economic and geo-strategic interests. Western sanctions imposed on Russia necessitate that Russia sell its oil, gas and other exports to get out of its present economic difficulties. Russian economic interests are also important, but they do imply that a country whose major task in the US National Security Strategy is to promote US interests in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region is going to be bolstered by Russian oil seems like a paradox, posing a trade-off between Russian economic and geo-strategic interests.
The militarization of the Asia-Pacific region, comprising six nuclear powers and seven of the ten largest armies, is a frightening scenario. What will be the consequences if the powers actually engage in war? Who will be a winner and who will be a loser? If the brewing conflicts have become so intractable that they lead to war among the big powers, it will take a very heavy toll in terms of human lives, physical and remote infrastructure, progress and prosperity. Big wars and conflicts result in the demise of existing powers and their replacement with new powers. India’s extensive involvement in military alliances and maintaining friendships with members of the opposite group shows that India is aspiring for such a position. Will a new power emerge from the ashes of war?
Countries which are adversely affected by the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct like China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian Republics, through strengthening their own strategic integration, can offset the negative impacts of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ project. Other countries likely to suffer the adverse consequences like Turkiye, Malaysia and Indonesia can also be added. President Xi Jinping, speaking at the Boao Forum for the Asian Annual Conference in 2022, proposed the Global Security Initiative (GSI) based on the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. The GSI would promote multilateralism and international solidarity and will lead to a strengthening of the security of the affected countries in the present war-mongering scenario, which is becoming more and more belligerent as time goes on.