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Upping the game

A significant consequence of President Xi Jinping consolidating his hold in China has been Beijing’s renewed strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific as it works to a plan to dislodge America and decisively dominate the region.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

A significant consequence of President Xi Jinping consolidating his hold in China has been Beijing’s renewed strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific as it works to a plan to dislodge America and decisively dominate the region.

The USA is a leading Indo-Pacific power with a vested interest in sustaining a strong alliance network, and maintaining a “rules-based, free, and open regional order that delivers peace, stability, and economic prosperity”.

But the Indo-Pacific is a dynamic region where fast-changing security concerns and degrees of economic linkages are subject to each nation’s constantly evolving strategic matrix.

The growth of networks in the IndoPacific continues apace as heightening great-power rivalry has impeded consensus-making in multilateral institutions. While critics point out that small networks are informal and lack the structures needed for focused action, China’s belligerence in the region has resulted in activating these groupings ~ which promote voluntary and non-binding target commitments ~ in the Indo-Pacific against the backdrop of mega-trade agreements taking hold.

Beijing has, according to experts, upped its use of coercion as an instrument of state policy, and is using all the weapons in its armoury to undermine US interests in the region including grey-zone tactics, political interference, economic pressure, and limited military force against smaller countries. Washington’s assiduously built alliance system in Asia is expected to be threatened like never before as China presses its unilateral territorial claims to settle international disputes on its terms.

A key aspect of China upping the game is its effort to undermine democratic movements in the Indo-Pacific ~ exporting to the region, as it were, its policies vis-à-vis Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang.

Brookings Institute scholars Richard Bush, Tanvi Madan, Mireya Solís, Jonathan Stromseth, and Andrew Yeo in a recent article have recommended that to protect and sustain US interests and efforts in the Indo-Pacific, Washington needs to deepen its alliances, partnerships, and coalitions.

While security alliances and weaning away countries from China’s economic supply chain would form the bedrock of such a strategy, enhanced cooperation initiatives such as the Quad, and more nuanced engagement with not just the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a group but also with its individual member-states, is essential. The countries the authors have zeroed in on for Washington’s special attention, both bilaterally and as part of small groupings, are Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam in Southeast Asia; India in South Asia; and Japan-Korea in East Asia.

Meaningful economic engagement and opportunities need to be provided by the USA if China’s Belt and Road Initiative among other policies is to be neutralized, in which the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) can play a key role to “devise supply chain resilience initiatives that foster cohesion with US partners, partake in digital trade agreements, and restore trade liberalisation to its policy toolkit”, write the experts.

America also ought to pursue membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive TransPacific Partnership (CPTPP) to advance its economic and foreign policy interests as well as deliver infrastructure finance to enable regional connectivity in the physical and digital domains. Is President Joe Biden listening?