Is the ‘Indo-Pacific’ a way to create a better ‘mental map’ of our region or an unhelpful abstraction? Martin Blaszczyk takes a look.
For millennia, the West knew only ‘Asia’. With the entrenchment of American hegemony in the 20th Century, the ‘Asia-Pacific’ came to define how Australians conceptualise their region. But with the inexorable march of globalisation, is it time for our horizons to shift again?
Far from simply delimiting a sphere of the globe stretching from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the Americas, the Indo-Pacific is “a globally-central, two-ocean strategic system with fluid boundaries and an Asian core” according to Rory Medcalf. Writing in the South China Morning Post, he takes a look at the recent “buzz” over the term.
For David Brewster, the Indo-Pacific century is defined by the growing rivalry between two rising superpowers.
“How India and China get along in the shared Indo-Pacific space – cooperation, coexistence, competition, or confrontation – may be one of the key strategic challenges of the 21st century,” Brewster writes in Policy Forum.
With Anthony Bergin, Brewster charts China’s rising assertiveness in the region, much to India’s chagrin, while Darshana Baruah calls the Indo-Pacific “a new single strategic arc” that will complicate the maritime strategies of both Australia and India.
With its two-ocean geography, the concept seems to fit well with Australia’s strategic perspective. The first time the government formally adopted the term was in the 2013 Defence White Paper. By the time we asked experts to comment on last year’s Australian Foreign Policy White Paper, the term was common parlance, with Indonesia, Japan, India, and South Korea identified as Australia’s “Indo-Pacific partners.”
Australia has been busy reifying the Indo-Pacific with talk of a revived ‘Quadrilateral’ dialogue with the US, India and Japan, as Graeme Dobell explains in The Strategist. Even Donald Trump is on board, having used the term repeatedly, and adopting it in his administration’s national security strategy and national defence strategy.
However, Brad Glosserman from the Centre for Strategic Studies says the goal of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” remains amorphous even as it informs US policy. Similarly, as Asha Sundaramurthy points out in The Diplomat, India’s recent decision to again exclude Australia from its Malabar naval exercise highlights the fine line it walks with its great and powerful neighbour.
The Indo-Pacific concept has other detractors. Joshua Kurlantzik calls it “nebulous” and “ hard to pull off” while Andrew Phillips argues for a more regionally differentiated ‘Indo/Pacific’ alternative for Australia’s foreign policy.