Indo-Pacific: Alarming competition

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Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

THE convergence of Americans and Indians strategic interest not only endure Washington’s decisive role in the Indo-Pacific region but also strengthen New Delhi’s control of the Indian Ocean that it sees as its backyard. Concurrently, the increasing Chinese presence in the region and Beijing’s improving engagement with the Indian Ocean’s littoral nations alarms the Americans. The Indo-Pacific region stretches from “the west coast of India to the western shores of the United States” is emerging as a new theatre of Great Powers competition. Washington and New Delhi strategic planners have placed heavy emphasis on working closely to balance China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Hence, Washington has been encouraging New Delhi to build ‘blue water’ capabilities—‘an ability to carry out operations much farther than their territorial boundaries, across the deep oceans.’ Without blue-water Navy, India is powerless to pursue its Indo-Pacific strategy and balance China.
The Americans encourage the Naval buildup of India because their 2017 National Security Strategy described the Indo-Pacific as a region in which “a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place” and where “China is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda.” They believe that blue-water Navy empowers India to impede trade and oil traffic heading for China through the Malacca Straits and also boost the quadrilateral cooperation among India Japan, Australia, and United States otherwise known as the Quad. China is also upgrading the capacity of its blue-water Navy. Recently it completed sea trials of its second aircraft carrier. On May 18, 2018, the strategic H-6K bomber landed on one of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea. It validated Americans qualms about the likelihood of Chinese military utilization of their far-flung artificial islands as military bases. Is United States’ post-World War-II dominance of Indo-Pacific region coming to an end?
The recent developments indicate that the United States is flexing its military muscle in the Indo-Pacific region. On May 30, 2018, the Americans renamed their ‘Pacific Command to Indo-Pacific Command to galvanize the Indians. Indeed, it’s a smart Americans move to persuade India to exert more pressure on China. In addition, India, Japan and the United States have been doing trilateral joint naval exercises—Malabar Exercise. The trilateral coalition indicates a new brand of maritime assertiveness in Indo-Pacific that hedges against an economically and militarily rising China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy in the Indian Ocean. The incoming commander of US Pacific Fleet Admiral John Aquilino pointed out that: “A great power competition has reemerged as the central challenge to security and prosperity against our nation.” He added: “Nowhere are the stakes of that great power competition higher than here in the Indo-Pacific region.” The US Pacific Fleet is responsible to secure Americans interests from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle and from the West Coast of the United States to the Indian Ocean. It ‘consists of more than 200 ships and submarines, nearly 1,200 aircraft, and more than 130,000 sailors and civilians. The US Pacific Fleet power will be multiplied with the build-up of the Indian blue-water Navy. Precisely, the strategic partnership and maritime cooperation between the United States and India will determine the strategic trends in the Asian geopolitics.
India has been building one of the largest and most powerful navies in the world. It is because India is poised to become one of the four largest military powers in the world by 2020. It seems India may be able to accomplish its strategic objective due to its world’s sixth-largest economy, having third-largest military by personnel strength, and the fifth-largest defence budget. The Indian blue-water Navy equally undermines the maritime security of Pakistan. Pakistan Navy needs to be able to protect the trade routes to bring resources to its shores and also defy the blockade of its ports in a war with India. Therefore, it has been beefing up its fleet with the purchases of submarines from China and also building submarine-launched nuclear-capable cruise missiles and ballistic missiles to destroy targets at the sea. Though Pakistan maintains a defence posture, yet it is not acceptable to the Indians and their partners in the region. To conclude, the Great Powers strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific region will be troublesome for Pacific and Indian Ocean littoral nations.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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