In order to understand the Indo-Pacific domination of the US and China’s response, it is imperative to have geographic know-how of the region. Indo-Pacific is relatively a new term and countries vary regarding its definition. Generally, it is described as a region ranging from the Eastern shore of Africa to the Western coast of the United States. It is a crucial trading route of the globe and its importance for the US has been multiplied since the emerging of China as a new economic power. Hence, the US wants to have dominant position in the region to counter the growing influence of China.
Indo-Pacific domination of the US
The policy adopted by the US to dominate the Indo-Pacific region is given as follows:
- Making alliance with the regional countries:
The US has swiftly followed the policy of making good friendly alliance with the countries of the Indo-Pacific regions by signing trade deals, bringing investment, updating their infrastructure, improving their military capacity and so on.
It is engaging in friendly relations with the members of Associate of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). These countries are center of Indo-Pacific and hold great significance for the US to diminish the influence of China. In 2018 alone, the US invested $271 billion in ASEAN. The investment was more than the total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) of the US in China and Japan combined.
Under the Indo-Pacific policy, the US is also increasing its cooperation with South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives by improving their naval capacity and providing them military trainings.
The US is strengthening its partnership with Chinese rival like Taiwan, South Korea, Philippines and so on to put Beijing in strict check and control. For instance, in 2019, Trump administration approved the sale of critical defense equipment, worth $10 billion, to Taiwan.
The US is also improving its cooperation with its traditional partners like Australia, Japan, India and South Korea. These are very important countries in the region and provide the US with leverage over China.
- Revival of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad):
Quadrilateral Security Dialogue was a diplomatic and military partnership among the United States, Australia, Japan and India that was viewed as a response to increased Chinese economic and political influence in the region. It was a very crucial military alliance keeping in view the glorious status of these four countries. However, Quad was ceased and could not continue for a long time.
In 2017, Trump administration, keeping in view its importance for the Indo-Pacific region, reestablished it. Besides, in September 2019, Trump elevated the Quad to ministerial level. At present, these countries have affirmed their commitment to cooperate on maritime security and regional connectivity. Thus, the revival of Quads can be described as American success story in Indo-Pacific region.
- US military and nuclear weapons deployment in the Indo-Pacific:
In order to gain a dominant position, the US has a massive military presence in the region at different bases located in the regional countries and occupied islands. Apart from its military deployment in its allied countries like Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand among others, it has also acquired the control of islands like Diego Garcia in Indian Ocean and Guam in Pacific that act as its military facilities.
Besides, the US has deployed nuclear weapons at different position in Indian and Pacific Ocean to maintain its hegemonic position. These weapons also pose great threat to the entire area.
- Improving Naval capacity of India:
The US is busy in updating the naval capacity of India because New Delhi is a very important ally of Washington in South Asia to dominate Indian Ocean and prevent China to create its own monopoly in the region through Pakistan. Already, in June 2018, the US, India and Japan held a trilateral Malabar Naval exercises at Guam that manifest the interest of the US in modernizing Indian navy.
Response of China to US Indo-Pacific domination
China has responded aggressively against the tactics of the US in Indo-Pacific to create its hegemony by taking the following measures:
- Development of CPEC:
China, in response, has invested in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to create an alternative route to divert its merchandise from its unsafe traditional passage through South China Sea and Strait of Malacca that is surrounded by American allies to secure transit route via Pakistan. CPEC will directly connect China to Arabian Sea via Pakistan. Chinese investment under CPEC has already reached around $68 billion and the constructions of different motorways have almost reached at their concluding phase.
- Belt Road Initiative (BRI) of China:
China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) is an ambitious program unveiled by XI Jinping in 2013 to connect Asia, Europe and Africa via a network of roads and sea routes to improve regional integration, boost economic growth and advance its military objectives. China is spending around $150 billion annually to give it a practical shape. It spent approximately $1trillion in four years. Currently, about 900 projects are under progress and 80 per cent are contracted to Chinese enterprises. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is its tiny part. It is attracting some countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives, Bangladesh and some African nations towards its bloc by investing a large sum of money to counter the dominant position of the US in the region.
- Stings to Pearl Policy of China:
Stings of pearl refer to the policy of China to establish military bases in Indian Ocean Region (IOR) between Chinese mainland and Port Sudan to counter the growing military influence of the US and India. China has invested heavily in the ports of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan and many others that are also acting as Chinese military bases in the region.
The BRI is also used by China to achieve its military objectives. For instances, at present, Chinese state-owned enterprises are running around 76 port and terminals in 34 different countries. The Gwadar port will also act as a mini military base for China to maintain its hegemony in Arabian Sea and counter the growing influence of India.
- Construction of artificial islands:
China has also constructed some artificial islands in South China Sea and converted them into military bases to respond the US incase of any emergency. Similar to the US, it has deployed nuclear weapons as well at specific position in the region to achieve deterrence.
- Updating Pakistan’s Navy capacity:
In response to the American measures to improve the naval capacity of India, China has started to update Pakistan’s naval capacity to prevent New Delhi from dominating the Indian Ocean. Together with Russia, China has conducted several large naval exercises with Pakistan to prepare it for competing its rival- India- in the region.
Thus, the US and China have engaged in a new competition to dominate the Indo-Pacific region. It is a very important area because approximately 2/3rd of the global trade and 80 per cent of Chinese oil passes from it. Besides, the most important countries of 21st century like Japan, Australia, China, India and the US lie in this region. Moreover, the region contains numerous choke points like Strait of Malacca that need to be secured for the prosperity of future global trade. Hence, any country that dominates the region will attain the status of super power. This fact has led to the competition of the US and China to gain hegemonic position in the Indo-Pacific region.