The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific 2019949408, 9780198739524

In the 21st century, the Indo-Pacific region has become the new centre of the world. The concept of the 'Indo-Pacif

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The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific
 2019949408, 9780198739524

Table of contents :
The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific
List of Figures
List of Tables
1: Introduction: Constructions of the Indo-Pacific Region
Structure of the Book
Constructing the Indo-Pacific
The Epistemological Continuum: Essentialist and Constructivist Methodologies Combined
2: Maritime Regional Theories: Oceans and Seas
Introduction: Regions, Oceans, and Sea Spaces
The Social Construction of Maritime Space
Indo-Pacific as Region, Oceanic Neighbourhood, Non-Realist, Differentiated Regional Oceanness
Realist Constructions of Indo-Pacific
Universalist, Non-Differentiated Constructions of Oceanic Space: The Indo-Pacific as Liquid Continuum
3: The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought: The Rise of the Indo-Pacific Concept
Traditional Geopolitical Ideas
Traditional Geopolitical Ideas: Adoption, Adaptation, and Diffusion
The Diffusion of Traditional Geopolitical Thinking to Indo-Pacific States
The United States
Conclusion: A Way Forward
4: The New ‘Multiplex’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific
The New Cold War
The End of the American World Order
Residual Attitudes, Institutions, and Territorial Conflicts
Geopolitical Self-Images, the Rules-Based Order and Perceived Spheres of Influence
Europe and NATO Expansion
The Return of Global Russia
The US Pivot to the Indo-Pacific
Japan’s ‘Militarization’: Reactivation of a Regional Cold War?
Indian Ocean Competition
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue
THAAD: A Regional New Cold War?
The Cyber and Chemical Cold War
The New Cold War: Implications for the Indo-Pacific and South Asia
Post-Cold War Strategic Partnership Diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific
Conclusion: The Indo-Pacific New Cold War Matrix
5: The US ‘Pivot’ in the Indo-Pacific
Geopolitical Transitions, Realist Traditions, and Critical Geopolitics of ‘Fear’
The Obama Pivot, Zones, and the ‘Liquid Continuum’
The Trumpian Turn: Alliances Rather Than Zones
6: The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific
India’s Post-Cold War ‘Strategic Geographies’ and Geopolitical Visions: Dynamics and Dialectics of ‘Indo-Pacific’
Differentiated Neighbourhood: Region as ‘Neighbour’
Project Mausam
India–US relations
India and Africa
India and Iran/Middle East
Conclusion: India and Its Broader Neighbourhood—Major Strategic Players and Multilateral Institutions
7: Regional Middle Powers and the Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative
Indo-Pacific Middle Powers
Middle Power US Alliances and Chinese Strategic Partnerships
A Hierarchy of Regional Great Power–Middle Power Strategic Linkages
The Core Middle Powers and the Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative
Australia and the Indo-Pacific Narrative
Indonesia’s middle way
Malaysia’s Equidistance
Philippines Pragmatism
Singapore’s Strategic Neutrality
South Korea’s Equidistant Diplomacy
Thailand: Bamboo Swirling in the Wind
Vietnam: Multipolar Balance
Conclusion: Middle Powers and the Indo-Pacific Narrative
8: The Rise of China and the Indo-Pacific
China’s Inexorable Rise
The Rise in China’s Economic Power
Chinese Rejuvenation (Fuxing)
China’s Reform Agenda
A Chinese Model of Great Power Relations
China as a ‘Revisionist’ State
China and US Trade Linkages with Indo-Pacific Middle Powers
China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Indo-Pacific
The South China Sea Dispute
Conclusion: The Future for a Risen China in the Indo-Pacific
China and the Indo-Pacific Concept
9: Conclusion: Continuities, Change, and Challenges
The Indo-Pacific Great Powers
China and the United States in the Indo-Pacific: A ‘Thucydides’ Trap’?
The Indo-Pacific Middle Powers
The Challenge of the Anglosphere?
A Vision of Regional Architecture in the Indo-Pacific Region: The Indian Ocean Rim Association—an Exemplar of Institution Building for Indo-Pacific Futures?
Renewed Interest in the Grouping and New Focus Areas
Maritime Security and Coast Guard Cooperation
The Blue Economy, IORA, and the Indo-Pacific
Future Directions for IORA
More Inclusive Membership
Better Leveraging Relationships with IORA Dialogue Partners: Embracing Indo-Pacific Partners
Links between Security and Economic Agendas
The Importance of Academic Diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific: Building Regional Epistemic Communities
Concluding Remarks

Citation preview


The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific



The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific T I M O T H Y D OY L E A N D D E N N I S RUM L EY



1 Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries © Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley 2019 The moral rights of the authors have been asserted First Edition published in 2019 Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Control Number: 2019949408 ISBN 978–0–19–873952–4 DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739524.001.0001 Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY Links to third party websites are provided by Oxford in good faith and for information only. Oxford disclaims any responsibility for the materials contained in any third party website referenced in this work.


Preface The genesis of the present volume goes back almost 20 years to the creation of the Indian Ocean Research Group and its launch in Chandigarh in 2002. Some of the research collaboration since then between Sanjay Chaturvedi, Timothy Doyle, and Dennis Rumley has been concerned with the nature of maritime regions— their construction and definition, their usage and institutionalization, and the conflicts and contestations that have emerged during these processes. Our work initially focused upon the ‘Indian Ocean region’ but inevitably became involved in critically evaluating differing views of state adherence to particular regional structures, including that of the ‘Indo-Pacific region’. Some of the early results of this work were discussed in our joint paper published in 2012: ‘ “Securing” the Indian Ocean? Competing Regional Security Constructions”, Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, Vol. 8 (1), pp. 1–20. We owe a very considerable debt of gratitude to our dear brother Sanjay who has been our close companion on an amazing (sometimes ‘floral’) journey around the region both physically and mentally for so long. Several other smaller pieces of work have served to hone our overall arguments for this larger volume, and feedback given by various conference goers, readers, and policy-makers have made this ongoing work richer for their input and inspiration. For Tim, an initial paper presented at the International Studies Association conference in Toronto in 2014 initiated such concepts of ‘super-region as non-region’; the ‘liquid continuum’, and ‘mare nullius’, with a version of this earlier paper published, in part, in Priya Chacko’s edited volume, New Regional Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific: Drivers, Dynamics and Consequences. Another paper on the changes in the construction of the Indo-Pacific policy during different regimes within the United States was first presented at the European Studies Association Conference in Prague in 2018. Thanks to Dr Barry Ryan of Keele University for putting this panel on maritime security together. Some of these ideas appear in final form in Chapter 6 of this book. Acknowledgements must also be provided for Professor Mark Beeson of the University of Western Australia and Dr Jeffrey Wilson of Murdoch University, who ran an invited symposium on the Indo-Pacific in Perth in 2017. These ideas were partly captured in a piece published in East Asia Journal, Vol. 35 (2), and they also form the thrust of the argument developed in Chapter 2 of this book. For Dennis, earlier versions of Chapter 4 were delivered at the 6th International Conference of the Research Institute of Indian Ocean Economies, Yunnan University of Finance and Economics, Kunming, China; and at the International


vi Preface Seminar on Indian Ocean Regional Security, Fudan University, Shanghai, China in November 2016. In addition, an earlier draft of sections in Chapter  7 on ‘Strategic Narratives of Great Powers’ was written for presentation at the Security and Growth for all in the Region International Conference in Goa, India, in October 2017; and some arguments presented in Chapter  7 on Australia were delivered at the 7th Research Institute of Indian Ocean Economies International Conference in Kunming in November 2017. Both Tim and Dennis, apart from being academics, have worked closely with the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) over the years: Tim as chair of IORA’s Academic Group based in Mauritius; and Dennis as Australia’s IORA academic focal point. Both our scholarly and practical interactions with governments, corporations, and civil society across this vast and rapidly expanding region have provided rich food for thought when researching and writing this volume. In particular, thanks must be accorded to the Indonesian Government for the publication of a brief paper written by Tim, alongside Australian colleague David Brewster, in a book to celebrate IORA’s first twenty years, presented at Jogjakarta in 2016: IORA at 20—Learning from the Past and Charting the Future, Policy Development and Analysis Agency, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Indonesia 2017. Some of these arguments have been reworked into the concluding chapter of this book. We must acknowledge the generous support of the Australian Research Council (ARC) in its Discovery Projects scheme. Both Tim, as lead chief investigator, and Dennis, also as a chief investigator, were supported by the ARC in both the field work and writing stages of this book, which is just one part of an even larger research agenda: ‘Building an Indian Ocean Region’ (DP120101166). Our deepest appreciation must also be recorded to our two research assistants on this project: Dr Adela Alfonsi and Dr Georgia Lawrence-Doyle. Thank you for your diligent research, thorough scholarship, and constant support. Over the past five years, Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley have enjoyed joint professorial research positions at Curtin University in Western Australia during which time the bulk of the writing of the present volume took place. We are grateful to Curtin for this unique opportunity. Curtin University Library was especially helpful during this period, as was the ongoing support of Curtin colleague, Graham Seal of the Australia-Asia-Pacific Institute. Thanks also to staff and students at the Indo-Pacific Governance Research Centre, and the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Adelaide; as well as to Tim’s colleagues in the School of Politics, Philosophy, International Relations and the Environment at Keele University in the United Kingdom. Special thanks must be accorded to the staff of Oxford University Press— particularly our commissioning editor, Dominic Byatt, who saw sufficient merit in the initial book proposal to support this lengthy process.


Preface  vii Naturally, in the very complex and demanding endeavour involved in writing this book, we required and happily received the extreme patience of our dear families—Fiona, Georgia, Matilda, and Thomas for Tim; and Hilary, Alison, Christopher, Tomoko, David, Nina, Ewan and Naomi for Dennis. Without their love, support, humour, and ongoing commentary on our devotion to this volume, it would have been the poorer. We owe them all a great deal and we dedicate the book to them.



Contents List of Figures List of Tables

1. Introduction: Constructions of the Indo-Pacific Region

xi xiii


2. Maritime Regional Theories: Oceans and Seas


3. The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought: The Rise of the Indo-Pacific Concept


4. The New ‘Multiplex’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific


5. The US ‘Pivot’ in the Indo-Pacific


6. The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific


7. Regional Middle Powers and the Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative


8. The Rise of China and the Indo-Pacific


9. Conclusion: Continuities, Change, and Challenges


Bibliography Index

181 211



List of Figures 4.1. Perceived potential US adversaries


4.2. China–India border disputes


4.3. East Asian territorial disputes


4.4. The Indo-Pacific new Cold War matrix


5.1. Map of Indo-Pacific under Obama and before


5.2. Map of Indo-Pacific under Trump


7.1. Core states of the Indo-Pacific region


7.2. The five Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement Philippines bases


7.3. Content analysis of Australian defence white papers 1987–2016


8.1. Global share of total exports 1948–2014


8.2. Share of global economic power 1970–2030


8.3. Indo-Pacific BRI economic corridors




List of Tables 4.1. India’s strategic partnerships


4.2. China’s Asian strategic partnerships


4.3. The Indo-Pacific bilateral principled security network


7.1. Some middle power characteristics


7.2. Socio-economic characteristics of Indo-Pacific core middle powers


7.3. China and the US: Indo-Pacific middle power strategic partnerships and alliances


7.4. Indo-Pacific great power–middle power cooperative partnerships


7.5. The ideology of the Indo-Pacific


7.6. Twenty-first-century Indonesian regional security narratives


7.7. South Korean presidential ideological orientations 1987–2018


7.8. Indo-Pacific middle power strategic policies


8.1. Indo-Pacific state military expenditure 2017


8.2. China trade concentration 1991–2006: Indo-Pacific middle powers


8.3. Indo-Pacific middle power merchandise trade with China and the US 2017


8.4. Indo-Pacific trade liberalization agenda membership 2018


8.5. BRI positives and negatives—a view from the Economist156




Introduction Constructions of the Indo-Pacific Region

Structure of the Book We begin this book with a discussion and analysis of the contested Indo-Pacific concept in order to highlight the variation in the nature of the construction and acceptance of its varying meanings. Despite the prevailing narratives of the IndoPacific, Chapter 2 explores how discourses of the region should not solely revolve around the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Rather, we argue that the Indo-Pacific is the convergence of these two, vast, geo-oceanic systems and the countries, communities, and cultures which are touched by these waters in both a physical and metaphysical sense. We contend that this collision of water spaces epitomizes the essence of the Indo-Pacific region, as well as the littoral zone between the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific. In Chapter 2, the ‘imaginations’ of seas and oceans are discussed as discrete entities to understand the varying epistemological ­traditions which strive to form, or critique, the emergence of grand ‘oceanic’ regionalisms. For example, the Indo-Pacific region will be discussed in light of three dom­in­ ant theoretical frameworks: the non-realist interpretation of the Indo-Pacific, which posits a shared ‘oceanic neighbourhood’, surpassing the hegemony of trad­ ition­al nation-states; second, the realist construction of the region, which aims to establish ‘natural’ and essentialist relationships between individual states in the region; third, we outline the universalist, ‘non-differentiated’ interpretation of oceanic space, which views the Indo-Pacific as a globalized ‘non-space’ or ‘liquid continuum’, resisting territorialization. This chapter will also expose some of the previously overlooked cultural narratives of the Indo-Pacific prior to colonization. We will examine the ways in which these stories are now being exploited or  reshaped in contemporary geopolitical discourse for both exogenous and en­dogen­ous political gains. Finally, we argue that the concept of ‘region’ is increasingly being co-opted in order to challenge the role and existence of any uniform model of macro geopolitics. Chapter 3 offers an outline and synthesis of the dissemination, perpetuation, and evolution of traditional geopolitical thought concerning the Indo-Pacific region. There will first be a discussion as to what is considered to be conventional geopolitical discourse, followed by a broad regional synopsis of the transmission The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific. Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley, Oxford University Press (2019). © Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739524.001.0001


2  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific of traditional geopolitical concepts throughout the key nation-states of the ­Indo-Pacific region, including: Japan, the United States (US), China, India, Indonesia, Australia, and the African continent. Chapter  3 aims to grasp the extent to which these concepts and ideas continue to contribute to contemporary regional geo­pol­it­ical policy-making. In particular, we will outline the revival of particular classical paradigms and concepts such as ‘pivots’, lebensraum, sea and land powers—all of which have been drawn from the works of prevalent scholars in the field of international relations and geopolitics, such as Mackinder, Spykman, Caroe, Pannikar, Semple, Ratzel, and especially Haushofer. We argue how the return of these concepts and their reshaping through various national lenses reveals the construction of these distinct IndoPacific regionalisms. We posit that the limited national frameworks of the Indo-Pacific tend to take precedence over more genuine, pan-regional as­pir­ations. Essentially, this chapter will argue that, in the twenty-first century, the Indo-Pacific is being increasingly utilized as an ‘enabling tool’ for regional state territorial expan­ ilitary dominance, with the sionism, as well as for the geographical extension of m potential for significant regional, national—even global—conflict. Chapter 4 claims that the primary obstruction to sustainable security and ­stability in the Indo-Pacific region is due to the economic and political legacy of the Cold War. It will be asserted that the attitudes, perceptions, and misconceptions of the Cold War remain an integral—or at least implicit—part of the ­decision-making process undertaken by senior Indo-Pacific policy-makers. This chapter will first outline some of the primary aspects and causes of the New Cold War, and will then situate these within the broader context of South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. For example, we highlight how several international boundary conflicts remain unresolved, including the Koreas, Japan, and Russia, and how these states are yet to consolidate peace agreements regarding contested ter­ ri­tor­ies and seascapes. It will also be pointed out how Chinese expansion into the South China Sea remains a key point of contention. The chapter will also describe how post-Cold War strategic diplomacy shaped the New Cold War structures present in the Indo-Pacific region. Strategic frameworks such as containment, ‘constrainment’, sphere of influence, expansionism, and territorial conflict all continue to permeate the rhetoric of the region—and not only that of the regional security environment. It will be contended that regional strategies can thus be viewed through the lens of Cold War ‘logic’, which in turn obstructs regional security cooperation as Cold War realist logic by def­in­ ition infers conflict, and idealist globalist post-Cold War logic infers cooperation. Finally, Chapter 4 will claim that there is a ‘New Cold War matrix’ which encapsulates contemporary geopolitical and geo-economic intersections among the dominant powers of the Indo-Pacific. Chapter 5 examines the US’s emerging strategic, military, and security interests in the Indian Ocean region. As explored in Chapter 4, over the past decade or so,


Introduction  3 there has been a revival of classical geopolitical language in twenty-first-century regional security discourses. Specifically, the concepts of ‘pivot’ and the regional ‘Indo-Pacific’ have been revived by US analysts and policy-makers. We claim that this is, in part, due to the rise of and imperial power of Asian states, especially China and India. Both of these and their economic and military status in the region pose serious threats to the US. Chapter  5 will also argue that there is a burgeoning American global identity as an ‘Indo-Pacific’ power-player, as the US continues to ‘pivot’ further from the Greater Middle East. We will claim that the re-emergence of the Indo-Pacific concept highlights the danger of merely utilizing state-centric geopolitical perspectives over complex, nuanced analyses and understandings of global politics. This chapter posits that the primacy of nationstates should not be trivialized: in addition, we should not dismiss other avenues of understanding concepts of ‘place’ and ‘space’ within a more globalized context. Finally, it will be claimed that the recent Trumpian turn towards the Indo-Pacific has built upon—but has also co-opted—the neo-liberal discourse of Obama’s ‘li­quid continuum’. The US administration’s ‘free’ and ‘open’ Indo-Pacific strategy has now shifted towards a neo-mercantilist position, with the Indian Ocean becoming a heavily demarcated and militarized space, split along statist and ­territorial lines. In Chapter  6, the role of India in constructions of the Indo-Pacific as a new ‘regional’ identity will be discussed. This concept is gaining traction in both the foreign and defence policy institutions in India. Chapter 6 draws out the various theoretical frameworks utilized in the formation of the Indo-Pacific, namely how in Indian strategic discourse, the term is grounded more strictly in ‘realist’ thought—in a very different and more defined manner that the US experience attests to. This may have much to do with India transitioning as a middle power, fixed firmly in the terra and watery firmaments of its immediate regional proximity; whereas the US ranges more freely, wrapped more flexibly in its coat as superpower. We claim that the nascent Indian narrative of the Indo-Pacific requires a geohistorical approach, because although the Indo-Pacific concept is currently ‘in vogue’, the essential motivation behind India’s alleged centrality in the Asian strategic space is, historically, nothing new. In fact, we argue that it is quite the op­pos­ ite: the region has enduring historical connections to British imperialism and Indian nationalism. The works of post-independence Indian strategic thinkers such as Caroe and Pannikar will be drawn upon to illustrate how their geo­pol­it­ ical reasonings and arguments remain integral to contemporary Indian framings of the Indo-Pacific. We contend that India has the opportunity of destabilizing pervasive bilateral and multilateral geopolitical relations within the Indian Ocean region; a region of ‘sub-regions’. Finally, this chapter posits the concept of the Indo-Pacific from the perspective of both smaller sub-regions of the Indian Ocean, such as South Asia


4  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal), as well as the previously inadequately unexamined triangular alliances of the Indo-Pacific (US–India–Japan and US–India–Australia). Chapter 7 investigates how, since the Cold War, there has been a political and economic race between the great regional powers for control over the middle powers of the Indo-Pacific. These powers have been competing to form a regional middle power coalition in opposition to either China or the US. We argue that political orientation to China has been facilitated through a programme of developing strategic partnerships, and in the case of the US, it has been enabled through a policy of alliance reaffirmation or the modifying of Cold War treaties. As a consequence, we discuss how the foreign policies of US co-opted states marks a shift towards support for the US pivot, as well as a greater foreign policy interest than previously displayed in the Indo-Pacific region. We claim that this has resulted in an Indo-Pacific self-identification and an ‘Indo-Pacific narrative’ in the foreign policy rhetoric and debates of US co-opted states. The chapter will further contend that the relevance of the Indo-Pacific strategic narrative has taken many forms among the eight ‘core’ Indo-Pacific middle ­powers—Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Australia has quite vigorously implemented and perpetuated the Indo-Pacific strategic narrative. We further note that in Australia, firmly part of the ‘Anglosphere’, a very separate narrative has emerged compared to other ‘fulcrum states’ in the region—Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand. In the examples of the latter, qualities of pragmatism, equidistance, and uncertainty have defined the strategies of these three countries in their relationships with both China and the US. Finally, we outline how the remaining four middle ­powers have responded to the Indo-Pacific narrative: Indonesia has embraced the regional importance of the Indo-Pacific; Malaysia, similarly to South Korea, has adopted an ‘equidistant’ approach; and Vietnam has followed a unique multipolar balance. Chapter 8 provides a broad overview and critical analysis of the nature of the rise of China and its geopolitical and geo-economic implications for the IndoPacific region. The chapter is in six parts: we first discuss the persistent, yet distinctive, rise of China, and how it has been framed as a ‘non-Western’ hybrid model. Indeed, China is not one of the wealthiest states, nor is it democratic, and through its open yet mercantilist approach, it boasts a unique blend of its own past and culture (Jacques 2012: 546; Subramanian 2011: 138). Second, we outline how China’s reform agenda by President Xi Jinping in 2013 called for a ‘new type of international relations’ which relies on three critical elements: no opposition or conflict, enhanced mutual respect, and the promotion of a cooperative winwin situation, and how this has had a significant impact on China–US relations, as it was seen as undermining the ‘core interests’ of the US and the ‘traditional world order’.


Introduction  5 China’s regional trade relationships will then be discussed, and how the c­ urrent geopolitics and geo-economics of the Indo-Pacific are primarily a result of a set of competitive interactions among the great powers—notably China and the US— and the regional middle powers—especially the core states already discussed. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), for example, will be argued as potentially one of the most visionary and significant geo-economic and geo­pol­it­ical projects in the modern history of Indo-Pacific policy-making. Finally, we contend that with China’s inevitable rise, it will continue to shape the nature of the relationship between the US and China, and in turn, this will significantly alter the nature of relations with and among other Indo-Pacific states, and will have enduring global and institutional impacts. We argue that policy elites in both states need to accept that neither China nor the US can be the sole dominant power and that regional peace and security can only be established if attempting to keep a balance of said power (Zhao 2013: 9). In the final episode of this work—Chapter 9—we reiterate core themes. First, we further reiterate the central primacy of the relationship between the US and China—it is this relationship over the next fifty years which will determine whether the Indo-Pacific remains largely a region of peace or war. The other major task of this final chapter is to move away from grand concepts and positionings in global geopolitics, and look at the nascent attempts at building maritime regional governance structures across the region which genuinely celebrate the more liberal understandings of the Indo-Pacific—as a maritime neighbourhood, as a site of cooperation, shared resources management, and securing peace. The imperfect example of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is reviewed, with possible suggestions for reform and potential implications for the creation of a new IndoPacific Regional Forum.

Constructing the Indo-Pacific The Indo-Pacific, constructed either as an oceanic region, super-region, or nonregion is currently a hotly contested map-making phenomenon. The Indo-Pacific has been recently been classified as an ‘amalgam of the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region’ and identified as ‘the new, expanded theatre of power competition’ (Bateman et al. 2017: 7). It is critical to establish, however, that the Indo-Pacific is not just about the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Of course, these oceans, in biogeographical terms, remain central to most constructions of what the Indo-Pacific is—a confluence of two great, geo-oceanic systems. It can also be understood as the meeting place of these two oceans, the clashing and smashing of these two watery systems that describes the true heart of the Indo-Pacific, a littoral zone between the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific (if that is conceptually possible). But the


6  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Indo-Pacific is also about land—those countries which both directly abut the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but also those which sometimes operate within it—in terms of trade, culture, and security—but whose heartlands exist beyond these oceanic catchments. Finally, and in more recent times, the Indo-Pacific is also about the ‘space above’ (see Chapter 5). Place largely determines the meaning of ‘Indo-Pacific’. Different geographical points of view drastically alter the comprehension of the term. Various countries and cultures, washed by the waters of these amorphous oceanic boundaries and sea spaces, are currently seeking to establish exclusive territorial claims over these water spaces by invoking stories and narratives taken from pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial eras. These stories are often used in an attempt to legitimate ‘natural’ and more essentialist relationships between certain cultures and/or nation-states with their surrounding seas. In addition, whether a country is a ‘super’, ‘great’, ‘middle’, or ‘lesser’ power will have a huge impact of how the construction is built. These narratives both challenge the broader international system and its rule of law and create internal narratives, strengthening domestic and national support for state-building programmes in the region/s. But the IndoPacific is more than a contestation between nation-statist imaginations and as­pir­ ations. Contrarily, it also invokes stories which seek to develop liberal narratives which celebrate a shared ‘maritime regionalism’ beyond the exclusive and usually dominant politics of nation-states. Finally, a third interpretive category is sometimes used by powerful strategic actors to do quite the opposite—to build an Indo-Pacific as a neo-liberal, globalized ‘non-space’, with few borders and boundaries to annoy the free flow of capital and force. In addition, time is a critical factor. Notions of the Indo-Pacific may be in vogue in the early decades of the twenty-first century, but they have also enjoyed similarly fashionable positions in geostrategic circles, in alternate ways, over the past 100 years or more. During these times, Indo-Pacific discourse was not exactly as it is today, but rumours emerging from those original manifestations still rumble through foreign policy tropes today. In fact, the rise of the Indo-Pacific, used to divide the world into geopolitical blocs during the Nazi regime of World War II, is still reflected in cartographic imaginations today, and the classical geo­pol­it­ical writings which informed them continue to have unusual traction in government and corporate think-tanks. In very general terms, by way of introduction, let us touch upon just some of these different constructions—both in place and time—to provide some of the variances which shape this exercise in map making and region building, to be thrashed out in subsequent discussions. First, the Indo-Pacific, as a construct, is most often used in the US and Australia, and not so much in Asia (Sukma 2013). In the twenty-first century, the original German conception, as discussed in Chapter 3, has now ironically become an Anglo-Saxon co-option. Any sense of ‘construct attachment’ by regional states is therefore likely to be highly variable,


Introduction  7 thus affecting its potential success. Next, there are a considerable number of ­versions of Indo-Pacific ‘strategic space’ that exclude China. Raja Mohan’s (2012) map of the Indo-Pacific, however, includes all of the Indian Ocean plus the west Pacific Ocean (and thus includes China). If we include the dimension of time, and go back to consult some of the early German geopoliticians, China is very much part of the Indo-Pacific. Karl Haushofer’s (1930s) military map of the region—the ‘Great Indo-Pacific Ocean’—for example includes all of the Indian and Pacific Oceans (including, therefore, China). In general, two overall conclusions dominate (but often with very different premises)—on the one hand, there are the ‘inclusionists’ (who would include China and/or Africa) versus the ‘exclusionists’ (those who would exclude China and/or Africa from the definition). Another area of substantive debate occurs over the pre-eminence of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ versus ‘Indian Ocean’. A ‘nested’ approach is often taken; that is, the Indian Ocean is seen as being linked to a larger Indo-Pacific strategic system (Rumley 2015b). Indeed, as will be discussed in the conclusion to this book, institutional attempts to ‘govern’ the Indian Ocean region—the formation and op­er­ ation of IORA—are the closest thing to an Indo-Pacific ‘administrative region’ to have emerged. Nonetheless, one of the unresolved issues here is whether either the Indian Ocean region or the Indo-Pacific region represents a ‘regional security complex’. Among other things, this touches on a tendency on the part of some commentators to assume that ‘economic space’ (a functional space defined largely by nonstate economic interactions) is necessarily congruent with ‘strategic space’ (a  functional space constructed by strategic commonalities which in turn are largely driven by state geopolitical interests). As has been noted, as an economic space, the Indian Ocean possesses ‘little economic coherence’ (Brewster  2012: 159), has trad­ition­al­ly been viewed as ‘the heart of the Third World’, and yet is the most im­port­ant economic routeway in the world. Furthermore, as a strategic space the Indian Ocean has been most often organized on a sub-regional scale. The Indo-Pacific, or ‘Greater Indian Ocean’, on the other hand, while being regarded by some as ‘a single integrated geopolitical theater’ (Raja Mohan 2012: 212–15), is actually an even more highly differentiated strategic space. For example, in its western Pacific or Asia-Pacific sub-regions, we argue in Chapter 4 that the Cold War has yet to end, and this sub-region is also beset by numerous significant territorial disputes. For example, as historian Gregory Clark has recently reminded us, Japan is in ‘severe dispute’ with every one of its neighbours (Clark 2013). In terms of economic space, however, the Asia-Pacific has a degree of ‘economic coherence’ (Brewster 2012: 159). While the Pacific and Indian Oceans should be regarded as ‘strategically linked’, the Indo-Pacific region should be viewed as a strategic space that is not ‘integrated’; but rather one that is evolving ‘gradually and partially’ (Brewster 2012: 158).


8  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific The ‘geopolitical revision’ and appeal of the Indo-Pacific concept has been t­riggered, in part, by the process of global geopolitical transition, and/or the ‘domination’ post-Cold War narrative. In addition, in the twenty-first century, the Indo-Pacific concept has emerged as an especially useful device for justifying any form of territorial expansionism (land, sea, and space). The concept of both ‘ocean’ and ‘region’ are relatively modern concepts. In Chapter 2, we spend some time discussing the separate properties of sea spaces and ocean spaces; the latter being more of a Westphalian construct, more syno­nym­ous with European expansionism during both the colonial and postcolonial eras. Of course, regions, regionalisms, and regionalizations have long been part of the international system (and non-systems), but it must be acknowledged that in this sometimes translateralist world, the concept and symbol of ‘region’ has been increasingly used to challenge the power and existence of any uniform model of macro geopolitics. Katzenstein writes: The end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union have lessened the impact of global factors in world politics and have increased the weight of regional forces that had operated all along under the surface of superpower confrontation. International politics thus is increasingly shaped by regional, as well as national and local, dynamics . . . Distinctive world regions are shaping national politics and policies. But these regions are indelibly linked to both the larger inter­ nation­al system of which they are a part, and to the different national systems which constitute them.  (Katzenstein 1996: 123–4; emphasis added)

Whilst acknowledging the primacy of nation-states, another way in which place and space are now celebrated within a more globalized world order is the reemergence of geo-economic regionalisms. Regions, regionalisms, and regionalizations are, at once, a result of globalization and a challenge to it. Regions have long been part of the international system (and non-systems), but it must be acknowledged that in this progressively more translateralist world, the concept and symbol of ‘region’ has been increasingly used to challenge the power and existence of any uniform model of macro geopolitics. Nation-states remain the most vociferous players, each one jostling from different and often ambiguous positions, as to which countries should be included within and without these new regional cartographies (Nieuwenhuis  2013). Due to the nascent nature of these regional constructions, it must be stressed at the outset that these positions are not universally adopted by particular nation-states. In some countries, it may be a particular think-tank, a specific political party, or one branch of the governmental bureaucracy which advocates a version of ‘Indo-Pacific’ regionalism. This fits in nicely with Jayasuriya’s concept of a regulatory regionalism (Jayasuriya 2008): that certain constructions are championed by actors, networks, and specific


Introduction  9 bureaucratic and epistemic communities within and outside of governments, rather than being examples of a whole-of-government understanding. Despite this lack of coherence, however, there is no doubt that amongst think-tanks, national policy-making, and epistemic communities, these concepts are in their ascendancy, and on occasions, certain positions become dominant. Abetted by the institutions of statecraft, the dominant powers under threat are searching for alternate alignments and directions to form a template of ‘national interests’ that can no longer be utilized unilaterally or even bilaterally in this neoliberal, globalized world. In the geographical sense, seeking another ‘new’ regionalism of the ‘like-minded’ is rife with paradoxes: numerous national positions on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ are defined by common as well as nation-specific factors—such as the deficit of trust vis-à-vis China. In addition to this, the nature and scope of the burgeoning narrative of the Indo-Pacific is the fact that instead of geo-economics and geopolitics mutually undercutting one another, both spheres appear open to a mutually convenient ‘functional’ alliance founded on an amalgamation of ­theories and rhetoric (e.g. realist-liberal combination). These are focused on consolidating the security and military establishments, including the ‘strategic’ arenas of capitalism’s ‘increasingly self-produced geographies’ (Harvey 2010: 144). In addressing the question of what is and who delimits the Indo-Pacific region it is necessary to take account of at least eight basic regionalization principles and processes (Rumley and Chaturvedi 2015): 1. All regions are human constructions. 2. There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ region. 3. Academics, policy-makers, business people, inter­nation­al entities, and ­others delimit regions for a variety of classificatory and organizational functions. 4. Some regions are delimited simply for statistical purposes. 5. Other regions are delimited on ideological grounds. 6. Yet other regions have to do with security. 7. Inevitably, some states are excluded from the constructed region while ­others become founder members. Why this is so is important for effective regional cooperation. 8. In short, the constructed region is a product of the purpose, the spatial vision, and the strategic goals of that which/who delimits it. Indo-Pacific regionalism, then, is at once a challenge to non-differentiated g­lobalization (a recognition of the actual existence of pan- and sub-regional ‘neighbourhoods’ in the ‘real’ terms of space and place) and, at the same time, a challenge to the primacy of the nation-state. Regionalism sometimes occupies the ‘middle ground’ between the geopolitics of the nation-state and an international or transnational world. Oceanic regionalism, then, can be used to confront the often overly homogenizing forces of globalization (sometimes also in the interests


10  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific of national geostrategy) and at the same time to promote an agenda sometimes outside the direct remit of national governments. But it can also be used to ­promote and prioritize certain nation-states, and argue for their ‘essential’ ­connections to the region; paradoxically promoting ‘non-regions’ and globalized water spaces, where the market is represented as civilization or as a god. This move to regionalizations and regionalisms is, of course, part of a more general response which has emerged in this neoteric global geopolitical environment. States around the world, including ‘great powers’ like India and ‘middle powers’ like Australia, are still undergoing post-Cold War transitions to a new geopolitical order. State post-Cold War transitions to a new global geopolitical order are operating in the context of at least five global geopolitical/geo-economic shifts: 1. A shift to a post-Cold War world—perpetuation of Cold War mentality and shift to a New multiplex Cold War as a result of globalization. 2. A shift to a post-unipolar world—the relative decline of the US. 3. A shift to a post-colonial world—the emergence of post-colonial nationalism. 4. A shift in the global distribution of economic ­power—a shift in global economic power away from Europe and the US to Asia. 5. A shift in the nature of ‘threat’ to ‘non-traditional’ concerns. A new pentapolar world and the change in threat perception have fundamental implications for stability and for cooperation. At the time of writing, the Indo-Pacific is emerging as ‘the dominant inter­ nation­al waterway of the 21st century’, as was the Atlantic in the twentieth century and the Mediterranean in the ancient world (United States National Intelligence Council 2012: 80). In this new global geopolitical environment, competition among great powers in the pentapolar world generates considerably more uncertainty and instability. Conflict is to be expected, especially along great power boundary zones or in spaces of perceived sphere of influence (land and sea). However, there is considerable compulsion towards cooperation, especially in terms of non-traditional threats. In addition, great power relationships are, for the most part, increasingly regulated by post-Cold War partnerships, rather than any revision or rebadging of old Cold War alliances.

The Epistemological Continuum: Essentialist and Constructivist Methodologies Combined Within the study of geopolitics and international relations, there is an ­epistemological continuum, a battleground between essentialists and constructivists, and at the heart of these extremes are closely held assumptions about the


Introduction  11 nature of science, other forms of knowledge, and human relations. The work of ­con­struct­iv­ists and ‘relativists’ is often looked down on by essentialists, particularly the work of those constructivists who advocate reality only through its incarnation as narrative and language. Essentialists advocate the ‘realist’ perspective on inter­nation­al relations, focusing on state-centric histories, relations, and regimes. For their part, constructivists from a number of critical sub-­ disciplines (be they Foucauldian, feminist, or neo-Marxist, to name a few) argue that realist scholars are in fact only telling ‘statecraft stories’ themselves—only this time, they are simply articulating the dominant world views of powerful elites within the state, and within transnational organizations and corporations. The world view espoused in this book comprises elements of the essential and the socially constructed. As mentioned, many countries in the Indo-Pacific are adopting this realist/ essentialist view regarding their own histories. Namely, that their state’s past is more essential than the past stories of other nation-states. This is in no way an innate criticism of the recent re-emergence of state-centred depictions of region, just that this period of creating regional histories from the perspective of particular nation-states has escalated in recent times. As we will establish in this book, these stories are often used in an attempt to legitimate ‘natural’, and more essentialist relationships between certain cultures and/or nation-states with their ­surrounding seas. The purpose is two-fold. Firstly, these stories are reworked to create internal narratives which strengthen domestic and national support for state-building programmes in the region, and secondly, these stories challenge the broader international system and its rule of law. Later in this book we will examine some of these stories currently being rewritten and reinvigorated by a number of Indo-Pacific states in a bid to bolster civilizational claims and ‘natural’ domain linkages to these water spaces. Our own geopolitical stance, however, is that it is conceivable to not only util­ ize the best epistemological traditions of the essentialist and relativist schools of thought, but to achieve this is critical both empirically and discursively. Despite nation-states wielding less power than their immediate post-World War II status, they are still extremely influential in shaping and curbing the tide of politics and international relations. Granted, issues of identity, religion, race, and class tra­ verse national borders. Nevertheless, countries continue to be the most prevailing indicator of difference and identity in terms of earthly experience. We must ­recognize, however, that a geopolitics founded solely on these more essentialist structures of nation-states and cartographies of interstate relationships is a shallow and inadequate scholarly and practical world view. A more complex, nuanced, and diverse investigation must be undertaken to embrace these more traditional approaches, whilst recognizing that more constructivist frameworks, theories, narratives, and tropes are also fundamentally important to the understanding, imagining, and casting of twenty-first-century geopolitics.



Maritime Regional Theories Oceans and Seas

Introduction: Regions, Oceans, and Sea Spaces Seas and ocean ‘imaginations’ are often viewed differently. This, then, is the first object of this chapter: to understand the different epistemic traditions which seek to develop or, conversely, to critique the emergence of grand ‘oceanic’ regionalisms. Secondly, we attempt to map out some of the subservient stories of cultures existing in parts of the Indo-Pacific before European colonization, and how some of these stories are being invoked and/or reshaped in current geopolitical ­contexts for both exogenous and endogenous political purposes. It can also be argued that the Indo-Pacific is, in fact, more about an ac­know­ ledge­ment of the rise of the Indian Ocean as a global power-base, rather than providing a true focus on the entire Pacific. But the Indo-Pacific is also caught up with past understandings of all the Earth’s oceans and seas, the Atlantic and Mediterranean included. In pre-modern times, oceans did not exist. But seas did. Considerable scholarship now points towards how sea space has been socially constructed and reconstructed over the centuries (Steinberg  2001; Lewis and Wigen 1997; Matsuda 2006; Van Schendel 2002; Frost 2010; Moorthy and Jamal 2010). Therefore, using a more multifarious framework informed by the seas may provide a less homogenizing and totalizing conceptual vehicle: seascapes and spheres of the sea may provide us with more understandings at the micro level, allowing us to comprehend identity, community, and heritage projects at the seaneighbourhood level, within sub-regional frameworks which are more human and less expansionist in scale.

The Social Construction of Maritime Space The historical geographer, Wigen, argues that maritime regions are modern ­cultural constructs, and she has problematized what she refers to as ‘basin thinking’— the kind of thinking employed by Cold War military strategists, academics, and policy-makers, who employed oceanic cartographic frames and lenses for their own geostrategic interests (Wigen 2006). In her introduction to a collection of essays on the ‘new thalassology’, she notes that, despite the continued hegemony The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific. Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley, Oxford University Press (2019). © Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739524.001.0001


Maritime Regional Theories  13 of the Braudelian paradigm of historical research, ‘for historians of premodern eras, oceanic labels are fundamentally anachronistic’. Even the concept of the Mediterranean as a region (rather than a sea) owes its existence to the Enlightenment, and basin thinking, she concludes, ‘is a product of high imperialism’ (Wigen 2006: 719–20). Vink, also invoking a new thalassology, discusses the surge in regional ocean studies research, and specifically concentrates on analyses of Indian Ocean his­ torio­graph­ic­al developments and debates (Vink 2007: 33). Indian Ocean historiography has emerged much later than historiography of the Pacific and the Atlantic, but since its emergence in the 1950s and 1960s (dominated by the work of three great architects of Indian Ocean Rim cultural commonalities research, Pearson, Chaudhuri, and McPherson), it has developed a rich historiography. As touched upon, it is a scholarship influenced by the Braudelian Annales school in terms of its methodology, and from Wallersteinian World Systems theory and, as a consequence, it has developed its connections with the literature and ideas on development and dependency theory. The work of Sugata Bose is a more nuanced version of this, as will be argued later (Bose 2006: 4). Vink notes that this thalassology paradigm has some withering critics, and Wallerstein’s theory has attracted plenty of commentary about its underlying eurocentrism, its economic determinism, and its inconsistent interpretations about the commodities that are the subject of the analysis (Vink  2007: 33). He also argues that the boundaries of the Indian Ocean world have been far more blurred and porous than land boundaries, and are far more constantly in flux. He argues that mental remapping demands move away from essentializing ‘trait geographies’ towards more deterritorialized concepts, ‘in which regions can be conceptualized as both dynamic and interconnected’ (Vink 2007: 33). Many similar deterritorialized concepts emphasizing interaction, movement, and migration have been suggested in recent years. These spatial constructs emphasize and ­confirm the dual theme of integration and fragmentation underlying the Indian Ocean ‘Mediterranean’ and ‘sub-Mediterranean’ world(s) (Vink 2007). This new geopolitics, therefore, is often deterritorialized, and with regard to temporalization, chronologies are also different (Vink 2007). Great areas of historical debate emerge about whether—and when—the ‘organic’ unity of, in this case, the Indian Ocean as some kind of region was finally sundered by the pol­it­ ical and economic changes wrought by the changes in the world economy. Bose’s work precisely purports to maintain the Indian Ocean as an area of economic and cultural interaction without clinging too deeply to a thesis of a sustained continuity (Bose  2006: 4). The European ‘scramble for Asia’ created maps, boundaries, and sovereignties where these had not existed, or not existed in this form. European cartographies reflected European visions, interests, and fantasies. Asia, however, did not apply the same regional perspectives, or did not use the labels in the same way. For example, in her fascinating ‘remapping’ of Asia, Ellen Frost


14  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific argues that ‘water is a marked feature of Asia’s profile’ which has influenced every aspect of Asia, and refers to historian Takeshi Hamashita’s description of Asia as ‘a series of seas connected by straits’ (Frost 2008: 23). Asian labels were also arbitrary and changeable, and rarely adopted a regional perspective. The Japanese term sangoku referred only to Japan, China, and India, whereas ‘Indian conceptions of the region were mingled with religion and did not coalesce into a work­ able scheme’ (Frost 2008: 25). The Chinese perspective, on the other hand, was one of concentric circles, with the closest including the tributary states, the second circle including inner Asia to the north and west, and the third comprising ‘the outer barbarians’, by which the Chinese meant most of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Europe (Frost  2008). Malay traders, by contrast, defined space and ­peoples according to the movements of the monsoon winds, upon which their own movements depended. Indians, Arabs, and Europeans were people from ‘above the winds’, while the Malay region was the ‘land below the winds’ (Frost 2008). Modern, predominantly European geo-imaginings, as well as other items of trade and war, were bundled up into wooden ships of sail and traversed the known universe in the second half of the second millennium CE. And because of these centuries of imperialism and oppression, other constructions of seascapes and oceanness have been, at worst, made silent or destroyed and, at best, made subservient. As a consequence, we agree with Wigen that, ‘investigations into emic conceptions of the sea . . . form an important counterweight’, so that insider discourses are brought in (Wigen 2006). Philip Steinberg, in his seminal work on the constructions of ocean, argues that the social construction of oceanic space is different across time, according to the pre-modern, mercantilist, industrial, and post-industrial phases of history, and he explores this with reference to the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the Melanesian constructions of oceanic space (Steinberg  2001). His work provides a very useful frame for our discussion. He argues that in pre-modern times from about 500 BCE to about 1500 CE, the Indian Ocean was a non-territory, a presence in social life, but one that was ‘constructed as a special space of trade, external to society and social processes’ (Steinberg  2001: 45–6). Whilst the sea brought goods, ‘the sea itself was perceived as a space apart from society, an untameable mystery’, invoking fear and danger, and thus there was an aversion to seeking dominance or control over the sea. The sea was merely a surface or void to be crossed. The ocean was unregulated distance, not controlled space. In sharp contrast, during this period, the societies of Micronesia constructed the ocean like territory. They made ocean journeys like Americans do road trips in cars, identified the places that held resources, and followed them. Accordingly, ocean space could be claimed and appropriated, and be subjected to a form of ownership in customary and flexible ways, insofar as it serves a social purpose. Sea was the space of society. The Micronesians did not, however, attempt to project sea power, possibly due to their small populations (Steinberg 2001).


Maritime Regional Theories  15 Somewhere in the middle of these different paradigms, the Mediterranean Sea acted as an arena of competition between societies that sought stewardship of areas of it, although not actual ownership. The Romans claimed imperium, or stewardship, which meant the right to command in the Mediterranean, but not the power to own, or actual sovereignty (Steinberg 2001). Although the sea was outside society, it served the crucial social purposes of transporting goods and troops, and state power could therefore legitimately be exercised by societies over it. Applying this framework historically, Steinberg argues that from about 1500 to 1800, the primary social construction of the ocean was as a nuanced Mediterranean-style ‘force-field’. Through a mercantilist lens, states constructed rights to sea routes, upon which their trade depended, but did not attempt outright possession. Sea space was not an asocial void during this period, but there were no pretensions to possess it. Grotian Mare Liberum ocean space, argues Steinberg, resembles the non-modern Mediterranean as much as it does the Indian Pacific void—Grotius is defining imperium, but for a community of states, not just one (Steinberg 2001). During the period of industrial capitalism a different spatial logic applies, and Steinberg argues that all three case studies—the Indian Ocean as an ‘asocial void’, the Melanesian, and the Mediterranean ‘force-field’—become combined (Steinberg 2001). Post-modern capitalism, Steinberg argues, is now bringing an intensification of the three components of industrial-era ocean construction. This is working in awkward contradiction and tension with the ostensible commitment to the sea as ‘great void’ (Steinberg 2001). In the remaining part of this chapter, it is proposed that the Indo-Pacific can be understood through the lens of three dominant categories: the first being the non-realist interpretation of the Indo-Pacific, which fosters a shared ‘oceanic neighbourhood’, which transcends the traditional hegemony of nation-states. Next, the realist construction of the Indo-Pacific will be outlined, which seeks to legitimate ‘natural’ and essentialist relationships between nation-states in the region. Finally, there is the push for a universalist view of oceanic space, whereby the Indo-Pacific region is a globalized ‘non-space’ or ‘liquid continuum’ which cannot be territorialized. Let us now investigate these three different Indo-Pacific frameworks, and how they manifest themselves in realgeopolitik.

Indo-Pacific as Region, Oceanic Neighbourhood, Non-Realist, Differentiated Regional Oceanness Oceanic frame making has been utilized by different scholars for a vast amount of research. The works of Pearson, Bose, and Lewis and Wigen are largely pro-region, but anti-nation-statist and ‘differentiated globalist’ in intent. While promoting a  form of regionalism, they are against both forms of imperialism, whether


16  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific nationalist or globalist. The debates amongst these historians, in this case, are around making meaningful units of analysis out of oceanic frames. Pearson, for example, provides commentary on different civilizations, rather than nation-states, and their focus on the sea/ocean. He notes that most human cultures have water-based beginning-of-life mythologies, such as those in Sumerian, Hindu, and Buddhist literature. Curiously, he suggests that Hindu mythology did not much reference the sea, although some references emerge in later Hindu thought (Pearson 2003). The Laws of Manu and the Dharmasastra denoted the ocean as the ‘kala pani’ or ‘Black Water’, which is forbidden to cross since traversing it made the person spiritually impure; hence sea voyages tended to be avoided by the higher castes, although Indian-grown Islam showed more positive attitudes towards the sea (Pearson 2003). Pearson places India firmly as the fulcrum in the trade system of the preIslamic stage of the Indian Ocean region. He emphasizes the role of many different routes being sailed by very many different peoples, at all stages of history, including Europeans at the time of the Greeks and Romans. He is keen to correct the overexaggerated narrative about the significance of European presence in the Indian Ocean, at least until the eighteenth century. The picture he paints of the complexity of the trade is enormous—and he argues that focusing attention only on trading relations around long-distance, luxury goods (which happens because that is where we have the records) occludes the real economic and social relations of the region, privileging some actors, and making others invisible. Most of the trade that took place was neither long distance, nor high-value goods. Pearson, as mentioned above, makes a distinction between history of the ocean and history in the ocean, and he argues that you can make a history of the ocean until about the eighteenth century, when you have to make history in the ocean—the point where outside forces such as industrialized Britain and globalization start to have a profound influence. Sugata Bose’s work, A Hundred Horizons, whilst universalist in intention, seeks to embed local, colonial, and/or national histories within a broader regional framework (Bose 2006). Bose takes the title of his book from Braudel’s work on the Mediterranean Sea, where Braudel states that ‘We should imagine a hundred frontiers, not one, some political, some economic, and some cultural’. Bose sees the Indian Ocean as an inter-regional space, between the local and the global. Bose highlights the shared political and cultural histories to reveal links that were previously obfuscated by an excessive focus on shared trade. He explores the stories of movements of people—Indian labourers, merchants, soldiers, financiers, poets, pilgrims, and ‘expatriate patriots’ such as Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Chandra Bose, as well as the movements of commodities, and ideas, to find that long-standing pre-existing networks were merely reordered under the colonial empires. Bose argues that the Europeans achieved a ‘dominance without hegemony’ and prior indigenous connections remained (Bose 2006).


Maritime Regional Theories  17 Bose deterritorializes Indian nationalism, arguing that regional/civilizational identity making cannot be understood within the confines of the nation-state, and that diasporic identities remain. Curiously, while Bose believes Africa needs to be considered as part of this narrative, the Indian sub-continent is still the focus of his analysis, and indeed, Bose’s key actors are overwhelmingly Indian and male. Despite this, his book is meant as a tale of subaltern human agency. He critiques the narrative of global integration that ‘hastily robs such interregional ­arenas as the Indian Ocean rim of any real meaning’ (Bose  2006: 272). Bose never­the­less also has universalist pretensions, such as highlighting the emergence of Indian Muslim liberatory universalism as a counter to oppression by the colonizers. Finally, in the last type of Indo-Pacific regionalism, Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen’s The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography also ‘received metageographical constructs’, arguing that since the end of the Cold War, geographical cartographies have been shaken and reconceptualized many times. The authors note that ‘It is no coincidence that sea changes in ideology are generally ac­com­ pan­ied by a questioning of metageographical categories—or that those attempting consciously to formulate new visions of the globe often do so as part of a campaign to promote new patterns of belief ’ (Lewis and Wigen 1997: xi–xiii). The authors also argue that ‘some of the most basic and taken-for-granted “regions” of the world were first framed by military thinkers’. Commenting on the ‘Asia-Pacific’ and ‘Pacific Rim’ constructs, Lewis and Wigen are also quite critical—referring to them as ‘plastic constructions’ (Lewis and Wigen 1997). Pearson, Bose, and Lewis and Wigen all contribute to the debate that critiques or problematizes the nature of oceanic regional dreaming. They are all extremely wary of how such oceanic framing delivers power to specific pro­ pon­ents. In the case of the Pacific, Lewis and Wigen argue that the debate over how to conceptualize the Pacific community ‘conveys a sense of the immense difficulties entailed in rightly grasping—and naming—the elusive spatial structures of contemporary life’. They go on to argue: All geographical divisions share with these neo-categories the quality of being artificial simplifications, more-or-less convenient devices for advancing analysis rather than reflections of natural, wholly knowable spatial structures. At the same time, this debate exposes the extent to which spatial categories are embedded in a discourse of power. Like ‘Asia Pacific’ and ‘Pacific Rim’, all regional designations need to be subjected to political critique.  (Lewis and Wigen 1997: 205)

Thus, whereas many states embedded within the region are revisiting and strengthening pre-colonial narratives of meaningful and prioritized cultural intersections, these attempts at regional framing are usually sparse with real intent to develop regional and neighbourhood cooperative identities, securities, or


18  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific economies (though these exist as subservient traditions). Rather, these regional conceptual maps are usually understood by regionally situated nation-states as depicting new bilateral and multilateral relationships and allegiances designed to draw lines in the sea denoting ‘natural’ borders and ‘no-go zones’ (such as evidenced in the South China Sea), through which other specific nation-states are either admitted or excluded ‘entry’. What now needs to be done is to examine the opposite, more non-critical position—how current appeals to ancient/cultural tropes about diverse Indo-Pacific regionalisms are being used to push certain national agendas. The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore represents another such narrative of oceanic region: broadly based civilizational neighbourhood. He formed part of a broader Asian intellectual circle centred around Calcutta which, whilst not presenting a coherent ideology, can be said to have, in the words of Mark Frost, a ‘shared intellectual sensibility’ (Frost  2010). The Tagore circle comprised a network of scholars, poets, thinkers, artists, and art collectors, and was part of a movement in Asian intellectual history which moved from Swadeshi—a nationalist, anti-colonial frame—to advocating an idealist and idealized discourse of Pan-Asian civilization. The key components of their thinking were firstly that India and Asia were essentially one. Secondly, they believed that Asia was engaged in a spiritual struggle against Western materialism and that this struggle served as a lightning rod for a Pan-Asian solidarity. Nevertheless, this PanAsian culture offered Europe its superior spirituality and virtue and could save Western civilization from itself. It celebrated the local, the Pan-Asian, and the international. The cosmopolitan language used by this intellectual movement employed abundant watery metaphors, employing ‘ripples’, ‘shores’, ‘tides’, and ‘beaches’, which frequently evoked the Indian Ocean, as well as the language of pilgrimage, maritime communication, and travel culture. Tagore defended not merely ‘the expression of local and communal difference but a celebration of the civilisation that India had given to the rest of Asia—and to be understood in these broader international terms’ (Frost 2010: 265). Tagore later personally moved from PanAsianism to universal humanism in response to the violence of the emergent Indian anti-colonization movement. He wanted to create a different kind of Asian modernity, one rooted in Pan-Asian spiritual values and virtues. Although criticized by some as being reductionist, essentialist, and orientalist, this thinking represented an ocean of idealism, visionary aspiration, and cosmopolitan hope (though usually depicted as rooted in Asia). As Shamsad Mortuza notes, Tagore underscored the supremacy of Indic, Chinese, and Japanese ci­vil­ iza­tions to engage with the West on equal terms (Mortuza 2017). The historical pride of Indianness for him was evident in adventures of the expansionist travellers who crossed the Ocean between the third and the fifteenth centuries and created colonies in the Indian Ocean Rim. With the strict imposition of kalapani


Maritime Regional Theories  19 (the Hindu prohibition on crossing the Indian Ocean), however, India lost its maritime edge. The glory of India remained as a concept in Indonesia and other parts of the Indian Ocean world where these Indic colonies had existed, and this encouraged Tagore to remember the past and to rebuild an imagined community based on shared memory. Tagore’s vision, we can surmise, was one of recovering a cultural and spiritual vision from its alienation from the sea. But if people are indeed being alienated from the sea (and the destruction of native cosmologies and stories of cultural intersections would certainly facilitate this process), the question is, Who is creating a sense of Indo-Pacific oceanness, and for what purpose? Is it only for the statecraft purposes of nation-states? Is there a place for diversity over homogenization? The other problem is that this idea of ‘non-space’ which challenges the state and populations ‘owning it’ also on occasions deterritorializes it—and in a deterritorialized space, the most powerful usually prevail.

Realist Constructions of Indo-Pacific Many countries in the Indo-Pacific are arguing that their histories are, in some way, more essential than the past stories of other nation-states. The focus of this section is in no way an innate criticism of the recent re-emergence of state-­ centred depictions of the region—just to note that this period of creating regional histories from the perspective of particular nation-states has escalated in recent times. As mentioned at the outset, these stories are often used in an attempt to legitimate ‘natural’, and more essentialist relationships between certain cultures and/or nation-states with their surrounding seas. The purpose is two-fold. Firstly, these stories are reworked to create internal narratives which strengthen domestic and national support for state-building programmes in the region, and secondly, these stories challenge the broader international system and its rule of law. This section will examine some of the stories currently being rewritten and reinvigorated by a number of the Indo-Pacific states in a bid to bolster civilizational claims and ‘natural’ domain linkages to these water spaces. The instrumentalization of history—the reworking of (in Tagore’s memorable phrase) a ‘tapestry of half-forgotten histories’—is well described by Vink (2007), who describes how Indian Ocean historiography has been used by some his­tor­ ians to emphasize local agency in order to serve particular nationalist, political, or religious agendas and certain constituencies, promoting respective metanarratives of ‘Greater India’, ‘Negara Indonesia’, the ‘Dutch East Indies’, or ‘Greater China’. In the specific case of Indian historiography, Vink points to the MuslimNationalist ‘Aligarh school’, who displace the idea of where the ‘core’ and the ‘periphery’ are (thus challenging Eurocentric analytical mapping), but instead place India at the centre of their analysis in an autonomous ‘Indian-Ocean world


20  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific system’ or ‘Islamic world economy’, centred particularly in Gujarat. This ­replacement of one centre of gravity for another neatly serves particular agendas. We observe the nationalistic discursive role of oceanic imaginings in Indonesia in the work of Jennifer Gaynor, who notes how the Malay concept of tanah air (land and water, or land of water) and nusantara (currently invoked by Indonesian nationalists) have formed part of nationalist ideology, serving to define nation and invoking the idea of homeland—even while having perverse effects on some of the citizens (in the case study she is presenting, of the Sama, or sea gypsies), who are sea peoples displaced and marginalized by the modernization and nation-building project. She notes: Although associated with the waters, with lives that often revolve around the tides, since sea people have been scattered throughout the region and have had no history of political unity, there has been no context in which they might ideologically objectify the space of the seas. While they may, then, consider themselves as ‘belonging’ somehow to maritime and littoral worlds, they apparently have not produced explicit discourses that represent the sea and coasts as a collectively salient political space.  (Gaynor 2007: 63)

Sea space, she notes, is also an important part of the nationalist political im­agin­ ary of the Philippines and Malaysia. Such notions of sea space have come into conflict in recent times with China, which has appealed to notions of historical fishing rights to assert its authority over islands in the South China Sea—an interpretation of sea space which has in turn been challenged, as we shall see, by a globalized ‘mare nullius’ by the US (Gao and Jia 2013; Depuy and Depuy 2013). Significantly, India’s Project Mausam: Maritime Routes and Cultural Landscapes is a fascinating and ambitious attempt to (re)construct Indian Oceanness (but with India at its core) (Project Mausam 2014), and will be discussed at greater length in Chapter  6. Project Mausam/Mawsim is an initiative of the Indian Ministry of Culture and is a conscious attempt to construct Indian soft power over ‘its’ ocean by appealing to Indian civilizational linkages around the Indian Ocean Rim. There are both internal and external objectives here. According to its website, ‘at the macro level it aims to re-connect and re-establish communications between countries of the Indian Ocean world, which would lead to an enhanced understanding of cultural values and concerns; while at the micro level the focus is on understanding national cultures in their regional maritime milieu’ (Project Mausam 2014). It is creating a map of an historical Indian Ocean region’s commercial, religious, and cultural interactions across communities connected by ties of Indian ocean commerce, and cultural and religious ties in order to create a sense of ‘Indian Oceanness’. It takes its name from the monsoon winds, which determine at what times of the year sailors and traders could travel safely. Although its express aim is to rekindle ‘long lost ties across nations of the Indian Ocean “world” and to forge “new avenues of cooperation and exchange” ’, Project


Maritime Regional Theories  21 Mausam creates a historical and symbolic space that is embedded at the root in India. What is its narrative purpose and what imaginary/what discourse does it project? Is it about placing India at the front and centre of a cultural project for ‘soft-power’ purposes? Is it about creating a way of seeing and imagining the Indian Ocean? Is it a new way of engaging with other regional states? Akhilesh Pillalamarri believes that it is all these things. He sees the project as a way of organizing the Indian Ocean littoral states under India’s strategic influence: ‘It is clear that India’s government intends to expand its maritime presence, culturally, strategically and psychologically (in order to remind the region why the ocean is called the Indian Ocean)’ (Pillalamarri  2014). It is early days yet, but certainly some are interpreting this as part of a broader geostrategic agenda. For example, the strategic role of this civilizational narrative is unabashedly taken up by Padmaja, of the Indian navy-linked think-tank, the National Maritime Foundation. In a 2017 essay, Padmaja argues that the civilizational narrative underlying Project Mausam is part of a new maritime strategy and foreign policy that situates India as a net security provider in the region (2017). India seeks to exercise maritime influence, but will do as always, without domination or force. Whilst appealing to cooperation or collective action, the discourse plays on a sense of Indian exceptionalism. David Brewster (2012) notes that an idea of Indian moral and spiritual leadership and civilizing power existed even before independence; this underpins the Indian perception of having a special duty and an international leadership role to play in the Indian Ocean. India, he argues, does not want to be a hegemon; but it does want its ‘special’ relationship with the Indian Ocean to be internationally recognized. The Indian cultural project would certainly buttress certain arguments that link certain interpretations of past statecraft to current practice, for nationalistic purposes and with significant geopolitical implications. For example, Vijay Sakhuja argues that ‘Indian statecraft finds its theoretical expressions in the ancient Indian classic The Arthasastra’: In statecraft, the Arthasastra conceptualizes a geostrategic and a geopolitical framework of interests, alliances and strategic conduct termed as the Mandala. Mandala is a construct in international relations that signifies the contiguity of region and defines the interests and relations of the state and in spatial terms Mandala denotes a zone. Schematically, Mandala is figurative of concentric circles, which define the relations of a state that lies at the core, with its immediate, intermediate and outer ring of countries.  (Sakhuja 2011: 265)

This is very similar to the Chinese understanding of neighbourhood mentioned earlier in this chapter. In the Indian sense, however, Sakhuja goes on to point out that the ‘Indo-Pacific Oceans provide the seamless contiguity of strategic space wherein the maritime Mandala is enacted by India’ (2011: 278). Thus, from an Indian perspective, there is a perceived emerging functional convergence between


22  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the two oceans should now be considered as ‘linked security systems’. Consequently, national security postures need to be reframed to facilitate more extensive and expansive maritime security engagement. However, while the use of the Indo-Pacific concept by some analysts le­git­ im­izes an Indian maritime expansionist strategy into the Pacific, by implication it also implicitly acknowledges that this is ‘mirrored by the expansion of China’s interests into the Indian Ocean’ (Brewster 2012: 157). As said earlier, these narratives are not necessarily a zero-sum game, but can be invoked simultaneously, although elements of these stories sometimes conflict directly in their interpretation of sea and ocean histories. Sri Lanka is an excellent example here of two powerful, countervailing oceanic, regional imaginations being invoked simultaneously for nation-building purposes. In this case, one Sri Lankan commentator contends that Sri Lanka should leverage both the Chinese Maritime Silk Road and the Indian initiatives. Acknowledging that past classifications of Sri Lanka have been the product of Eurocentric and imperialist thinking, in recent times, Sri Lanka is refashioning its own identity, to reflect its emergence as a hub of Indo-Pacific commerce and tourism, and its situation at the crossroads of trade, transport and energy routes: Sri Lanka’s predicament is likely to be true of many states on the Indian Ocean rim that share similar geopolitical positions astride both initiatives, such as Mauritius, the Maldives and Madagascar. This historical point of flux is a rare opportunity for such states to exercise agency in the scramble for a new strategic architecture of power. As these two architectures compete with (or complement) each other, small states will not only be able to leverage rivalry (or cooperation) for economic benefits, they can also shape the priorities and policies of these initiatives. (Alphonsus 2015)

Oman is another interesting example of a state which has recently been very active in positioning itself in a geopolitical sense as an Indian Ocean entity (and by loose association, an Indo-Pacific one). In this case, it has adopted a cultural ‘soft-power’ approach, with both internal and external objectives. Steffen Wippel argues that Oman, although seen as ‘belonging’ to the Arab and Middle Eastern world, is very much a part of the Indian Ocean Rim by virtue of its institutional presence on regional organizations, its strong and increasing trade ties, and its own ‘branding’ and sense of self-identity and belonging (Wippel  2013). This reflects the domestic need to engage in state-building projects that integrate the different tribal and linguistic groups, but also to prepare Oman for the post-oil period with a shift towards tourism, and to becoming a trade hub. Wippel provides interesting examples of highly symbolic and heavily mediatized events demonstrating this narrative, the most striking of which are a number of re-enactments of famous Indian Ocean maritime routes and trips, including one involving the


Maritime Regional Theories  23 Sultan’s own yacht, run under the auspices of UNESCO in 1990. Traditional boats and seafaring are feted everywhere, as is Oman’s historic and strategic location on the Indian Ocean. Its tourist branding is explicitly connected to its maritime history and to seafaring, exploration, and to trade in general. For example, tourism marketing appeals directly to the Sinbad legend (Wippel 2013). Another recent Indo-Pacific case relates to the direct conflict with the Chinese state in the case of the South China Sea, where paradoxical notions of sea space coexist in a state of heightened tension. The Chinese claim to the Spratly Islands, according to the notion of the ‘Nine-Dash Line’, is notably based on appeals to customary law, which China argues continues to have a foundation in inter­ nation­al law and, in this case specifically, appeal is made to the grounds of historic presence in the area, including appeals to the notion of having discovered the island, and to ideas of terra nullius—that is, that there was no abandonment or dereliction, and no prescription to Chinese claims over the islands. China’s claim is therefore territorially based in this interpretation, including in its resulting exclusive economic zone claims over adjacent waters. Chinese argumentation has also appealed to legal concepts of acquiescence and recognition of sovereignty by neighbours (until quite recently). Gao and Jia, for example, argue that no treaty can subsume the customary law, and China, they claim, is successfully reconciling both with no contradiction (Gao and Jia 2013). The US and its allies have countered Chinese claims with ‘freedom of navigation’ exercises, which have drawn middle powers awkwardly into the discourse about oceanic space.

Universalist, Non-Differentiated Constructions of Oceanic Space: The Indo-Pacific as Liquid Continuum Phillip Steinberg’s work on the social construction of sea space is particularly prescient here. Post-industrial capitalism, he notes, has intensified the spatial logic of industrial capitalism, with its blend of pre-modern oceanic spatialities (Indian Ocean-as-asocial-void; Micronesian Ocean-as-territorialized-social space; Mediterranean ‘force-field’) (Steinberg  2001). Advanced and/or post-modern capitalism have created an awkward tension between the re-emergence of rigid territorialization demanded by specific nation-states in a bid to solidify their claims to oceans/sea space; the need to exert governance as a kind of ‘force-field’; and, also to preserve the ocean as a great asocial space. The colonial Dutch, for example, portrayed the seas in the Grotian sense of Mare Liberum, and as such justified free movement of trade and commerce through the oceanscape without being inhibited by territorial boundaries. Major economic powers such as the US, often with their national bases largely outside the region, are readopting this view of oceanness. Under the Obama administration, and now further into the Trump era, there has been a burgeoning


24  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific unholy alliance of neo-mercantilism and neo-liberalism. This views the ­Indo-Pacific as a ‘continuum’, a super-region or even, paradoxically, as a nonregion. It constructs the Indo-Pacific as just one part of a global whole, as a non-regional narrative—a quashing of local traditions and particularities—not a mare liberum but a mare nullius, again enabling powerful neo-colonial forces to move anywhere they wish, to protect sea lanes of transport, trade, communication and security; not needing to justify ‘ownership’ in a territorial sense, but simply control of sea lanes. In this manner, a super-region like the Indo-Pacific is also simultaneously a non-region, or liquid continuum which (at least in narrative terms) denies the existence of the formal politics and histories drawn on maps by nation-states. As will be discussed further in Chapter 5, a super-region demands free and smooth movement through time and place—national and regional borders are bypassed or passed through, as the continuum is a globally referent object of security. As has been noted elsewhere: the Liquid Continuum constructs global spaces—in this case the Indo-Pacific— using specific notions of time and globalisation, as connected threads of gold through lawless darknesses; as networks, pathways and trading song-lines through black waters and evil airs held together by strings of liberal values. The depiction of nature is still a realist one—the essential nature of nature is a maelstrom, is still anarchical—and nation-states (at least the good and the true ones) must order it, and calls its marauding tribes to account.  (Doyle 2016)

Conflicting notions coincide even within the US bureaucratic establishment (although arguably all of them ultimately serve to buttress the needs of a neoimperialist project). For example, Steinberg argues that navies, especially the US navy, are reluctant to give up their command-of-the-sea notions. Naval planners continue to apply unreconstructed mercantilist-era visions of their role in the world, and even as other actors have moved to concepts of ocean-as-void, naval planners continue to adhere to visions of ocean space as a place where social power is exercised by nation-states (Steinberg 2001). Another, most relevant imagining of ocean space is also apparent in the work of American analyst Ellen Frost, whose excellent work on emerging Asian regionalism demonstrates much of what we are arguing here. Ellen Frost admirably notes the significance of mapping and nomenclature in the context of the Asian water world, and she remaps Asia into more porous entities that she calls ‘Maritime Asia’ and ‘Asia Major’. Remapping Asia is vital in her analysis, because mapping so deeply influences foreign policy and security strategies. Her remapping attempts to override the artificial borders that occlude real centres of units: ‘By highlighting spontaneous cross-border flows of goods, services, capital, technology, knowledge, ideas, cultures, and people, remapping can correct this


Maritime Regional Theories  25 misleading emphasis. These flows account for much of Asia’s success. Remapping helps identify the obstacles clogging natural flow fields’ (Frost  2008: 22). Thus, Frost alludes to the remapping that is necessary to reflect the realities of the ­post-modern capitalist space. The analysis of Asian regionalism and regionalization, however, betrays an analysis that is really viewing the phenomenon from the point of view of its implications for the US. Frost’s conception of ‘Maritime Asia’ (which she argues is ‘where 60 to 70 per cent of Asians live’) unites the western Indian Ocean and the east Pacific Rim (Frost 2008: 31). She includes in her definition south and coastal India, and coastal Australia and maritime Russia. She ignores Eastern Africa and the Middle East, but does not split the Bay of Bengal in half. Revealingly, she argues: The concept of Maritime Asia is quite similar to what the US Department of Defense calls the ‘East Asian littoral’. A quadrennial report published in 2001 defined this term as ‘the region stretching from south of Japan through Australia and into the Bay of Bengal’. Operational concepts adopted by the US Navy divide the East Asian littoral into ‘seaward’ and ‘landward’ portions.  (Frost 2008: 33)

This is a remapping, then, which aligns quite neatly with the geostrategic and geoeconomic interests of the US in the Indo-Pacific region. Such reimaginings of mappings and reconceptualizations of space have significant ideational effects on sovereignty, and ultimately, on legal regimes. Mountz, for example, has commented on the reconceptualization by political geographers of sites of sovereignty, noting that islands, sea spaces, and archipelagos are amongst those sites where legal status is grey, and ‘sovereignty is contested, undermined, evaded, called into question, or—conversely—asserted more strenuously’ (2013: 832). Various legal regimes affect sovereignty in these sites, and there are particular kinds of asymmetrical expressions of power applied there. In the case of islands, she points to the case of Diego Garcia, whose population was forcibly moved by the British government to the island of Mauritius, in order to place a military base on the islands to continue to exert regional influence after independence. The base, she argues, forms part of a chain ‘predicated on the strategic island concept as the “new invention of a new form of empire” ’ that would effectively replace colonies (Mountz 2013; 2014; Vine 2009). The Chagossians were denied the right to return, despite winning a high court case. Return was deemed impossible, not just because of the military use of the island (unpleasantly relevant as a black site in the ‘War on Terror’ after 9/11), but also because the island was declared a protected marine area by former United Kingdom (UK) prime minister Gordon Brown. This example of legal sovereignty sits at odds with notions of sovereign rights of indigenous sea peoples and indigenous peoples with seascape storylines and cosmologies. One such example is the Saltwater People of the Torres Strait Islands


26  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific (McNiven 2004; Ash et al. 2010). The Saltwater People are spiritually and ritually attached to their seascapes, with which they identify, and which have cosmo­ logic­al meaning and importance. Their spiritual attachment to Dreaming beings goes beyond merely procuring marine resources and has resulted in a relationship of customary maritime tenure, legitimated through clan ownership over land and sea, which anthropologists have become more involved in researching following native title claims arising after the Mabo (1992) Australian High Court decision, which overturned the legal fiction in Australia of terra nullius.

Conclusion What has been reiterated in this chapter is that which was first expressed in the initial discussion of methodology found in Chapter 1—that is, both realist and constructivist models of geopolitical enquiry, in all their heterogeneity, must be embraced as conceptual tools in order to fully comprehend and celebrate the differing cartographic imaginations of the Indo-Pacific. The Indo-Pacific is, on the one hand, a narrative space which resonates with and confirms the power of nation-states, used in all manner of realist ways to further shore up particular nation-states’ maritime and terrestrial claims, as well as further essentializing national characteristics as ‘true’, ‘sacred’—providing national citizens with ‘values worth living and dying by’. These are regional games; but also, simultaneously, intensely internal, domestic, and nationalistic political games. At the same time, Indo-Pacificness can be used in a classical liberal vein: as a genuine attempt at building long-lasting, and mutually beneficial maritime neighbourhoods, sharing and sustaining communities, and resources which exist near or next to each other in some geographical manner. In Chapter 9 we investigate, in a positive sense, what some of these better models of Indo-Pacific maritime regionalism look like, with particular reference to IORA, with all of its strengths and foibles. Finally, existing on another ideational plane is a very different version of the Indo-Pacific concept: one enjoyed by the powerful—one which allows and promotes free movement across and beyond local, national, and ‘regional’ borders by superpowers and large transnational corporations. These constructions of IndoPacific posit it as simultaneously a non-region and as a super-region—as a universal and non-differentiated space. These narratives are more post-structural in their modality, are often justified on neo-liberal geo-economic principles; but are also fiercely nation-state oriented in their actual design and practice. In short, the language and pitch of justification may be multi and translateral, but the practice is centred on narrow benefits accruing to major powers, providing unprecedented access for elites to global domains, whether markets or military.


Maritime Regional Theories  27 Not only do we utilize different matrices derived from alternative world views of how international systems work, we also consistently argue throughout this book that concepts and positions articulated by nation-states are not usually coherent or whole; instead, they are more likely to be fragmented and contested within—although, obviously, certain positions achieve more dominance than others at particular times. Furthermore, as mentioned at the outset of this book, the dimension of time is extremely important. The point of view of Indo-Pacificness is not just placedbased. What we have discovered and tried to articulate within this chapter is that geopolitical seascapes and oceanic regionalisms change through time. Maritime regionalism has metamorphosed from its earlier forms in the pre-modern Mediterranean world into shapes which are peculiar to twenty-first-century imaginations, bound by larger notions of what ‘global’ means; rewritten in ­languages not always European, and served by cultures and religions largely uninformed by Christian dreamings and doctrines. For although the Indo-Pacific is in vogue, it is not just a recent set of constructions. Rather, it first emerged over a century ago. It is to the dimension of time which our gaze must now be shifted—a point of view determined by earlier manifestations—a time of the initial rise of an ‘Indo-Pacific’.



The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought The Rise of the Indo-Pacific Concept

The principal aim of this chapter is to provide an overview and synthesis of the diffusion, perpetuation, and contextual transformation of traditional geopolitical thinking throughout the Indo-Pacific region and assess how these concepts and ideas might still form some input into regional geopolitical thinking, particularly among some key individual states within the Indo-Pacific. There has been a reemergence of classical frameworks and concepts such as pivot points, lebensraum, sea power, and land power taken from traditional international relations and geopolitics writers and thinkers, notably Mackinder, Spykman, Caroe, Pannikar, Semple, Ratzel, and especially Haushofer. The re-emergence of these classical ideas and their deployment through different national lenses reveal the construction of vastly disparate Indo-Pacific regionalisms in which, we argue, narrow national constructions of the region take precedence over more genuine, panregional aspirations.

Traditional Geopolitical Ideas In the twenty-first century, it is highly likely that traditional geopolitical thinking and concepts still function as a potential underlying influence for expansionist states and/or those with hegemonic ambitions. However, it must be remembered that traditional geopolitical concepts were developed and applied in Europe and were diffused and transplanted to North America, Northeast Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, South America, and Oceania wherein they became transformed to meet local environmental imperatives. Central to these transplants was thus a quasi-environmental deterministic view of state behaviour associated in part with Friedrich Ratzel’s Darwinianinfluenced biological analogy of competition bound up with a perceived sense of racial and/or religious superiority. Ratzel was the author of the essay ‘Lebensraum’. In his view, the combination of environment, biology, and superiority propelled territorial expansionism and competition and thus inevitable conflict with contiguous states and sometimes relatively distant territories. While it has been The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific. Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley, Oxford University Press (2019). © Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739524.001.0001


The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought  29 argued that in international relations theory the realist tradition can be traced back to Sun Tzu and Thucydides (Tang and Feng 2016), it is suggested here that the offensive realist position in classical geopolitics can be traced back to Friedrich Ratzel. Racial dominance would be determined by how any particular race fared in the constant ‘struggle for survival’ (Herwig 2016: 33). The ultimate aim of conflict was the imposition of social and cultural mores, of legal rules and pro­ced­ ures, and of religious and other practices upon the vanquished in a civilizing mission in the guise of creating equality, ‘development’, justice, and peace—even an ‘empire of peace’. The superior Aryan race had to undertake a civilizing mission based on nationalism and race (Herwig 2016: 104). Ratzel’s ideas were picked up in Germany by Karl Haushofer, and together they are credited with influencing Nazi imperialist ideology. Like Ratzel, Haushofer was influenced by Mackinder’s ‘Heartland/Rimland’ theory of geopolitics (which is diametrically opposed to the Mahanian sea-power theory of geopolitics, which is centred on the power of navies). One interesting concept introduced by Haushofer that is worthy of further discussion and analysis is that of a ‘geo­pol­it­ical manometer’: ‘These are certain political, economic, geographic, etc., symptoms which are supposed to gauge existing pressures and thus indicate probable forthcoming events. Of such manometers, capitals, urbanization, power fields, marginal growths, and cultural trends receive special attention’ (Dorpalen  1942: 75). Haushofer argued that the Indo-Pacific region contained four geopolitical manometers—Australia, Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines, while the latter ‘carries the heaviest pressure of the entire Pacific space’ due to its internal character coupled with pressures from the ‘island empire’—Japan—and the ‘continental power’—the US (Dorpalen 1942: 135–6). Singapore is an unusual manometer since it is one of the few examples of Ratzel’s ‘marginal growths’—in this case, a small colonial base located on foreign soil exposed to and able to register pressures and trends as outposts otherwise unnoticeable (Dorpalen  1942: 79). Of course, Australia and Japan became the southern and northern ‘anchors’ re­spect­ive­ly in the US west Pacific alliance system. One of the essential elements of Haushofer’s Indo-Pacific discussion concerns the overall conflict between Anglo-Saxon and non-Anglo-Saxon powers. There was, Haushofer argued, an ‘Anglo-Saxon tutelage’ (Herwig 2016: 124), and from a global perspective, this comprised Mackinder’s ‘outer crescent’ consisting of the sea power of the US plus Britain, South Africa, and Australia—the ‘pirates of the sea’— which collectively needed to be opposed by a Russo-German bloc (Herwig 2016: 115–17). In the twenty-first century, this ‘Anglo-Saxon tutelage’ could be referred to as the ‘democratic Anglosphere’ consisting of the ‘mother country’ (UK) plus several powerful (now great and middle power) former col­onies—Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, and the US. Other ‘subsidiaries’ of the ‘democratic Anglosphere’ could include Malaysia, New Zealand, and Singapore.


30  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Central to Haushofer’s Indo-Pacific strategy was the need to check the ‘­overbearing dominance’ of the Anglo-Saxon outer crescent—the ‘pirates from the sea’—by the world’s ‘geographical pivot’—Germany, China, Japan, and Russia—the ‘robbers of the steppe’ (Herwig 2016: 154). He conceded that the ‘Anglo-Saxon condominium’ over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans could not be broken by any Eurasian bloc or single power (Herwig 2016: 189). Haushofer predicted that there would be a constant great power conflict between the ‘pirates from the sea’ and the ‘robbers of the steppe’ from 1945 between the Soviet Union and US reflected more recently between the US and China (Herwig 2016: 214). Geopolitically, he dreamed of a future in which India, together with China and an independent Indonesia, would collectively function as a counterweight at the crossroads of the German-Russian-Japanese ‘geographical pivot of history’ and the Anglo-Saxon ‘outer crescent’ (Herwig 2016: 157).

Traditional Geopolitical Ideas: Adoption, Adaptation, and Diffusion It is clear that German geopolitical ideas and concepts played a significant role in the development of geopolitics throughout the modern world. They were diffused around the globe, were modified in terms of local temporal, geographical, and political circumstances and, in the twenty-first century, we are still feeling the long-term ‘legacy’ of Nazi geopolitical conceptual networks (Levenda 2014; Dodds and Atkinson 2000). For example, Haushofer’s ideas reached France, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the US (Atkinson and Dodds  2000: 5–9), among others. The social, political, and conceptual linkages among states and regions subject to the politicalcultural diffusion of Haushofer ideas are also of interest. In short, the diffusion of geopolitical ideas created a long-lasting network of conceptual and policy support. Thus, states implicated in the diffusion process in the early twentieth century still remain implicated to a greater or lesser degree although not necessarily subscribing to the precise meaning and intent of traditional concepts.

The Diffusion of Traditional Geopolitical Thinking to Indo-Pacific States The United States The US has had a number of very influential geopolitical scholars, one of the most prominent of whom was ‘Ratzel’s faithful disciple, Ellen Churchill Semple’ (Neumann 1943: 278). Indeed, Semple dedicated her second classic text—Influences of Geographic Environment, on the Basis of Ratzel’s System of Anthropo-Geography (1911)—to the memory of Friedrich Ratzel.


The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought  31 As Semple noted on the first page of her first classic text, American History and Its Geographic Conditions: ‘The most important geographical fact in the past history of the United States has been their location on the Atlantic opposite Europe; and the most important geographical fact in lending a distinctive character to their future history will probably be their location on the Pacific opposite Asia’ (Semple  1903: 1). Semple’s geopolitical analysis of the Indo-Pacific was built around two central propositions. First, that the US can obtain pre-eminence in the region by a process of dominating both oceans—the Atlantic and the Pacific. It is important to note that Semple was much ahead of her time in anticipating a ‘future history’ where the US, ably assisted by technological advances and in­nov­ation, would be working out its geostrategy in terms of ‘oneness of the world ocean’. Indeed, Lewis, among others, has reminded us of the ‘constructedness of oceanic categories’ and that there are no ‘real’ divisions ‘across the undivided Ocean Sea’ (Lewis 1999). Semple was of the view that, ‘We speak of the Pacific as the “ocean of the future”, but this means in reality the final expansion of the maritime field by which it embraces this last great basin and advances to active exploitation of the world ocean. For the sea is always one’ (Semple 1903: 420). The Atlantic has given us near access to Europe, and the ‘American invasion’ has followed. The Pacific has opened to us, though at longer range, the markets of the Orient, and the flag has been set up on an outlying fragment of the Asiatic continent. ‘Enthroned between her subject seas’, the United States has by reason of her large area and her geographical location the most perfect conditions for attaining pre-eminence in the commerce of the world ocean.  (Semple 1903: 435)

Semple argued that to attain global dominance of the ocean, the US was at a strategic advantage since it had a foothold on both major oceans. Her strategy was to ‘possess the vantage-ground’ and achieve US dominance of the world ocean from its Atlantic base. Thus, for Semple, and for the US: ‘the development of the world ocean will mean the exploitation of the Pacific from the basis of the Atlantic. The pre-eminence which the Atlantic has gained will long dominate the Pacific, and geographical conditions make it doubtful whether this supremacy will ever pass to the larger basin’ (Semple 1903: 421). American world ocean dominance is therefore a central goal for the US. Semple’s second proposition is that China is the only state in the world that might be able to prevent US global dominance, although at the time of writing she notes that ‘the Chinese have not yet profited by the advantages of their location’ (Semple 1903: 423). However, she goes on to say: ‘China is the only power on the western shores of the Pacific to whom geo­graph­ ic­al conditions might have given political and commercial pre-eminence, except for the one thing needful, contact with the Atlantic’ (Semple 1903: 424). Other influential American scholars who were strongly influenced by German geopolitical thinking advocated a world view and strategy to enable US Indo-Pacific


32  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific dominance. For example, stimulated by German geopolitics, George Renner argued for the need to draw a new world map ‘to meet democratic specifications’. He argued that the Pacific Basin was a ‘trouble centre’ and therefore ‘must be remapped’ (Renner 1942: 14). Renner’s map of the region, designed to create a ‘new order in Asia’, divided the Pacific Basin into four quadrants of pol­it­ical control—what he referred to as a ‘natural division of colonial ownership’ in the interests of political stability and ‘a stabilised Asia’. The Pacific would be divided into two halves north–south roughly along the date line and then into four quadrants east–west roughly along the Equator. Japan would control all of the lands around the Sea of Japan in the northwest quadrant, Australia would control the southwest quadrant, Chile would control the southeast quadrant, and the US would control the northeast quadrant (Renner 1942: 28). Semple introduced the ideas of the German geopoliticians through her lectures and writings at the University of Chicago and at Clark University (Tambs 2002: ix). It seems that even now the ideas of Karl Haushofer are still relevant to some of the thinking of American grand strategists (for example, McDougall  2011). Furthermore, it is likely that other outdated geopolitical views have informed US foreign policy: In the U.S., older geopolitical ideas were embraced by Kennan, Acheson, Nitze, Dulles, Eisenhower, Rostow, Taylor, Kissinger, Nixon, Brzezinski and Haig (Brown 1989), and integrated into American foreign policy. Outdated versions of the Heartland-Rimland theory remained a tool for containment strategy long after that strategy had proved wanting. The American geopoliticians grasped spatially obsolete views because of their limited understanding of geography. For theirs was and is a definition of the discipline that is static, deterministic and naïve.  (Cohen 1991: 552)

As one military analyst has noted, Eurasia or Mackinder’s World Island is still central to US foreign policy and will probably remain so for some time, despite considerable change in the global geopolitical context over the past century (Fettweis 2000). The current Indo-Pacific concept, on the other hand, provides a vehicle for the domination of the world’s other ocean—the Indian Ocean—and thus complete dominance of the world ocean, as Semple had argued. Importantly, one of the several reasons why German geopolitical concepts were so readily taken up in the US reflects the US’s historical ethnic German base. For example, in the early 1940s, up to 30 million Americans were of German origin. This caused Haushofer to comment in one of his books: ‘America is fundamentally a creation of the German spirit’ (Dorpalen 1942: 82). According to the 2010 US Census, the largest ancestry group in the US was German with more than 49 million (17.1 per cent) of the population declaring German ancestry. Furthermore, links with the German movement and the Nazi movement in the


The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought  33 US were well developed from the 1930s. Indeed, during that time, there emerged in the US a ‘patriotic pro-American veneer overlaying a covert hostility to cultural change and Jewish and Asian immigration that became enshrined in the America First Committee’ (Levenda 2014: 56). The America First movement was pro-fascist and pro-Nazi, and while it was disbanded in 1941, ‘the individual members did not abandon their faith’ (Levenda 2014: 58). Indeed, during World War I, ‘the world’s most intensive surveillance’ was conducted monitoring the loyalties of 10 million German Americans (McCoy 2017: 116–24). There is more than a relatively clear echo of this thinking in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign slogan—‘American First’ (Churchwell 2018: 14–17).

Japan The emergence of geopolitical thinking in Japan via Kjellen in the 1920s and Japanese adherence to an Indo-Pacific concept were stimulated by four key factors. First, there was a pre-existing tradition of linking Japanese expansionism for geostrategic reasons in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Second, the isolation of Japan in the 1930s and the strengthening of the relationship with Germany contributed to a renewed interest in geopolitics (Takeuchi  2000: 74). Third, Haushofer had a personal and long-lasting connection with Japan. In 1908, he was sent to Kyoto as a Bavarian military observer and was stationed in Japan for almost two years (Spang 2013). German academic studies were influential upon Japanese social sciences and most of Haushofer’s books were translated into Japanese during World War II (Takagi 1998: 132). Haushofer regarded the Japanese as a ‘noble race’ (Herwig 2016: 150), which meshed with Japanese ideas at the time of their own superiority. Even now, the Japanese still eschew multiculturalism and maintain ideas of racial purity (Arudou  2018), and ultra-right-wing groups in Japan continue to perpetuate such concepts (Park  2017). Fourth, there was an important Indian influence in the form of radical nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose who had been active in Germany engaging in anti-British activities in association with Nazi Germany before shifting his focus to Japan (Ogura 2015: 91). The conceptual and policy impact of Haushofer’s geopolitical thinking in Japan was very significant and continues to have a legacy. While Japanese geopolitics was not solely derived from German geopolitics and the ideas of Haushofer, the four schools of Japanese geopolitical thought were more or less influenced by Haushofer (Takeuchi 2000: 75). At the end of the 1930s, Germany’s ‘New European Order’ stimulated Japanese leaders to invent the ‘New Order in East Asia’ (Takeuchi 2000: 76). Japan was important in Haushofer’s Indo-Pacific concept for at least six main reasons. First, as mentioned, Haushofer had developed strong connections with Japan through his role as Bavarian military observer. Second, as noted earlier, he


34  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific regarded Japan as one of the region’s most important ‘political manometers’. Third was the question of Japan’s population size, its ability to feed itself, and the prospect of enacting emigration and expansionism policies in order to reduce local demand and to obtain essential food and natural resources. The Japanese translation of lebensraum (seikatsuken) became an inspiration for Japanese Indo-Pacific policy (Fukushima  1997: 411). ‘Overcrowded states’, like Japan and Germany, needed room to expand. Indeed, Haushofer suggested that Germany’s only hope for national survival was through outward expansion just as Japan had done in 1894–5 and again in 1904–5 (Herwig 2016: 209). Haushofer believed that Japan had sufficient capacity to feed its people and thus he argued that the view of its government that territorial expansion was essential for Japan’s survival was based on a false premise. Japan’s decision to send immigrants west and north (hokukin—Takeuchi 2000: 74) removed US fears of a Japanese eastward expansion since emigration to the US had ceased in 1907. The great powers therefore looked on impassively as Japan invaded Korea (Dorpalen 1942: 11–13). Japan’s overall pattern of expansionism was to create the Great East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Fourth, in particular, he believed that Japan was as determined as Germany ‘to overthrow the hegemony of the Anglo-Saxon powers’ (Dorpalen 1942: 161). The Reich could also be seen as the champion of the oppressed colonized peoples of the Indo-Pacific (Neumann 1943: 282). Fifth, Haushofer also realized the in­ev­it­ abil­ity of Anglo-Japanese conflict since the British wished to constrain Japanese outward expansion. The relationship between Japan and Britain has always been contradictory to some degree ranging from competition and conflict to one of cooperation and even admiration and copying. As has been pointed out, it was Ratzel who realized that Japan’s geographical character was similar to that of Britain (the idea of Japan as the ‘Britain of the East’) and thus expected that Japan would try to emulate British achievements in the future (Tanaka 1996). After all, there had been significant technological transfer from Britain to Japan, and perhaps even more importantly, the British Embassy in Tokyo is located closest to the Imperial Palace than any other embassy. Finally, Haushofer agreed with the view that ‘Japan was considered the most dangerous threat to the continued existence of the white men’ (Dorpalen 1942: 161). He therefore conceived of a large Eurasian alliance, comprising China, Germany, India, Japan, and Russia, to counter British influence (Dorpalen 1942: 147–8). To Haushofer, Japan experienced what he called the ‘oceanic-continental conflict’—a continental view turning to the northwest and an oceanic perspective directed towards the Pacific (Dorpalen 1942: 128). Apparently, the imperial Japanese were among Mahan’s most ardent admirers (Holmes and Yohsihara 2009: 3). Defeat in the Asia-Pacific war was associated with a ‘geopolitical purge’ in Japanese universities (Takagi 1998: 137). By the early 1950s, while a ‘veil of silence was drawn over their past involvement with geopolitics’, most of the influential


The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought  35 academic geopolitical thinkers associated with Japanese expansionism had found positions in other universities and continued to have an academic and political influence (Takeuchi 2000: 88). However, as Takeuchi points out: ‘There remains a great reluctance to confront the attitudes and discourses of Japanese geopolitics during the 1930s and 1940s’ (Takeuchi 2000: 89). It seems, therefore, that a great deal remains to be researched on the decision-making impact of geopolitical thinking upon the Japanese army and among Japanese politicians during the late 1930s and 1940s (Takagi 1998: 132).

China It has been argued that understanding the evolution of Chinese security and foreign policy requires close consideration of the merging of geopolitical thinking and Chinese nationalism into a ‘geopolitik nationalism’. This is important since it deploys many of the thoughts, ideas, and concepts of Germany and Japan before the two world wars (Hughes 2011). As mentioned earlier, during his period in Japan as Bavarian military observer, Haushofer became pro-Japanese and anti-China (Weigert 1942: 739). However, he has also been portrayed as an ‘ardent sinophile’ since he wanted China to be ‘brought into the geographical pivot’ (Herwig 2016: 157). While American exceptionalism (a synonym for ‘imperial’—McCoy 2017: 15) is ‘missionary’, Chinese exceptionalism is ‘cultural’ (Tharoor  2012: 148). China was portrayed in a different light in terms of the lebensraum (shengcun kongjlan— Hughes 2011: 604) growth theory by traditional geopoliticians in the sense that territorial expansion was not necessarily accompanied by war. China did not absorb space by ‘brute force’ but by ‘slow infiltration’. As Seiffert put it: ‘Spreading out from northwest China, the Chinese people gradually grew into their present living space via a process of natural organic growth as a result of strong population pressure’ (Seiffert  1942: 98). Population pressure resulted in landward migration along the ‘land bridge’ from Thailand to Indonesia (Wu 1975). Indeed, Chinese migrants have a long history over several millennia of spreading by both land and sea into adjacent territories (Lockard 2013). However, the Chinese view of expansionism is different from the ‘imperialism’ and ‘hegemony’ of the West since it is aimed at restorative justice in an unjust international order (Hughes 2011: 605). Ellen Semple argued that China’s power was severely limited by geography: ‘China is the only power on the western shores of the Pacific to whom geographic conditions might have given political and commercial pre-eminence, except for the one thing needful, contact with the Atlantic’ (Semple  1903: 424). The American commentator, Robert Kaplan, on the other hand, has suggested that: ‘China is blessed by geography’ (Kaplan  2012: 189). He goes further with a


36  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific quasi-geographical deterministic view that: ‘China is a rising continental power and the policies of such states are inherent in their geography’ (Kaplan 2012: 200). Thus, his logic goes, China is in the process of applying a ‘Monroe Doctrine-style sovereignty’ notion in constructing a Greater China, the heart of which is the South China Sea (Kaplan  2012: 222). Both Ratzel and Haushofer would have applauded such geopolitik analysis and, of course, it indicates how influential journalists are still beguiled by such logic in the US. However, Kaplan’s view is affirmed by another US commentator, John Mearsheimer, who has suggested a clear linkage between China’s behaviour in the South China Sea and the nineteenthcentury US Monroe Doctrine (Mearsheimer 2014: 367). Furthermore, since the 1990s, the Chinese military has adopted terms such as ‘strategic borders’ and ‘living space’. The latter requires the delimitation of socalled ‘strategic borders’ which extend beyond state boundaries but within which the state would forcibly protect its interests (Diakidis 2009: 43–5). This is akin to the delimitation of a Chinese sphere of influence or a Chinese Monroe Doctrine (Hughes 2011: 618). Apparently, many Chinese read Mahan attentively and quote him as an authority (Holmes and Yoshihara 2009: 2). Chinese naval planners have consulted the works of Mahan, for example, in the process of developing a naval theory with special Chinese characteristics and in building up a strong navy that is seen to be vital to China’s national interests (Diakidis 2009: 46; Hughes 2011: 605). Building up naval strength and presence is seen to be essential, for example, to ensure secure shipping through the Strait of Malacca. Classical geopolitical thinking is also echoed in the contemporary Chinese BRI. For example, it has been suggested that China’s New Silk Road follows a familiar route argued by Haushofer for the construction of an ‘inner line’ across Eurasia (Williams  2015). Indeed, the German geographer, Ferdinand von Richthofen, coined the term ‘Silk Road’ (or die Seidenstrasse) in 1877 (Chanda 2015; Chin 2013; Ma 2008; Wu 2014). Von Richthofen, noted for his detailed ­analysis and research on China (for example, von Richthofen 1878), took up the chair of geography at the University of Berlin in 1886 after having held the chair at the University of Leipzig from 1883. His successor at the University of Leipzig in 1886 was Friedrich Ratzel (Herwig 2016: 113). In scholarly terms, Von Richthofen was also closely associated with the thinking of Karl Haushofer (Herwig 2016: 118). Von Richthofen was vilified in China for opening up the floodgates of imperialism (Wu  2014). The reviewer of his extensive diaries put together during his Chinese expeditions points out that: ‘It was undoubtedly von Richthofen’s pioneer tour in 1869 that proved the basis for the action of Germany when, in 1897, it seized the Bay of Kiao-chou, and secured a ninety-nine years’ lease of that port and district from the Chinese Government’ (Gordon  1908: 315). His Silk Road was in part an echo of Mackinder’s pivot of history in that Eurasia was the heartland of imperial rivalries, and ‘was part of a competitive German blueprint for a


The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought  37 commercial railroad linking China with Europe, designed at a time when the Qing government opposed foreign railway construction’ (Chin 2013: 195–6). In the 1930s, Sven Hedin, a student of von Richthofen and a Swedish apologist for the Third Reich (Danielsson 2001), proposed a motor road between Europe and China connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (Hedin 1938). It has been suggested that Chinese policy-makers also think in geopolitical terms and that one Chinese academic quoted Halford Mackinder and called for a revival of Eurasia as a ‘world island’ thanks to China’s BRI (Fallon 2015: 142). One of the six economic corridors of the BRI—the New Eurasian Land Bridge—is a very clear indication of this revival. Another concerns the geopolitics of what has been referred to as the ‘strategic land ridge’ or ‘land bridge’, extending from Thailand through Malaysia and Singapore to Indonesia—a ‘natural gateway’ to Southeast Asia (Wu 1975). As Wu has put it: ‘Control of the land ridge from mainland Asia southward and of the states across it is of vital importance to any maritime power aspiring to dominate both the Pacific and the Indian Oceans’ (Wu 1975: 6). While the ‘land bridge’ links mainland China to Indonesia, it also controls vital sea lanes and incorporates four Indo-Pacific middle powers—Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand (Wu  1975). The BRI economic corridor—the ChinaIndochina Peninsula Economic Corridor—reflects this traditional ­geo­pol­it­ical mode of thinking. Interestingly, according to one commentator, the US also had a ‘brief dalliance’ with reviving the Silk Road itself in the summer of 2011 since it wanted to use the term ‘New Silk Road’ as a label for rebuilding the Afghan ­economy after the US withdrawal. However, apparently after some mutual support, China requested the use of another label since ‘New Silk Road’ was regarded as China’s term. A year later, President Xi announced BRI (then One Belt One Road) (Chanda 2015). By 2012, Xi Jinping was ‘rewriting the current geopolitical landscape’ (Fallon 2015: 140).

India The diffusion to and impact of traditional geopolitical thinking in India is interesting and varied. To some degree, for some of the Indian elite, there was a ‘natural’ as well as cultural appeal of Mackinder, Mahan, and Haushofer. In the case of the latter, some saw the Indian caste system as a ‘perfect template for organising society along racial and class lines’ (Levenda 2014: 41). Haushofer visited British Calcutta in 1909 and reached the view that the British—‘this miserable people of robbers’—had ‘plundered’ India (Herwig 2016: 18)—a point confirmed and clearly elaborated in fine detail more than 100 years later (Tharoor  2017). He believed that India was a ‘wronged victim’ of British imperialism and fully expected that the ‘perfidious Albion’ would inevitably lose


38  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific its empire to the centrifugal forces of nationalism and that India was moving towards liberation from British rule (Herwig 2016: 155–7). This was an interesting viewpoint considering the colonialists were white, European, and believed in white superiority. To some influential quasi-geographical deterministic American commentators, ‘India’s advantages and disadvantages . . . inhere still in its geography’ (Kaplan 2012: 232), although India’s ‘geographic logic is not perfect’ (Kaplan  2012: 242). However, Kaplan argues that India has a view of its future as a Greater India and thus has aspirations for a Monroe Doctrine-style presence throughout the Indian Ocean from southern Africa to Australia (Kaplan 2012: 280). This Greater India view is outlined by Sastri when he talks of a concept of an Indian supra-national union which extends from the coast of Africa and the Hindu Kush to the South China Sea. ‘Attempts to vivisect India . . . can have no justification on geo­pol­it­ical grounds’, he argues (Sastri 1943: 35–6). The most notable commentator on the relationship between geography and Indian state behaviour was K. M. Panikkar who concluded that the study of geopolitics is essential for those interested in India’s future—‘we could only neglect it at our peril’ (Panikkar 1954: 120). Panikkar was internationally regarded as India’s leading exponent of the importance of geography in politics, and while being ‘well versed’ in Haushofer ideas and concepts was nonetheless ‘independent’ of Haushofer (Lattimore 1957). According to Raja Mohan: ‘Panikkar, who remains an inspiration for Indian naval thinking, emphasised the need for a ring of bases in the Indian Ocean to ensure India’s maritime security’ (Raja Mohan 2013: 91). In short, Panikkar argued for the creation of a circle of ‘Indian nuggets’ long before anyone conceived of a Chinese ‘string of pearls’ (Rumley  2013a: 41). He also argued that geography ‘is one of the major factors that determine the his­­ toric­al evolution of a people’ (Panikkar 1954: ix). While referring to Mackinder he noted that Haushofer had ‘introduced some necessary correctives into the thinking of Mackinder’ (Panikkar 1954: 14). As Panikkar has argued, India’s geography is fundamentally different from that of the European states since India has ‘no necessity to expand, from the point of view of security or defence’. The desire for more space, a preoccupation of the European geopolitical thinkers, did not have the same significance in India since, with its size, natural resources, and location in relation to the ocean and land masses, territorial expansion was ‘unnatural’ (Panikkar 1954: 33–4). Nonetheless, there are clear links between German as well as Japanese geo­pol­ it­ical thinking and Indian nationalism in particular. Subhas Chandra Bose was arguably the most important Indian nationalist leader after Gandhi and Nehru (Hayes 2011: xxv). With the outbreak of World War II, Bose saw an opportunity to take advantage of Britain’s involvement by appealing to wartime Nazi officials, Italian fascists, and the Japanese to assist in combating British rule. Apparently,


The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought  39 Hitler thought highly of Bose (Hayes 2011: 158) and he developed a good rapport with Mussolini (Hayes 2011: 12). For his part, Bose viewed Hitler as an avatar of Kalki—the god who would come out of the north and wreak vengeance on the immoral and unclean world (Levenda 2014: 239). In particular, Bose sought German help to invade India in order to expel British troops in order to create an independent India (Hayes 2011: 151). The Nazis regarded Indians as allies ‘in spite of their non-European ethnicity’ (Hayes 2011: 159). Bose was thus allowed to be intermittingly based in Germany for several years to engage in anti-British activities (Ogura 2015: 91). In 1934, Bose met with Karl Haushofer in Munich and developed a friendly relationship in the hope that Haushofer might act as a conduit to the Nazi hierarchy (Hayes  2011: 13). Bose became strongly influenced by Haushofer’s geopolitical ideas. He also visited Japan in a German submarine to ask for Japanese military assistance. Japan became sympathetic to Bose’s anti-British stance and invited him to attend the Greater East Asian Conference held in Tokyo in November 1943 (Ogura  2015: 92–3). Bose received ‘fervent admiration’ in Tokyo and was seen as an ‘Indian samurai’ (Hayes 2011: 164). Clearly, not all Indian nationalists were pro-fascist or pro-Nazi (Levenda 2014: 195). However, many Indian exiles felt that Berlin in the 1920s was the centre of intellectual and political life in Europe and thus decided to make connections. Bose and several others were involved in creating organizations for Indians in Germany and for spreading pro-Nazi ideals and ideas. Some, for example, were interested in the extent to which fascism/Nazism might form a potential model for Indian politics (Zachariah 2014: 141). One organization—Indische Ausshuss— was co-founded in 1928 in Munich by the Bengali nationalist Tarak Nath Das and Karl Haushofer. This became active in pro-German propaganda and was instrumental in starting Nazi cells in various German-owned companies in Calcutta (Zachariah 2014: 145). India’s need to expand in relation to Haushofer’s ideas is found in the writings of other Indian scholars, such as Benny Kumar Sarakar, in which ‘a sort of spiritual lebensraum opened out for Greater India’ (Zachariah 2015: 650). As Zachariah cogently argues, India’s fascist tendencies are not unique: ‘The glorification of an “Aryan” past in India, or a connection with sacred soil or sacred space, hardly needed a (later) Nazi affiliation, but it had been part of the same building blocks of romantic nationalism across the world’ (Zachariah 2015: 640). India’s perception of its region and regionalism were brought into sharper focus with the end of World War II and then Indian independence. What India required was both a ‘continental view’ and ‘an appreciation of sea power’ (Panikkar 1954: 120). As Panikkar had earlier noted: ‘The entry of Japan into the Indian Ocean demonstrated clearly the entire dependence of the security of India on the mastery of the seas’ (Panikkar  1945a: 81). As one commentator has put it: ‘Panikkar in his 1945 essay evokes Mahan’s  1890 classic’—The Influence of Sea


40  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Power upon History 1660–1805—which contained the argument that sea power had a ­dom­in­ant role in moulding the course of global history. Interestingly, in terms of the diffusion of classical ideas, Scott points out that Indian officers still read Panikkar’s book (Scott 2006: 99). Panikkar saw that the primary responsibility of the Indian Navy was to guard the ‘steel ring’ created by Singapore, Ceylon, Mauritius, and Socotra (Panikkar 1945a: 95). This was India’s sphere of influence or indeed Monroe Doctrine. Furthermore, since India was ‘dependent’ on the Indian Ocean and since ‘whoever controls the Indian Ocean has India at its mercy’, then it follows that ‘The Indian Ocean must therefore remain truly Indian’ (Panikkar 1945a: 82–4). It also followed that: ‘As a matter of course that only on the basis of a regional organisation of which India will be the secure and firm foundation can the safety of the Indian Ocean be assured’ (Panikkar 1945a: 92). As Panikkar also argued, an Indian Ocean regional organization offers the prospect of regional security and the creation of peace, freedom from colonialism, food security, economic development, and public health (Panikkar 1945b: 250–1). The idea of a Greater India or Akhand Bharat—a term that is now used by various Indian right-wing nationalist politicians—has very recently re-emerged in Indian discourse and would necessitate the unification of India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Burma (Parekh 2016). Bharatiya Janata Party national secretary, Ram Madhav, has spoken of Akhand Bharat as a combined region as a ‘Rashtra’ based on ‘Hindu cultural’ similarities. Indeed, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS–National Volunteer Organisation) literature is replete with references to this concept (Yadav 2016). This ‘cultural similarity’ perspective is an echo of the view of the Indian fascists of the 1930s, such as Sarakar: there could be discerned a continuity across Asia of folk forms of religion, which meant that distinctions made between Buddhist, Saiva and Vaisnava did not hold. This was more or less a corollary to the ‘Greater India’ arguments made by some of his colleagues, whom he cited approvingly in his books and who, likewise, cited him approvingly in theirs.  (Zachariah 2015: 649)

For the RSS, therefore, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, which were separated only a few decades ago, will once again reunite ‘not by war but by popular goodwill’ (PTI 2015). Raja Mohan, on the other hand, has emphasized the global dimension of the discussion on Akhand Bharat in the hope of mobilizing Global South Asia as a force for peace and reconciliation: ‘If the slogan “Akhand Bharat” is associated with Hindu nationalism, the idea of the subcontinent’s cultural unity has a much wider appeal and the hopes for overcoming the bitter consequences of the region’s partition in 1947 are reinforced by powerful trends of economic globalisation and regional institution-building’ (Raja Mohan 2016).


The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought  41

Indonesia The impact of 300 years of Dutch occupation, Indonesian nationalism, national identity, national security, and the geographical configuration of the Indonesian archipelago have combined to provide fertile ground in Indonesia for traditional geopolitical concepts and their contextual transformation. The Indonesian government has explicitly claimed that its maritime territorial policy is associated with ‘Indonesian geopolitic’ (Djalal  1990: 1). However, while there is no real Indonesian school of geopolitics, there exists a practical policy theme that is embedded in security and foreign policy (Laksmana 2011: 99). It is slightly unclear as to how geopolitics came to Indonesia, but the Japanese who invaded in World War II were aware of German military literature and the training of several Indonesian officers in the Dutch military academy ‘may have instilled geopolitical theory into the founding fathers’ (Laksmana 2011: 98). In terms of the context of the time, as has been pointed out, in the 1930s there was a functioning Nazi Party apparatus in the Dutch East Indies (Levenda 2014: 196). While pro-Nazi sympathizers were involved in various military and political matters throughout Asia at that time, there apparently existed a ‘shadow presence’ in Indonesia—referred to by Levenda as the ‘Nazi Archipelago’ (2014: 194). However, the National Socialist Movement that originated in the Netherlands became active in Indonesia in 1933. During this period there was considerable Nazi U-boat cargo traffic importing rubber from Indonesia and U-boat depots were located around Japanese-occupied Southeast Asia. After the war, German crews were set ashore and the remaining U-boats were ‘reregistered’ as Japanese sub­ mar­ines (Levenda 2014: 201–6). In addition, in 1957 there emerged an American concept of a ‘Malay Barrier’—an ‘Islamic crescent’ stretching from southern Thailand through Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines—to function as ‘the only thing standing between Australia and the dreaded People’s Republic of China’ (Levenda  2014: 192). With the replacement of Sukarno with Suharto in 1968, the then West German government sent a former member of the Gestapo to serve as ambassador to Indonesia (Levenda 2014: 211). There is thus an ongoing importance of modified traditional geopolitical thinking in Indonesia: ‘At least in Indonesia, the writings of Mackinder, Ratzel and Haushofer are still part of the military training . . . They have, in fact relegitimized and modernized prior geopolitical strategic thinking’ (Nguitragool and Rüland  2015: 44). Views of the Indonesian state are still heavily imbued with concepts derived from Ratzel and Haushofer. For example, some contemporary influential commentators see the Indonesian state as a living organism (Space 2013: 105). Furthermore, interstate competition is portrayed in traditional geopolitical language: ‘China plays geopolitical living space’ (Space 2013: 109). In Indonesia, ‘geography as a determinant of foreign policy and natural security system is permanent’ (Laksmana 2011: 112).


42  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Current interpretations of geopolitics are based on the Nusantara Outlook (Wawasan Nusantara) that comprises four essential elements—Pancasila as the basic philosophy of the Indonesian people; the 1945 Constitution; the concept of unity in diversity; and the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia. Furthermore: ‘The understanding of expansion might be able to be interpreted as a socialeconomic one for the prosperity of humankind at the utmost, and not in the meaning of orthodox geopolitics’ (Soelistijo  2013: 200). While the traditional lebensraum concept is implicit in some contemporary Indonesian geopolitical thinking, this imperialist or expansionist view ‘is not in accord with Indonesian philosophy of life’. Rather, Wawasan Nusantara (Nusantara Outlook) is more in tune with Indonesian geopolitics and strategy (Soelistijo 2013: 202). Other Indonesian commentators refer to Wawasan Nusantara as the ‘Archipelagic Outlook’ concept. There are at least two central issues that link this with the contextual transformation of traditional geopolitical thinking. The first relates to the centrality of Indonesia in the Indo-Pacific region. Indonesia is at a crossroads location (posisi silang) between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and between the Asian and Australian continents. The archipelagic geographical structure of Indonesia ensures that it is thus a maritime crossroads and a through route for various sea lanes of communication. The potential security risks associated with this configuration lead directly to the second key issue—the Indonesian struggle for appropriate recognition of it as an ‘archipelagic state’ and the associated recognition of archipelagic sea lanes (Sebastian et al. 2014). In the first statement of Pancasila by Sukarno in 1945, one of the main prin­ ciples was the construction of an Indonesian nationality that required a national state that encompassed the totality of the Indonesian archipelago. He used the arguments derived from Haushofer’s geopolitics to argue that the archipelago was the ‘natural state’, and therefore the territorial expansion of the Indonesian state to incorporate all of the archipelago in order to maximize state security was a ‘natural’ outcome (Soehat  2011). The initiation of the ‘Archipelagic Outlook’ in 1966 marked the beginning of the revitalization and restructuring of Indonesian geopolitical thinking in which all of the archipelagic land and water is conceived as a ‘single strategic defence system’—a geopolitical conception which is uniquely Indonesian (Laksmana 2011: 101).

Australia Australia’s geographical location and the relative harshness of its natural environment meant that it had a ‘natural’ appeal to environmental determinists. For example, the future carrying capacity and distribution of population within Australia were seen to be environmentally determined: ‘The geopolitical character of Australia shows a Janus face: the after-effect of the original coastal colonisation


The Return of Traditional Geopolitical Thought  43 of the British seafarers. Their instincts led them to oceanic and mass continental coastal expansion. Australia is influenced by its own continental mass and by vast unpopulated areas in the interior’ (Tambs  2002: 173). As discussed earlier, Australia was one of Haushofer’s geopolitical manometers—that is, it was a place that was able to be in a position to ‘gauge existing pressures and thus indicate probable forthcoming events’ (Dorpalen 1942: 75). Furthermore, since Australia was located between the ‘Great Ocean and the Indian Ocean’ it could be ­considered to be part of ‘the Indo-Pacific transitional region’ (Tambs 2002: 167). Australia was seen to be geopolitically vulnerable from the north given its ­location, its size, and its relative abundance of natural resources. Given all of its geographical characteristics, Haushofer argued that, for Australia, ‘integration into the complete Pacific power arena has been an un­avoid­able geographic destiny’ (Tambs 2002: 169). Australia, like the US would also mark out its own Monroe Doctrine that has perpetuated into the twenty-first century: The monopolistic policy of the United States in regard to American soil as embodied in the Monroe Doctrine, and the expectation lurking in the mental background of every American that his country may eventually embrace the northern continent, find their echo in Australia’s plans for wider empire in the Pacific. The Commonwealth of Australia has succeeded in getting into its own hands the administration of British Papua New Guinea (90,500 square miles). It has also secured from the imperial government the unusual privilege of settling the relations between itself and the islands of the Pacific, because it regards the Pacific question as the one question of foreign policy in which its interests are profoundly involved.  (Semple 1911: 200)

The recent historical geography of Australia’s aid allocations, in particular, has displayed a per capita emphasis towards the South Pacific islands, a region that Australia has regarded as its traditional sphere of influence and as an AngloSaxon preserve (Rumley 1999: 188). However, Haushofer referred to Australia as a ‘satrap’ or subordinate (Herwig 2016: 115) and argued that Australia would thus forever fall under the control of the US (Herwig 2016: 155). T.  Griffith Taylor is acknowledged as the founder of university geography in Australia (Powell 1992: 231). He was an admirer of Friedrich Ratzel, was heavily influenced by the writings of Herbert Spencer (Andrews  1964), and had an ‘intellectual commitment to environmental determinism’ (Strange  2010: 136). Both Haushofer and Griffith Taylor thought within an environmental deterministic framework, although Taylor eventually distanced himself from Haushofer’s school of geopolitics (Strange and Bashford 2008: 169). Haushofer, on the other hand, was impressed with the work of Griffith Taylor and wrote a complimentary review of his book Environment and Race in which he noted that Pacific ­ob­ser­vers, like Taylor, were more conscious than Europeans of the importance


44  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific of the environment and race and their connections with politics (Strange and Bashford 2008: 161).

Africa Africa has invariably been the forgotten continent only because it was occupied and dissected by the European powers for their own ends and sovereignty and political power were suppressed until relatively recently. Indeed, it has been noted that most of Africa almost totally escaped Haushofer’s attention (Herwig  2016: 156). The German geopoliticians assumed that control over Africa would be a relatively easy operation and in the 1880s Germany acquired all of its African protectorates (Dorpalen  1942: 174; Backmann  2006: 10). Traditional geopolitical interest in Africa was essentially two-fold. First, that Africa would become a part of a German pan-region (Dorpalen  1942: 117). Haushofer regarded the Monroe Doctrine as the legitimate model for his pan-regions. Second, that South Africa was an important state in the outer or insular crescent comprising the ‘pirates from the sea’ (Herwig 2016: 116).

Conclusion: A Way Forward In the twenty-first century, to some degree, the Indo-Pacific concept is a useful enabling tool for regional state territorial expansionism and/or for the geo­graph­ ic­al extension of military power and control. For example, it gives Australia a rationale to extend its geopolitical reach further north; it allows China to expand south into the South China Sea; it justifies India to ‘Act East’ and strengthen its claim to be a maritime expansionist state; it ‘centralizes’ Indonesia and helps strengthen its archipelagic status; it gives Japan a stronger argument for amending its peace constitution and for changing its current pacifist military posture for extended geographical involvement; and it gives the US the vehicle and rationale for Indo-Pacific intervention to assure its global dominance and ensure regional stability. All other Indo-Pacific states more or less align themselves with one or more of these enablers. However, this enabling Indo-Pacific concept contains within it the potential for significant regional and even global conflict. This prospect has also been predicted by Haushofer (Parker 1985: 83).



The New ‘Multiplex’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific Introduction In this chapter we posit that one of the principal inhibitors of sustainable security and stability in the broader Indo-Pacific region is that the Cold War has yet to end. As Liu Zhemin notes, ‘Legacies of the Second World War and the Cold War, and territorial and maritime disputes continue to affect Asian security’ (Zhemin  2013). Many international boundary disputes remain to be resolved. Some countries—such as the Koreas, or Japan and Russia—have still not finalized peace treaties over contested territories and seascapes. Chinese expansion into the South China Sea has been another point of contention. Cold War attitudes, perceptions, and misperceptions are still an inherent or implied part of the psyche of some senior Indo-Pacific decision makers. Strategic concepts and postures reflecting containment, ‘constrainment’, sphere of influence, expansionism, and territorial competition, among others, thus still inhabit the rhetoric not just of the regional security environment. Regional strategies can therefore be ‘interpreted’ within the framework of Cold War ‘logic’, thus impeding regional security ­cooperation since Cold War realist logic implies conflict while idealist globalist post-Cold War logic implies cooperation. The ‘old’ Cold War has thus been ­perpetuated, reinforced, and reinterpreted as a ‘new’ Cold War due to geopolitical competition over global and regional primacy. Even within this process of ­geopolitical competition, ‘old geopolitical concepts’ such as ‘pivot’ and ‘Indo-Pacific’ have also been reinterpreted and reused to justify ‘new’ strategies that ultimately continue to foster a ‘new’ Cold War in the region. Indeed, the ‘Indo-Pacific’ has returned as a central element of the new Cold War. The chapter is in three parts. In the first, we briefly outline some of the principal characteristics of the new Cold War and describe some of its causes. The second part contextualizes this for South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region. The third describes the process of post-Cold War strategic diplomacy arguably designed, in part, to create new Cold War structures in the Indo-Pacific region. The conclusion provides a ‘new Cold War matrix’ that seeks to describe the ­current geopolitical and geo-economic interaction pattern among Indo-Pacific great powers.

The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific. Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley, Oxford University Press (2019). © Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739524.001.0001


46  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific

The New Cold War The term ‘new Cold War’ has more than once been described as a ‘lazy label’ that does not apply to the current global geopolitical context (Walt 2018) and that it is a false analogy since we are no longer in a global system operating as a bipolar ideological contest involving strategic nuclear weapons. Of course, in 2019 nuclear arsenals are being rebuilt and expanded in both the US and Russia. But, in short, the narrative still dominates; ‘today’s international affairs have moved beyond the Cold War’ and are trending ‘toward multipolarity’ (Westad 2018). However, the new Cold War is different and potentially more dangerous than the old Cold War since there are no clear rules and, among other things, it involves ‘the new politics of deliberate uncertainty’ (Economist  2016). As Paul Dibb (2016: 3) has put it: unlike the period of the Cold War in the Asia Pacific region there are no arms control and disarmament agreements for strategical theater and nuclear ­missiles, no agreements on conventional forces as there were in Europe and very limited agreements on avoidance of naval incidents at sea, which the Soviet Union and United States had in 1972 and which is still operational, as I understand it.

The new Cold War is also different in that it is taking place in an era of increased globalization and thus economic interdependency, although its impacts vary considerably among the great powers. Unlike the original Cold War, the new Cold War does not encompass the entire global system, does not pit one ‘ism’ against another, and will not develop under the permanent threat of a nuclear Armageddon (Legvold  2014). However, it does appear to imply an increasing arms race (Dearden 2017). An increase in post-colonial nationalism, not solely among Indo-Pacific middle powers, has contributed to the complexity and variability of regional state responses to old Cold War bipolar relationships and obligations since the new Cold War is multipolar and in the Indo-Pacific involves all five regional great powers—China, India, Japan, Russia, and the US. The main causes of the emergence of the new Cold War in the Indo-Pacific region are equally complex and multifaceted and include the end of the American world order; residual attitudes, institutions, and territorial conflicts; the changing nature of geopolitical self-images; the rules-based order and perceived spheres of influence; Europe and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion; the return of ‘global Russia’; the US ‘pivot’; Japan’s militarization; Indian Ocean competition; the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD); the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD); the emergence of a cyber and chemical new Cold War; and the South China Sea dispute, among


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  47 others. We discuss these factors in turn, with the exception of the South China Sea dispute, which will be addressed in Chapter 8 on China.

The End of the American World Order It is a common observation that, ‘With the rapid rise of multiple other powers, the “unipolar moment” is over and Pax Americana—the era of unrivalled American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945—is fast winding down’ (United States National Intelligence Council, 2012: 101). The leading American historian, Alfred McCoy, also morosely noted that: ‘We are undoubtedly at the start of a major transition away from untrameled US hegemony. If the National Intelligence Council is to be believed, then the American Century, proclaimed with such boundless optimism back in 1941, will be ending well before 2041’ (McCoy 2017: 24). In his book The End of the American World Order (2014), Amitav Acharya has argued that with the passing of the age of single-state global dominance, the world is now neither unipolar, nor bipolar, nor multipolar. We are inhabiting a multiplex world, with high levels of economic dependency which is becoming ever more interdependent. In this world, the making and managing of order is more diversified, more complex, more decentralized, likely involving a greater role for regional governance. The concomitant rise of Chinese economic and political power (to be discussed in more detail in Chapter 8) has fundamental implications for the global rules-based order (Morrison  2015) and belated attempts to maintain the status quo will invariably create new tensions and generate new conflicts.

Residual Attitudes, Institutions, and Territorial Conflicts Legacies of World War II and the Cold War and territorial and maritime disputes continue to affect Asian security (Liu Zhemin, 2013). One Russian commentator has argued that one of the principal causes of the initiation of the new Cold War is ‘the crisis of Western world hegemony, the centre of which is the Anglo-Saxon political culture’ (Chugrov 2015). In part, this is an echo of what Karl Haushofer saw as one of the main long-term cleavages of conflict in the Indo-Pacific region. One of the essential elements of Haushofer’s Indo-Pacific discussion concerns the overall conflict between Anglo-Saxon and non-Anglo-Saxon powers or the Anglosphere and the rest. There was, Haushofer argued, an ‘Anglo-Saxon tutelage’ (Herwig  2016: 124), and from a global perspective this comprised Mackinder’s ‘outer crescent’ consisting of the sea power of the US plus Britain, South Africa, and Australia—the


48  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific ‘pirates of the sea’—which collectively needed to be opposed by a Russo-German bloc (Herwig 2016: 115–17). Central to Haushofer’s Indo-Pacific strategy was the need to check the ‘­overbearing dominance’ of the Anglo-Saxon outer crescent—the ‘pirates of the sea’—by the world’s ‘geographical pivot’—Germany, China, Japan, and Russia— the ‘robbers of the steppe’. He conceded that the ‘Anglo-Saxon condominium’ over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans could not be broken by any Eurasian bloc or single power. Haushofer predicted that there would be a constant great power conflict between the ‘pirates of the sea’ and the ‘robbers of the steppe’ from 1945 between the Soviet Union and US reflected more recently between the US and China. Geopolitically, he dreamed of a future in which India, together with China and an independent Indonesia, would collectively function as a counterweight at the crossroads of the German-Russian-Japanese ‘geographical pivot of history’ and the Anglo-Saxon ‘outer crescent’. The Cold War legacy of the ‘Anglo-Saxon tutelage’ of the twentieth century, replaced by the ‘democratic Anglosphere’ in the twenty-first century, is clearly evident in the continuation of both the UKUSA and the Five Power Defence agreements. The UKUSA or ‘five eyes’ agreement was originally signed by the US and the UK in 1946 but was extended to include Australia, Canada, and New Zealand in 1948 and 1956. The Five Power Defence agreement was principally concerned with Southeast Asian stability as a result of the UK ‘withdrawal’ and incorporates Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the UK. In the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, the conclusion of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty has been to perpetuate a legacy of unresolved issues. As one commentator put it, ‘except for the demise of the USSR, the regional Cold War bipolar structure essentially remains the same’ (Hara 2012).

Geopolitical Self-Images, the Rules-Based Order and Perceived Spheres of Influence Great power strategic narratives—for example, the US Monroe Doctrine, the Asian Monroe Doctrine, Panikkar’s ‘ring of steel’, the US ‘pivot’ to Asia, the IndoPacific narrative, India’s Look East, and BRI—all share at least two common key strategic objectives. First, they are all underpinned by, or imply, expansionist motives. Second, they all claim influence or control over/precedence in extrastate territorial and maritime space. Underpinning some of these strategic narratives is a great power ‘strategic space concept’—a geopolitical sphere of influence within which other states would be allowed little or no influence—and this is clearly the case with the US Monroe Doctrine. The US, being a global power, could also enjoy functioning as the ‘world policeman’, global arbiter, and as the defender of the ‘rules-based order’. However, all other great powers—China,


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  49 India, Japan, and Russia—possess some strategic space concept, suppressed to some degree by Cold War bipolarity, but ‘exhumed’, as it were, in the new Cold War context. This ‘rules-based order’ established a set of ‘common procedures and appropriate rules’ of state behaviour for dealing with common threats. Such ‘orders’ are inevitably value-laden and reflect the nature and interests of the states that establish them (Farley 2016). Since the rules-based international system essentially embodies liberal Western values, then it is unsurprising that it is now in the process of being contested by non-Western states ‘given its antique value’ and given concerns over issues of equity and legitimacy, among others (Chatham House 2015). It is being challenged by so-called ‘revisionist states’ (Wright 2015) because it is seen as a US-imposed liberal international system rather than a global democratic order. Indo-Pacific great powers, in particular, wish to possess their own Monroe Doctrine or ‘oceanic’ geopolitical sphere of influence— for example, the Indian Ocean in the case of India (Holmes and Yoshihara 2008), the North Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, and the East China Sea in the  case of Japan, and the South China Sea in the case of China. Even some regional middle powers lay claim over their own ‘oceanic’ Monroe Doctrine— for example, Australia in the South Pacific (Rumley 1999: 179–92). As regional great powers emerge and are in competition, conflicts over interpretations of international law over adherence to pre-existing global norms and over global representation at the United Nations are inevitable. There is even a ‘quiet proxy war’ going on between Russia and the US over United Nations appointments (Lynch 2018).

Europe and NATO Expansion That European balance may be needed to help find a new relationship with Russia somewhere between a new Cold War and strategic partnership. (Binnendijk 2016: 63) Anthony Cordesman, a senior strategic analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said that the new Trump administration must confront three realities: 1. Russia is now a broad strategic rival and is likely to remain so at least as long as Putin is in power. 2. The US can’t rebalance to Asia away from Europe or the Middle East. 3. Short of being chased off the stage, the US will have to play out a weak hand in Syria to limit and contain Russian influence (Wintour et al. 2016).


50  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific As one former British ambassador commented: ‘We have failed with Russia and we are failing with China’ (Wintour et al. 2016). It has been argued that the enlargement of NATO has also contributed to a  deterioration in East–West relations approximating a ‘New Cold War’ (Berryman 2012: 537). Russia now has ‘NATO in the cross-hairs’ (Stronski and Sokolsky 2017: 11). Some have argued that the ‘West is to blame’ for creating new tensions (Wintour et al. 2016). There is also the question of the ‘broken promise’. Russian diplomats assert that the US made a promise more than two decades ago in exchange for Soviet troop withdrawal from Eastern Europe not to expand NATO eastwards. Since then, twelve Eastern European states have joined (Sarotte 2014). Russia is especially sensitive about possible encroachment upon its perceived sphere of influence, especially in terms of the prospect of Ukraine joining both NATO and the European Union (EU). At the Bucharest Summit in 2008, Allied Leaders agreed that Ukraine will become a member of NATO in the future. In 2014, the EU and Ukraine signed an Association Agreement. Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, wishes to hold national referenda on joining NATO and the EU, but membership of the former is conditional, among other things, on member states not containing unresolved conflicts. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov claims that Russia had invaded Crimea and Donbas because of NATO expansion. As he put it: ‘The Ukrainian crisis was not the cause of current relations between Russia and the West, it was rather a consequence of the policy that Western countries, primarily the United States and NATO Allies, conducted after the end of the Cold War’ (UNIAN 2018)

The Return of Global Russia Since 2012, Russia has been conducting a sophisticated, well-resourced, and, thus far, successful campaign to expand its global influence at the expense of the United States and other Western countries. Moscow has pursued a host of objectives, such as tarnishing democracy and undermining the U.S.-led liberal international order, especially in places of traditional U.S.  influence; dividing Western political and security institutions; demonstrating Russia’s return as a global superpower; bolstering Vladimir Putin’s domestic legitimacy; and promoting Russian commercial, military, and energy interests. (Stronski and Sokolksy 2017: 1) In 2014, the crisis triggered by Russia’s illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea marked a ‘watershed year in Russia’s relations with the West’ (Stronski and Sokolsky 2017: 10). Russia’s concerns over continuing Western ‘containment’


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  51 are made quite explicit in Putin’s 2014 Crimea ‘paradigm-shifting speech’ (Wintour et al. 2016): In short, we have every reason to assume that the infamous policy of containment, led in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, continues today. They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner because we have an independent position, because we maintain it and because we call things like they are and do not engage in hypocrisy. But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our western partners have crossed the line, playing the bear and acting irresponsibly and unprofessionally.  (Vladimir Putin, 18 March 2014)

It seems that a US–Russia strategic partnership is now not feasible in the wake of the annexation of Crimea (Binnendijk 2016: 28) and that the subsequent Western sanctions have only served to reinforce new Cold War hostilities. Furthermore, as Browning (2018) has noted: In the idea of a new Cold War, standing defiant against the West and proclaiming to offer an alternative to Western neo-imperialism, Russians re-find a sense of pride in the nation, an Other upon which to blame misfortunes, and a sense of ordering in respect of the world in which they find themselves. (Browning 2018: 113)

The US Pivot to the Indo-Pacific The US ‘pivot’ (to be discussed in more depth in Chapter  5) corresponds to a geostrategic shift from the Middle East to the Pacific. The pivot is represented by the US Indo-Pacific alliances with Australia, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand. Indeed, the regional pivot policy was launched by then President Obama in the Federal Parliament of one of the US’s staunchest alliance partners, Australia, in November 2011. One of the central elements of the pivot is to expand US forces in the Indo-Pacific, including in Australia, to counteract a perceived regional expansion of Chinese military power. From a Chinese perspective, the pivot represents a reinvigoration of the ‘Cold War mentality’ of the US with its proposed expanded presence in the Indo-Pacific region (Chengliang  2011). Indeed, it has been argued that the US is actively engaged in a new Cold War strategy to contain the inevitable rise of China (Woodward 2017). Given changing global geopolitical conditions at the beginning of the twentyfirst century, the ‘pivot’ policy to the Indo-Pacific has been seen as an elite policy objective designed to best perpetuate the domestically dominant US ‘empire’ project—that is, to continue to replace Britain’s global role, to emphasize a hegemonic rather than a multipolar order, and to realize issues from a military


52  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific rather than a diplomatic perspective. The main elements of the new policy ­continued but updated the old Cold War strategy (Kiracofe 2016).

Japan’s ‘Militarization’: Reactivation of a Regional Cold War? While the 1960 alliance with the US guarantees Japanese security, Prime Minister Abe wants Japan to be a ‘normal’ country with the ability to defend itself when threatened. This is also as a result of a combination of pressure from Japanese right-wing groups, the US, and perceived threats from China and North Korea. However, normalization would require a change to Article 9—the ‘peace clause’ of the constitution—a clause that the Japanese public generally support. Arguably, a normalized Japan could enhance Indo-Pacific regional security by playing a  balance-of-power role with China, although any move towards Japanese ­militarization would likely be seen as a threat to regional stability by its neighbours and potentially trigger a regional arms race (Metzl 2015). As has been suggested, it seems that China and Japan are engaged in a Cold War-style conflict for IndoPacific regional dominance (Tiezzi  2014). In March 2016, the Japanese government enacted new legislation that would enable the Japanese Self-Defense Force to become involved in ‘collective self-defense’ and come to the aid of any ally under attack—code for the US (Benesch  2016) since Japan is a ‘fulcrum state’ of the ‘pivot’. The strategic concept of Japan as ‘America’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in Asia’ is thus being concretely applied in a new Cold War context (Arudou 2015).

Indian Ocean Competition It has been argued that, during the Cold War period, and as a result of the British withdrawal east of Suez, there has been a process of political-military competition for access to ports in the Indian Ocean region. Furthermore: During the Cold War, Washington saw itself in a competition for global political alignment which in turn facilitated naval access in distant areas such as the Indian Ocean region. In many ways, this competition was treated by both Moscow and Washington as a zero-sum game. This is obviously not the case today, as the unfolding Djibouti experience illustrates. Today, if there is a game for influence in the Indian Ocean region, it is between New Delhi and Beijing; Washington is not a participant.  (McDevitt 2018: 27)

Since the end of the Cold War, the Indian Ocean region has experienced both a process of cooperation and a process of competition. In particular, increasing great power competition for access to regional resources—especially agriculture,


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  53 minerals, and energy—as well as access to ocean and deep-sea resources—is overlain with concepts of past, present, and future ‘ownership’ and ‘control’ of the Indian Ocean. On the other hand, IORA has facilitated regional economic ­cooperation since its foundation in 1997 (Sakhuja 2012). Some have argued that, since the end of the old Cold War, we have seen the emergence of the ‘new Indian Ocean’. Competition for regional influence between China and India and among a few ‘non-traditional’ players such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates may well indicate the beginnings of a ‘new Indian Ocean strategic order’ that is multipolar and more complex (Brewster 2018). While no state owns the ocean, India has always seen it as its own perceived sphere of influence and, as a result, Indian policy-makers and commentators invariably become extremely irritated by any Chinese presence in Indian Ocean waters. For example, concern has been expressed over the presence of Chinese submarines and their reported docking in both Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Furthermore, the Maritime Silk Road Initiative is seen to be ‘at the vanguard of Chinese grand strategy’ in the Indian Ocean, with Pakistan as the central link between the maritime and overland silk roads (Chellaney 2015). On the one hand, with such perceived competition from China, and given India’s goal to possess ‘benign supremacy over vital seas’, there exists the potential for India to become an ‘aquatic strongman’ (Holmes and Yoshihara 2008). On the other hand, while there appears to be growing competition in the Indian Ocean between India and China, especially in terms of exerting influence in deep-water port development, there is nonetheless considerable scope for collaboration in several non-traditional security challenges (Albert 2016).

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue The so-called QUAD—or ‘Diamond Alliance’—has been a controversial ‘minilateral’ involving Australia, India, Japan, and the US, arguably directed at containing China and at preventing the emergence of a ‘unipolar Asia’ (Raja Mohan 2017). From a Chinese perspective, it has been seen as the first step towards an Asian NATO and as a part of ‘Trump’s cold war’ (Huang 2018). Conceived by Japanese Prime Minister Abe in 2006, Chinese objections led to it being removed from the international agenda (Davies and Lang  2015). The Australian Labor Government decided in 2008 not to participate since it was felt that it was aimed at containing China despite ‘unconvincing claims’ to the contrary. Nonetheless, Abe reopened the QUAD debate in 2012 and it was mentioned again by Indian Prime Minister Modi in 2015 (Davies and Lang 2015). In a speech in Washington, DC in late 2017, former US secretary of state Rex Tillerson attempted to revive the QUAD and his view appeared to gain the support of the current Australian conservative prime minister and foreign minister.


54  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific The QUAD has been characterized as being a coalition of regional ‘maritime democracies’ (Brewster 2010: 6) that believe in ‘consolidating the existing order based on universal values and principles of international law’ (Basu  2018). The QUAD has also been described as ‘three plus one’—Australia, Japan, US plus India—since the former two states have alliances with the US whereas India has thus far appeared to offer a ‘strategic handshake’ (Carter  2016). Interestingly, it has been argued that India’s being open to both the Triad (India + China + Russia in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa as major emerging national economies) as a hedge against a US unipolar movement) and the QUAD is suggestive of a return to non-alignment (Raja Mohan 2017). However, we argue that, in practical policy terms, multialignment means exactly what it is—that is, it indicates India’s shift to multialignment rather than any return to an untenable, non-existent non-aligned position. Critics of the QUAD have argued that it is flawed both because it is an exclusive arrangement and that it is ‘non-regional’. More specifically, critics note that the QUAD is likely to increase perceptions among Chinese leaders that the US is leading an effort to contain China’s rise; that it will strengthen the influence of hawks in the People’s Liberation Army; that it will increase the overall level of distrust in US–China, Japan–China, and India–China relations; that it will lead to an increase in Chinese defence expenditure; and that it will not reverse China’s land reclamation and the building of any military facilities in the South China Sea (Raymond 2017). From an Australian government perspective, the most recent ‘revival’ of the QUAD is in the form of a geo-economic rather than a geopolitical coalition. The QUAD is now being portrayed as a ‘nascent’ partnership designed as a ‘joint regional infrastructure scheme’ as an ‘alternative’ to China’s BRI (Coorey 2018). From an Australian opposition point of view, just prior to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit held in Sydney in March 2018, Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Penny Wong, declared that: ‘A future Labor government would strongly support the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ since it would provide ‘a space for four like-minded trading democracies to share their thoughts on regional security’ (Murray 2018).

THAAD: A Regional New Cold War? In order to counter potential threats from North Korea, the US began to deploy the first elements of THAAD in South Korea in March 2017 as a result of the July 2016 decision of the US–South Korea Alliance. As the US Pacific Command has stated: ‘The THAAD system is a strictly defensive capability and it poses no threat to other countries in the region. THAAD is designed to intercept and destroy short and medium range ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  55 during their final, or terminal, phase of flight’ (USPCPA 2017). Some in South Korea have suggested that the deployment will destabilize Northeast Asia and guarantee a negative response from both China and Russia. China, for example, has argued that THAAD is part of a ‘hidden agenda’ and has indicated the prospect of military action. China has also expressed the view that the deployment would destroy its bilateral relationship with South Korea in ‘an instant’ (Panda 2016). The South Korean opposition has raised concerns over the prospect of a resultant united front—China-Russia-North Korea and South Korea-US-Japan, thus creating a ‘regional new Cold War’. Other South Korean concerns are over the question of ‘military sovereignty’—that THAAD is a US-run weapons system and not an independent system operated by Seoul (Min-Sik 2016).

The Cyber and Chemical Cold War Cyber security is fast becoming a key front in the new Cold War (Anonymous 2012). The digital revolution has very possibly created a ‘golden age’ for espionage. Further to the issue of enhanced cyber capabilities deployed in the traditional areas of state-on-state espionage, there is the issue of the deployment of cyber and digital tools upon civilian populations as weapons of propaganda and counterintelligence. Whereas the Cold War was concerned with ‘weapons of mass destruction’, the cyber new Cold War is about ‘weapons of mass distraction’, involved in manipulating state politics and state economies. In a speech at the London Literary Festival in October 2017, for example, Hillary Clinton directly referred to the trend of great power interference in domestic politics and alleged that Vladimir Putin is engaged in ‘cyber Cold War’ against the west, indicated by the apparent Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election (Wintour 2017). Furthermore, cyber interventions in the economy have been described as a form of ‘economic warfare’. Kuo has defined cyber-enabled economic warfare as ‘a hostile strategy involving attacks against a state using cyber technology with the intent to weaken its economy and thereby reduce its political and military power’ (Kuo 2018). It has been necessary for all states to create new centres for cyber security to combat these new threats—for example, the Australian Cyber Security Centre was set up in November 2014. The use of banned chemical weapons also appears likely to be an additional component of the emergent new Cold War. For example, in March 2018, British foreign minister, Boris Johnson stated in relation to the alleged use by Russia of the nerve agent Novichok to kill Russian dissidents in Britain that: ‘The British government has drawn the only possible conclusion: that the Russian state attempted murder in a British city, employing a lethal nerve agent banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention’ (Johnson  2018). Arguably, only the


56  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Russian state had the technical capability to carry out an attack using Novichok, although the Russian government vehemently denies any direct involvement (Felgenhauer 2018).

The New Cold War: Implications for the Indo-Pacific and South Asia From a global perspective, the US’s perception is that it has five principal potential ‘adversaries’, four of which are nation-states—China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. As Figure  4.1 shows, of its perceived potential adversaries, China is the state with which the US believes that it has the greatest level of mutual interest. For South Asia, scholars have argued that since World War II, the geopolitics of the region have been dominated by fundamental and competing structures—the first rooted in India’s partition and subsequent Indo-Pakistan conflicts (the ‘1947 structure’) and the second being Sino-Indian rivalry including the 1962 border war (the ‘1962 structure’). As Smith (2013) argues, the 1962 structure is likely to remain the dominant security architecture in the region and the nature of the Beijing–Islamabad nexus remains the most serious challenge in China–India relations (Smith 2013: 324). The resultant border disputes (Figure 4.2) remain the major source of conflict that need to be resolved.

No mutual interests Salafi jihadists (ISIS) North Korea


Limited global power

Full-spectrum global power

Iran China

Some mutual interest

Figure 4.1.  Perceived potential US adversaries Source: Binnendijk 2016: 16


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  57 WESTERN SECTOR: The Aksai Chin, a barren plateau that was part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, has been administered by the Chinese since the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict. One of the main causes of that war was India’s discovery of a road China built through the region, which India considered its territory.



Line of Control


EASTERN SECTOR: China claims portions of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet and does not recognize the McMahon Line established in 1914 by the British and Tibetan representatives. China withdrew its troops behind the McMahon Line (which it refers to as the Line of Actual Control) after the 1962 border war.




Himachal Pradesh Uttar Pradesh New Delhi

200 Miles



Jammu and Kashmir




Arunachal Pradesh


BANGLADESH Dhaka MIDDLE SECTOR: Sikkim officically became an Indian state in 1975, following a people’s referendum, Prior to 1975. Sikkim had been a monarchy enjoying protectorate status from India. Chinese maps portray Sikkim as an independent country.


Bay of Bengal

Disputed borders Disputed territories

Figure 4.2.  China–India border disputes Source: Richards 2015: 237

Clearly, these two structures also touch closely on the nature of the present and future relationships between Afghanistan and China, India and Pakistan. For example, Pakistan sees itself as the ‘meat in the cartographic sandwich’ if Indian influence becomes dominant in Afghanistan (Soherwordi 2013), although, as has been stated: ‘Indo-Pakistan rivalry is turning Afghanistan into a battleground’ (Khattak 2017). Tharoor (2012) has argued that Nehru’s pursuit of an Indian non-alignment policy gained it some ‘freedom of manoeuvre’ between the superpowers during the Cold War period. However, as he goes on to point out: ‘non-aligned scruples were quietly jettisoned by his own daughter in 1971, when realpolitik, rather than woolly declarations of non-aligned solidarity, was needed and pursued, and India rushed willingly into the Soviet embrace as a shield against a possible Pakistani– Chinese alliance’ (Tharoor 2012: 407). However, perhaps ‘non-alignment’ reached the end of the road when at the 2016 Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Venezuela, co-founder and key member India did not send prime minister Narendra Modi, only the second time the country’s head of state had missed a summit since its 1961 founding. Nonetheless, it seems that little has been done to erase the deep Indo-Russian ties that formed during the decades of the Cold War. Concern has been expressed


58  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific in Delhi over Russia’s outreach to Pakistan (Kaura  2015). However, it has been suggested that, for India, Cold War relations ‘never really ended’ (Stravers and Harris 2014). Indeed, nuclear South Asia has been likened to Cold War Europe (Cohen 2013). Furthermore, Russia remains an important and continuing component of sustaining India’s armed forces. It has been suggested that India’s attitudes to the West generally, and to the US in particular are ‘a complex and often ambivalent mixture of respect for Western democratic values and technologies, with exaggerated fears of a renaissance of racial imperialism, anger over aid to the Muslim enemy, and general disapproval couched in moral terms but rooted in divergent concepts of strategic self-interest’ (R 1955: 265). US military aid to Pakistan has long been a bone of contention (R 1955: 264). Gupta (2012) has neatly summarized the US–India relationship: For those who find the US–India relationship complex and at times down right confusing the resolution is simple. There are actually five US–India relationships: the government to government relationship; the military to military relationship; the global integration between Bangalore and Silicon Valley; the link between Indian students and American universities; and the ties between the Indian–American diaspora and India. Of these the first two, which are still influenced by Cold War thinking and suspicions, have faced the most stumbling blocks. The last three, which are the products of globalisation and flourish because of the phenomenon, are the most promising and productive. (Gupta 2012: 1)

However, the US ‘pivot’ to the Indo-Pacific requires a strategic partnership with India. The Indian navy’s apparent reluctance to seek a bigger role and increase its interoperability with the US appears to derive from a ‘hedging strategy’. Delhi is a ‘reluctant supporter of the pivot’. As Pant and Joshi so eloquently put it: ‘India does not want to be seen as allied with the United States. Instead, it wants to sit on the sidelines while the United States and China slug it out for dominance in the Indo-Pacific’ (Pant and Joshi 2015: 64). K. M. Panikkar, who according to Raja Mohan is still ‘an inspiration for Indian naval thinking’, argued in his classical essay India and the Indian Ocean that, since India was ‘dependent’ on the Indian Ocean and since ‘whoever controls the Indian Ocean has India at its mercy’, then it follows that ‘The Indian Ocean must therefore remain truly Indian’ (Panikkar 1945a: 82–4). He also argued that: ‘As a matter of course that only on the basis of a regional organisation of which India will be the secure and firm foundation can the safety of the Indian Ocean be assured’ (Panikkar 1945a: 92). He suggested that such an Indian Ocean regional organization offers the prospect of regional security and the creation of peace,


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  59 freedom from colonialism, food security, economic development, and public health could be primary goals (Panikkar 1945b: 250–1). At least two important issues arise out of this. First, in the twenty-first century it seems that India is unwilling to act unilaterally in taking on a regional security burden (Pant and Joshi  2015: 62). A regional solution appears to be preferred. Second, given Panikkar’s insights and their continued relevance: ‘If for China the Indian Ocean is not an Indian lake, New Delhi’s imperative is to contest impressions in Beijing that the waters east of Malacca automatically fall under the latter’s sphere of influence’ (Pant and Joshi 2015: 53).

Post-Cold War Strategic Partnership Diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific One of the several characteristics of a post-Cold War global order has been the growth in strategic partnership diplomacy due to geo-economic reasons (an attempt to increase trade) and to geopolitical reasons (a post-Cold War realignment associated in part with a hedging strategy). According to Zhongping and Jing (2014: 7), the concept of ‘partnership’ emerged with Chinese diplomacy after the end of the Cold War. As they point out, China established its first strategic partnership with Brazil in 1993 and since then building strategic partnerships have become one of the most notable dimensions of Chinese diplomacy (Zhongping and Jing 2014). A strategic partnership strategy can perform a number of overlapping functions, including: 1. The potential to regulate relations with the great powers. 2. To maintain amicable and stable relations as the New World Order unfolds. 3. To meet the changing requirements of national economic growth. 4. To build relations on a pragmatic rather than on an ideological basis. 5. To move to a strategy built on a concept of comprehensive security. 6. To create a conducive global economic and political environment for development. 7. To promote multipolarity. As has been noted, these partnerships differ from Cold War relationships in that they are bilateral and they do not bind states to provide mutual support on all strategic issues in all situations. Furthermore, they are considered strategic as a result of the issues involved and the long-term nature of cooperation envisaged (FNSR Group of Experts 2011). While there is some debate as to whether strategic partnerships help or hinder stability (Envall and Hall 2016), clearly regional great powers have assumed the former.


60  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific In the case of India, no less than twenty-eight strategic partnerships have been signed by four prime ministers since 1997 (Hall 2016). The current Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has signed six of these during his term of office (Table  4.1). India’s strategic partnerships with Japan (2000), Russia (2000), and the US (2001) were agreed under the administration of Atal Bihari Vajpayee while the strategic partnership with China (2005) was a product of Manmohan Singh (Hall 2016: 278). There has also been some debate over the definition of what actually is a strategic partnership, whether they all entail a similar level of engagement, and whether some strategic partners are more ‘strategic’ than others. One interesting analysis that attempted to consider these issues was undertaken by the Foundation for National Security Research based in New Delhi. A pilot study was undertaken to measure the relative strength of six of India’s strategic partners—France, Germany, Japan, Russia, UK, and US—across three dimensions (defence cooperation, economic cooperation, and political-diplomatic cooperation) on a ten-point scale Table 4.1.  India’s strategic partnerships Strategic partner

Indian prime minister

Year agreed

Afghanistan, Islamic Republic of Association of South East Asian Nations Australia Brazil Canada China, People’s Republic European Union France Germany, Federal Republic of Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Japan Kazakhstan Korea, Republic of Malaysia Mongolia Nigeria Oman, Sultanate of Russian Federation Republic of Tajikistan Saudi Arabia Seychelles South Africa United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uzbekistan Vietnam

Manmohan Singh Manmohan Singh Manmohan Singh Manmohan Singh Narendra Modi Manmohan Singh Manmohan Singh Atal Bihari Vajpayee Atal Bihari Vajpayee Manmohan Singh Atal Bihari Vajpayee Atal Bihari Vajpayee Manmohan Singh Manmohan Singh Manmohan Singh Narendra Modi Manmohan Singh Narendra Modi Atal Bihari Vajpayee Manmohan Singh Manmohan Singh Narendra Modi H. D. Deve Gowda Narendra Modi Narendra Modi Atal Bihari Vajpayee Manmohan Singh Manmohan Singh

2011 2012 2009 2006 2015 2005 2004 1998 2001 2005 2003 2000 2009 2010 2010 2015 2007 2015 2000 2012 2010 2015 1997 2015 2015 2001 2011 2007

Source: Hall 2016


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  61 giving a total potential score of 90 points. From this analysis, Russia (with 62 points) was a more important strategic partner than the US (58 points) (FNSR 2011). China’s range of strategic partnerships is even more extensive than those of India. China has a total of fifty, with twenty-nine in the Americas, Oceania, Africa, and Europe (including a comprehensive strategic partnership with Russia) and an additional twenty-one in Asia (Table  4.2). China’s extensive range of

Table 4.2.  China’s Asian strategic partnerships Asia (21) Pakistan Kazakhstan India Indonesia South Korea Vietnam Laos Cambodia Turkey Mongolia Myanmar Thailand Uzbekistan United Arab Emirates Afghanistan Tajikistan Sri Lanka

2005 1999 partnership of comprehensive cooperation; 2005 all-weather strategic partnership 2005 2005 strategic partnership; 2011 comprehensive strategic partnership 2005 2003 constructive partnership; 2005 strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity 2005 2005 strategic partnership; 2013 comprehensive strategic partnership 2008 1998 collaborative partnership for the twenty-first century; 2003 comprehensive partnership; 2008 strategic partnership 2008 2008 comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership 2009 2009 comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation 2010 2006 comprehensive partnership; 2010 strategic partnership 2010 2002 partnership; 2010 strategic partnership 2011 2003 good-neighbour partnership of mutual trust; 2011 strategic partnership 2011 2011 comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership 2012 2012 comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership 2012 2005 friendly and cooperative partnership; 2012 strategic partnership 2012 2012 strategic partnership 2012 2013 2013

2012 strategic and cooperative partnership 2013 strategic partnership 2005 comprehensive partnership; 2013 strategic cooperative partnership Turkmenistan 2013 2013 strategic partnership Kyrgyzstan 2013 2013 strategic partnership Malaysia 2013 2013 comprehensive strategic partnership Association 2003 1997 partnership facing the twenty-first century based on good neighbourliness and mutual trust; 2003 strategic of Southeast partnership for peace and prosperity Asian Nations

Source: Zhongping and Jing 2014


62  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific strategic partnerships has been attributed to an embrace of multidimensional diplomacy in a multipolar and globalized world (Zhongping and Jing 2014). Japan’s Indo-Pacific great power strategic partnership of note, of course, is that between the US and Japan—‘the cornerstone of Asia-Pacific security’ (Carter 2016: 69). The US–Japan alliance is one of several Indo-Pacific relationships that were defined and enacted during the Cold War period and have persevered relatively unaltered. Japan is regarded by the US as its northern anchor in its security role in Asia and remains a key ‘pivotal partner’ of the US. Indeed, as one commentator succinctly put it from the viewpoint of US regional policy: ‘In Japan’s case, the powerplay was not about entrapment, but about control of the only major power in the region, whose postwar rise was inevitable’ (Cha 2016: 22). Of the 175,000 troops the US deploys overseas, 80,000 are located in Asia (28,000 in South Korea) and another 65,000 are in Europe (Binnendijk  2016: 51). Japan houses 50,000 US troops who have exclusive use of eighty-nine facilities around the country. Of these, 25 per cent of all facilities and more than half of the military personnel are located in Okinawa—‘the keystone of the Pacific’. While Okinawa was occupied by the US military until its reversion to Japan in 1972, it is still arguably occupied. In exchange for its presence in Japan, the US guarantees Japan’s security (Chanlett-Avery and Rinehart 2016). Japan is involved in territorial disputes with all of its nearest neighbours (Figure 4.3). It has yet to sign a treaty ending World War II with Russia and is in dispute with Russia over the southern Kuriles or ‘northern islands’. For Japan, the Cold War has never ended. Other unresolved disputes are with China over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and with South Korea over the Dodko/Takeshima islands. The fact that so many disputes have remained unresolved is testament




N. KOREA Pyongyang



Sea of Japan





CHINA Shanghai

East China Sea Pacific Ocean


Hong Kong



Senkaku Islands (Japan’s name) Diaoyu (China’s name)

Dokdo (South Korea) Takeshima Islands (Japan)

Figure 4.3.  East Asian territorial disputes Source: New York Times, 20 September 2012

500 miles

Kurile Islands (Russia) Northern Territories (Japan)


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  63 to the inability of successive Japanese governments to conduct effective ­neighbourhood diplomacy, to come to terms with the colonial legacy, and to the continued resistance to overcoming outmoded and potentially offensive attitudes to behaviour during its colonial past and during World War II (Park 2017). Japan’s continued tense relationship with South Korea, for example, has militated against a potential trilateral Japan–South Korea–US defence arrangement. Japan is not a ‘normal’ state, constitutionally, diplomatically, or militarily. Clearly, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, ‘the organizing principles of the Cold War became obsolete, forcing the US and Japan to adjust the alliance’ (Chanlett-Avery and Rinehart 2016: 1). Japan’s newly assigned role was to undertake a central part in the US ‘pivot’ to Asia. Indeed, as the latest US Congressional Report on the US–Japan alliance explicitly states: The Obama Administration’s ‘rebalance’ to the Pacific was seen by many as a reaction to China’s rise, despite insistence by US leaders that the ‘pivot’ is not a containment policy. The US–Japan alliance, missing a strategic anchor since the end of the Cold War, may have found a new guiding rationale in shaping the environment for China’s rise.  (Chanlett-Avery and Rinehart 2016: 2)

During the Cold War, the principal orientation of Japan’s defence posture was aimed at resisting a potential Soviet invasion from the north. However, the 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines envisioned a shift away from this Cold War framework towards a greater focus on the southwest islands of the Japanese archipelago and a potential perceived ‘threat’ from China (Chanlett-Avery and Rinehart 2016: 25). As a result, Japan now has two Cold War fronts, and a third if you add North Korea, and, in addition, Japan has a strained relationship with South Korea. To undertake the new Japanese Cold War approach, the current Abe government has sought to revise the US-imposed constitution, especially clause 9, the so-called ‘peace clause’. Furthermore, the government aims to ‘reinterpret’ Japan’s right to ‘collective self-defence’ and to rename the Self Defense Force to create a ‘real military’ (Wilkins 2014). In addition, Japan’s ‘grand strategy’ involves a further strengthening of relations with the US, as well as increasing engagement with regional multilateral security architectures and creating new strategic partnerships, including one with Australia, the ‘southern anchor’ in the US–Asian security strategy. Japan is also seeking to develop strategic partnerships with India, Southeast Asian states, and states in Africa. Also, Japan’s recent adoption of the Aegis Ashore missile defence system appears to have set back the prospect of joint Japanese–Russian economic development in the disputed islands. While Japan argues that the system is designed as a deterrent against North Korea, Russia interprets it as a ‘disproportionate response’ and as a threat. Russia argues that it ‘represents yet another step toward the creation of an Asia-Pacific regional segment of the US global missile defense system’ (Brown 2018).


64  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific The US for its part has been developing an additional six strategic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region in relation to its broader ‘rebalancing’ strategy—India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam (Parameswaran 2014a)—in addition to those with Australia and Japan, as part of its ‘principled security network’ development (Carter  2016). As the former US secretary of defense clearly stated: ‘The principled security network is not developing in response to any particular country. Rather it demonstrates that the region wants cooperation, not coercion, and a continuation of, not an end to, decades of peace and progress’ (Carter 2016: 73). The principled security network is ‘shorthand for a complex web of bilateral, trilateral and multilateral relations developing in the Asia-Pacific that advances shared values and facilitates greater burden-sharing’ (Parameswaran 2016a). Key bilateral alliances have been developed over the past two years as an essential part of this network process (Table 4.3). Contrary to Carter’s statement that this ‘network is not developing in response to any particular country’, Robert Kaplan in Monsoon (2010: 284) refers to this array of alliances as a kind of ‘Great Wall in reverse’ and as a ‘well-organized line of American allies, with the equivalent of guard towers’ along China’s Pacific coast. The most recent US National Defense Strategy (2018) emphasizes a return to the Cold War mentality of great power competition: The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of longterm, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers. It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions. (US National Defense Strategy 2018: 2) Table 4.3.  The Indo-Pacific bilateral principled security network Security relationship

Principal aim

US–Japan Alliance 2015

‘The cornerstone of Asia-Pacific security’

US–South Korea Alliance 2014

‘To defend against NK ballistic missiles’— Terminal High Altitude Area Defense

US–Australia Alliance

‘Becoming more and more a global one’

US–Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement 2014 US–Thai Alliance US–India ‘strategic handshake’ 2015 US–Singapore Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement 2015

To modernize Philippines armed forces

Source: Carter 2016

To help Thailand better defend itself To enable ‘a major defense partner’ To enhance maritime security


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  65

Conclusion: The Indo-Pacific New Cold War Matrix We have attempted to simplify the nature of the political and economic ­relationships among the regional great powers in the form of a new Cold War matrix (Figure 4.4). Relationships between states are indicated either by X (a ‘new Cold War relationship), or a √ (a post-Cold War partnership). Total scores (number of Xs) are given for each of the five states. As we can see on this representation, four of the regional great powers have the same new Cold War score as well as strategic partnership score. The major exception in terms of both total scores is India. India’s position in this new Cold War matrix is interesting because it implies that it now occupies a position of multialignment since it is the only state that possesses a strategic partnership with all other regional great powers. As noted earlier, Shashi Tharoor (2012), among others, has argued that in the post-Cold War period India needs to move away from its traditional policy of non-alignment to one of multialignment. This would involve greater engagement in multilateral organizations; making common cause on the one hand but ensuring dissent on the other, depending on the issue; a strategy in which no country escapes its embrace; making and running shifting coalitions of interests; skilled management of complex relations; and ensuring effective responses to new transnational challenges (Tharoor 2012: 426–7). In brief, an Indian strategy of multialignment is aimed primarily at developing and using strategic partnerships, being involved in a policy of ‘normative hedging’, boosting India’s economic development and national security, and at projecting influence and promoting Indian values (Hall 2016).

China India Japan Russia USA

China India Japan Russia X* √ √ √^ √ √ X X*^ √ √*^ X √ X*^ √ √ X X √ * ^

US X*^ √* √*^ X^ -

NCW score SP score 2 2 0 4 2 2 2 2 2 2

New Cold War relationship (NCW) Post-Cold War strategic Partnership (SP) Ranked in the top 3 export destinations 2015 Ranked in the top 3 import sources 2015 NCW scores: 0 = a new post-Cold War multialignment 2 = a New ‘Multiplex’ Cold War

Figure 4.4.  The Indo-Pacific new Cold War matrix Source: authors’ own based on a combination of strategic partnership data and trade data taken from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website


66  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Taking out India, the only remaining regional great power strategic partnerships are China–Russia (Nadkarni 2010: 52–80) and Japan–US. All other major states in the Indo-Pacific new Cold War matrix are now currently involved in what we have called (following Acharya Amitav) a new ‘multiplex’ Cold War— China–Japan, China–US, Russia–Japan, and Russia–US (Figure 4.4). This becomes clear if we examine the most important trade export destinations and sources of imports for each of these states for 2015. Japan, Russia, and the US have China as one of the most important trading partners on these data. India connects strongly with China as a source of imports and to the US as an export destination. Russia, on the other hand, ranks highly in the US as a source of imports. From a geopolitical perspective, Figure 4.4 illustrates that the new order in the Indo-Pacific region is now characterized by not one but by multiple new Cold War cleavages but that these cleavages are inevitably mediated to some degree by high levels of economic interdependency. Even though there exists a considerable degree of economic interdependence among the regional great powers, there are still three geo-economic-geopolitical relationships that also imply a significant degree of ‘residual’ ‘old’ Cold War orientation—India–Russia, India–Japan, and Japan–Russia. For the first, it has been recently noted that, on the one hand, while Russia is seen as ‘the most important strategic partner of India’, on the other hand, ‘the economic content of the India–Russia partnership is extremely weak’ (Arun 2017). For the India–Japan relationship, international trade is much less than one would expect given the two states’ respective shares of global trade (Ozsvald and Kiran  2018: 14). Even though the two states share a strategic partnership, reinforced by Prime Minister Abe’s visit to India in September 2017, India’s total trade with Japan fell by US$5 billion or 27 per cent from 2012 to 2016 and India’s exports to Japan halved during the same period (Mishra 2017). For the third, Japan and Russia are eager to take steps to rebuild their trading relationship, especially since total trade turnover in 2016 declined by 25 per cent and Japanese direct investment into Russia fell by 80 per cent (Tass  2017). In terms of economic development cooperation, there exist prospects for the Russian Far East to be a ‘potential new gateway’ for improving Japan–Russia ties. From a Russian perspective, it has been emphasized that: It is already accepted that the key to Russia’s economic growth and hence, to its proper position in the changing world, will be found in the development of Siberia and the Russian Far East, as well as in Russia’s phased integration in to the economic and civilizational space of the Asia-Pacific.  (Titarenko 2008: 282)

However, while Japan is troubled by the developing China–Russia strategic partnership (Savic  2016), Russia continues to be concerned over Japan’s alliance


The New ‘ Multiplex ’ Cold War in the Indo-Pacific  67 obligations. In December 2017, the Japanese cabinet approved the purchase of two units of the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense System, arguing that this was an essential element of defence against North Korea. Russia, on the other hand, believes that this response was ‘disproportionate’ and that it actually represented another component in the global US missile defence system. In January 2018, Russia responded by authorizing the creation of a base in the disputed islands at Etorofu/Iturup that will allow it to fly fighter jets from there for the first time since the end of the Soviet Union (Brown 2018).



The US ‘Pivot’ in the Indo-Pacific Introduction Superpowers often have very different notions of region than middle and smaller powers. Whereas the latter two categories usually invoke ‘region’ from narrow, strictly realist imaginations, superpowers move through, above, and below these more confined ideas of territory—instead, constructing in this case, an IndoPacific which more often than not provides them with free and unlimited access across all realms of land, sea, and space—outside the nation-statist boundaries of their lesser partners. As mentioned earlier, over the last decade or so there has been a resurgence of classical geopolitical language in twenty-first-century regional security discourses. Specifically, the concepts of ‘pivot’ and the regional ‘Indo-Pacific’ have been revived by (predominantly) US and Anglospheric analysts and policy-makers. These concepts have re-emerged in this current period of global development for a number of reasons. Essentially, however, the adoption of these two frameworks both stimulates—and reflects—Western concerns over the burgeoning dominance and imperial power of Asian states. Therefore, the coded use of these ideas is a contributing factor in the reframing and containment of China; a debate in which other non-Western states are also invested. Essentially, it signifies the acknowledgement of an emerging multipolar world and an opposition to the rapid hegemonic movement away from global US security domination. To an extent, it also marks the emergence of a more fixed American global identity as an ‘Indo-Pacific’ force, as it continues to ‘pivot’ further from the Greater Middle East. The resurgence of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept brings up a critical point: that the dangerous temptation to solely embrace abstract state-centric geopolitical visions over a nuanced, complex insight and analysis of global politics, especially during periods of rapid geopolitical transition, demands further inquiry. Without ­minim­iz­ing the dominance of nation-states, there are other ways of examining concepts of ‘place’ and ‘space’ within a more international, globalized context— that is, the revival of geo-economic regionalisms. Regions, regionalisms, and regionalizations are, simultaneously, a direct consequence of globalization—as well as an opposition to it. Historically, regions have comprised the global order (and non-systems), but we must remember that in this increasingly translateralist

The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific. Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley, Oxford University Press (2019). © Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739524.001.0001


The US ‘ Pivot ’ in the Indo-Pacific  69 world, the notion of ‘region’ has systematically become a tool to defy the power and existence of any standard model of macro geopolitics. The US sometimes construes the Indo-Pacific as a super-region but, ambiguously, the Indo-Pacific has also been envisioned (particularly during the Obama years) in the reverse: as a non-region, or liquid continuum which denies the presence of the formal politics or histories etched on maps by nation-states. Rather, in these super/non-regions, the US feels entitled to freely move through time and place; national and regional perimeters are either ignored or traversed. The continuum is thus a globally referent object of security. In this view, flows, routes, and sea lanes have now replaced the preservation and securitization of borders, and are vital in securing geo-economic spaces in a more fluid and time-oriented way (Ryan 2013). Unlike conventional nation-statist regions, this particular manner of securitizing space as non-region is more sporadic and temporal. It is often ridiculous, therefore, to talk of nation-statist positions, as if they were rational, enduring, coherent, and singular. As will be demonstrated, in the case of the US, these positions—and regimes—change and evolve over time. Put simply, networks within nation-states are often at loggerheads with each other. Also, nation-states often act outside of rational statecraft for purposes of domestic gain. Finally, statecraft is frequently irrational and, despite realist and pluralist political claims, does not necessarily serve the interests of its people. But, still, nation-statist positions provide us with the shorthand language necessary to ­discuss contested ideological and strategic positions.

Geopolitical Transitions, Realist Traditions, and Critical Geopolitics of ‘Fear’ In recent times, the US has been reviewing the strategic significance of the Indian Ocean region. In part, this is due to the growth of numerous non-traditional threats, as well as China and India’s increasing economic and military standing in the region, both of which pose serious threats and opportunities to the US. According to Pan (2014), the Indo-Pacific is a manufactured super-region designed to hedge an emerging China, deriving principally from the geopolitical imaginings of ‘the Quad’: the US, Australia, Japan, and India. In the case of the US, Pan points to the recurrent geopolitical imagination underpinning US foreign policy, predicated on the idea that the Americans are ‘children of freedom’ who cannot be safe unless a living space for freedom is created and maintained—a form of geopolitical idealism which becomes translated into an imperial sovereignty over an expansive geopolitical space. This national premium put on ‘living space’ harks back to the work of Karl Haushofer and Friedrich Ratzel, whose concept of lebensraum (utilized by Nazi


70  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific doctrine in order to justify territorial expansion) is thoroughly discussed in Chapter 3. Ellen Churchill Semple, one of Ratzel’s American protégés, introduced the ideas of the German geopoliticians through their work and teachings at the University of Chicago and Clark University (Tambs 2002: ix). Semple argued that the most ‘important geographical fact in the past history of the United States has been their location on the Atlantic opposite Europe; and the most important geographical fact in lending a distinctive character to their future history will prob­ ably be their future location on the Pacific opposite Asia’ (Semple  1933: 1; see Chapter  3). Since the US has been undertaking a re-evaluation of the strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region, both Obama and later Trump have thus adopted modern forms of lebensraum, which afford ample space for its own citizens, yet allow movement to infringe upon those of others. In a post-Cold War US, there are three major intersecting and competing strands of ‘Indo-Pacific’: geo-economic, geopolitical, and geostrategic. The goal of global commerce and advantageous trade networks in a neo-liberal, globalized world requires both a ‘friction-free’ space, also referred to as ‘the commons’, as well as territorialized metageographical ‘spheres’ and ‘enclosures’ of influence. ‘Enclosures’ are utilized for ‘appropriate’ military-strategic codes in order to ‘secure’ these flows, agreements, and collaborations among the like-minded. This raises several key questions. The first is whether the Indo-Pacific is the geo­pol­it­ ical space to which the waning superpower of the US would like to pivot, in order to benefit its own economic and security interests. Moreover, through the use of various military strategies, will the US continue to retain the Cold War demarcation of ‘sea’ versus ‘land’, but also manage to introduce the ‘air’ and ‘space’ power dimensions in a significant role as well? As Michael Mastanduno points out (1998: 854), the ‘strategic urgency and uncertainty perceived by US officials in the early Cold War setting led them to integrate economic and security policies’. US officials thus aimed to construct an ‘international order, and economic instruments and relationships that were a vital part of that undertaking’. By the mid-1960s, Mastanduno argues that the US was in a difficult position regarding ‘foreign economic policy at the service of national security strategy’. He states that this was a consequence of the structural restrictions as a result of the bipolar state of affairs and the fact that ‘security allies’ had become ‘economic competitors’. According to Mastanduno, who comprehends a world where the Cold War actually concluded (see Chapter 4), the ‘emergence of a unipolar structure’ once more provided US officials with the resources to shape and define a new global order. He states that: ‘the integration of economic and security policy’ is critical in this context as it occurred during the formative years of the Cold War. He makes a crucial point here: that is, the integration of geoeconomics and geostrategy towards a ‘grand strategy of preserving preponderance’ could be challenging in the ‘absence of central strategic threat and in the face of forces in domestic society’. Mastanduno adds that these forces are liable to


The US ‘ Pivot ’ in the Indo-Pacific  71 either extricate the US from a ‘global role’ or rather to ‘mobilise its power in the pursuit of more particularistic political and economic objectives’ (1998). It is critical to be aware that this ‘grand strategy of preserving preponderance’ during the Cold War was geopolitically configured, defined, and militarily op­er­ ation­al­ized by the US. This was constructed on both essentialist and constructivist terms of conflict: namely, binaries of sea/maritime power (that is, the US) and the menacing Other (Soviet Union) as the land/continental power. As argued by Montgomery (2013: 80), the US has typically been a ‘maritime power’ or at least since the ‘late nineteenth century when it firmly established its dominance over North America’. As a consequence, he states that the US became more ‘dependent on overseas markets for economic growth’ as well as colonizing parts of the Caribbean and the western Pacific region. China, on the other hand, has ‘his­tor­ic­ al­ly been a continental power’ which has concerned itself with threats from its borders and civil conflicts, despite the country’s formative interests in maritime exploration and commerce. These dynamics, however, are in rapid transition. Although the US maintains its supreme maritime power on a global level, the two adjoining Asian continental powers (India and China) are gradually building formidable sea powers of their own. As China and India progressively bolster their maritime strengths, this has enabled the revival of classical geopolitical frameworks. It has also forced strategic communities on an international scale to consider whether the IndoPacific should be viewed as a solely maritime theatre, founded on essentialist concepts of ‘one sea’, or whether it should be expanded to include continental (and even more recently, upper atmospheric) power. Indeed, as China is developing its military prowess, the US is concerned that this will affect its ‘ability to move with relative impunity throughout the maritime region’ of the Indo-Pacific (Stuart  2012: 213). Moreover, as China works on its anti-access and area-denial capabilities, allied forces of the US may become sceptical as to whether Washington is ‘willing and able to back up its security commitments’ (Stuart 2012). As a consequence, the Pentagon has formed a new operational concept of AirSea Battle to direct the ‘development and deployment of systems’ capable of ‘networked, integrated attack-in depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat . . . A2/AD threats’. The Pentagon’s AirSea Battle Office has stated that this is not a plan targeted at ‘any particular adversary’ (Stuart  2012). Numerous analysts, however, have indicated that it is specifically aimed at China: ‘the pivot to Asia is also a pivot to air-and sea-focused military strategies’ (Strategic Comments 2012: 2).

The Obama Pivot, Zones, and the ‘Liquid Continuum’ During the Obama administration in the US, the 60th anniversary Ausmin meeting in San Francisco in September 2011 is considered to have been the ‘pivot point’


72  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific at which both Australia and the US embarked on their aim ‘to redefine their region not as the Asia-Pacific, but as the Indo-Pacific’ (Sheridan  2011b). This was also evident in the first US–Japan–India trilateral meeting, which took place in Washington in December 2011. The purpose of the meeting was to ­provide the first step towards ‘the process of operationalising Indo-Pacific cooperation as a seamless construct in areas such as maritime security ­cooperation, counterterrorism, counter-piracy, counter-proliferation, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance’ (Hindustan Times 2011) and climate change (Chaturvedi and Doyle 2015). According to John Agnew (2012: 1), as the US redefined its security policy, certain analysts and policy-makers may be tempted to minimize or simplify the sheer complexity of not only the China–US relationship, but also the ‘region of sub-regions’ defined as the ‘Asia-Pacific’. Agnew is justified in stating that these grand geopolitical tropes incline towards reinforcing the big-power mentality at the ‘expense of more “lowly” actors’, and ‘reflect an obsession with grand “turning points’ in history” ’ as opposed to evolutionary change over a longer period of time. Furthermore, this triangular interplay between space, scale, and power takes on a further depth and complexity when ‘Asia’ is replaced by ‘Indo’ (referring in this case to the Indian Ocean), in the imaginative geographies of the IndoPacific region (Chaturvedi and Doyle 2015). Derek Gregory (2004: 17) argues that perhaps we ‘might think of imaginative geographies as fabrications, a word that usefully combines “something fictionalised” and “something made real” because they are imaginations given substance’. He adds that imaginative geographies simultaneously conjure up ‘representations of other places, of peoples and landscapes, cultures and “natures” that articulate the desires, fantasies and fears of their authors’ as well as the ‘grids of power between them and their “Others” ’ (Gregory 2004: 369). Therefore, the numerous ways in which the imaginations of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ are being constructed by these authors requires in-depth critical examination. There is a continuity across imaginative geographies of the Indo-Pacific region, present in the ‘pivoting’ idea outlined by the Obama administration. Namely, the increasing fear that ‘China’s rise will transform’ the international context of military-strategic equations and drastically alter the ‘values that will govern the global community’ in the following decade (Nolan 2012: 5). This seeming paranoia, which has been exacerbated by the recent incidents in the South China Sea, must be mitigated by an in-depth analysis which fully grasps and reiterates the fundamental complexity of the modern international political economy. According to Nolan, this fear is often stimulated by a lack of knowledge and China has ‘not yet bought the world’ and demonstrates ‘little sign of doing so in future’ (2012: 143). Obama’s definition of what constituted the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region was so broad that, on occasions, it makes the concept of ‘region’ seem futile. As discussed elsewhere, this idea aligns with the US’s enduring and shrewd ‘anti-region’ diplomatic


The US ‘ Pivot ’ in the Indo-Pacific  73 strategy (Buzan 1998: 84–5). By categorizing itself within the same camp as other super-regions such as the Atlantic, the Asia-Pacific, and the Americas, this both legitimizes US intrusions into these respective borders, as well as grants it influence over the formation of regional groups that exclude it. Interestingly, the map of the Indo-Pacific charted under Obama went from the east coast of Africa to the western Pacific (with the exception of China). In Obama’s map, the US is positioned outside of the ‘region’—thus ignoring more traditional notions of region— imagining the Indo-Pacific instead as a liquid continuum. This Mare Nullius approach thus framed the Indo-Pacific region as a place of free trade under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). By ‘free’, of course, we mean that the region was still dominated and secured by the US through its protection of sea lanes of trade and communication. Therefore, in this vein, the US was outside of the Indo-Pacific zone: an interloper, coming and going as it pleased, much like its programmes undertaken in Antarctica (denying all national claims, thus providing access to all areas). As the US clings desperately to its position of dominance, albeit with a depleted budget and within a complex and ever shifting geostrategic tug of war, the US has been forced to respond in myriad forms. Under Obama, defence spending diminished from approximately 60 per cent to 20 per cent of all US resources. Therefore, the US was no longer able to singularly engage in (or afford) conventional ­geostrategic games. As opposed to the Cold War, whereby these boundaries were (quite literally) more visible, this newer geostrategic game is more fluid, temporal, and multifaceted. The Obama administration globalized and deterritorialized (even, when convenient for the perpetrators, post-politicized) established peripheries outside its borders. In turn, its own margins were reinforced, politicized, and securitized in a traditionally realist manner. Numerous geopolitical and historical narratives are pertinent to this discussion. For example, by securing its trade routes on seaways, landways, and airspace, the US military under Obama is reminiscent of the anti-bellum cavalry. These routes protected the paths of migration of the early white settlers as they travelled across the plains of the homeland from east to west. These tropes of the Western imagination arise when we consider the Indo-Pacific space as yet another ‘push to the west’ (beyond the frontier of California). Essentially, the US naval and air forces are ‘riding with the wagons’ to escape the ‘barbarism’ and ‘savagery’ of ‘the natives’, who have already been deprived of their livelihoods (Doyle 2016). At this current moment in global colonialism, no ‘agreement’ is required as sovereign space does not exist beyond the borders of the homeland, the national peripheries of temporary ‘burden sharers’, and the drifting trade routes they protect. This entitlement to—and intrusion upon—the commons is thus justified by the doctrine of Neo-Mare Nullius. As the US’s financial and military dominance wanes, the state appears to be adopting certain tactics historically utilized by comparatively powerless minorities. In order to defeat Goliath (alternatively,


74  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific China) the traditional means of land combat with established battle lines can only result in the total destruction of US forces. The shift from land to the realms of sea and air are partly a reaction to this. Being able to enter (and eventually retreat) any conflict at will—by securing their routes of commerce at particular times of passage—the US military, often in the form of ‘Navy Seals’, assumes a more guerrilla-like, terrorist-like structure. This calls to mind the Naxalites of the South Asian forests protecting their roads as their enemies invade their domain, attacking in relative darkness and then receding. Therefore, under the Obama administration, the Asia-Pacific rebalance re­aligned US strategy in Asia, representing the emergence of a super-region in US strategic thinking. The American military adopted some of the language of the Indo-Pacific without ever endorsing it wholeheartedly, maintaining fluidity around the geographical frame of the new super-region that was emerging in its strategic view. Accordingly, the United States of America Department of Defense Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy August 2015 referred to the area subject to its interest in an intriguing way. While the title of the document refers to ‘Asia-Pacific’ maritime security, it also referred to ‘maritime Asia’ ­several times, and its introduction began: ‘The United States has enduring economic and security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. And because the region—stretching from the Indian Ocean, through the South and East China Seas, and out to the Pacific Ocean—is primarily water, we place a premium on maintaining maritime peace and security’ (United States of America Department of Defense 2015: 1). The maritime military modernization rise of China ‘designed to counter US military technology’ was clearly the centrepiece of this document (United States of America Department of Defense 2015a: 10–11). Its maritime security strategy to achieve US objectives in the Asia-Pacific was thus pithily summarized in one, subsequently much repeated phrase: ‘The Department will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows’ (United States of America Department of Defense 2015a: 19). The geographical panorama of this document extended throughout the western Pacific to include Australia, flowing through the South China Sea, the straits of Malacca, and to the Bay of Bengal. India, with its ‘Look East’ policy, was referenced to as being potentially ‘a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond’ (United States of America Department of Defense 2015a: 28). Nowhere in the document was Africa mentioned, however, nor indeed any of the Indian Ocean island states. The cartography here is very similar to the Asian ‘new regionalism’ concept of ‘maritime Asia’ as outlined by Ellen Frost (Frost 2008). The thrust of the Department of Defense’s efforts in the Maritime Security Strategy of 2015 was to strengthen military capacity in ‘maritime Asia’ by means of redeployment and an increase of assets in the Pacific region. These included comprehensive weapons modernization with a heavy emphasis on robotics, drones,


The US ‘ Pivot ’ in the Indo-Pacific  75 cyber-surveillance, and big data; enhancing US ‘defensive posture’ by ‘forward balancing’ across the western Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean using Singapore as a key hub; building the maritime capacity of allies to address maritime challenges; leveraging military diplomacy efforts to reduce risk; and strengthening regional security institutions and mechanisms. The rebalance was about network-building (security cooperation; enhanced role of multilateral institutions such as ASEAN and IORA; building capacity in Southeast Asia) and forward diplomacy and improving relations with emerging powers (that is, China and India). The reorientation of military resources away from NATO and the Middle East formed part of a deliberate effort to enlist target states to share the burden in addressing security challenges, and to institutionalize relationships in the Asia-Pacific. This seemed to be vital given the budgetary constraints the US military was operating under (US Department of Defense 2014). Enhancing US ‘force projection’ implied having a more mobile, flexible military with dominance in air and sea (a move away from land-based engineering projects and counterinsurgency). It also meant ‘enhanced presence’ by means of more frequent port visits around the Indian Ocean region and the rotation of troops out of bases such as Darwin, Australia. The ‘Asia-Pacific’ concept had now been ‘stretched’ to mean the ‘Indo-Pacific’ or ‘maritime Asia’ and to include whatever countries the US were currently enlisting as its security partners. Its geographical rebalance had to operate not just in terms of redistribution of resources, but also its defence posture had to be pol­it­ic­ al­ly sustainable, hence the focus on diplomacy. However, the pivot or rebalance also relied heavily on geo-economics, heavily centred on the TPP and ‘hub and spoke’ multilateralism. In June 2015, the then US defense secretary, Ash Carter, delivered an address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a security summit held annually in Singapore. In his speech, Carter articulated the US vision for a stronger regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific to address shared challenges (Carter 2015). The speech was heavily optimistic, idealistic, and aspirational about how the security relationship with the US was a win-win strategy ‘good for the region and good for all our countries’ if they all came together developing new forms of cooperation behind shared interests. Carter announced that part of the strengthening of ASEAN’s role in the security agenda would involve sending a new US defence advisor to ASEAN to improve humanitarian, disaster response, and ­maritime security coordination. Carter also reiterated the importance of the TPP, which he had already described in an earlier speech at Arizona State University in April 2015 as being ‘as important as another aircraft carrier’. At this time, he had argued that ‘other countries in the region’ were already forging trade agreements of their own, ‘some based on pressure and special arrangements rather than openness and prin­ ciple . . . That risks America’s access to these growing markets, and it risks regional instability’ (Parameswaran 2015).


76  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Finally, at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Carter also clearly indicated the degree of effective long-range military dominance over the strategic space, based on its dominance of early warning systems, surveillance, and stealth technologies: The Department is investing in the technologies that are most relevant to this complex security environment, such as new unmanned systems for the air and sea, a new long-range bomber, and new technologies like the electromagnetic railgun, lasers and new systems for space and cyberspace, including a few surprising ones. As the United States develops new systems, DoD will continue to bring the best platforms and people forward to the Asia-Pacific, such as the latest Virginiaclass submarines, the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft, the newest stealth destroyer, the Zumwalt, and brand-new carrier-based E-2D Hawkeye early-warning-and-control aircraft.

The speech, therefore, conflated geo-economics, geopolitics, military dominance, forward diplomacy, and liberal ideation. The fluid cartography underpinning this US strategic vision is what permitted the ‘liquid continuum’ of US strategic control under the Obama administration. This strategic vision was never without its critics, and even the US military establishment knew that it could not rely heavily, let alone entirely, on its traditional allies in South and Southeast of Asia. In testimony to the US Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015, Admiral Harris, then head of PACOM, responded to Senator John Cain’s probing about what ‘freedom of navigation’ and other options were available to test the twelve mile nautical limit being applied by China in the South China Sea. While declaring that there were options involving Pacific and Indian Ocean allies, he appeared to be under no illusions, conceding ‘We may to have to fight alone’ (US Senate Armed Services Committee 2015). As mentioned previously in this chapter, when the Indo-Pacific is seen as a  ‘super-region’, ‘maritime commons’, or ‘the continuum’, this allows globally ­dominant powers to ‘access all areas’ when they see this as convenient. Framing the Indo-Pacific as a super-region, or non-region, in fact rejects the existence of regions as drawn on maps, or types of regionalism which are essentialist in the sense of definitive borders (as in some countries, some peoples live geo­graph­ic­ al­ly close to others). Obama’s continuum denied any ‘special relationship’ forged between these neighbouring groups of people. If such a relationship is an obstacle to the flow of trade routes or communication necessary to secure the homeland, then it will be dispersed. Indeed, this presents the critical disparity between a vision of the Indo-Pacific from the perspective of a superpower, in comparison to the gaze of smaller or middle powers. Moving away from the geopolitical and geostrategic lens, Barry Ryan analyses the governance aspects of US ‘territorializing’ of oceanic space. In the context of a


The US ‘ Pivot ’ in the Indo-Pacific  77 US proposition to provide maritime security sector reform in Africa, Ryan argues that ‘zoning’ and ‘routing’ mapping practices are being deployed by the US to undermine the protections that zoning was designed to provide the Global South against the Global North. Zoning territorializes space and therefore allows property claims. Zoning does not necessarily need to impede routes, movement, or freedom of traffic (insofar as it is used as a cartographic mechanism to facilitate the collection of maritime data). However, as Schofield notes, there has been a boom in cartographic zoning of exclusive economic zones, with half of the world’s coastal states being in the process of delineating continental shelf limits at the time of writing (Schofield 2015: 275). The increasing interest in blue economy in the Indian Ocean adds a certain urgency to the endeavour. In addition to this economic incentive for zoning, however, Ryan notes a marked uptick in inter­ nation­al naval military presence in the western Indian Ocean, such that security and commercial actors have become enmeshed (Ryan 2013: 178). The contours of the region are therefore defined by the security considerations of the US and its allies. The maritime security sector reform, he argues, is a governance mechanism being deployed to apply a ‘security infrastructure around future strategic routes in the Indian Ocean’ (Ryan 2013: 180). However, zoning and routing practices buttress and support each other in the US strategic calculus. There are zoned maritime borders with military/strategic use (notably the British and French colonial holdings), which had been used by the US in the so-called ‘War on Terror’, which allowed the US to establish a chain of naval command across the Indian Ocean from East to West. Benjamin Schreer (2017) argues that the US East Asia strategy has long been informed by classical geopolitical thinking, consisting of control of the ‘rimland’ by means of partnerships, bases, and access arrangements with key allies, and the Mahanian approach of maintaining the US as the dominant maritime power. Since the mid-1980s, however, America’s defensive line has expanded. Despite calls from some quarters for the US to abandon control of the Asian ‘rimland’, or calls to move to an ‘offshore balancing’ strategy (whereby US forces withdraw from most of the Asia-Pacific and project power from continental US and Pacific territories), when the challenge came in the Pacific, the strategic impulse was to push the American defensive line forward (Schreer 2017: 13). The US responded to suggestions of Chinese spheres of interest in the area with an ‘archipelagic defense strategy’, deploying more strategic assets along the first island chain and strengthening defence relations with its allies on the Asian rimland.

The Trumpian Turn: Alliances Rather Than Zones Since Donald Trump was elected at the end of 2016, a number of critical changes have occurred. The Indo-Pacific has shifted from the ‘liquid continuum’ of the


78  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific





Figure 5.1.  Map of Indo-Pacific under Obama and before

Obama era to a more heavily demarcated oceanic space, which has split the Indian Ocean in two (Figure 5.1). The language of the Trump administration still rings with the neo-liberal, ‘open-space’ rhetoric of the Obama era. For example, a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’ has been launched in order to provide an alternative to China’s BRI initiative through ‘free, fair and reciprocal trade’ and ‘open infrastructure and investment’ in the region (Tillett 2018). But the under­ lying geopolitics and the construction of region are very different. The Pentagon has formally renamed the Pacific Command, their oldest and largest military command established after World War II, as the Indo-Pacific Command. Former defence secretary, Jim Mattis, justified this decision by stating that ‘over many decades this command has repeatedly adapted to changing circumstance and today carries that legacy forward as America focuses west’. He added that the US needs to ‘reflect enduring defence engagement in the Indian Ocean’ (Medcalf 2018a; SBS News, 31 May 2018). Indeed, in this recent conceptualization of the Indo-Pacific, the map is ‘lifted’ and moved east (Figure  5.2). Significantly, maritime Africa slides off the edge in this geopolitical-tectonic movement, and crashes back into the Atlantic and western Indian Oceans. Conveniently, however, the westernmost boundary salutes the rise of India as a special security partner of the US. Perhaps even more importantly, the eastern boundary now falls just off the Californian coast. In this ‘lurch to the east’, the Indo-Pacific is now at the doorstep of the US homeland, and thus the US is no longer an outsider—but part of it (of course, the homeland, Northcom, is an entity, a region in its own right, outside of all alien zones). Here, the liquidity of the super-/non-region under Obama


The US ‘ Pivot ’ in the Indo-Pacific  79

Figure 5.2.  Map of Indo-Pacific under Trump Source: USPACOM website

becomes more solid—in line with more traditional and realist concepts of territory. The Indo-Pacific doctrine becomes a Monroe doctrine; not to the south, but to the west. The Indo-Pacific now falls into the US’s ‘neighbourhood’. Therefore, whilst Obama’s America was outside of the Indo-Pacific zone, an interloper free to move about in the liquid continuum and intervene as it pleases, Trump’s America is on its very shores. Therefore, the Trump administration’s sometimes discordant behaviour in the region has, to some degree, destabilized pre-existing US grand strategy towards Asia. Under Obama, US policy recognized that US hegemony depended upon the capacity to sustain regional order and guarantee the security and prosperity of its Asian partners. Its claim to regional leadership hinged on its capacity to be the provider of collective goods, notably security and prosperity. Trump has since injected a high degree of uncertainty into US foreign policy and trade. Trump’s transactional approach to relationships and his comprehensive jettisoning of the TPP were the opening salvos. He did not appear at the East Asia Summit (though he is not the first US president to sidestep it). Freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea did not take place at all during the first four months of Trump’s presidency, despite the US Pacific Command’s


80  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific proposals to do so at least three times (Chubb, 2017). The initial concern was that Trump’s withdrawal from the pivot allows China space to become a dominant if not hegemonic player in the region by means of initiatives such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, and BRI. China thus emerges as an alternative multilateral provider of security cooperation by means of its co-leadership (with Russia) in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. However, freedom of navigation operations did resume in May, June, and August of 2017 though this could be interpreted as a mechanism to exert leverage over China in relation to North Korea’s nuclear testing programme. The hub-andspoke alliance system is not easily reproducible by China, and the Trump administration continues to use the language of the ‘Indo-Pacific’. In November 2017, Trump explicitly outlined his Indo-Pacific strategy for the first time, during his visit to Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation summit. Trump stated the importance of free and fair trading and infrastructure from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (Ayres 2018). He also reiterated the significant role of law, civilian rights, and freedom of navigation. Trump’s speech, however, was lacking in any concrete details as to how the US would implement these strategies, nor in indicating how these policies were any different from the previous administration’s efforts. The US’s nebulous approach to the Indo-Pacific region has since been somewhat consolidated by the revolving door of secretaries of state: Rex Tillerson and more recently Michael Pompeo. Tillerson’s speech in October 2017 emphasized the ongoing strategic partnership and collaboration between the US and India and their commonality of interests. The talk was very much a continuation and reaffirmation of earlier Obama US discourse, including the commitment to a rules-based international order. The speech was heavy on Indo-Pacific references, and was strongly directed to enlisting Indian support in an evolving Indo-Pacific architecture of coordination, with a particular eye to the issue of collaboration against terrorism (in keeping with the president’s alleged South Asia strategy). Tillerson emphasized the importance of the Delhi–Washington alliance, stating that ‘Indians and Americans don’t just share an affinity for democracy. We share a vision for the future.’ A future, it seems, which will be dedicated to a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific region, whilst keeping a watchful eye over what he termed China’s ‘provocative actions’ in the South China Sea, which he states are ‘directly challeng[ing] the international law and norms that the United States and India both stand for’ (US Department of State 2017a: 3). Tillerson stressed the im­port­ance of India and the US working together on strategies to combat China’s BRI initiative. In a briefing on April 2018, Alex Wong, the deputy assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, then finally defined the Free and


The US ‘ Pivot ’ in the Indo-Pacific  81 Open Indo Pacific Strategy in (slightly) more specific terms. Wong first outlined the ‘free’ aspect of the Trump administration’s approach to the region: So by free we mean, first of all, the international plane. We want the nations of the Indo-Pacific to be free from coercion, that they can pursue in a sovereign manner the paths they choose in the region. Secondly, we mean at the national level, we want the societies of the various societies of the various Indo-Pacific countries to become progressively more free—free in terms of fundamental rights, in terms of transparency and anti-corruption.  (Wong 2018: 2)

Wong then went on to outline what ‘open’ entails: By open, we first and foremost mean open sea lanes of communication and open airways. These open sea lines of communication are truly the lifeblood of the region. And if you look at world trade, with 50 percent of trade going through the Indo-Pacific along the sea routes, particularly through the South China Sea, open sea lanes and open airways in the Indo-Pacific are increasingly vital and important to the world.  (Wong 2018: 2–3)

Wong also extended the definition of ‘open’ to infrastructure, investment, and of course open and ‘free, fair, and reciprocal trade’, which he states is something the US has been behind for decades. He is careful, however, to reiterate that the Free and Open Indo Pacific Strategy is not merely a reaction to China, arguing that the Indo-Pacific region is ‘much larger than China’ with the ASEAN states com­prom­ is­ing 600 million people and India 1.2 billion people. Nevertheless, Wong makes sure not to exclude China—or at least overtly: If the US, together with our partners, can sew together and unify all the peoples of the Indo-Pacific—China included—under a vision that is free and open, that prizes free market economics, sovereignty, increasingly freer people and nations free from coercion, that’s not just to the US’ benefit, that’s to the benefit of all nations in the Indo-Pacific, China included.  (Wong 2018: 10)

By continuing to sell the Indo-Pacific in neo-liberal terms as being a ‘free’ and ‘open’ geo-economic zone in its own right seems wildly contradictory to the neomercantilist policies of Trump’s ‘America First’ administration. With the tariffs on China increasing at an alarming rate, as well as US attempts to co-opt the IndoPacific region as a trade alternative to China’s BRI, Trump has undoubtedly shifted from the neo-liberal imaginations of the Obama administration towards a more economic-nationalist discourse.


82  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Dean P. Chen (2018a) even likens Trump’s neo-mercantilism to a former populist president from the nineteenth century, Andrew Jackson. Chen argues that Trump’s embracing of ‘militant nationalism, commercial mercantilism, and unilateralist diplomacy’ all follow the Jacksonian tradition as his administration pursues a more ‘mercantilist relationship’ with its trading partners, a unilateralist approach to international allies; treaties and institutions (evident in the pulling out of the TPP and the Paris Climate Accord) as well as a ‘promised land’ approach instead of a ‘crusading’ democratic promotion’ or ‘nation-building abroad to strengthen US security interests’ (Chen 2018a: 890). He states that the Jacksonians differ from the Wilsonians as they lack the ethos of respecting Chinese national unity, and of building constructive and economic connections within a greater multilateral international system. Although Chen is careful to point out that Jacksonian America is not isolationist, per se, they are firmly of the belief that Washington must only interfere on a global scale when it is advantageous to America’s interests, and not for ‘some highly moralistic mission to transform the world’ (Chen 2018a: 890). The perceived benefits of such neo-mercantilist policies were further reinforced by secretary of state Michael Pompeo in July 2018. Pompeo repeatedly referred to the economic benefits for the ‘people at home’ of the Indo-Pacific strategy. He stated that a strategic investment in deeper engagement with the Indo-Pacific represents ‘growing our own economy and creating jobs at home’ (Tillett 2018). Pompeo is careful to remind people, however, that the US is seeking ‘partnership’ and ‘not domination’ in the Indo-Pacific. Despite this, Pompeo makes several veiled references to China ‘flexing its military muscles in the region’ (Indian Express, 30 July 2018). He states that ‘we will have and will never seek domination in the IndoPacific’ yet the US would unequivocally ‘oppose any country that would’. Indeed, Brian Hook, a senior policy advisor to Pompeo, remarked that the US vision of the ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ does ‘not exclude any nation’ (Tillett 2018). He added that the Trump administration ‘welcome[s] contributions by China to regional development’ as long as they ‘adhere to the high standards’ as well as to ‘uphold areas such as transparency, rule of law and sustainable financing’. Contrary to Pompeo’s references to China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea over recent years, Hook reiterates that the US involvement in the Indo-Pacific is not in order to supersede China’s BRI, which he states is merely ‘China’s way of doing things . . . It is a made in China, made for China initiative’. The US government is to keep its role ‘very modest’ and is solely focused on ‘helping businesses to do what they do best’—namely, offering US$113 million towards regional investments such as digital connectivity, infrastructure, and energy in the Indo-Pacific region.

Conclusion Essentially, the Trumpian turn towards the Indo-Pacific has retained, on o ­ ccasions, the neo-liberal jargon of its predecessor, but this ‘free’ and ‘open’ strategy towards


The US ‘ Pivot ’ in the Indo-Pacific  83 ‘rebuilding’ and investing in the region has shifted beyond the realm of the free market and towards a neo-mercantilist state, with its first (and perhaps only) priority being economic and national security for the US. Therefore, the Trump administration has constructed the Indo-Pacific in a geo-political sense, which exists to serve the economic, military, and national interests of the US—thus fulfilling Trump’s ‘America First’ promises. Under Trump, the Indo-Pacific has been refashioned as a definitive alliance, rather than the fluid zone it was under Obama. In Trump’s Indo-Pacific, lesser states have been designated as either being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of this US-centred alliance—battle and trading lines are now more clearly visible. The ‘liquid continuum’ of the Obama era has not, however, entirely been washed away: this is merely yet another layer that has been added to the palimpsest of the grand narrative of the Indo-Pacific region, which is continuously being reshaped and reconstructed by numerous nation-states both inside and outside the region. Harking back to the Cold War era, however, the Indian Ocean is now becoming a heavily demarcated space, split into more traditional territories and divided among a coalition of states. The increasing militarization of the IndoPacific has also forced smaller powers within the region to ‘pick sides’ between the two dominant forces of China and the US. With the establishment of new boundaries and territories, Africa and many others with close ties to China have since been pushed out of the zone, and California has been pulled in. The geog­ raphy of the new ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ as outlined by Pompeo in his speech included only thirteen states: Australia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. He stated that these countries were the power players and future engines of the world economy. Notably, the Australian government’s maps of more cooperative and liberal models of Obamian Indo-Pacifism now also trumpet Trump’s simpler and more brutal territorial maps of control and future war games. Indeed, Australia’s approach to a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific region, as outlined in the most recent white paper, parrots these sentiments, emphasizing the ‘crucial importance’ of free and open trade and investment, and the ‘direct connection between economic prosperity and strategic stability’. Despite also outlining that Australia wishes to ‘avoid strategic rivalry rather than fuel it’, this Indo-Pacific seismic shift to the east demands that Australia commits to ‘one side, or the other’. The contents of the white paper, however, both reaffirm Australia’s alliance with the US, in order to ‘deepen our alliance cooperation and encourage the strongest possible economic and security engagement’ in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as ‘strengthening our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China’ in order to ‘pursue extensive bilateral interests’ (Australian Foreign Policy White Paper 2017). Despite this, however, no longer can the liberal argument be sustained that the China and US relationships are both differentiated but important. All countries across the region are being coerced tonow take sides on a massive parcheesi board: Africa falls to


84  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific BRICS and China, as does Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and many others. This was made abundantly clear at the BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa in July 2018. Regarding the current polarization and simplification of trade policy, it was stated that: ‘Countries have to make decisions about how they want to engage with the wider world. Do they want an economy that is inclusive, outward looking, and open to investment? Or do they want to embrace mercantilist policies of protectionism and isolationism? The BRICS countries have given a clear answer’ (China Media Group, Mercury, 30 July 2018: 7). On the other side of the coin, Australia, India, Vietnam, Japan, and Indonesia have become variably a part of the Trumpian Indo-Pacific Alliance—in a clear battle for ports and forts in this regional oceansphere. In a somewhat bizarre development, however, under Trump, the IndoPacific is now being touted as a ‘zone’ for space. As the region becomes more solidified as a traditional ‘land-based’ territory, which includes not only land and sea, it has also jumped to the place above these: a delineated ‘zone’ pegged out directly above ‘in space’—a Monrovian doctrine or lebensraum projected into the heavens. A 2018 conference in Perth, Australia, entitled ‘The Zone Above: The Indo-Pacific Era in Space’, delved into the role of the Indo-Pacific region and its strategic partners in space exploration and policy (University of Western Australia 2018). In the wake of the establishment of the Australian Space Agency, and in collaboration with the University of Western Australia, experts were brought together to discuss the issue of security in the Indo-Pacific region, so that the use of the ‘Zone Above’ is ‘free, assured, and secure’. The US and its Indo-Pacific partners are therefore working towards consolidating legal and political frameworks that secure this space, as space technology requires military, intelligence, and civilian applications which require a ‘code of conduct’ in order to maintain trust and collaboration. It seems that the cartographical zoning of the Indo-Pacific is now beyond both land and sea, but has now traversed the stratosphere. In this vein, as is suggested at the beginning of this chapter, the Indo-Pacific is not just about sea, but also about what lies beneath and above the Earth.



The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific Introduction India is clearly central to any meaningful Indo-Pacific concept. However, as an emerging great power, India possesses its own unique set of geo-economic and geostrategic interests, the central focus of which is on the Indian Ocean itself. Post-Cold War strategic dialogues and policies both within India and from the US, however, have exhorted India to Look and Act East not just to the eastern extremities of the Indian Ocean but beyond into the Pacific Ocean. Such initiatives have invariably been couched around arguments of oceanic functional coherence and strategic convergence but have also been justified on geo-economic and national security grounds. The end result is a highly contested view of India’s current and projected future role in the broader Indo-Pacific region. This chapter attempts to critically review these arguments under six broad headings. First is a discussion of the dynamics and dialectics of the various stra­ tegic visions for India. Second is a broad overview of how India views its region as ‘neighbourhood’. Third, India’s Project Mausam is an important attempt to project Indian soft power around the Indian Ocean Rim. The final three sections of the chapter examine the nature of three key sets of Indian geo-economic and geo­pol­ it­ical relationships—India–US relations; relationships between India and Africa; and Iran and Middle East relations with India. To a degree, India’s links to the US have become more prominent in recent years due to a perceived convergence of at least two key sets of strategic interests. The first centres around India’s concern over increasing Chinese influence in its primary region of strategic interest, the Indian Ocean. The second is the US desire to co-opt India to act as another significant Asian counterweight to the geoeconomic and geopolitical rise of China. India’s links with African states are long-standing and relate to the large Indian diaspora in South and East Africa. However, while Africa is perceived as being a constituent of India’s Indian Ocean neighbourhood, since the current cartographic representation of the US version of the Indo-Pacific region has removed it, there appears to be a ‘discontinuity’ in India–US strategic congruity. The Middle East represents a critical region of geo-economic and geopolitical concern for India, especially from the viewpoint of energy and remittances. The US ‘pivot’ away from the Middle East has thus placed greater emphasis on a regional Indian involvement in capacity building and in security cooperation. The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific. Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley, Oxford University Press (2019). © Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739524.001.0001


86  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific

India’s Post-Cold War ‘Strategic Geographies’ and Geopolitical Visions: Dynamics and Dialectics of ‘Indo-Pacific’ The construct of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a new ‘regional’ entity has been garnering recognition in both the foreign and defence policy institutions in India (Scott 2012: 6–7; Chacko 2014). By drawing out the various theoretical frameworks util­ ized in the construction of the ‘Indo-Pacific’, in Indian discourse the term has more fundamentally ‘realist’ connotations. The emerging Indian narrative on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ necessitates a geohistorical approach for many reasons. Firstly, the need to recognize that despite this being the term of the moment, the essential motivation behind India’s alleged centrality in Asian strategic space is nothing particularly novel in an historical sense. In fact, the Indo-Pacific concept has direct historical connections to Indian nationalism. As mentioned in Chapter  3, Subhas Chandra Bose (considered by many ­scholars as India’s most significant leader aside from Gandhi and Nehru) argued that fascist states such as Germany, Italy, and Japan ought to have been India’s ‘natural allies’ in the face of British imperialism in the late 1930s (Hayes  2011: xxv–xxvi). In 1934, Bose even met Karl Haushofer in Munich and formed an amicable friendship with him in the hope that it might eventuate in a meeting with Hitler himself (Hayes  2011: 3). Two other significant strategic thinkers are essential to note here: Sir Olaf Caroe, who was foreign secretary to Britain’s government of India throughout World War II, and Sardar K. M. Panikkar. Panikkar was the leading strategist on the idea of the Indian Ocean as a ‘closed system’, arguing that India should form a ‘steel ring’ through ‘controlling the farthest reaches of the Indian Ocean’ (Brewster 2017: 275). Both offered geopolitical reasonings and arguments that appear central to the contemporary Indian nascent framings of the Indo-Pacific. With the growing prospect of India’s independence, Sir Olaf Caroe founded a study group in 1942 to examine the strategic needs and the ‘role of an independent India as part of a British-led Commonwealth’ (Brewster 2015: 1). According to Peter John Brobst (2005) this group emphasized on the one hand the ‘concept of India at [the] centre of [an] Asiatic system, as well as a continuation of the Great Game on the other’. Writing in 1955, he argued that: forms change but there is a reality which remains. In terms of international pol­ it­ics today the reality is that, as once in the nineteenth century in Asia, there are now in the whole world two major concentrations of power, one continental, and other a string of like-minded nations linked by the sea. (Cited in Brobst 2005: 145)

A leading member of the viceroy’s study group, Lt General Sir Francis Tuker, expressed the fear that ‘China would ultimately bring its “huge land potential”


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  87 to bear against Southeast Asia, at the expense primarily of India’s maritime security’ (cited in Brobst 2005: 63). China’s dominance of Southeast Asia, he argued, will turn the naval balance further against India. What is noteworthy in the current Indian dialogues on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is that although Tuker and some of his ­colleagues considered China a ‘land and not a maritime power’ they candidly acknowledged its sea traditions and believed that ‘India would best meet any Chinese naval threat in the South China Sea, before it could enter the India Ocean’ (Brobst 2005). Guy Wint, another member of the study group, underlined the strategic importance of Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay for dominating the South China Sea. He also argued that since Vietnam was so central to India’s defence, it would be vital for an independent India to ensure that this undeveloped harbour remain ‘in the hands of a power entirely friendly to India, or of a power without naval ambition’ (cited in Brobst 2005: 64). At one level, this statement that ‘Vietnam was so central to India’s defence’ is remarkable given its location well removed from India’s perceived sphere of ­influence. However, as noted in Chapter 7, Vietnam possesses rank 1 cooperative partnerships with only three Indo-Pacific states—China, India, and Russia— a three-way great power example of mutual interest, competition, and col­lab­or­ation and an example of Vietnam’s unique strategic narrative of ‘multipolar balance’. When the Vietnam relationship with India was elevated to this level as a result of Modi’s visit to Hanoi in September 2016, at that time this was India’s only rank 1 relationship in the region. One of the several reasons why Vietnam is of im­port­ ance to India is that there is considerable Indian investment in Vietnam’s oil and gas sector. In July 2017, Vietnam granted Indian oil firm ONGC Videsh a twoyear extension to explore block 128 located in the disputed South China Sea, much to China’s annoyance (Mourdoukoutas 2017). Caroe and his study group argued that, despite China being a land power, it could realistically aspire to be a credible sea power of potentially ‘threatening’ proportions. This resonates with the concluding paragraph of the widely cited 1904 paper of Halford J. Mackinder entitled ‘The Geographical Pivot of History’ (Mackinder 1904: 437), which reads as follows: In conclusion, it may be well expressly to point out that the sub-situation of some new control of the inland area for that of Russia would not tend to reduce the geographical significance of the pivot position. Were the Chinese, for instance, organized by the Japanese, to overthrow the Russian empire and conquer its territory, they might constitute the Yellow peril to the world’s freedom because they would add an oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage as yet denied to the Russian tenant of the pivot region.  (emphasis supplied)

Caroe’s study group was also extremely influential in post-independence Indian strategic thought. This included India’s most prominent naval strategist,


88  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific K.  M.  Panikkar, who according to Brewster is arguably India’s most ‘influential exponents of geostrategic thinking’ (Brewster  2015: 2). Published in 1945, Panikkar’s text India and the Indian Ocean: An Essay on the Influence of Sea Power on Indian History remains essential reading for Indian naval officers (Brewster 2015: 3). Panikkar espoused British imperial thought regarding India’s need to assert control over the entire Indian Ocean region through the use of ‘maritime chokepoints’ and ‘major ports in between’ (Brewster 2017: 275). According to Panikkar, the ‘Indian Ocean must therefore remain truly Indian’ (cited in Scott  2006: 97). Upon examining the geopolitical treatises of Alfred Thayer Mayan regarding independent India and the Indian Ocean, Panikkar insisted that India’s security was fundamentally bound to those who were controlling this strategic oceanic realm, from the Gulf of Aden on the west to the South China Sea in the east. Panikkar, however, asserted the importance of forward presence and posited that: If a steel ring can be created around India with air and naval bases at suitable points and if within this area so ringed, a navy can be created strong enough to defend its home waters, then the waters vital to India’s security can be protected and converted into an area of safety. With the islands of the Bay of Bengal, with Singapore, Mauritius, and Socotra, properly equipped and protected and with a navy strong enough in its home waters, security can return to that part of the Indian Ocean which is of supreme importance to India.  (Panikkar 1945a: 84–95)

Panikkar thus promoted a system of forward bases at or close by to the Indian chokepoints, such as Singapore, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, and Socotra (near Aden) (Brewster 2017: 275). As opposed to Jawaharlal Nehru, Panikkar did not relegate ‘geopolitics’ to the realm of ‘pseudo-science’. Rather, he recognized its importance as the ‘proper and necessary foundation of foreign policy in an independent India’ (Brobst 2005: 28). Panikkar also predicted the forthcoming issues with independent India’s maritime security, specifically the threats of the Soviet Union and China. Panikkar stated that he ‘feared the United States—with its increasing interest in the shipment of oil from the Persian Gulf—might also emerge as a rival’ (Brobst 2005: 29). If Panikkar looked favourably on this close alliance with Britain as a means to preserve independent India’s maritime security, then it begs the question as to how he would have viewed the current construct of the ‘Indo-Pacific’, as well as the prospect of a partnership with the US. In fact, during the mid-1940s Panikkar had even supported the idea of ‘an international organisation for Indian Ocean security’ that was ‘based on a council of regional powers chaired by India’ whilst still keeping ‘Britain as well as Australia and South Africa in key positions’ (Brobst 2005). According to David Brewster, British imperial perspectives continue to have significant influence on Indian strategic thinking about the Indian Ocean region.


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  89 He elaborates that these perspectives were ‘passed on to an independent India’ in a number of ways and are still present today (Brewster  2015: 221). Brewster explains that these are evident in the ‘popularity’ of geostrategic thought amongst strategic analysts as well as in the ‘habits and practices of the bureaucrats in New Delhi’s South Block’ and through the Indian navy’s ‘cultural inheritance’ from the Royal Imperial Navy. Many contemporary Indian strategic thinkers are also applying the same Indian-Ocean-as-closed-strategic-system as the British Raj, with Panikkar being the exemplar of this Indian maritime geostrategy. Others, such as Brewster, are now striving towards a strategic leadership which is an alternative to this. Brewster argues that there are numerous streams of Indian strategic thinking, but a common denominator of these is the belief that ‘India must become the leading power in the Indian Ocean’ as well as a ‘strong instinct to exclude extra-regional powers’ from the Indian Ocean region (Brewster  2015: 235). Despite most of this debate being centred upon China, he states that in the decades to follow India may also have ‘less patience for the continuing US presence’ (Brewster 2015: 235). Despite the fact that in the years immediately following Indian independence Panikkar’s ideas were mostly sidelined in Indian strategic thought, in recent years this geostrategic tradition has resurfaced in Indian strategic discourse regarding the Indian Ocean region (Brewster 2015: 222). Brewster (2017: 275) adds that this has also influenced India’s ‘particular sensitivity’ regarding their dominance of various ports in the Indian Ocean region, as well as the ‘development of pathways into the hinterland’ which could threaten the ‘closed nature of the system’. Another significant stream of Indian strategic thinking is referred to as ‘India’s Monroe Doctrine’, which had a formative role in strategic thinking in post-independence India. Brewster states that this is more or less a manifestation of South Asia as a ‘single strategic unit’ whereby India has a ‘special role’ as the ‘custodian of regional security’ (2017: 17). This idea is based on the US Monroe Doctrine which was a ‘set of principles’ pronounced by President Monroe in 1823. President Monroe’s aim was to reject ‘new colonial claims of European powers in the Americas’ (2017: 17). The Monroe Doctrine was further shaped by President Roosevelt, who argued that the US may have to act as an ‘international police power’ in order to avoid European nations ‘developing a maritime security presence’ in the US. Although many Indian strategic thinkers refute that a Monroe Doctrine has ever been present in South Asia, Brewster insists that at least a ‘soft’ adaptation of its core ‘spirit’ is nonetheless ‘alive and well in much of Indian stra­ tegic thinking about its neighbourhood’ (2017: 17). Raja Mohan concurs, stating that the Indian adaptation of the Monroe Doctrine has been an ‘article of faith for many in the Indian strategic community’ (Raja Mohan 2012). This premise was undoubtedly linked to British imperialism, as throughout the colonial era, nearly all of India’s neighbouring states were similarly governed by Britain, New Delhi, or were engaged in a ‘protectorate


90  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific relationship’ (Raja Mohan 2012: 227). In this way, a newly independent India was simply taking the lead from Britain that its neighbouring countries would ‘not act inconsistently with its interests’ and thus continuing as if it was entitled to ‘enforce the strategic unity of South Asia’ that had existed ‘under British rule’. India’s leaders drew upon the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ of the US and not the ‘British Imperial precedent’ in order to justify India’s ‘special prerogatives’ over its bordering nations’. This was more ‘ideologically justifiable in a post-colonial world’ (Raja Mohan 2012: 227). Indeed, India’s Monroe Doctrine has significantly contributed to its discourses surrounding the region. Some scholars, however, have insisted that India has now rejected its ‘fundamentally flawed’ argument that ‘extraregional navies’ should retreat from the Indian Ocean, but this remains nebulous, in particular in India’s relation to China (Raja Mohan 2012: 228). Furthermore, Indian Ocean regional concerns over possible Chinese maritime lebensraum have been present since the end of World War II, and derive from a much earlier period of history. Panikkar noted that: It was only the existence of the naval power of the SriVijayas that prevented the Chinese from establishing their authority in the Indonesian Archipelago and as the Portuguese appear soon after the breakdown of Sri Vijaya, the southward expansion of China over oceanic space was shut out. The movement towards the south which is indicated by the significant demography of the area, may, and in all probability will, be reflected in the naval policy of resurgent China. (Panikkar 1945a: 85–6)

Numerous Indian strategic thinkers argue that China has adopted a ‘String of Pearls’ approach—that is, the establishment of a string of naval ports and bases throughout the Indian Ocean region (Brewster  2015: 25). The ‘string of pearls’ strategic narrative, however, was devised in 2005 by an American security analyst to describe what he saw as a planned Chinese threat to states in the Indian Ocean and especially to India. Some scholars argue that this is a ‘Mahanian strategy’ whereby the Chinese navy can protect its trade routes and even eventually ‘dominate’ the Indian Ocean region (Brewster 2017: 277). Conversely, others claim that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army navy only intends on using these ports for ‘limited purposes’. The ‘string of pearls’ strategy developed over the last decade or so is claimed to China forging their own ‘maritime pathway’ across the Indian Ocean. Many believe that this will allow China to become the ‘dominant naval power’ in the region—much like their predecessors, the US and imperial Britain (Brewster 2017: 278). It has been suggested that instead of viewing its naval plans as inherently hostile and expansionist, it is more accurate to describe China’s ambitions as part of a larger strategy that ‘emphasises both offensive and defensive capabilities stretching from the Indian Ocean to the East China Sea’. This framework, which has


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  91 been coined ‘the Bow and Arrow’ strategy, sees the bulk of China’s naval resources devoted to defensive efforts in the South and East China Seas. The Indian Ocean, on the other hand, is of secondary importance and likely to only be a theatre for occasional, limited excursions (Dixon 2014). The charting of Cold War geopolitics (Agnew 2003), which strictly focused on the ‘East–West’ binary, has now receded in some circles (though as argued in Chapter 4 not all circles), and has been replaced by territorialized instability by an increasingly dominant China, concerning the surrounding areas of the South China Sea. Moreover, this has also given rise to deterritorialized security issues such as energy resources and sea lanes, which has rendered the ‘traditional’ geo­ pol­it­ical categorization of the ocean into either the ‘Indian’ or ‘Pacific’ maritime spheres obsolete. Critical to this juncture of history is the new construct of ‘maritime security’ which overlaps both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This new maritime architecture relies on ‘strategic’ and ‘countervailing’ triangular alliances of the like-minded (e.g. US–India–Australia, US–India–Japan) and are able to project power through ‘maritime interoperability’ (Scott 2012; Raja Mohan 2012). As aforementioned in Chapter 2, Sakhuja draws connections between Indian statecraft and theoretical concepts in the time-honoured Indian classic The Arthasastra. This was based on the idea of the Mandala, which refers to a zone of concentric circles which characterize the interactions of the state with its immediate, intermediate, and outer rings of neighbours (Sakhuja 2011: 264–5). Sakhuja claims that the ‘Indo-Pacific Oceans provide the seamless contiguity of strategic space wherein the maritime Mandala is enacted by India’ (Sakhuja 2011: 278). The Indian position thus reflects an awareness of this burgeoning functional convergence between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and of the idea that both oceans should be seen as ‘linked security systems’. Therefore, national security positions need to be reworked in order to enable more far-reaching maritime security engagement. Nevertheless, although the adoption of the Indo-Pacific concept by certain scholars somewhat justifies an Indian maritime expansionist strategy into the Pacific, there is also an unspoken agreement that this is ‘mirrored by the expansion of China’s interests into the Indian Ocean’ (Brewster 2012: 157). The Western position, however, would argue that any southward focus of Chinese power is tied to the traditional model of the perceived Chinese sphere of influence (Ginsberg 1968). The potential expansion of Chinese naval forces south, however, not only raises the question of the potential natural resources under the South China Sea, but directly concerns Chinese interests in preserving key access to energy and other resources throughout the Indian Ocean region. China, however, takes the position that it has legitimate ties, both economically and securitywise, in the Indian Ocean region. On a regional level, China’s interests are legitimized as it is a dialogue partner of IORA. Furthermore, the Malacca Straits Dilemma has been a key factor in China’s maritime security strategy in the twenty-first century. Part of this idea is to construct an efficient naval power to


92  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific maintain the security of Chinese sea lines of communication (Singh 2007: 163). Therefore, China’s response to any steps made to create a new Indo-Pacific order, the goal of which is its counter-balance and not its containment, has been unsurprisingly frowned upon. For example, a formative response was to declare naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean as the Obama initiative was perceived as trespassing onto its sphere of influence. General Luo Yan from the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences stated that ‘The United States is making much of its “return to Asia”, has been positioning pieces and forces of China’s periphery and the intent is very clear—this is aimed at China, to contain China’ (Garnaut 2011). As is now abundantly apparent, the ‘Indo-Pacific’ conjures and conflates a host of national narratives and mythologies. India, for example, has the possibility of destabilizing enduring bilateral and multilateral geopolitical relations within the Indian Ocean region; a region of ‘sub-regions’. The perceptions of the ‘IndoPacific’ from smaller regions of the Indian Ocean, such as South Asia (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal) to the triangular alliances of the Indo-Pacific (US– India–Japan and US–India–Australia) are a heretofore untouched source of ser­ ious critical inquiry. The circumstances under which the Indo-Pacific would either bolster or in fact undermine the highly publicized ‘strategic autonomy’ for India also requires critical examination. While the Indo-Pacific project remains covered in a calculated ambiguity (caused in some instances by the lack of convergence among the invisible but influential geopolitical visions of various institutions of statecraft held by each of the participating state actors) India’s issues seem to be quite obvious. In terms of the realist framework of the ‘security dilemma’ concerning India, Raja Mohan (2012) argues that it has ‘now been extended to the maritime domain’. He goes on to state: For many in the Indian strategic community, every advance that China makes in the Indian Ocean undermines India’s own freedom of action in the waters adjoining the subcontinent. It was inevitable, then, that India would step up its own military diplomacy, which in turn is seen in Beijing as limiting China’s right to access in the Indian Ocean.

According to Brewster, however, India will continue to ‘rhetorically oppose any Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean’ (Brewster 2015: 235). He adds that New Delhi is ‘likely to regard the US military presence in the region with a degree of indulgence’ but ultimately as something that will ‘wither over time’. In addition, Shivshankar Menon, a former ambassador to China and foreign secretary who is now a national security advisor, candidly relates how the India–China narrative regarding the Indian Ocean is being ‘framed solely in terms of a Sino-Indian rivalry’. He argues that this is particularly the case with ‘strategists in India and China themselves, though not of their governments . . . the terms in which the argument is presented are limited and would be self-fulfilling predictions were


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  93 governments to act upon them’. Menon adds that nor are these dialogues based upon ‘an examination of objective interests of the states concerned’ (cited in Brewster 2015). With India’s burgeoning role as a major regional player, several Indian strategic scholars aim to form a ‘defensive sphere of influence’ in the Indian Ocean region, hoping that it will exist as a relatively closed strategic system (Brewster 2017: 275). These thinkers draw upon geostrategic perspectives from both imperial Britain as well as the US Monroe Doctrine. Underlining these is what Brewster terms a ‘somewhat proprietary attitude’ towards the Indian Ocean and historic suspicions regarding the role of Asian continental powers to ‘penetrate the protective Himalayan barrier’ between the Indian and Eurasian hinterlands. It remains to be seen whether the near reality of this which occurred during the Sino-Indian border of 1962 will finally transpire.

Differentiated Neighbourhood: Region as ‘Neighbour’ The importance of the Indian Ocean to India is obvious, if only because of its huge exclusive economic zone of 2.4 million square kilometres and its 1,200 island territories (Gupta 2017). The issue of India’s own economic development and the simultaneous vulnerability of the Malacca and Hormuz Straits have provided India with compelling reasons to ensure that the Indian Ocean is ‘India’s Ocean’. In March 2015, Prime Minister Modi unveiled a security framework for the Indian Ocean under the acronym SAGAR (translated from Hindi, and standing for ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’). This four-part framework focuses on advancing cooperation and deploying Indian capabilities for the benefit of the entire region by means of defence capability, promoting collective security co­oper­ation and action, and fostering more integrated and cooperative sus­tain­able development in the region. Debate has since focused on the degree to which India can be considered to be moving towards being the net security provider in the region. The language of cooperation and mutual benefit is dominant in Indian discourse—India maintains that its stance as leader in the Indian Ocean is mutually beneficial, because it is aimed at capacity, development, and institution building. The history of India as a central actor in the non-aligned and anti-imperialist movement is at the core of this. With its history of economic and political autonomy, redistributive policies, and appeals to religiously and spiritually based ­ethics, India has laid claim to an alternative modernity to the exploitative capitalism of the West, and a benign regional leadership. India’s ‘Look East’ and ‘extended neighbourhood’ policies developed from a shift away from the developmentalist state project of the post-independence era during the 1990s, when there was a focus on the open economy after the old model of centrally planned economic


94  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific development became destabilized. The ‘Look East’ policy came after a series of economic reforms and was intended to strengthen economic engagement with East and Southeast Asia. India’s regional space was expanded further by the Ministry of External Affairs in the late 1990s, in promoting the ‘extended neighbourhood’ concept, which took in security concerns and increased the geographical range to countries of the ASEAN-Pacific region, Central Asia, the Gulf, West Asia, North Africa, and the Indian Ocean Rim (Chacko 2016: 49). The more recent ‘Look West’ focus seeks to secure India’s economic position in the Gulf region and Africa. Recent Indian foreign policy, however, has been in a state of tension between the more hawkish elements and those sectors which continue to hold onto the threads of India as constituting ‘alternative modernity’. The more realist elements of current Indian foreign policy are given nuance by Priya Chacko (2014), who argues that the Indo-Pacific concept in India is actually still compatible with older foreign policy traditions and ideas, and is in any case promoted more by the hawkish nationalist elements in the Indian establishment, and subsequently picked up by the ‘pragmatists’. Chacko finds the Indo-Pacific rhetoric emerging mainly from the strategic analysts in Indian think-tanks, rather than the bureaucracy and political leadership, actively encouraged by a broader network of US and Australian think-tanks dedicated to the same rhetoric of getting India to abandon its non-aligned status. The strategic autonomy position as a means of maintaining equidistance between major strategic players (principally the US and China) is, in the view of the hawks, a policy that impedes cooperation with ­others, especially when this implies attending to the sensibilities of China. This logic, however, is challenged by some inside the Indian foreign policy establishment, who question the overplaying of Indo-Chinese rivalry. The IndoPacific approach currently being used by India is not the more exclusionary framework of the nationalists, but a more flexible, inclusive, and plural notion of regional architecture (Chacko 2014). The Indo-Pacific discourse was broadly accepted by the Indian United Progressive Alliance government, which saw in it a legitimation of its ‘extended neighbourhood’ regional imaginary; since coming into power in 2014, Chacko argues that the Indo-Pacific discourse has become less coherent (Chacko 2016: 55). Nevertheless, Modi’s foreign policy has been marked by a flurry of high-profile diplomatic engagements, revealing a more proactive Indian foreign policy, focusing initially on India’s neglected regional neighbours and building outward in concentric circles, especially into East Asia but also reaching out to major strategic players. Modi notably was the first head of government to visit Nepal in seventeen years, and he visited the Indian Ocean islands of Seychelles, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka in March 2015. A visit to Central Asia followed in July 2015. The geo-economic turn in Indian foreign policy is clear. Modi’s most important foreign policy innovation is the level of engagement with Indian diasporas (including Fiji, which he visited in 2015), and on the


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  95 significant role given to business delegations, which accompany him on visits abroad. The resolution of outstanding disputes with neighbours such as Bangladesh has also been a focus of diplomacy. Modi has called his foreign policy ‘Acting East’, which implies that the previous policy position of ‘Looking East’ has not been sufficiently effective. Modi’s economic diplomacy has been bolstered by the ‘Make in India’ slogan adopted in 2014. The marrying of geopolitical ob­ject­ ives—notably, sidelining Pakistan and China—with commercial objectives underpin the numerous bilateral visits, increased land and sea connectivity projects, the involvement of India in the China-led Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, the India–Japan–Australia trilateral dialogue, the establishment of the Forum for India-Pacific Island Cooperation, and Project Mausam/Mawsim.

Project Mausam It is within this broader ideational framework that we can situate Project Mausam/ Mawsim: Maritime Routes and Cultural Landscapes (research programme 2014–19). This is an initiative of the Indian Ministry of Culture, and arguably the Indian version of cultural soft power projection around the Indian Ocean Rim. Project Mausam/Mawsim’s principal objective is to achieve nomination of maritime cultural routes under the UNESCO cultural convention, and in this respect is strikingly similar to the earlier Chinese and Central Asian project to achieve the same objective for the Silk Road. The Silk Road was successfully included in the UNESCO World Heritage list at the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee in Doha in 2014. The application was jointly submitted by China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, representing seven years of effort by these countries. It was the first time China had cooperated with foreign countries for a World Heritage nom­in­ation. Notably, however, the language that frames this initiative is more about the preservation and maintenance of historical artefacts. Project Mausam/Mawsim works to rekindle ‘long lost ties across nations of the Indian Ocean “world” and forges new avenues of cooperation and exchange’, based on communities connected by ties of historical Indian Ocean commerce, and cultural and religious ties. The goals of Project Mausam/Mawsim are to ‘transcend presentday national and ethnic boundaries’, celebrate ‘common cultural values and economic ties’, and strengthen and create ‘new bridges of cooperation and continued relations and interactions’. It will connect the Cultural and Natural World Heritage sites across the Indian Ocean ‘world’ [their emphasis] by ‘providing a cross-cultural, trans­nation­al narrative’. This is a view that highlights India’s glorious expansionist past, but a particular sort of expansionism, positioned inside benign hegemony. In a paper entitled ‘The Significance of Civilizational Nautical Narratives in India’s Maritime Diplomacy’, Padmaja of the National Maritime Foundation of India notes that the central role of policies like Project Mausam is to project a


96  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific benign and alternative face of strategic leadership that India can offer the Indian Ocean maritime domain (Padmaja 2017). It is a tale of Indian exceptionalism, anchored in an idealized view of the Indian past, deeply informed by its antiimperialist and non-aligned status. She states: The idea conveyed is that India seeks to continue to influence the maritime debates in the present times too; and this will be done like in the past centuries without any domination or force. The aim is to stress on this historic ‘continuum’ in the Indian maritime narrative which has through centuries been characterized by ‘absence of coercion’, ‘celebrating diversity’, ‘respect for other cultural narratives’; and that India’s influence has always enriched the local people and society through centuries. This is especially significant at a time when competing maritime strategies are presented to maritime nations by countries vying for global leadership and influence. India wants to convey that whatever choices other countries may make, its actions will always be anchored in on the values embedded in these civilizational and cultural narratives.  (Padmaja 2017: 1)

Project Mausam is thus a cultural project with real strategic purpose. This was clearly identified by the Indian foreign secretary’s remarks to the first Indian Ocean Conference in September 2016, held in Singapore and organized by the India Foundation, the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Bangladesh, the Institute of Policy Studies, Sri Lanka, and the S.  Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore. Secretary Jaishankar emphasized the need to create a stronger Indian Ocean unity and identity, announcing that ‘a key step for that direction is to create the connectivity that promotes a sharper Indian Ocean personality to emerge’. Arguing that ‘We must take full advantage of the ties of kinship and family that span the Indian Ocean’, he referred to the shared cultural connections that existed by means of shared traditional knowledge and practices such as ayurveda and yoga, the faith traditions like Buddhism or Sufism, or shared symbols like Nalanda or Ramayana (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2016). However, Jaishankar also emphasized that ‘a resurgence in the Indian Ocean must necessarily be predicated on its economic revival’ and he focused on the need for physical connectivity, both land and maritime as well as hinterland development (as, he argued, the Indian Ocean world’s limitation was the narrowness of its coastal culture) (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2016). Therefore, a range of infrastructure initiatives were highlighted, including port, road, and rail projects, development projects, and aids to ‘promote solidarity and goodwill . . . not coincidentally, stronger connectivity is at the heart of the “Neighbourhood First” Policy of the Modi government’. Jainshankar also highlighted the importance of regional collaboration and engagement via fora such as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD),


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  97 ASEAN, and IORA; the importance of cooperatively developing the blue ­economy; and shouldering its maritime security obligations. Non-traditional security challenges also played an important part of India’s role in the Indo-Pacific formulation (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2016). Indian diplomatic exceptionalism also figured prominently at the Second Indian Ocean Conference held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in August–September 2017 with the theme of peace, prosperity, and progress. Perhaps as part of moving away from being ‘an ocean of notions’ as Salman Rushdie once put it, the Indian Ocean has now been placed at the heart of India’s (benign) ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Describing the Indian Ocean as ‘not just a water body, but a global stage for continued economic, social, and cultural dialogue’, the Indian Minister of External Affairs emphasized a vision of non-hierarchical, non-competitive co-existence in the following terms: Our vision for the Indian Ocean Region . . . is to preserve its organic unity while advancing cooperation. We will use our capabilities for the collective well-being, and the mutual benefit of our maritime neighbours and island states in building their capabilities. As we envisage the Indian Ocean as an engine for growth and prosperity in our region and beyond, it is of utmost importance that these waters remain safe and secure. We consider it an imperative that those who live in this region bear the primary responsibility for the peace, stability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean. This vision was enunciated by Prime Minister Modi in March 2015 when he put forward the concept of SAGAR—‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’. This is a clear, high-level articulation of India’s vision for the Indian Ocean. SAGAR has distinct but inter-related elements and underscore India’s engagement in the Indian Ocean. (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India 2016)

Modi has extended the range and reach of India’s ‘soft power’ projection beyond the ‘high culture’ projects of Project Mausam into other areas, such as his visits and appeals to the Indian diaspora, especially Indian diasporic workers; the facilitation of improved flights for pilgrims to travel to India; visits to and by neighbouring leaders to celebrate religious festivals; increased international engagement in disaster relief and humanitarian actions; the ideational appeal of India’s participation in the non-aligned movement, and its sharing of the decolonization cause with many other decolonizing countries; and the global appeal of its cultural products, such as Bollywood, cricket, cuisine, and forms of spiritual belief and practice (Kumar 2017). However, Project Mausam, and India’s strategic direction in general, has attracted its share of critics. Kumar argues that the success of India’s soft power project ‘depends on the health of its inclusive democracy’, which he finds threatened by Hindu nationalism if it disturbs social harmony (Kumar 2017: 7). He also


98  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific argues that soft power cannot function unless underpinned by very real hard power. The disparity between India’s size and economic power relative to the rest of its neighbours necessarily engenders insecurity, he argues. Therefore, ‘outside powers that can provide “unconditional” defence assistance are particularly welcome in India’s neighbourhood. No wonder China is already a key, if not the lar­ gest, trading partner, source of FDI [foreign direct investment], and supplier of arms and ammunition to all but one of India’s neighbours’ (Kumar 2017: 2). For his part, Abhijit Singh accuses India of not walking its strategic talk, noting that there is notable resistance by elements of the Indian security establishment towards playing a significant role in a pan-regional security architecture and an increased military role. India’s resistance to allowing its navy to participate in joint patrols with US and other ASEAN navies, and India mostly missing from track 1.5 quadrilateral events with Japan, Australia, and the US, are ‘beyond re­iter­ at­ing its support for freedom of navigation and the rule of law in solving maritime disputes, Delhi does not show any great enthusiasm for participating in Western Pacific security initiatives’ (Singh 2017). As Bisley and Phillips (2013) presciently noted, notwithstanding all the optimistic chatter about shared democratic values with India, the US ran into opposition from New Delhi. This is because New Delhi has its own leadership ambitions in the area, continued anti-colonial sens­ ibil­ities, and the legacy of being the hub of the non-aligned movement, which despite the work of analysts of C. Raja Mohan and Brahma Chellaney, it seems unlikely to shake. As Bisley and Phillips anticipated, it seems unlikely India will ever be an ally of the US like Japan. Chacko (2016) argues that under the National Democratic Alliance government, the discourse of the Indo-Pacific has become less coherent. The invigorated Chinese BRI as well as the existence of a number of flashpoints involving China and other states has helped bolster and reassert the older geopolitical discourses of China-as-threat. The BRI, she argues, is especially problematic for Indian policy-makers, because while on the one hand, engagement between the BRI and India’s own ‘Act East’, ‘Make in India’, and Project Mausam initiatives would undoubtedly improve infrastructure and foster economic growth, it would also place India in a subservient role to China, and ‘challenges the central foreign policy tenets that are the product of nationalist narratives on which the state elite continues to rely for its legitimacy’ (Chacko 2016: 55). Brewster also identifies a number of issues that threaten to derail India’s pretence towards regional predominance. These factors include Indian reluctance to deploy military power; its obsession with ‘strategic autonomy’; the thinness of its relations with mid-level littoral power, and its ad hoc and irregular relations with the US. He concludes: ‘There is a good chance that India will continue along its own civilisational pace without any overarching or coordinated strategic plan, seeking to expand its power and influence here and there on an ad hoc basis, as and when opportunities present themselves’ (Brewster 2015: 235).


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  99

India–US relations A surge in perceptions of increased Chinese unilateralism from 2014 led to an increased prominence of the US in India’s Indo-Pacific discourse and a flurry of diplomatic activity. During 2015, under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi, US–Indian relations appeared to be moving towards increasing strategic convergence, and have since forged stronger economic and military ties. In 2015, President Obama visited New Delhi as chief guest for India’s 66th Republic Day celebrations, where he stated: ‘The United States is committed to a long-term stra­ tegic partnership with India. We respect India as a regional and emerging global power as well as a provider of regional security. We see a growing convergence with India on our strategic outlook for the Asia-Pacific region and India’s role in shaping the Asian landscape’. The president’s visit resulted in several key defence outcomes, including the finalization of the 2015 Framework for the US–India Defence Relationship, which ‘provides our two nations with guiding principles for defence engagement for the coming decade, including our military exchanges and exercises, a promising outlook on defense trade, and increasingly close consultations on regional security issues and maritime security’ (United States Department of Defense 2015b). The two governments also released the ‘U.S.–India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region’ (Government of India and Government of the United States 2015). The Joint Strategic Vision laid out a five-year plan for strengthening regional integration, infrastructure connectivity, regional dialogue, enhanced security, and greater opportunities for multilateral engagement and expressed a clear commitment to free trade principles. It alluded obliquely to China by referencing the importance of ‘freedom of navigation’. Apart from the Framework and the Joint Strategic Vision, other outcomes of the 2015 visit to India included the agreement to pursue increased military trade and co-development: namely, to pursue four pathfinder projects under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative for potential co-development and/or co-production, as well as cooperation on aircraft carriers and jet engine technology. The US–India Knowledge Partnership in Defense Studies initiative was also launched, which builds linkages in military-to-military professional education. In addition, ongoing participation in the bilateral naval MALABAR exercises was emphasized. Indian military expenditure in American hardware had already been on the increase. Between March 2008 and October 2010, American military firms had secured contracts worth nearly $8.7 million (Future Directions International 2012: 51). This surged: in September 2015, India’s cabinet approved a $US3 billion deal for Boeing military helicopters, representing the biggest defence contract since Modi’s arrival in power. The US at that point was surpassing Russia as arms supplier to India and was the US’s second-biggest weapons buyer (Pearson and Bipindra  2015). Nevertheless, according to Pearson and Bipindra, Modi’s


100  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific focus is the transfer of technology. In January 2015, during Obama’s visit to New Delhi, the leaders arranged for India to produce drones and airplane parts, and for the two countries to study aircraft carrier and jet engine technology together. Modi’s principal focus is to boost the Indian defence industry since India has yet to overcome its ‘wariness’ of the US. Two other key themes are also worth highlighting. Firstly, both Obama and Modi made addressing climate change a central focus of their bilateral relationship (Modi–Obama Joint Statement of June 2016), and there was also an explicit recognition of the ‘soft power’ represented by the Indian diaspora in the US. As established in Chapter  5, the election of Donald Trump has raised much doubt regarding the extent to which his administration will implement his own policies. Nevertheless, the Trump administration continues to use the term ‘IndoPacific’, thus maintaining—and co-opting—the region as a geostrategic construct on its own terms. Despite the fact that Trump has modified the language of ‘free and open’ navigation throughout the region, the continued military, economic, and political focus on the region suggests that the broad tenor of Obama’s pivot may remain, albeit excised of the TPP, which was the central geo-economic plank of the strategy. As discussed in Chapter 5, there have been some intriguing signs of how relations with India under the presidency of Trump are likely to develop, given his neo-mercantilist ‘America First’ policies. Modi’s dealings with Trump have also proved significant. Visiting the White House in June 2017, two official documents emerged from this meeting—the Joint Statement issued by the White House on 26 June 2017 and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Joint Statement of 27 June 2017 entitled ‘Prosperity through Partnership’. Trump’s focus on achieving trade relations that are ‘fair’ to America are an awkward underlying current in relations given America’s current trade deficit with India and India’s protectionist barriers. Another contentious matter is that of Trump’s immigration policy, and particularly the ‘Buy American, Hire American’ policy, which could have a detrimental effect on many highly skilled Indian workers in the US, many of whom are employed in the US technology industry. Auriol Weigold notes that the Indian ‘Prosperity through Partnership’ document relegates the topic ‘Increasing Free and Fair Trade’ to the final section of the document, reversing its headline position at the start of the Rose Garden speeches. According to Weigold, in foreign policy terms, there are a couple of notable omissions from these early documents. Firstly, ‘there is no reference to a joint strategic vision for the Indian Ocean or Asia-Pacific regions, implying . . . that the US wants to pursue its own China policy acting independently’, although both parties still acknowledge the importance of deepening the defence partnership and maritime security cooperation between the India and the US to maintain peace and security in the region (Weigold 2017: 4–5). The other major divergence is on climate policy. In June 2017, Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, stating that in keeping with his promises to ‘Make


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  101 America Great Again’ he ‘will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens which he sees as burdening the US, and its ‘businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers’ (White House Statement, 1 June 2017). Trump further justified his position by arguing that the Paris Accord ‘undermine[s] our economy, hamstring[s] our workers, weaken[s] our sovereignty, impose[s] unacceptable legal risks, and put[s] us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world’ (White House Statement, 1 June 2017). Somewhat contrarily, however, he did reassure the crowd of his plans to form a ‘new deal’ which reflects the country’s role (according to Trump) as the ‘cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth’. Furthermore, Trump is currently assessing the economic benefits of the US from the India–US Civil Nuclear Agreement. India remains firmly committed to the Paris Climate Accord. While Trump is adopting a more explicitly transactional approach to inter­ nation­al relations, India has in any case lacked confidence in the US for some time (Chacko 2016). A particular sticking point is Washington’s long-standing military support for Pakistan, India’s strategic rival, and which India regards as a key supporter of international terrorism. Trump’s style of politics is offset in Indian eyes by his fixation on jihadist terrorism, a fixation not displeasing to New Delhi. Washington also appears to be pressing ahead with the transfer of defence technology to New Delhi and with defence cooperation broadly. Similarly, ahead of the ASEAN and East Asia Summits, officials from the US, India, Japan, and Australia met to discuss the Quad. This informal strategic dialogue was promoted by Shinzo Abe in 2007, bolstered by joint military exercises called Exercise Malabar in the Bay of Bengal. Despite the Quad floundering in 2008, when Australia withdrew following diplomatic protests from China, to India’s annoyance, all four governments expressed support for resuming the Quad (Times of India 2017), as this suggested a continued US commitment. The ties between India and the US have become increasingly militarized in recent years. In December 2015, India’s cabinet approved a $US3 billion deal for American aviation company, Boeing military helicopters. This was the biggest defence contract since Modi’s arrival in power. As mentioned, the implications of this deal are that the US now surpasses Russia as India’s arms supplier. Modi’s focus, however, is the transfer of technology. In January 2015, on Obama’s visit to New Delhi, the leaders arranged for India to produce drones and airplane parts, and for the two countries to study aircraft carrier and jet engine technology together. In July 2018, India and the US also signed a $US3 billion contract for the purchase of twenty-two Apache attack helicopters and fifteen heavy-lift helicopters with Boeing and the US government (Times of India, 14 July 2018). Modi’s focus wass to boost the Indian defence industry, yet he remained wary of the then Indian Defence minister Manohar Parrikar who stated that the contract, which would have a ‘30% offset clause’, would attract business of around $US1 billion for the Indian Defence Industry.


102  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific The US, however, has other ideas. As introduced in Chapter 5, it has recently renewed its military engagement with the Indo-Pacific with the Pentagon formally renaming its Pacific Command in Honolulu as the Indo-Pacific Command. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stated: ‘in recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, today we rename the US Pacific Command the US Indo-Pacific Command’. Mattis added that ‘over many decades this command has repeatedly adapted to changing circumstance and today carries that legacy forward as America focuses west’ (SBS News, 31 May 2018). According to Medcalf, this change in name of the Pentagon’s oldest and largest military command, established after World War II, was to ‘reflect enduring defence engagement in the Indian Ocean’ (Medcalf, Policy Forum, and National Security Talk, 21 May 2018). Others argue that the name change is merely part of a broader strategy of Washington to combat China’s increasing dominance in the Asia-Pacific Region. Medcalf goes on to state, however, that America’s IndoPacific priorities will need to go beyond the militaristic side of things if they expect longevity in the region after Donald Trump (Medcalf  2018a). At this stage, the name change is considered ‘largely symbolic’ and will not ‘immediately result in any shifts in the command’s boundaries or assets’ throughout the region (SBS 2018). Regardless, as China’s dominance in the region only increases, India has now become the world’s largest arms importer with 12 per cent of global imports between 2013 and 2017 (India Times, 13 March 2018). Arms imports in India have increased by 24 per cent over this period, with the largest arms suppliers being the US, Russia, and Israel. The US, in response to China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region, has increased its military sales to India over the past ten years, ‘worth $US15bn over the last decade’ and ‘up by 557% between 2013–2017’. According to Rajat Pandit, the ‘persisting failure to build a robust defence production industry’ has meant that India ‘continues to remain in the strategicallyvulnerable position’ as it maintains its position as the largest importer of weapons in the world, and at the mercy of major powers such as Russia, the US, and China (India Times, 13 March 2018).

India and Africa India’s links with Africa are long-standing and closely related to the large diaspora, particularly in East and South Africa. Relations are also facilitated by the historical solidarity between India and African states in their respective anticolonial struggles by India’s non-alignment principle, and by the principle of South–South cooperation. However, as was argued in Chapter 4, India has been seemingly moving away from traditional ‘untenable’ non-alignment towards a multialignment orientation that is aimed at developing and using strategic


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  103 partnerships to more effectively project its national interests (Tharoor  2012; Hall 2016; Raghavan 2017). As mentioned earlier, Modi’s foreign policy stance of focusing initially on India’s immediate neighbourhood, and then building outwards in concentric circles, especially towards East Asia, has been defined as ‘Acting East’. Modi thus extended the ‘Looking East’ policy of his predecessors. Modi’s expanded foreign policy led him first to Nepal and then Indian Ocean island states (Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka). Modi has also focused on the Indian diaspora, which led him to the Pacific (Fiji) and, inevitably, the African continent. Arguably, Modi’s foreign policy agenda is being driven by Indian economic diplomacy with a geoeconomic and geostrategic edge that involves India carving out a sphere of influence for itself both physically and by implication, in terms of soft power, via its diaspora: ‘Modi’s travels abroad have highlighted the clear geopolitical and economic prism through which he has prioritised his engagements and those of his government’ (Sidiropoulos and Alden 2015: 18). The link between Indian geopolitics and geo-economics is clear, but Indian discourse means disavowing that economic relations with Africa imply another imperialist project or Scramble for Africa. A report by the Observer Research Foundation, a think-tank funded by the Indian government, describes Africa and India as natural allies, with much in common in terms of shared values, shared relationships, a ‘shared history’ (via colonialism, Gandhi, the diaspora, etc.), and their shared solidarity. The report argues that India is not engaged in a scramble for Africa—Africa determines the nature of the engagement, and India does not follow the donor-recipient model (Rej and Ngangom 2015). Describing the India–Africa partnership as ‘autonomously interdependent’, the report refers to the changing geo-economic order since the global economic crisis of 2008, and argues: The writing on the wall has never been clearer. While the political and economic order fostered by the US and European powers continue to hobble, a resurgent Asia and Africa has the potential to significantly shape ideas around how nations can cooperate without sacrificing their autonomy; how nations can ensure their self-interest without sacrificing their sovereignty; how states can pursue their commercial interests worldwide without dictating terms. Most importantly, it is up to India and Africa to conceptualize a world order which is driven by the logic of cooperation going beyond the optics of token gestures and the empty internationalist rhetoric of solidarity.  (Rej and Ngangom 2015: 83–4)

In October 2015, New Delhi hosted representatives from all fifty-four African states in the third India–Africa Forum Summit, with the presence of China in Africa firmly in mind, given that the summit was competing with the sixth Forum on China–Africa Cooperation, to be held in South Africa. This diplomatic


104  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific outreach was far more significant than earlier efforts, because unlike the much more low-key summits, all African states had been invited, and more than forty were represented by their heads of state or government. The summit was seen as an effort to boost trade and formed part of Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign, launched in 2014. At the summit, India made $7 billion available to African states in soft loans and pledged $8.5 billion in lines of credit, as well as announcing vocational training and capacity-building programmes (Gupta 2015). Sino-African trade had risen from around $10 billion in 2000 to over $200 billion in 2014, yet bilateral trade had dropped sharply in 2014, and tensions with China over environmental and labour issues have opened up a space for India, whose huge diaspora in the African continent has strong business ties. India’s economic ties are not on the same scale, but still have risen from $4.8 billion in 1997–8 to $68 billion in 2014. India is relying heavily on African oil and gas in an effort to reduce dependence on Gulf states (African countries account for more than a  quarter of India’s oil and gas imports). Security ties are also increasing with East African coastal states and island nations like Mauritius, Madagascar, and Seychelles. Africa will be playing a key role in Modi’s attempt to springboard India into the global economy (Dominguez 2015). India trade in Africa is different to China’s—it is less statist, less focused on mining and infrastructure development, concentrating rather on telecommunications, pharmaceutical and manufacturing, and increasingly energy (Taylor, 2012: 779–80). India–Africa trade has grown enormously—from US$3.39 billion per year in 2000, it reached around US$53 billion in 2010/11 (Taylor 2012: 789). India’s exponential growth in energy needs makes Africa particularly important to India as according to one analyst, India’s consumption will double by 2025 (Taylor 2012: 791). One commentator has summarized the arguments why India’s economic relationship is likely to be of a benign and beneficial nature compared to China. Xavier (2015) argues that India does not suffer from China’s more neo-mercantilist approach; its reach into East Africa and its diaspora puts it in a favourable position to offer cooperative infrastructure projects spanning the western Indian Ocean, such as fibre optics. India takes a leadership role in the Indian Ocean—by means of its role in organizations such as the IONS, IORA, and in joint naval exercises with African states, it is the largest contributor to United Nations peacekeeping and other operations in Africa, and the government has focused on education and capacity-building projects. Finally, India is better placed to foster regional integration and multilateral cooperation and has experience in democratic governance, which is especially relevant as African states increasingly move in this direction. As Rajagopalan points out, China and India have ‘downplayed’ their rivalry in each state’s engagement with Africa (The Diplomat, 31 July 2018). Modi’s tour of key African states, such as Rwanda and Uganda, in preparation for the tenth BRICS summit alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping is particularly telling. Rajagopalan argues that this effort ‘spotlighted New Delhi’s continued bid


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  105 to strengthen its influence in the continent’ despite the ‘clear limitations it has relative to Beijing’. Modi’s tour, he adds, was a clear ‘attempt to bring about a new dynamism in the India–Africa relationship’. Raj Kumar Sharma argues, however, that while India is ‘responding to Beijing’s challenge’ it ‘needs to do much more’ (Asian Review, 5 September 2018). Sharma states that India should build on its enduring assets in Africa, such as a large diaspora, business connections, and a common use of the English language. He argues that India must also respond to China’s burgeoning naval presence on the continent, with ‘security-linked initiatives of its own, such as military training’. Rajagopalan (2018), however, says it is doubtful that India can compete with China’s ‘proactive engagement in the region’. China’s commitment was evident at the 2018 September Africa Summit in Beijing, which saw the presence of fifty-three African states. Xi Jinping promised Africa $60 billion in economic aid, as well as the $60 he had expended since 2015 (Sharma 2018). With the most recent iteration of the Indo-Pacific region, however, India’s alliance with Africa may be out of its hands regardless. Trump’s geopolitical charting of the Indo-Pacific region has positioned Africa as no longer ‘on the same side’ as India and the rest of the Quad. As established in Chapter 5, Africa has now been erased from the US map of the Indo-Pacific, which is falling to China, along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and many others (BRICS Summit, Durban, July 2018). Indeed, the US National Security Strategy defines the region as stretching ‘from the west coast of India to the western shores of the United States’ (White House 2017: 46). As Alyssa Ayres (2018) points out, this section of the Strategy has ‘no reference to Indian Ocean maritime space, including the area off the east coast of Africa, the Arabian Sea, and the Bay of Bengal’ (Ayres 2018). Despite the Trump administration’s view of the Indo-Pacific being ­significantly more ‘Pacific’ than ‘Indo’, India’s idea of the region nonetheless ‘includes the larger maritime space to its west’ (Ayres 2018). IORA, which India co-created with South Africa, Australia and others in order to more effectively ‘institutionalise consultation’ over this ‘poorly linked area’ does include countries in this space. Modi himself has also recently stressed that India’s increasing ‘friendships’, namely the US, are ‘not alliances of containment’ (India Economic Times, 3 June 2018). He stated that India’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific region ‘from the shores of Africa, to that of the Americas’ will be ‘inclusive’, and that India will ‘engage with the world in peace, with respect, through dialogue and absolute commitment to international law’. Nevertheless, with India’s burgeoning defence and diplomatic relationship with the US, it cannot escape the fact that California has now replaced maritime Africa and the Middle East on the US cartographical imaginings of the region. Thus, while on the one hand the current US Indo-Pacific concept ‘centralizes’ India, on the other hand, it serves to submerge its core neighbourhood, the Indian Ocean (most particularly the western reaches).


106  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific

India and Iran/Middle East The Gulf area is a crucial area of interest for India, and the Modi government has focused a great deal of attention on it. There are several compelling reasons for this. Firstly, energy: in 2016, India was receiving 42 per cent of its oil imports from the Gulf Cooperation Council, and a total of 60 per cent if Iran, Iraq, and Yemen are included. Furthermore, Qatar supplies 58 per cent of India’s liquefied natural gas, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait providing another 22 per cent between them (Pethiyagoda 2017). Other trade relations are also significant. The Gulf Cooperation Council is India’s largest regional trading bloc partner. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were India’s third and fourth largest trading partners in 2014–15, with US$60 billion and US$39 billion trade, respectively. On top of this, around 7 million people of Indian descent reside in the Middle East, with the largest Indian expatriate population being in Saudi Arabia (over 3 million). Indian expatriates outnumber the local populations of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar; unsurprisingly, more than half of India’s remittances proceed from the Gulf Cooperation Council (‘India and Pakistan’s evolving relationships with the Gulf ’ 2016). One source puts remittances from the Indian diaspora in the region of around USD$40 billion a year (Sajjanhar 2017). Modi has made a number of very high-profile visits to leaders in the area, including the United Arab Emirates in 2015 and Saudi Arabia and Qatar in 2016. Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates in 2015 was the first one by an Indian prime minister in thirty-four years. Interestingly, in 2019 UAE takes on the role as Chair of IORA. Other diplomatic visits have included Oman (with whom India has a strategic partnership) and Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and Mauritius in 2015. Key drivers of Indian foreign policy in the area have been trade relations, maritime security, counterterrorism and defence cooperation, the balancing of economic and strategic relationships vis-à-vis Pakistan, and the security of the Indian ex­patri­ate community. The Indian navy has deployed ships in the Arabian Gulf and embarked on a programme of capacity building and security collaboration in the area. The establishment of a Chinese naval base in Djibouti and growing submarine visits and military activity in the western Indian Ocean have created concerns for the Indian naval and foreign policy establishment, making India’s ‘Look West’ diplomacy at least in part informed by the need for strategic alliances in the Indian Ocean (Singh  2015). India’s maritime diplomacy has involved hard power projection enmeshed with soft power, so that the strategic conversation is less about political contestation and more about collaborative development. The Indian policy of being a good neighbour is rooted in a number of practical considerations. India is balancing a complex set of regional relationships in order to protect and advance its own interests. The turmoil embroiling the Arab Gulf States in 2017 put India in an awkward position of having to navigate the region’s ‘Look East’ policy which is helping to create a closer relationship with India, as they need human resources


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  107 from India to develop sectors like information technology, construction, ­transportation, and services (Pant 2015). India’s relationship with Iran is also increasingly significant. Although India did reduce oil imports from Iran as a result of the sanctions imposed because of its nuclear programme, the lifting of sanctions has resulted in an improvement in the bilateral relationship. Modi visited Teheran in 2016, in connection with the development of the deep-water port of Chabahar. This commercial contract with Iran is an interesting moment in the bilateral relationship, and one where India had to stave off interest from a Chinese consortium which was eager to invest. The deal, signed in May 2016, would see India financing the construction of a port, industrial plants, and underwriting the construction of a railway line to connect to Iran’s rail network. Chabahar enables India to build a trade route similar to China’s Silk Road economic belt. It can be interpreted as a response to the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Chinese-sponsored port at Gwadar, and strategically it vies with Pakistan over Africa, providing a means for India to trade with Africa and Central Asia via Chabahar and the North–South Transport Corridor project. Afghanistan likewise would not be dependent on Pakistan, and Iran would become an international conduit for two of the world’s most im­port­ant reservoirs of oil gas, in Central and West Asia (Kumar  2015). India’s initial outlay is $US85.21 million in phase 1 and up to $US110 million in phase 2, so it is far more modest than the Chinese outlay for Gwadar port in Pakistan. Perhaps Chabahar has a more strategic rationale than a sound economic one (Watson 2017). Nevertheless, its importance is demonstrated by the fact that Modi is the first Indian prime minister since Nehru to visit all the Central Asian Republics, and that he also referred to Chabahar in his interactions with his counterparts from these countries (Kumar 2015). Although India did reduce oil imports due to the sanctions imposed back in 2016, in September 2018 Modi bought 9 million barrels of Iranian oil in November of the same year. This ignores the US plans to impose new sanctions on Iran’s oil industry from 4 November 2018 in order to cease the country’s participation in the Syrian and Iraq conflicts as well as to ‘bring Tehran to the negotiating table’ over its ‘ballistic missile program’ (Verma 2018). The then US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned Modi that it was essential that India cease Iranian oil investment, but that they would allow India the use of an Iranian port as a ‘corridor’ to Afghanistan (Reuters, 28 June 2018). Haley stated: there’s a will, a political will, from both sides to figure out how to make this work . . . Prime Minister Modi very much understands where we are with Iran, he didn’t question it, he didn’t criticise it, he understood it, and he also understands that (India’s) relationship with the US is strong and important and needs to stay that way.

This move to stop the importation of Iranian oil is in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal in May 2018 from a 2015 deal between Iran and six major powers with


108  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific the goal of obstructing Tehran’s nuclear potential as recompense for the lifting of some sanctions (Nichols 2018). According to Haley, the ‘implications of Iranrelated sanctions’ will be deliberated over when the foreign and defence ministers of India and the US meet. Other key investors in Iranian oil, such as Japan and South Korea, are also negotiating with the US government to evade the ‘adverse effects of sanctions’. India’s move to purchase this vast amount of oil, and their increasing bilateral relationships with both Iran and the US, will prove testing. Trump has doggedly pursued the furthering of military and economic ties with India in order to combat China’s influence across the Indo-Pacific region, and India has been mostly accommodating. However, they do remain one of the lar­ gest importers of Iranian oil on the planet.

Conclusion: India and Its Broader Neighbourhood—Major Strategic Players and Multilateral Institutions Increasing Chinese maritime presence in the Indian Ocean region has raised much commentary about Beijing’s possible maritime grand strategy and emer­ ging hegemony in the region. In recent years, there has been an increased number of Chinese submarines in the area, and China has engaged in counter-piracy ocean patrols, peace-keeping operations in Africa, and live fire drills in the area. Most notably, the establishment of a Chinese base at Djibouti provides an im­port­ ant logistics hub for its naval operations and increases China’s blue water navy potential, especially in the light of China’s navy modernization and restructuring (Krupakar 2017). The Maritime Silk Road initiative is the maritime arm of the BRI, by which China scales up economic corridors across swathes of land and sea geographies. Massive Chinese investment in the infrastructure development of ports, railways, pipelines, or initiatives like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is seen by many as the geo-economic element of the geostrategic. The geoeconomic aspect of the Maritime Silk Road initiative has also led to China increasingly making use of Indian Ocean ‘friendly’ ports to facilitate both its economic activity but also quite possibly to facilitate the docking and servicing of Chinese ships and submarines (Krupakar 2017: 214). India’s maritime presence in the Indian Ocean is for obvious reasons much stronger and two multilateral institutions are of particular consequence for India in terms of regional maritime security and regional cooperation: IONS and IORA, which India, along with Australia, played a key role in resuscitating. Notably, Beijing is not a party to either, although China is a dialogue partner of IORA. The Indian navy has tried to set itself up as the preeminent naval force in the Indian Ocean through initiatives such as sponsoring IONS. Its navy is the third largest Asian navy after China and Japan, and its focus is on controlling the maritime chokepoints to the Indian Ocean around southern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Malacca Strait connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans (Brewster 2015: 231).


The Role of India in the Indo-Pacific  109 In its relations with Indian Ocean middle powers, India and Japan signed a defence pact for regional stability, apart from participating in Malabar joint naval and military exercises. Following old Kautilyan principles, India is also reaching out to other aggrieved neighbours of China, such as Vietnam, with which it has signed a defence agreement. Relations with Indian Ocean middle powers such as Australia are thin, but commentators point to opportunities for increased se­cur­ity cooperation. One such area, for example, is in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which have been posited as a point of key strategic importance, and which could be developed as a naval operations hub for the Australian and Indian navies (Gupta 2017; Brewster and Medcalf 2017). Despite India’s appeals to hegemonic and benign leadership in the Indian Ocean region, the logic of containment of China seems to be leading to a dynamic of securitization of the Indian Ocean region and a significant naval build-up—for good or ill is not yet clear. Arndt Michael (2018) applies the social constructivist lens of norm localization to argue that multilateralism in the Indian Ocean region has been less successful than other ventures such as the EU or ASEAN. An Indian-influenced form of multilateralism, which he calls Panchsheel multilateralism, has become institutionalized as the regional norm in both the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and IORA. This South Asian variant of multilateralism is consistent with the ideational foundations of Indian foreign policy, which as we have seen is  conflicted by its realist and idealist strands. As a consequence, IORA—despite its  many achievements (discussed in Chapter  9)—may have been hampered as a ­multilateral organization by Indian norms, which historically precluded multilateral security arrangements in favour of economiccooperation. Notably, Michael argues that the Indian influence in the formative years of IORA’s establishment veered IORA away from the contrasting norms of another of the originating norm entrepreneurs, Australia. Australia’s initiative in 1995 to forge an Indian Ocean Rim multilateralism had as its focus security rather than economic co­oper­ation. The Indian perspective was on the latter, as well as limiting membership, rather than a broad-based representation of IORA countries, such as Australia preferred. India led the majority of countries in institutionalizing its own norms, and in the process of norm localization, ‘all features of regional multilateralism that dealt with enduring cooperation, independent institutional setup, institution-building, and identitybuilding were pruned and instead Indian ideas towards the scope and limits of regional multilateralism grafted’ (Michael 2017: 13). Finally, and most recently, Indian foreign policy has taken on a more geoeconomic trajectory, but the question that remains to be answered is whether the promised level of regional investments will actually materialize and create a real difference? In addition, the Indian position is somewhat conflicted internally: on the one hand, it is still trying to portray itself as a benign hegemon; and yet on the other hand, it is increasingly making hawkish pronouncements, with an obvious push towards increasing militarization of the region.



Regional Middle Powers and the Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative Introduction In this chapter we argue that, in the Indo-Pacific region since the ‘end’ of the ‘old’ Cold War, there has been a process of political and economic competition among regional great powers for influence over Indo-Pacific core middle powers. One of the essential aims of this process is to create a regional middle power coalition in opposition to either China or the US, one of the elements of the new Cold War discussed in Chapter 4. In the case of the former, political orientation to China has essentially been enabled through a programme of developing strategic partnerships. In the case of the latter, it has been enacted through a policy of alliance reaffirmation or the rebadging of Cold War treaties. As a result, the foreign pol­ icies of US-co-opted states will exhibit a shift in emphasis towards support for the US pivot and an expression of a greater foreign policy interest than heretofore in the Indo-Pacific region, following the US. The result is that an Indo-Pacific selfidentification and an ‘Indo-Pacific narrative’ become important components of the foreign policy rhetoric and debate of US-co-opted states. It has been argued that great powers use strategic narratives to establish and maintain influence in the international system and to shape the system itself (Antoniades et al. 2010). Middle and small powers are often co-opted or implicated in the strategic narratives of great powers by national security elites and this has important consequences for their strategic identity. The degree of success in US co-option explains the variability among regional middle powers in terms of adopting this ‘return to the Indo-Pacific’ strategic narrative and political orientation. Furthermore, failure to adopt an Indo-Pacific identification and narrative in foreign policy also reflects the degree of competitive success of the other regional great powers, notably China and Russia. However, it is also likely that regional middle powers will tend to take a more independent foreign policy stance partly as a result of the end of Cold War relationship rigidities and due to the impact of state domestic politics in a context of gradually increasing postcolonial nationalism. Economics has become the key driving force since ideology is no longer of principal importance in determining interstate relations. Indeed, the memory of actions perpetrated under a colonial regime make most post-colonial middle powers resistant to any form of external domination (Hatta  1953: 445). The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific. Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley, Oxford University Press (2019). © Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739524.001.0001


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  111 As  a result, regional middle powers could well emerge as significant sources of regional s­ tra­tegic change (Bajpaee 2016). The co-option of regional middle powers is facilitated by great power economic policies aimed at incorporating states into an integrated economic network that militates against the diplomatic strategy of the competitor. For the US, this has traditionally been in the form of overseas development assistance and for China, more recently, is being expressed in the BRI (to be discussed in Chapter 8). Japan is also developing its own BRI (Johnson 2018). For the core regional middle powers this has resulted in an alliance affirmation for some states or a considerable degree of cross-pressure for others, thus presenting considerable challenges for these states in the future. For some regional middle powers, the adoption of a ‘dual-track’ approach (Manicom and O’Neil 2012: 213) that combines ‘strategic hedging’ with the US and ‘economic bandwagoning’ with China is aimed at ameliorating these potential conflicts. However, both the degree of popular support for a dual-track approach and its projected success in minimizing internal conflict is yet to be fully tested within core middle power states. Furthermore, a key strategic dilemma of these states is the question of how to avoid situations that might necessitate a choice between the US and China (Snyder 2013: 37). Following a discussion of the characteristics of core Indo-Pacific middle powers, we examine the pattern of Indo-Pacific middle power US alliances and key strategic partnerships and linkages. Finally, we analyse the relevance of the Indo-Pacific narrative for each of the eight regional middle powers in turn.

Indo-Pacific Middle Powers As Gareth Evans (2017b) has put it: ‘Middle powers’ are best described as those states which are not economically or militarily big or strong enough, either in their own regions or the wider world, to impose their policy preferences on anyone else—but which are nonetheless sufficiently capable, credible and motivated to be able to make an impact on international relations.

However, the middle power concept is fraught with ideological and methodological difficulty. For example, there is no agreed quantitative or qualitative def­in­ ition of a middle power and of middle power diplomacy (Ungerer  2007: 539). Attempts to rigidly apply quantitative measures possess inherent methodological inconsistencies and impose seemingly logical but necessarily arbitrary cut-off points (for example, Ping  2005: 103). In other studies, Australia and Singapore have been assigned more great power indicators than India, Japan, and Russia. It has even been suggested that it may be preferable to define a middle power in


112  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific terms of what it is not rather than in terms of what it is (Keyser and Shin 2013: 3). Approaches have varied according to quantitative measures, identity indicators, behavioural traits, and state impacts (Emmers and Teo 2018: 14). Notwithstanding this wide variety of classificatory techniques, there are arguably a number of general characteristics that analysts, numerous academics, politicians, diplomats, and states have used to collectively identify middle powers and their functions (Table 7.1). Collectively, these characteristics give rise to 10 to 20 influential states that are not permanent members of the United Nations Security Council but can play an important role in regional and global affairs (Gilley 2012). Furthermore, as has been suggested, global geopolitical change has provided new opportunities for ‘creative middle power diplomacy’ (Rudd 2011). In the Indo-Pacific region, no less than twelve states might qualify under a ­def­in­ition of middle power—Australia, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam. Given our objective geographical conception of the Indo-Pacific region as comprising a core (the Asia-Pacific) and a periphery (the west Indian Ocean), then, for the sake of the current comparative analysis, consideration will be given only to the region’s eight core middle powers—Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam (Figure 7.1). Apart from their categorization, the eight core middle powers in the Indo-Pacific are highly diverse and have little else in common from a social and economic ­perspective. For example, their populations range from more than 250 million (Indonesia) to 5.6 million (Singapore). The proportion of the population that is urbanized ranges from 100 per cent (Singapore) to 34 per cent (Vietnam); and their gross domestic product (GDP) per capita varies from $66,000 (Australia) to $1,900 (Vietnam). Gender inequality is greatest in Indonesia and lowest in South Korea (Table 7.2). Table 7.1.  Some middle power characteristics An ability to influence certain areas and functions Statistical indicators such as a relatively large economy Catalyst, facilitator, manager Potential to change the position of great powers Distinctive style of diplomacy Coalition-building, mediatory role Motivated by good international citizenship Moral actors Independent policy delivery capability Degree of global influence Position, behaviour, identity Systemic impact Collective self-identification Source: Carr 2014; Evans 2012; Gilley 2012; Rudd 2011; Rumley 2015b; Shin 2015; Ungerer 2007


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  113 85 Omsk





Krasnoyarsk Bratsk








Andaman Islands (INDIA) Nicobar Islands (INDIA)


Andaman Sea

Phnom Penh Gulf of Thailand



MALAYASIA Kuala Lumpur




Christmas Island (AUSTRALIA)


Ashmore and Cartier Islands (AUSTRALIA)



PAPUA NEW GUINEA Jayapura Wewak New Guinea

Arafura Sea

Dili Kupang



Banda Sea





Gulf of Carpentana



1000 Miles 90



1000 Kilometers 500


Celebes Sea Manado

Scale 1:46,000,000 Azimuthal Equal-Area Projection 500



Java Sea


Guam (U.S.)


Bandung Java

Cocos (Keeling) Islands (AUSTRALIA)






Northern Marlana Islands (U.S.)

Philippine Sea


Padang Sumatra Bengkulu


Sulu Sea Zamboanga



Indian Ocean



Spratly Islands

Bandar Seri Begawan BRUNEL

Banda Aceh



South China Sea

Ho Chi Minh City

North Pacific Ocean

cer of Can Tropic




Bay of Bengal

Occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945, administered by Russia, claimed by Japan.

East China Sea

Hong Kong Macau B.A.R Special Admistrative Haiphong Region Hainan Dao Paracel Da Nang Islands









Kunming Mandalay


Hokkaido Sappoio














Kuril Islands

Viadivostok NORTH shenyang KOREA Sea of Japan Pyongyang Honshu Demarcation Dalian Tokyo Line Seoul SOUTH JAPAN KOREA Yellow Osaka Sea Kitakyüshu Shikoku






NEPAL Kathmandu Kānpur




New Delhi





Dushanbe Kashi TAJIKISTAN AFG. 1972 Line Kabul of Control Indian Claim Islamabad Line of Actual PAK. Control 30



Sea of Okhotsk


Almaty Bishkek KYRGYZSTAN

Tashkent UZB.



135 Tynda

Lake Baikal

Semey (Semipalatinsk) Lake Balkhash





Dampier 105


Boundary representation is not necessarily authoritative.

rn Tropic of Caprico


Figure 7.1.  Core states of the Indo-Pacific region Source: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas at Austin

Importantly, from a geopolitical perspective, six of the eight middle power states—Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—are members of ASEAN, a significant strategic basis for regional coalition building. In addition, they are all notionally members of the Non-Aligned Movement, although the global relevance of this has clearly declined since the end of the Cold War, evidenced by the very low turnout of heads of state at the 17th NAM Summit in Venezuela in 2016 (Pant 2016).

24 89.3 82.1 5.3 33.2 65804 12.2 VH (2) 24 151 79

Source: UN ESCAP 2016; UNDP 2016; Transparency International

Population 2015 (M) % urban Life expectancy % govt expenditure on education CO2/capita GDP/capita % youth unemployment Human Development Index category (rank) Gender inequality rank Prisoners/100,000 population Corruption index 2016

Australia 257.6 53.4 68.6 3.3 3.1 3456 21.6 M (113) 105 64 37

Indonesia 30.3 75.5 74.5 6.1 9.6 10603 11.1 H (59) 59 171 49


Table 7.2.  Socio-economic characteristics of Indo-Pacific core middle powers

100.7 44.9 68 3.4 1.7 2788 16.7 M (116) 96 121 35

Philippines 5.6 100 82.6 20 10.6 54717 10.3 VH (5) 11 227 84

Singapore 50.3 81.6 81.4 4.6 13.5 26171 9.2 VH (18) 10 101 53

South Korea

68 50 74.1 4.1 6.6 6229 3.1 H (87) 79 461 35


93.4 33.6 75.6 6.3 3.4 1874 5.4 M(115) 71 154 33




Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  115

Middle Power US Alliances and Chinese Strategic Partnerships The overall pattern of Indo-Pacific middle power US alliances and China strategic partnerships is currently an intriguing amalgam of residual Cold War US defence treaties, rebadged or new alliances—for example, in the case of the ‘fulcrum states’ of Australia, Philippines, South Korea, and Thailand—and Chinese stra­tegic partnerships of various types that were forged partly in response to the Obama ‘rebalance’ to the region (Table 7.3). The US Defence Alliance ‘gaps’—Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam—are interesting in that the US is clearly giving assistance to these states to enhance their security. As Carter (2016: 71) has put it: ‘US is working with Indonesia and Malaysia to help them even better meet their security challenges and promote regional security’. The US is clearly involved also in the process of encouraging regional security cooperation and in the development of regional coalitions. For example, in the case of assisting Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines in conducting counterpiracy patrols and, perhaps more importantly, in the creation of the Southeast Asian Maritime Security Initiative designed to ‘help Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam work with one another’ (Carter 2016: 72). Table 7.3.  China and the US: Indo-Pacific middle power strategic partnerships and alliances China


Strategic partnerships

Cold War treaties

Rebalance alliances/ partnerships

2014 CSP 2005 SP 2013 CSP

1951 ANZUS

US–Australia Alliance 2015 SP 2014 SP 2014 US–Philippines EDCA 2015 EDCA 2014 US–South Korea Alliance US–Thailand Alliance 2016 CP 2015 SP

Australia Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore South Korea

2015 ARCP 2008 SP

Thailand Vietnam ASEAN

2012 CSCP 2013 CSCP 2003 SPPP

1951 Philippines Treaty 1953 Republic of Korea Treaty 1954 Manila Pact

Note: ANZUS = Australia, New Zealand, US Security Treaty; ARCP = All Round Cooperative Partnership; CP = Comprehensive Partnership; CSCP = Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership; CSP = Comprehensive Strategic Partnership; EDCA = Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement; SP = Strategic Partnership; SPPP = Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity Source: Carter 2016; Parameswaran 2014a; Zhongping and Jing 2014; US State Department


116  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific

A Hierarchy of Regional Great Power–Middle Power Strategic Linkages Regional great power competition for influence and trade in Southeast Asia (Denoon  2017) and among Asian middle powers, however, not only involves China and the US, but also India, Japan, and to a lesser degree Russia (Table 7.4). As noted above, the principal emphasis of the US is clearly on defence, with defence alliances with Australia, South Korea, and Thailand, while the Philippines and Singapore enjoy enhanced defence cooperation agreements. China, on the other hand, has emphasized a range of hierarchical cooperative partnerships rather than defence alliances or agreements. It has been argued that the highest Chinese rank (rank 1) involves a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership, the middle rank (rank 2) involves a strategic partnership or a strategic cooperative partnership, and the lowest rank (rank 3) involves a cooperative partnership or a comprehensive partnership. According to this ranking system, Vietnam was the first state to be bestowed by China with the highest title (Vuving 2013: 67). If we apply this Chinese ranking codification to all of the types of great power cooperative relationships with the Indo-Pacific middle powers then we find that there are some interesting strategic linkages and ‘strategic gaps’ (Table 7.4). For example, Japan (prioritizing its US alliance) appears to prefer rank 2 relationships Table 7.4.  Indo-Pacific great power–middle power cooperative partnerships



Rank 1

Rank 2

Rank 3

Australia* Malaysia Thailand* Vietnam Indonesia Vietnam

Indonesia South Korea*



Russia USA

Vietnam Australia* South Korea* Thailand*

Malaysia Singapore South Korea* Australia* Indonesia Malaysia Philippines* Vietnam Indonesia Malaysia Philippines* Singapore

Note: * fulcrum states in the US pivot Source: calculated by the authors using the Chinese ranking codification



Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  117 (that is, strategic partnerships). India, however (pursuing its multialignment strategy), has two important rank 1 and three rank 2 relationships. Both China and the US prefer rank 1 relationships (that is, comprehensive strategic partnerships in the case of China and defence alliances in the case of the US). China, for example, has comprehensive strategic partnerships with three of the four ‘stra­ tegic land bridge’ states—Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. The US, on the other hand, possesses defence alliances with three of the four middle power ‘fulcrum states’—Australia, South Korea, and Thailand. Importantly, during Modi’s visit to Hanoi in September 2016, the relationship with Vietnam was elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership, at that time India’s only rank 1 relationship in the Indo-Pacific region. However, in June 2018, India agreed to its second comprehensive strategic partnership, with Indonesia. This is a significant geopolitical development since, among other things, it involves cooperation on the development of the port infrastructure in the stra­ tegic­al­ly located Sabang, Aceh, at the mouth of the Malacca Strait. Japan is the only great power possessing two rank 2 relationships with other fulcrum states and Russia is the only great power possessing a single strategic partnership— Vietnam—although this is of the highest ranking (Table 7.4). Importantly, for the other regional middle powers, Vietnam (with five relationships, including three in rank 1) enjoys the largest set of great power links, followed by Indonesia (four relationships, including one in rank 1), while all others have three or less. Two of the US fulcrum states are especially interesting— Philippines is in rank 2 for both the US and Japan, and Thailand is the only IndoPacific regional middle power that is in rank 1 for both China and the US, implying an especially competitive state strategic context (Table 7.4). In terms of mutually perceived strategic significance, two sets of seemingly ‘strategic gaps’ are discernible from these data—for China, the relationship with the Philippines, and for the US, the relationship with Vietnam (2016)—at the lowest rank—that is, a comprehensive partnership (Table  7.4). The rationale for both the structure of these great power–regional middle power relationships and the nature of the ‘strategic gaps’ in the context of the relative importance of the Indo-Pacific narrative will be discussed for each Asian middle power in turn.

The Core Middle Powers and the Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative Unsurprisingly given their diversity, the core middle powers have adopted divergent strategic narratives. A strategic narrative has been defined as ‘a means for political actors to construct a shared meaning of the past, present and future of international politics to shape the behavior of domestic and international actors’ (Miskimmon et al.  2013: 2). Among other things, great powers use strategic


118  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific narratives to project their interests and to create identity groups and enable the establishment of normative orientations (Antoniades et al.  2010). This has important implications for the democratization of security since invariably security elites possess the motive, means, and opportunity to construct a dominant national security narrative from an especially privileged position (Jones and McBeth  2010). As a result, dominant strategic narratives can severely constrain the full presentation, analysis, and articulation of alternative options in the public domain (Krebs 2015a: 813). Security narratives are regularly ‘fed’ into the public domain to reinforce dominance. ‘Counter-narratives’ (Lowther and Lucius 2014) are passively and actively discouraged and alternatives are thus marginalized— what has been referred to as ‘narrative disciplining’ (Brand  2016). As Krebs (2015b: 14) has so elegantly put it: ‘Dominant narratives of national security are the terrain on which politicians, pundits, and activists battle. Those narratives do not smother political contest. They channel it, privileging particular courses of action and impeding the legitimation of others.’ Indeed, it has been noted that the opinions of powerful elites and think-tanks can override the advice given by more informed and better qualified state-employed foreign policy experts (Doyle 2014: 9). This is not to imply, however, that geopolitical narratives are either uncontested or do not change. Rather, in different contexts, multiple narratives might be in play and resonate in different ways at different times (Browning 2008: 15). As has been argued, this is especially the case during ‘unsettled times’ (Krebs 2015b: 6), including changes in the ruling elite, internal instability, political party change, state responses to perceived threat, and regional and global geopolitical change. The ‘Indo-Pacific’ is one such contested geopolitical narrative for regional middle power states. We will examine the extent to which an Indo-Pacific narrative has become embedded, if at all, in the security discourse of all eight regional middle powers, the degree to which it has become dominant, and the ways in which it has changed since the end of the Cold War period.

Australia and the Indo-Pacific Narrative There are various ways in which the Indo-Pacific narrative has been articulated, reinforced, and perpetuated in Australia—ideologically, via politicians and senior public servants; by Australia strategic analysts; through the Australian Department of Defence white papers (which outline the department’s strategic planning for the Australian Defence Force); through the Australian media; and as a result of the perpetuation of Australian conservative attitudes towards the US. From an ideological perspective, in Australia discussion over the Indo-Pacific concept has been principally associated with traditional security issues and hard power and thus articulated by defence department spokespeople and conservative politicians and analysts (Table 7.5).


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  119 Table 7.5.  The ideology of the Indo-Pacific Indian Ocean region

Indo-Pacific region

Diplomacy Optimists Soft power Regionalists Foreign affairs departments Liberal political parties Liberal think-tanks Liberal commentators

Traditional security Pessimists Hard power Nationalists Defence departments/consultants Conservative political parties Conservative think-tanks Conservative commentators

Source: Rumley et al. 2012: 2

The US President Obama famously launched his regional pivot policy at a speech in the Australian Federal Parliament on 17 November 2011. Notably, the phrase ‘Indo-Pacific’ was not mentioned at all, although ‘Asia-Pacific’ was mentioned on nine occasions (Obama  2011). Subsequently, there was some initial degree of ambivalence, conceptual reluctance, or even conceptual confusion over the use of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’. In August  2013, the Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop was somewhat reluctant to endorse the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ and preferred the phrase ‘Indian Ocean Asia-Pacific’ (Rajendram 2013). This was reiterated in a major speech in June 2014, when the minister outlined the main elements of Australia’s ‘new aid paradigm’. In that speech, she stated that the principal geographical focus of Australia’s aid allocations henceforth would be to ‘Australia’s region’—the ‘Indian Ocean Asia Pacific’ (Bishop  2014). However, in her IndoPacific oration to the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi in April 2015, the minister was firmly in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ camp, referring to the region’s ­importance for both Australia and India a dozen times (Bishop 2015). The IndoPacific became the dominant narrative in the 2013 defence white paper, closely following the US ‘pivot’, and it continued its narrative ascendance in the last defence white paper of 2016. While conceptual confusion may have been present among Australian politicians over the articulation of the Indo-Pacific narrative, Australian public ser­ vants were clear in its reinforcement and the ‘strategic transition’ of Australia’s region that has apparently occurred in recent years. As the former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese (2015), put it in a speech to the Lowy Institute: Traditionally our concept of Asia has focussed on the Asia Pacific as a coherent strategic system straddling the United States, the strategic heavy weights of North East Asia and our closer neighbours in South East Asia and the South Pacific. More recently we have also had to think about where India fits in. India


120  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific has traditionally seen its strategic interests in neighbourhood terms. But as its interests in East Asia expand and as East Asian security dynamics take on more institutional substance, it makes sense to think of India as a key player in an Indo-Pacific strategic system which also encompasses the United States, East Asia and the South Pacific.

Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategic system is thus defined by Varghese in terms of three new elements—first, India’s regional interests; second, the dynamics of East Asia; and third, and perhaps most importantly, Australia’s strategic system now coincides precisely with the region occupied by the US Pacific Command. Furthermore, in this construction, all of the western Indian Ocean is thus excluded from Australia’s Indo-Pacific world view. Australia’s acting high commissioner to India, Chris Elstoft, in a speech to the National Defence College in New Delhi (2017) elevated the Indo-Pacific strategic narrative to a ‘security paradigm’. As the high commissioner noted: ‘For Australia the “Indo-Pacific” is as much a strategic concept as geographical definition. It recognizes our distinctive position as a continent which faces both oceans and captures the maritime nature of the region.’ The high commissioner also emphasized that ‘the term Indo-Pacific brings India into the strategic frame of Australia’s region of interest’. Australian strategic analysts have played a leading role in the propagation and nourishment of the Indo-Pacific concept, principally by means of policy institutes and conservative think-tanks, especially the Lowy Institute in Australia, as Beeson (2016) notes, a well-funded think-tank which has been influential in shaping national policy debate. One of the major Australian strategic analyst proponents of the Indo-Pacific concept has been Rory Medcalf (Medcalf 2012, 2013, 2014) who argues that we have now entered the ‘Indo-Pacific century’ (Medcalf 2012: 13). Medcalf refers to the Indo-Pacific ‘strategic system’, a security concept that is not defined (2014: 45). Close investigation of the meaning of this term strongly suggests that it is an Australian security analyst’s construction. It is a term which is normally used in relation to management systems and is nowhere to be found as  a spatial concept in the US Department of State or the US Department of Defense websites or in official documents. However, the Australian Department of  Defence has referred to a ‘strategic system’ in relation to defence equipment, notably the Collins class submarine system (for example, Coles et al. 2016). From a conceptual perspective, the major coherence of a strategic system is said to rely on economic interactions (Medcalf 2014: 47). In short, we are talking about an emerging functional economic trade set of linkages which are ‘cut off ’, as it were, from the rest of the globe. Conceptually, we could equally talk of an ‘Indo-Atlantic’ strategic system, among others. However, the ‘Indo-Pacific strategic system’ is privileged and reified by Australian analysts as a security narrative for the functions already noted. Medcalf also argues that the concept has been supported by at least ‘five substantial countries in recent years’—Australia, India,


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  121 Indonesia, Japan, and the US—and that these states have used ‘an Indo-Pacific frame of reference in arrangements for security cooperation’ (2014: 51). Australia is a key member of the ‘white democratic Anglosphere’, and cultural and national self-identity issues form a key role in the elaboration of its foreign policy. However, it would seem that Australia has continued to grapple with a coherent concept of its regional security identity. Australian conservative attitudes to the US in the twenty-first century still reflect this deferential posture coupled with a strong ‘mateship’ narrative, and thus ensure that US strategic concepts would generally be welcomed and often happily, even slavishly, endorsed. For example, in February 2017, in a speech in Chicago, the Australian ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, stated that: ‘Australia and America have a partnership forged in blood’. Seemingly, this speech was a part of a ‘Mateship Masterplan’ sanctioned by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade designed to perpetuate a public narrative on the importance of the Australia–US alliance in the face of doubts as a result of the election of Donald Trump (Curran 2017a). The nature of conservative attitudes towards the US became evident once again in the April 2017 visit of US Vice-President Pence to Australia designed to emphasize the ‘historic alliance’. The subsequent visit of conservative Australian Prime Minister Turnbull to the US in May 2017 reaffirmed this view and also stressed the nature of the ‘family’ relationship between Australia and the US (McGuirk 2017). Australian conservative media (principally that of Rupert Murdoch) have also perpetuated the importance of the Indo-Pacific concept to the Australian public and have constantly reinforced the position of conservative Australian governments on foreign policy matters (Sheridan 2011a). Firm adherence to the latest regional security identity concept may therefore take some time since it confronts the issue of ‘residual security identity’. The issue of changing cultural identity and its relation to strategic visions and orientations are influenced by the (much contested) vision of Australia as a Euro-Asian state. The changing pattern of immigration, with Asia-born population in excess of 6 per cent of Australia’s total population, has inevitably raised the ‘perennial and uniquely Australian debate over whether Australia is an Asian state’ (Flitton 2009). The 2016 Australian Census has been described by one commentator as a ‘tipping point’, since for the first time in Australian history, the proportion of Asia-born immigrants—39.7 per cent (32.9 per cent in 2011)—is larger than the proportion of European-born migrants—33.9 per cent (40.3 per cent in 2011) (Martin 2017). Bruce Gyngell, a former very senior Australian government policy advisor, argues in his recent book Fear of Abandonment that it was this fear (that of abandonment) that was a principal motivating factor in Australia’s national engagement (Gyngell  2017a: 363). A fear of abandonment, first by the dead English colonial mother, and then by an ageing American Uncle Sam, has meant that close ties, even dependence, had to be maintained; thus, the deceased colonial mother’s flag is still part of the sibling and US security has been Australia’s


122  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific se­ cur­ ity—the ‘insurance’ of close US security ties (United States National Intelligence Council 2012: 79). Anglo-Saxon dependence has also constrained the development of social, economic, and security relations with regional Asian states. Former foreign minister Gareth Evans has referred to a strand of fear of the Asian other and isolationist paranoia that in turn fuels a perceived need to defend Australia from rather than with Asia (Evans and Grant 1995: 110). For his part, former Australian Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser (2014) raises a number of key questions regarding the efficacy of Australia’s current strategic dependence upon the US. These include whether Australian values continue to align with those of the US, and whether the US ‘pivot’ could potentially undo indigenous regionalization and institutionalization that had developed within the AsiaPacific, largely without Western assistance. He also questioned whether con­tinued strategic dependence on the US exerts Australia to make policy choices that ostracize Australia from the region, and whether Australia’s current strategic dependence on the US is, in fact, a paradox. As Fraser puts it: ‘We need the US for defence but we only need defence because of the United States’ (Fraser 2014: 6). In short, for Australia, the US is potentially a ‘dangerous ally’. Rather, Fraser argues for: ‘An option of strategic independence to avoid complicity in America’s future military operations and secure a future that best serves Australia’s interests’ (Fraser 2014: 276).

Indonesia’s middle way For Indonesia, given its geographical location, the future course of the Indo-Pacific region is in our profound interest. (Natalegawa 2013) Indonesia is perceived as a middle power that seeks to play a greater regional and global role (Emmers and Teo  2015: 195). Furthermore, it is seen as a ‘natural leader’ of ASEAN (Islam and Diaz 2013: 1), although Indonesia’s ‘emerging power narrative’ indicates a drift away from ASEAN (Shekhar  2015b). Thus, while Indonesia is often categorized as a middle power, arguably this view is inadequate in describing its actual international role (Santikajaya 2016). As has been noted, Indonesia is a ‘natural choice’ to function as a mediator between the US pivot and China’s rise and to act as an honest broker within ASEAN (Aiyar  2013). Given Indonesia’s regional and international role and that ‘the emerging Indo-Pacific system is predominantly a maritime environment with Southeast Asia at its geographic centre’ (Australian Government  2013: 8), clearly Indonesia is central to the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region. Indonesia’s ‘crossroads’ (posisi silang) location between the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Asian and Australian continents give it a ‘strategic centrality’. The combination of this strategic location,


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  123 Indonesia’s ‘archipelagic outlook’, together with strong feelings of nationalism and anti-colonialism suggest that balancing extra-regional powers ‘may be inevitable’ (Laksmana 2011: 109). However, Indonesia possesses something of an ambivalent Indo-Pacific narrative since it seems to experience a sense of ‘discomfort’ with the Western IndoPacific concept (Willis 2016: 87). Rather, Indonesia currently appears to feel more at ease with the narrative of a ‘maritime power’ (Supriyanto 2017: 55). On the one hand, as noted in Chapter 3, the combination of nationalism and Indonesia’s pivotal location has engendered a ‘free and active’ (bebas dan aktif) foreign policy and a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement (Fortuna 2013). As Indonesia’s first vice-president put it, Indonesia is not ‘neutral’ but ‘independent’ and ‘active’ (Hatta 1953). Given that half of the world’s trade passes its northern maritime boundary Indonesia is bound to be concerned with maritime security. In the twenty-first century, the Indo-Pacific narrative appeared to become more important following the US pivot during the presidency of Susila Bamban Yudhoyono after a period in which the former Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, had argued in favour of the ‘independence of Asians’ (Suryanarayana  2000). In ­addition, the election of Joko Widodo in 2014 marked the beginning of a shift back towards a more independent Indonesian position with a broader concept of the Indo-Pacific (Table 7.6). In 2000, President Wahid introduced an informal proposal of a ‘coalition of five’—China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Singapore—to present an ‘Asian face’ to the rest of the world. While ASEAN would remain important, this coalition implies a much broader regional grouping and a more significant role for Indonesia among some of the Asian great powers. The establishment of a coalition of Asian

Table 7.6.  Twenty-first-century Indonesian regional security narratives President


Regional structure

Wahid 1999 National Awakening Party (PKB) Yudhoyono (2004) Partai Demokrat

Coalition of Five 2000 ‘Asian face’

China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore Core Indo-Pacific states US regional concept Broader Indo-Pacific China, India, Indonesia, Japan

Widodo (2014) Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P)

IPTFC 2013 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation Global Maritime Fulcrum 2015 PACINDO

Source: Indonesian government policy documents 1999–2015


124  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific major powers—an ‘Asian Central Axis’—was seen to be necessary in order to maintain peace and stability in the region (Sukma 2003: 103). Freedom of regional trade for Indonesia by implication implies a safe and ­stable system of sea lanes of communication and thus a stable Indo-Pacific region. Former minister of foreign affairs Marty Natalegawa’s 2013 concept of an ‘IndoPacific Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation’ (IPTFC) can therefore be seen as being central to Indonesia’s foreign policy interests. He argued for the need for a new regional paradigm in interstate relations not unlike the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia to deal with issues associated with regional trust deficit, unresolved territorial problems, and the need to manage the impact of change (Natalegawa  2013). Natalegawa’s concept of the Indo-Pacific placed Indonesia at its geographical centre: ‘In terms of geography, it refers to an im­port­ ant triangular spanning two oceans, the Pacific and Indian Oceans, bounded by Japan in the north, Australia in the south-east and India in the south-west, not­ ably with Indonesia at its center’ (Natalegawa 2013). In this definition, both the western Indian Ocean and the eastern Pacific Ocean are not regarded as part of the region, thus excluding all of Africa and, of course, the Americas. This selfperception clearly accords with ‘outside’ identifications of Indonesia as being part of an ‘Indo-Pacific Peninsula’ (Wesley 2013: 29). This regional narrative can also be seen to be problematic from at least five other viewpoints. First, as implied above, the Indo-Pacific as a construct is most often used in the US and Australia and not so much in Asia (Sukma 2013). In the twenty-first century, the original German conception as discussed in Chapter  3 has now ironically become an Anglo-Saxon co-option. Any sense of ‘construct attachment’ by regional states will therefore be highly variable thus affecting its potential success. Second, the IPTFC concept privileges the US delimitation of the Indo-Pacific region. Third, this delimitation also accords with the US regional military op­er­ ations structure. The sub-text of the IPTFC is thus an implied containment of China and is therefore a view that could be perceived as a tilt towards support for the US and its pivot. After all, Natalegawa’s speech was delivered in Washington. While Indonesia welcomed the Obama ‘rebalance’ and signed a comprehensive partnership with the US in 2010, it was still concerned about the US emphasis on its military dimension. In particular, the presence of US troops in Darwin, Australia is regarded by Indonesia as unwelcome (Fortuna 2013: 4). Fourth, the proposal to ‘institutionalize’ a contested regional construct will always be problematic if it contains unequal members since, among other things, one of the functions of regionalism is to ‘constrain’ member behaviour. Thus, great powers are always hesitant to yield power in regional groupings and much prefer bilateral relations; in short, unequal regional coalitions are less likely to be successful and, consequently, China’s accession to an IPTFC would be highly unlikely. Finally, even if an agreement were reached among regional states to institutionalize IPTFC, operationalizing its goals would be extremely challenging


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  125 (Sukma  2013). This would be especially problematic if the IPTFC agenda were to be legally binding, as suggested by Yudhoyono in December 2013 (Liow 2014). It is unsurprising that, as a result of these issues, the Indo-Pacific Treaty concept obtained ‘scant response’ from the major powers (Chinyong 2014). The dynamic of Indonesian domestic politics is central in defining its present geopolitical orientation. In November 2014, the government placed the maritime sector as the government’s top priority for the first time (Supriyanto 2014). The new Jokowi government referred to Indonesia as a ‘global maritime fulcrum’ with ambitions to be a ‘global maritime power’ (Bajpaee 2016). This view is clearly expressed in the 2015 defence white paper that makes no mention of the IndoPacific region (MODRI 2015). Rather, the defence white paper represents a revival of Indonesia’s maritime identity, a reassertion of its long-standing ‘archipelagic outlook’ discussed in Chapter  3, and adheres to its historic non-aligned no alliances policy (Gindarsah and Priamarizki  2015; Lowry  2016). Despite the numerous criticisms of Widodo’s global maritime fulcrum (Poros Maritim Dunia or PMD), especially the vagueness in terms of its operationalization, it still possesses ‘inspiratory significance’ (Supriyanto 2017: 56). While Indonesia’s diplomacy has been directed towards ASEAN and its northern region, Widodo’s intention is to expand the geographical scope of its diplomatic presence. For example, increasing concern for the stability of its western Indian Ocean flank means that Indonesia and India are ‘natural allies’, exemplified by the 2005 strategic partnership (Laksmana  2011: 111). Indonesia’s assumption of the chair of IORA in 2015 is also indicative of a developing twoocean geopolitical orientation. Indonesia’s hosting of the first IORA Summit in Jakarta in 2017 is indicative of the importance now placed upon the Indian Ocean, although a ‘sound strategy’ still needs to be developed (Supriyanto  2017: 52). Nonetheless, Indonesia has played an important role in galvanizing IORA into a more effective institution by developing clearer action plans, encouraging greater intra-regional project cooperation, and by widening littoral membership to include Myanmar, Pakistan, and others (Santikajaya 2014). Furthermore, ASEAN might be encouraged to become an IORA dialogue partner (Cordner 2017: 40). In the 2015 defence white paper, the US is seen as ‘a strategic partner in the development of institutional capacity, operational capability, professionalism of human resources, and the weapon system modernization’ (MODRI  2015: 89). Furthermore, China is regarded as a ‘strategic partner’ involved in ‘military equipment technology transfer’ (MODRI 2015: 83) and Russia is involved with ‘defence equipment cooperation’ (MODRI 2015: 92). An ‘Asian Fulcrum of Four’—China, India, Indonesia, and Japan—proposed by Widodo policy advisor Rizal Sukma, would also seek to construct a pan IndoPacific (or PACINDO) region (Agastia and Perwita 2015). It is important to note that this view of the Indo-Pacific excludes all extra-regional powers as well as all core regional middle powers. In particular, the Asian Fulcrum of Four coalition


126  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific differs from current trilateral regional arrangements and excludes Australia and the US (Shekhar 2015a). On the one hand, Indonesia’s acceptance of Japan’s ‘stra­ tegic normalization’ can be seen as a counter-balance to China’s regional as­sert­ ive­ness and also as an acknowledgement of the US regional balancing and pacifying role. However, on the other hand, Indonesia’s ‘sense of strategic autonomy’ and its ‘independent and active’ principle (Gindarsah and Priamarizki 2015: 9) mean that it can be seen as a ‘swing state in Sino-US relations’ (see Table 7.4); that is, it is neither an ‘American acolyte’ nor a ‘Chinese satellite’ (Pereira 2017)— it represents Indonesia’s current ‘middle way’ (Santikajaya  2016: 568). On the other hand, the 2016 US presidential election of Donald Trump has raised concerns in Indonesia over the efficacy of the US pivot to Asia and the prospect of a more inward-looking US foreign policy. If this eventuates then it may cause Indonesia to adjust its hedging strategy in order to pursue closer bilateral relations with neighbouring states and other major powers (Fitriani 2017). Australia and India would appear to be prime candidates for such a policy adjustment.

Malaysia’s Equidistance Malaysia has been described as an ‘emerging middle power’ (Nossal and Stubbs 1997) and has been statistically classified as a middle power (Ping 2005: 9). However, it has recently been argued that Malaysia is rather an ‘incomplete’ or ‘partial’ middle power primarily on account of the ‘post-Mahatir decline’ in its international influence and the lack of leadership in international affairs undertaken by former prime minister Najib (Emmers and Teo 2018: 96–102). Nonetheless, Malaysia has sometimes perceived itself as a middle power (Emmers and Teo 2018: 112) but wishes to act internationally in such a role. For example, at the 8th Heads of Mission Conference in Kuala Lumpur in February 2014, the then Malaysian prime minister stated that: ‘as a Middle Power, Malaysia must continue its commitments to ASEAN and devote adequate resources to strengthening bilateral relations with its neighbors’ (Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations 2014). In short, Malaysia intends to play a greater role in Asia via a strategy that has been referred to as ‘middlepowermanship’ (Scravanamuttu 2010: 330; Harun  2013: 124). ‘Mahatirism’—including opposition to the hegemony of the West and ‘active internationalism’—pursued by then prime minister Mahatir (1981–2003) continue to be key ingredients of this strategy (Dosch  2014). Importantly, Malaysia became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1970 and filled the post of secretary-general 2003–6. In addition, Malaysia wishes to project itself as a moderate Islamic state through the use of Islam Hadhari or Civilizational Islam (Emmers and Teo 2018: 98). It has been argued that ‘insulation’ has remained a key feature of Malaysian foreign policy in recent decades— that is, foreign policy-making is largely insulated from domestic influences, the opposition, and from non-state actors (Dosch 2014). Thus, by and large, a wide


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  127 range of internal problems—allegations of corruption against former prime ­minister Najib, electoral malpractice on a grand scale, contrived sodomy charges against Anwar Ibrahim, crackdowns on opposition groups, the rise in fundamentalism, racial tensions, and an economic downturn (Parameswaran 2016a)—do not significantly impact upon foreign policy discourse and narrative. Other issues—the plight of the Rohingya in Burma, the Philippines’ claim to Sabah, a variety of conflicts along the Malaysian–Thai international boundary (Rumley 2015a), as well as illegal immigration and the ‘annual haze problem’ emanating from Indonesia—are all foreign policy concerns. However, anti-Chinese demonstrations related to the South China Sea, on the other hand, are largely absent in Malaysia due to the government’s ability to control and manage foreign policy discourse. Furthermore, Malaysia has not been especially vocal regarding its several unresolved territorial claims (Emmers and Teo 2018: 114). However, while foreign relations concerns were normally absent in Malaysian election campaigns, during the May 2018 election campaign some members of the then opposition Pakatan Harapan—‘Alliance of Hope’—coalition raised concerns over the impact of Chinese influence on Malaysia’s economy (Han 2018). Nonetheless, while ASEAN remains a ‘cornerstone’ of Malaysia’s foreign policy (Dosch  2014), China, as Malaysia’s largest trading partner since 2011, and Malaysia as China’s largest trading partner in ASEAN, has been the main focus of Malaysia’s international relations with former prime minister Najib. However, defence co­oper­ation with the US also became ‘normalized’ under the Najib administration (Bader and Paal  2013). Mahatir’s admiration for Japan has ensured that it has been an important component of foreign policy from the 1980s (Dosch 2014: 16—see table 4S). Three themes are discernible in the conduct of the Malaysian international relations narrative—nama (‘reputation’ or ‘prestige’); a preoccupation with building regional and international relationships; and a ‘moral balance’ in relations with other states. Neutralism and non-alignment and balancing and hedging Western dominance are also key elements (Scravanamuttu  2010: 329–32). This includes a tendency to be wary of Western influence, prioritizing a non-aligned status and possessing an Asian-centric world view (Emmers and Teo 2018: 118). Overall policy is guided by a concern for ‘principle’ and ‘respect’ (Milner 2015). It has been suggested that ‘national shame’ over allegations of corruption against former prime minister Najib was a partial cause of the historic change of government at the May 2018 election (Malaysian Insight 2018). The change of government has had some immediate impact on Malaysia’s ­economic relationship with China. To date, Malaysia has been a significant beneficiary of Chinese BRI investment (Shambaugh 2018: 123). One of the elements of the China–Indo–China Peninsula Economic Corridor was a high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore as part of a Pan-Asia Railway Network. After a bilateral agreement was signed between the Malaysian and Singapore governments in December 2017, it was expected that there would be an


128  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific international competitive bidding process that would include a large Chinese consortium hoping to export Chinese high-speed technology. However, in May 2018, new prime minister Mahatir decided to drop the project on the grounds that it was unnecessary and expensive. From a regional perspective, rather than being concerned with an imposed Indo-Pacific narrative, the phrase ‘Indo-Pacific’ is rarely if ever used in Malaysian security discourse. Malaysia has inherited the lasting legacy of Mahatir’s earlier development of its own brand of ongoing independent or indigenous regionalism—what has been referred to as ‘identity regionalism’ (Milner 2015: 13–14). This has been exemplified variously since independence in Malaysia’s decision not to join the US-led Southeast Asian Treaty Organisation and also in its strenuous pursuit of an East Asian regionalism culminating in Prime Minister Badawi hosting the East Asia Summit in 2005 (Dosch 2014: 5). This approach elicited competition from the US that favoured an Asia-Pacific regionalism within which it could play a pre-eminent role (Milner 2015: 6). Malaysia–US relations have thus been described as ‘ambivalent’ in that there is a relatively close economic relationship but a ‘cautious’ political relationship (Harun 2013: 125). Nonetheless, there remains an important influence of Anglo-Saxon states on Malaysian foreign policy (Harun 2013: 123). In particular, the Five Powers Defence Arrangement is still active and the US relationship was upgraded in 2013 to a ‘comprehensive partnership’. However, a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ was also forged with China in 2013 and Malaysia was the first ASEAN state to recognize the People’s Republic of China in 1974 (Harun 2013: 127). The latter resulted from a combination of domestic considerations and the leadership role of the then prime minister Razak (Baginda 2016). One commentator has posed the question as to whether or not Malaysia can have a serious strategic partnership with both China and the US and concludes that this is an important example of Malaysia’s ‘looking both ways’ strategy (Milner 2015: 8–9). ‘In sum, strategies such as “counterbalancing”, equidistance or equi-proximity, even ambivalence, hedging maximizing opportunities and reducing tensions have proven beneficial for a “middle power” such as Malaysia’ (Harun  2013: 129). Malaysia’s hedging strategy has involved a concerted effort to remain ‘equidistant from China and the United States’ (Han 2018).

Philippines Pragmatism Traditional geopolitical writers and contemporary US policy-makers have stressed the immense geopolitical importance of the Philippines. As noted in Chapter 3, for example, Haushofer identified the Philippines as one of four Indo-Pacific geopolitical ‘manometers’—together with Australia, Japan, and Singapore—that is, it was a place able to gauge existing pressures and thus indicate probable forthcoming regional events. This is important in contemporary geopolitical thinking since


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  129 Australia and Japan, in addition to the Philippines, are ‘fulcrum states’ in the US regional pivot. More than a century earlier, the noted US geopolitical analyst, Ellen Semple (1903: 432), wrote that the incorporation of the Philippines is ‘the  reason by which the United States has now become an Asiatic power’. The Philippines became a US colony in 1898 following the Spanish-American war and finally became formally independent in 1946. As such, the Philippines is regarded by the US as its ‘oldest ally in Asia’ (Baviera 2014), as a ‘strategic bellwether for the Asia-Pacific’ (Greitens 2016), and as a ‘frontline of China’s entry into a strategic theatre in Asia that has been dominated by the United States since world war II’ (Editorial Board 2017). This is due to the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951 and the maintenance of large military installations at Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, the strategic importance of which declined following the end of the Cold War when US forces departed following the Philippines Senate decision to cancel the bases agreement in 1991. McCoy (2009: 514) has noted the ongoing strategic significance of the Philippines to the US in the following terms: Yet even after the closure of Subic Bay and Clark Field in 1992, the Philippines remained a uniquely important strategic asset. Since  U.S.  defense planning in the Asia-Pacific area was focused ultimately on a calibrated ‘coercive engagement’ or ‘hedged’ containment of China’s growing military, these islands retained their strategic significance. They remained the sole location with the requisite mix of geography and goodwill to allow semi-permanent American bases for ready force projection against countries in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea.  (McCoy 2009: 514)

As has been noted, there are conflicting views within the Philippines regarding the relationship to and presence of the US. As McCoy puts it: ‘Filipino admiration for America coexists with layer upon layer of antagonism’ (McCoy 2016a: 1050). Some Filipinos are distrustful of what they see to be ‘unequal agreements’, including the Mutual Defense Treaty, with the former colonizer (Baviera 2014). The leftwing National Democratic Front of the Philippines goes further and argues that the granting of independence in 1946 was ‘bogus’ and represented a shift towards neo-colonial rule in which ‘state power was entrusted to a succession of puppets to cover up continuing US imperialist domination and control’ (National Democratic Front of the Philippines website 2018). On the other hand, a major survey of Filipino opinion conducted in 2017 found there to be a generally favourable view of the US (Poushter and Bishop 2017). For example, 78 per cent had a positive view of the US (down from 92 per cent in 2015) compared with 55 per cent for China. Furthermore, three quarters of the sample agreed that having a US military presence in the Philippines was ‘a good thing for the country’. However, 67 per cent favoured a strong economic relationship with China and a minority (28 per cent) wanted a government policy of being tough with China on territorial disputes (down from 41 per cent in 2015).


130  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific It has been suggested that, since 2008, with increasing tensions over South China Sea territorial claims, there has been an increasing convergence of US and Philippines strategic interests. Following the 2012 stand-off on the Scarborough Shoals, the South China Sea emerged as one of the highest-ranking Philippine foreign policy priorities and a matter of deep public concern, and was expressed in regular anti-China protests (Dosch 2014: 28). As discussed further in Chapter 8, US pressure on its mutual defence alliance partner ensured that the Philippines was used as a ‘surrogate claimant’ to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013. The Tribunal Award, which came down in favour of the Philippines, was rejected by Beijing which remained committed to settling d ­ isputes with its neighbours. Obama’s pivot and 2014 visit came with an ‘ironclad commitment’ to the defence of the Philippines. It was said that the US goal was ‘not to counter China but to uphold UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea]’ (Baviera 2014). However, former president Benigno Aquino’s signing in 2014 of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), while representing something of a balancing policy from a Philippines perspective, from the viewpoint of the US ‘was forged to constrain China strategically’ (De Castro 2018). Since the current Philippines constitution prohibits the presence of permanent bases, the EDCA provides access for an initial term of ten years to US forces and equipment on a rotational basis to five locations—Antonio Bautista air base, Basa air base, Fort Magsaysay, Lumbia air base, and Mactan-Benito Ebuan air base (Figure 7.2). While the EDCA is ‘designed to enhance cooperative capacity and efforts in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief ’ it also aims to develop add­ ition­al maritime security and maritime domain awareness and engage in security cooperation in ‘such other activities as may be agreed by the parties’. However, Article IV states that: ‘the prepositioned material shall not include nuclear weapons’ (US Department of State 2014). Left-wing opposition to the EDCA took it to the Philippines Supreme Court which ruled in January 2016 that it was constitutional, carried out the provisions of previous agreements, did not involve a permanent foreign military presence, and that it constituted an ‘executive agreement’ and not a treaty. In May 2016, the election of a new president, Rodrigo Duterte, however, resulted in a change to the geopolitical complexion of the Philippines’ relations with the US and with China and a move away from the US Indo-Pacific strategic narrative. Indeed, one commentator has suggested that Duterte is ‘likely to be remembered as the harbinger of a post-American order in Asia’ (Heydarian  2017a). Duterte appears to have come to the pragmatic view that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea are at a stalemate, that bilateral negotiations with China are preferred given the reality of Chinese military superiority, and that his main strategic option is to foster economic links with China in order to minimize the prospect of future military conflict (De Castro 2018). Almost at the end of his speech in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on 20 October 2016, President Duterte declared: ‘I announce my separation from the


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  131 CHINA Hanoi Hainan l.


Hong Kong




philippine Sea

South China Sea


Fort Magsaysay Basa Air Base



Spratly Islands (Chinese-occupied islands shown) THE WASHINGTON POST

Pa law an


Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base


Antonio Bautista Air Base Sulu Sea

Lumbia Air Base

Figure 7.2.  The five Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement Philippines bases Source: Washington Post, 22 March 2016; available at

United States, both in military and economics’. During his speech, among other things, he also referred to American arrogance and disrespect, noted that his grandfather was Chinese, and that he preferred the East Asian way of doing business since decades of US economic assistance had not eradicated poverty in the Philippines (Duterte 2016). Clearly, Duterte’s so-called ‘equilateral balancing strategy’ (Greitens 2016) and ‘pivot to pragmatism’ (Editorial Board 2017) have fundamental implications for the future operation of the strategic relationship with the US during his tenure of office. For example, joint naval exercises in the South China Sea have been suspended and the main emphasis of the EDCA is now on non-traditional security matters such as counter-terrorism, humanitarian disaster relief, and cyber-se­cur­ity. The final opening of the EDCA project at Basa in April 2018 essentially involved a humanitarian and disaster relief warehouse designed to respond to regional humanitarian crises (Parameswaran 2018a). Internally, given the unrest in Mindanao, the Philippines has sought military assistance from Australia, China, and the US in an attempt to resist the creation at Marawi, the Philippines’ largest Muslim city, of a ‘Raqqa or Mosul of the east, a base for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Southeast Asia’ (Parry 2017). However, while China is expected to play a central role in infrastructure development in Mindanao, it is yet to sign any formal agreement to use the Philippines’ bases (Heydarian 2017b).


132  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Given the diversity of views regarding the US in the Philippines and that support for the US is strongest among the military and business elites, Duterte still appears to lack the overall authority to completely abrogate US–Philippine linkages, although his six-year term will likely allow China to consolidate its position in the South China Sea (McCoy 2016a).

Singapore’s Strategic Neutrality From a contemporary geopolitical perspective, Singapore’s location is both valuable and vulnerable. For example, The Economist (2015) has argued that the secret to Singapore’s success is ‘a great location, honest government and lots of trade’. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s long-serving prime minister (1950–90), strongly encouraged foreign trade and investment and saw Singapore’s Indo-Pacific centrality as a ‘natural hub’ for multinational corporations. Indeed, Singapore now markets itself on the importance of its location as a ‘maritime gateway’, situated at the mouth of the Malacca Strait through which passes 40 per cent of global maritime trade (Maritime Singapore  2018). While Singapore has been an important trading post for centuries, the US also regards it as a ‘strategic gateway’ between East and West in the Indo-Pacific region (Today 2018). Indeed, while having considerable economic interests in China, Singapore is regarded by the US as a ‘close partner in all spheres’ (Shambaugh 2018: 87). From a traditional geopolitical perspective, as noted in Chapter 3, Haushofer regarded Singapore as one of the four Indo-Pacific ‘geopolitical manometers’, but it has also been seen as a part of the strategic ‘land bridge’ from Thailand to Indonesia and of Panikkar’s ‘steel ring’. It has been said that Singapore’s current foreign policy is essentially determined by its sense of ‘innate vulnerability’ (Leifer  2000: 26). Singapore’s consciousness of its vulnerability appears to derive from two principal sources—its location and its size. The famous phrase: ‘Singapore is a red dot surrounded by a sea of green’, which embodies the locational sense of vulnerability, comes from a meeting between Singapore’s prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Indonesia’s vice-president Habibie in February 1998, when an annoyed Habibie points to a relief map of Indonesia and the surrounding region mounted on the far wall. “It’s OK with me, but there are 211 million people (in Indonesia),” he says. “Look at that map. All the green (area) is Indonesia. And that red dot is Singapore. Look at that” ’ (Borsuk and Chua 1998). However, Singapore can become a ‘shining red dot’ (Lee Hsien Loong 2015). As the smallest Asian Indo-Pacific middle power, Singapore threatens no one but rather sees value in the collective voice of ASEAN and could act as an ‘honest broker’ in the South China Sea disputes (Chua  2014). Maintaining credibility with ‘even-handed diplomacy’ is a key element of Singapore’s foreign policy (Jayakumar 2011: 123). Furthermore, smallness implies the need to cooperate in order to gain strategic and defence capability (Matthews and Yan 2007: 391).


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  133 On the other hand, while smallness may not necessarily be an important issue in international relations, Singapore’s trade and industry minister has argued that, as a small state, Singapore needs to be ‘neutral and principled’ (Chan Chun Sing 2018). Indeed, Singapore was chosen to host the June 2018 meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on account of its neutrality. However, given the nature of regional uncertainty, the formula of working with the US for security and China for prosperity while maintaining a  policy of ‘strict neutrality’ may become increasingly difficult (Chong  2017). Nonetheless, ASEAN is the cornerstone of Singaporean foreign policy (Lee Hsien Loong 2015). Singapore’s strong and ongoing linkages with the West overall, and with the US and China in particular, collectively demonstrate its overall policy of strategic neutrality. It has been argued, for example, that Singapore views the US as a ‘protecting’ rather than a ‘menacing’ power (Leifer 2000: 99), and the US is an im­port­ant supplier of military equipment and technology to Singapore. Singapore is close to the US as a result of agreeing to host a logistics unit of the American Seventh Fleet following the closure of the Philippines bases in 1991 (Tay 2010: 143). While Singapore was a supporter of the pivot, the depth of commitment stops short of a mutual defence treaty, although in December 2015 the US and Singapore signed an EDCA. Singapore wishes to retain ‘strategic autonomy’ and does not wish to be seen as part of any US-led arrangement to contain China. Thus, Singapore and the US are ‘­security allies, not partners’ (Strategic Comments 2013). Singapore’s relationship with China, on the other hand, has been described as ‘guarded’ (Leifer 2000: 121), although, given the structure of its population, most would not wish to see China as a threat. Furthermore, since Singapore is not a claimant state, it could be seen as an ‘honest broker’ in the South China Sea disputes. Singapore and China signed a bilateral defence agreement in January 2008. To mark the 25th anniversary of China–Singapore diplomatic relations, Singapore and China signed an All Round Cooperative Partnership in November 2015. Singapore also sits astride both Asian and Western cultural universes. That is, while Singapore is a subsidiary member of the ‘democratic Anglosphere’ through its colonial past and its participation in the Five Powers Defence Agreement, it also has a ‘common cultural heritage’ with China.

South Korea’s Equidistant Diplomacy Since the end of the Cold War, South Koreans have begun to refer to themselves as a middle power capable of exerting some influence in Northeast Asia and beyond and foreign policy elites also now identify South Korea as a middle power (Kim  2014: 84). However, they are realistic enough to also see themselves as a ‘shrimp among whales’ due to the size, importance, and proximity of China, Japan, and Russia (Keyser and Shin 2013: 1).


134  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Since their inception, South Korean domestic politics and foreign policy have been determined by a preoccupation with security in general and North Korea in particular. The post-Cold War emergence of democracy has been curtailed by the almost unavoidable corruption and abuse of power of many South Korean presidents. It has been argued that this is a result of the trappings of an ‘imperial presidency’ caused by a combination of the ‘Devastation of the Korean War, militarized national division, and the establishment of a highly centralized and penetrating national security state and severe ideological circumscription that came in its wake’ (Work 2018). These factors in turn resulted in an ‘under-institutionalized’ party system within which there were few ideological differences, except among party leaders (Work 2018). As a result, from the onset of democratic rule, successive South Korean presidents have varied in the strength of their adherence to a middle power strategy and have exhibited ideological shifts in policy towards North Korea, China, and the US (Table 7.7). Lee has noted (2016: 3) that there exists a basic ideological division in South Korean politics between a traditional conservative policy favouring the im­port­ ance of the US alliance (Dongmaengpa—alliance faction) and a progressive policy aimed at preventing an overdependence on the US security relationship (Jajupa— self-reliance faction). Greater engagement with North Korea is also an essential element of progressive ideology. In the first few months of his term as an elected president, Roh Tae-woo (1988–93) pursued a policy of Nordpolitik that aimed to achieve diplomatic normalization first with the communist bloc as a whole and then greater engagement with North Korea. In July 1988, in an historic letter to the United Nations Security Council, Roh stated that he wanted to ‘open a new era of national self-esteem, unification and prosperity’ with North Korea and, among other things, to increase Table 7.7.  South Korean presidential ideological orientations 1987–2018 Roh Tae-woo (1988–93) Kim Young-sam (1993–8) Kim Dae-jong (1998–2003) Roh Moo-hyun (2003–8) Lee Myung-bak (2008–13) Park Geun-hye (2013–17) Moon Jae-in (2017–)

Summit diplomacy Nordpolitik New diplomacy Anti-corruption campaigner US bilateral investment treaty Sunshine policy towards North Korea Northeast Asia cooperation initiative Greater security self-reliance Efforts to strengthen South Korea–US alliance Tougher stance towards North Korea Economic non-engagement with North Korea Impeached 2017 Greater degree of engagement with North Korea Historic meetings with Kim Jong-un 2018

Source: Kim 2016; Lee 2013; Lee and Moon 2016; Mo 2016; Snyder 2013; Work 2018


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  135 people exchanges, enhance trade and economic development and to ‘bring an end to counterproductive diplomacy’ in order ‘to create an atmosphere conducive to durable peace on the Korean peninsula’ (Roh 1988). President Kim Young-sam (1993–8) continued with the North Korea engagement policy and in his inaugural speech of February 1993 proposed a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. Furthermore, in May 1993, in a speech to the Pacific Basin Economic Council in Seoul, Kim Young-sam set out his own agenda for a ‘New Diplomacy’ that involved five main elements— globalization, diversification, multidimensionalism, regional co­oper­ation, and future orientation. Unfortunately, due to Kim Il Sung’s death in July 1994, the ­proposed summit did not eventuate and thereafter followed a period of political uncertainty which strained inter-Korean relations. The terms of Kim Dae-jong and Roh Moo-hyun (1998–2007) have been referred to as the ‘progressive decade’ while the terms of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye have been termed the ‘conservative era’ (Lee and Moon 2016: 226). In his inaugural speech, Kim Dae-jong laid out the elements of his ‘Sunshine Policy’ which aimed to generate greater economic exchange and cooperation on development projects in order to improve the economic situation of North Korean people. President Roh Moo-hyun honoured and even intensified inter-Korean economic cooperation such that economic engagement during the progressive period was quite robust (Lee and Moon 2016: 228). Furthermore, President Roh attempted to create a Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative emphasizing the need for multilateral security cooperation in the region and this led to regional multilateral security talks (Lee 2014: 7). However, during the subsequent conservative decade (2008–17), the nuclear disarmament-economic linkage was recoupled. President Lee Myung-bak argued that North Korea should give up its nuclear weapons if it wanted closer economic cooperation and this resulted in a significant curtailment of inter-Korean trade and investment. In addition, the idea of a regional multilateral security dialogue was suspended (Lee  2014: 7). During Lee Myung-bak’s term of office, South Korea–US relations were at their peak, while South Korea’s relations with China were at their lowest (Hwang 2014). For her part, in her first year of office, President Park Geun-hye made an official visit to China in June 2013 to renew the 2008 strategic partnership. President Park believed in a step-by-step process of reunification, even though official dialogue with the north had been blocked (Dongho 2015: 107). It seems that China and South Korea might well have different preferences regarding the final outcome on the Korean peninsula. On the one hand, reunification would mean the loss of a ‘strategic buffer’ and thus China would feel comfortable with the status quo, while, on the other hand, to South Korea, reunification is essential and inevitable (Snyder 2013: 45–6). It has been suggested that the US does not want to dominate the Korean peninsula and that its presence there is less strategically significant than its ongoing


136  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific presence in Japan (Snyder 2013: 47). However, in 2016, even though the number of US overseas active service troops was at its lowest level for sixty years, the numbers in Japan (38,818), Germany (34,602), and South Korea (24,189) still indicate a global Cold War security policy (Bialik 2017b). There is debate within the White House as to whether the current troop numbers (estimated to be 28,000 in 2018) are actually necessary (Rogin 2018). However, South Korea’s geographical proximity to China clearly make it an important component of US new Cold War strategy reflected in its ‘fulcrum’ status in the Indo-Pacific pivot. This is reinforced by the July 2016 decision of the US–Korea alliance to deploy the defence capability of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to the Korean peninsula beginning March 2017 aimed at combating potential North Korean attacks. It must be remembered that the THAAD agreement and its initial deployment occurred during the term of conservative Park Guen-hye who was impeached in 2017. The new progressive president, Moon Jae-in, is left with a difficult situation to resolve amicably. On the one hand, the US Pacific Command argues that the ‘THAAD system is a strictly defensive capability and poses no threat to other countries in the region’. On the other hand, China believes that the THAAD deployment threatens its own security and has consequently implemented de facto trade sanctions on South Korea. This is highly problematic for South Korea since China is its most important trade partner and, as a result, South Korea has yet to decide on deploying additional THAAD batteries (Monaghan 2018). This brings to a head South Korea’s essential geopolitical and geo-economic dilemma as a ‘fulcrum’ state of the US pivot. On the one hand, some commentators have argued that South Korea’s only option is to maintain a concurrent growth of both the Korea–China and the Korea–US relationship (Hwang 2014). However, whether this is practically possible through the application of some form of ‘equidistance diplomacy’ (Kim 2016: 10) remains to be seen.

Thailand: Bamboo Swirling in the Wind Thailand has been referred to as ‘a solid middle power when it has its act together and a fledgling developing country when it does not’ (Pongsudhirak 2015). Along with Australia it is the only Indo-Pacific middle power with a rank 1 cooperative relationship with both China and the US (Table 7.4), partly as a result of its stra­ tegic location and its fulcrum status in the US pivot, and partly due to it having the largest Chinese population of any Asian middle power. Both Australia and Thailand are thus clearly regionally pre-eminent competitive geopolitical spaces for Chinese and American influence. Thailand possesses a relatively high measure of political instability (Global Economy 2018) and since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 has experienced twelve military coups, the most recent of which was in 2014 when the


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  137 demo­crat­ic­al­ly elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra was deposed by the army. Army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha headed an interim National Council for Peace and Order until the March 2019 election. Dissent had been suppressed, elections were put off beyond the originally announced date of November 2018, and it is now probable that it will be very difficult for any one party to gain control of parliament in the future. In April 2017, the new king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, signed a charter essentially consolidating the military’s hold on power (Freedom House 2018). It is therefore likely that ‘the armed forces may indeed never really exit Thai politics’ (Kurlantzick  2018). Rather than the Economic Intelligence Unit’s characterization of Thailand as a ‘hybrid regime’, Thailand is now a ‘controlled democracy’ (Busbarat 2018). Being regionally unique in terms of having avoided colonial rule, Thailand is said to have a ‘flexible foreign policy’ Freedman (2014: 110). Roucek (1954: 60) noted historically that: ‘By playing one power against another Thailand has succeeded, so far, in maintaining itself as the sole independent state of southeast Asia; but this was achieved only at the loss of some territory and with restriction on its sovereignty for a considerable period’ (Roucek 1954: 60). Thailand’s flexible policy came to be known as ‘bamboo bending in the wind’. However, it has since been argued that the complexities of the post-Cold War strategic and economic environment have meant that Thailand has had difficulty in maintaining a balance between China and the US and thus now lacks a coherent policy. Thailand’s foreign policy has therefore now been dubbed as being akin to ‘swirling in the wind’ (Busbarat 2016). Taken at face value, the military prime minister’s policy address to the Thai National Legislative Assembly in September 2014 was aimed primarily at national reconciliation and economic development. In terms of foreign policy, no mention was made of Indo-Pacific, China, or the US. Rather, there was primary concern for readiness to cooperate more closely with ASEAN and for the ‘promotion of good relations with foreign countries’ (Prayut 2014). Thailand’s strategic, economic, and political linkages with China clearly indicate its geopolitical importance. Strategically, one of the six economic corridors of the BRI—the New Eurasian Land Bridge—concerns the geopolitics of what has been referred to as the ‘strategic land ridge’ or ‘land bridge’—extending from Thailand through Malaysia and Singapore to Indonesia—a ‘natural gateway’ to Southeast Asia. While the ‘land bridge’ links mainland China to Indonesia, it also controls vital sea lanes and incorporates four Indo-Pacific middle powers— Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand (Wu 1975). The strategic land ridge could be complemented by the strategic sea link if the Kra Canal project eventuated. This concept, which is more than 300 years old, would connect the South China Sea with the Andaman Sea through the Kra Isthmus and would shorten the distance around Malaysia and Singapore by 1,200 nautical miles. The idea re-emerged as part of the BRI, a feasibility study was carried out in 2015, and a major conference was held in Bangkok in September 2017


138  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific to discuss its prospects (Mellor  2017). Potentially, this project would also ­considerably benefit the economic development of southern Thailand. In economic terms, China surpassed Japan as Thailand’s main trading partner in 2013. Indeed, there are suggestions that Thailand’s current economic relations with China could lead to an ‘inescapable dependence’ (Busbarat 2016: 237) and that this, in turn, would likely play an important role in stabilizing Thailand’s China policies and result in a pro-China stance (Wen 2015). Furthermore, China’s use of soft power has been facilitated by the ethnic Chinese communities living within Thailand (Kornphanat 2016). For example, China was sympathetic to the Yingluck government and to that of her brother, Thaksin, the former prime minister prior to the 2006 coup, since the Shinawatra family was from southern China (Freedman 2014: 111). For the US, on the other hand, there exists a basic dilemma regarding the ­fulfilment of the US–Thai alliance from a military perspective. This is due to the fact that there is a fundamental legal problem regarding the preponderance of military coups in Thailand and the nature of US law, especially given that Thailand is a ‘fulcrum state’. The US Foreign Assistance Act 1961 prohibits or restricts the provision of military assistance to governments engaging in human rights abuses and/or coming to power via a military coup. The practical application of this law, however, has been fraught with political difficulty. While the law has sometimes been followed, on occasion it has been bypassed or ignored where US national security interests are perceived to be at stake (Fisher  2013b). For example, there was a strong negative reaction from the US to the 2014 Thai military coup but this, to a degree, helped to create a greater degree of dependence on China. As a result of General Prayut’s visit to Washington in October 2017, President Trump normalized ties and the military government gained international recognition. It appeared that the US government had abandoned human rights issues and this in turn has adversely impacted upon the democratic movement in Thailand (Busbarat 2018: 356–8). Indeed, it has been argued that the US no longer comprehends Thai political culture and has failed to establish relations with current Thai elites (Zawacki 2017). This situation fuels two other dilemmas for the US in its relationship with Thailand. Not only did many Thais feel that the US exploited the country during the Cold War (Busbarat  2018: 240), but that, irrespective of the US–Thai alliance, attempting to strengthen ties with the US is being viewed by some as direct collaboration in a US China containment strategy (Busbarat 2018: 251). As has been pointed out, ‘Thailand now stands on a tightrope among the major powers’. Prime Minister Medvedev’s visit to Bangkok in May 2015 was part of Russia’s ‘pivot to Asia’. It is likely that the longer the military government stays in power the greater the prospect that Thailand will develop a long-term alignment with authoritarian powers (Pongsudhirak 2015). However, the significant involvement in February 2018 of the US in the annual Cobra Gold military exercise is


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  139 seen in part as an attempt to re-establish US–Thai security relations while in no way implying full recognition of the military regime (Mark 2018).

Vietnam: Multipolar Balance Vietnam is unique in that it is the only Indo-Pacific middle power that shares a land boundary with China. Its middle power aspirations are associated with what it believes to be a realistic assessment of the country’s present regional im­port­ ance and its future potential (Keyser and Shin 2013: 1). The Communist Party of Vietnam through general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, consolidated its power during 2017, suppressed dissent—including against the Brotherhood for Democracy—and enacted a campaign against corruption. The new prime minister, Nyuyen Xuân Phuc, stated that he was committed to an ‘enabling government’ which was ‘honest and worked for the people’ (Hung 2018: 411). Vietnam has pursued a policy of diversifying its foreign relations. Indeed, Vietnam is the only regional middle power that possesses strategic partnerships with all Indo-Pacific great powers; what has been termed a ‘multipolar balance’ (Thayer 2017). Importantly, China (2013), India (2016), and Russia (2012) share a rank 1 relationship with Vietnam, although Vietnam is the only Indo-Pacific middle power to be given the highest rank by the latter (Table 7.4). As part of this multipolar balance strategy, Vietnam seeks to maintain a close relationship with the US as a counterweight to China. The Vietnamese prime minister was the first ASEAN leader to meet President Trump in the US. Its relationship with the US, however, is complicated by a number of factors, not the least the historical memory of the Vietnam War, and subsequently its human rights record. In addition, for ‘anti-Westerners’ in Vietnam, the US is its long-term strategic enemy (Vuving 2013: 60). There was a significant Vietnamese migration largely as a consequence of the Vietnam War, estimated to be approximately 4 million (World Bank 2016: 154). However, diplomatic relations were normalized in 1995 and, in a 2014 Pew survey, 76 per cent of Vietnamese expressed a favourable opinion of the US (Devlin  2015). Further, a Pew survey of states visited during Trump’s Asian tour of November 2017 showed a generally positive attitude to the US, with a majority of Vietnamese (58 per cent, compared with 22 per cent globally) having confidence that Trump would do the right thing in world affairs (Bialik 2017a). Vietnam’s human rights policy is an inhibitor to closer relations with the US. There is concern, for example, that the US strategic partnership will require Vietnam to improve its human rights record (Vuving 2013: 65). As Vietnam 2035 has noted, while Article 3 of the 2013 constitution guarantees human rights (World Bank  2016: 7), there is an absence of an effective system of checks and balances in the functioning of the Vietnamese state and a limited opportunity for citizen participation in decision making (World Bank 2016: 59–60).


140  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Vietnam’s hedging strategy with China has been described as a combination of economic propagation, direct engagement, hard balancing, and soft balancing (Hiep 2013: 361). China is the largest exporter to Vietnam of any ASEAN state and Prime Minister Phuc has stressed the need to upgrade Vietnam–China relations as a key priority of Vietnam’s foreign policy (Hung 2018: 424). To a degree, this policy reflects the ‘anti-Western’ position in Vietnam of China as a model and stresses the view that both states share a common ideology and a common enemy. However, China is perceived to be both a threat as well as a model (Vuving 2013: 61–2). The relationship is troubled by a Vietnamese perception of a Chinese se­cur­ity threat and also by maritime disputes in the South China Sea. For example, China forced Vietnam to stop oil drilling at the Vanguard Ban, and it has been suggested that, if fully realized, China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea could result in Vietnam becoming a semi-landlocked state, with accompanying economic and security implications (Vuving 2013: 61). To a degree, Vietnam’s strategic relationship with India is also being used as a hedge against any possible China threat. In September 2016, Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Vietnam as part of the ‘Act East’ policy and signed a comprehensive strategic partnership. In June 2017, Vietnam granted the Indian energy company—Oil and Natural Gas Corporation—a two-year extension to explore bloc 128, part of which is located within China’s ‘nine dash line’. It has been suggested that, given the high risk and likely moderate return of this venture, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s interest was more of a ‘strategic’ than a ‘commercial’ value (Hung 2018: 421). Vladimir Putin visited Vietnam in 2013 as part of Moscow’s ‘pivot’ to the IndoPacific—‘Russia’s return to Asia’ (Thayer  2012). Vietnam is seen as an important element of the ‘pivot’ (Voice of Vietnam 2017), and the visit was associated with the Russia–Vietnam 2001 strategic partnership—Vietnam’s first strategic partnership— upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2012 (Blank and Levitzky 2015: 75). Russia and Vietnam have an active defence relationship that dates back to the Cold War (Parameswaran 2018a). Russia is the largest source of Vietnamese arms imports and explicitly uses arms exports as an effective instrument of its foreign policy, in an attempt to be directly involved in Vietnamese resource extraction and energy projects; as a mechanism to enable it to secure access to the Vietnamese naval base in Cam Ranh Bay; and as a strategy to expand its regional influence. For its part, Vietnam sees Russian military as­sist­ance as a hedge against China and its claims over potentially resource-rich territory (Blank and Levitzky 2015). Overall, it has been argued that ‘regime security’ is the primary driver of Vietnam’s security policy based around two overall perceived threats—the ‘infiltration of democratic norms’ from the US, and anti-Chinese nationalism fuelled by territorial disputes with China that leads to civil unrest (Liu and Sun 2015: 773). Since 2007, anti-Chinese rallies have taken place in Vietnam, in spite of the fact that public demonstrations are extremely rare and are usually not tolerated (Dosch 2014: 28; Thayer  2017: 11). The widespread protests across Vietnam in June 2018 were


Powers and Indo-Pacific Strategic Narrative  141 primarily over the Special Zones Act, a law designed to delimit ­special e­ conomic zones aimed at attracting foreign, and especially Chinese, investment. As a result, Prime Minister Phuc delayed offering ninety-nine-year leases on three economic zones in strategic locations. One of these—Phu Quoc Island—is located strategically at the southern end of the South China Sea and adjacent to the sea lanes through the Strait of Malacca and Singapore (Fawthrop 2018). Communist Party congresses have reaffirmed Vietnam’s commitment to a foreign policy of ‘multilateralism and diversification’—that is: ‘a foreign policy that seeks to diversify relationships in order to reap as many political, economic and security benefits as possible, all while hedging against potential threats in an increasingly integrated, multipolar international order’ (Chapman  2017: 34). Vietnam’s foreign policy is designed to ‘implement consistently the foreign policy line of independence, self-reliance, peace, cooperation and development; the foreign policy of openness and diversification and multilateralization of inter­ nation­al relations’ (Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam 2018). Its unique strategy of ‘multipolar balance’ is likely to take precedence over any alternative narrative for some time to come.

Conclusion: Middle Powers and the Indo-Pacific Narrative The relevance of the Indo-Pacific strategic narrative has varied considerably among all eight Indo-Pacific middle powers. Save for Australia, it is certainly not a dominant narrative across all four ‘fulcrum states’ (Table 7.8). Rather, pragmatism, equidistance and uncertainty have characterized the strategies of the other three states in their relationships with both China and the US. For the other four middle powers, Indonesia has emphasized the Indo-Pacific in the sense that it

Table 7.8.  Indo-Pacific middle power strategic policies Adoption and propagation of the Indo-Pacific strategic narrative Australia* Indonesia Malaysia

Strategic dependency

Philippines* Singapore South Korea* Thailand* Vietnam Note: * = fulcrum states

Foreign policy descriptor China vis-à-vis US Indonesia’s ‘middle way’ Equidistant from China and the US Pivot to pragmatism Strategic neutrality Equidistant diplomacy Bamboo swirling in the wind Multipolar balance


142  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific 80 70 60 50

Indian Ocean





20 10 0 1985








Figure 7.3.  Content analysis of Australian defence white papers 1987–2016

centralizes its regional importance. Malaysia, like South Korea, now adopts an ‘equidistant’ strategy, while Vietnam follows a unique multipolar balance. It is only Australia, as part of a broader ‘Anglosphere’, that has relatively recently been fully coopted to the adoption, propagation, and perpetuation of the IndoPacific strategic narrative. This rise of the Indo-Pacific is especially revealing in a content analysis of Australia’s seven defence white papers 1987–2016 to identify the numerical occurrence of three regional terms—Indian Ocean, Asia-Pacific, and Indo-Pacific (Figure 7.3). The variability in support of any of the three regional security narratives is independent of the political party in power. This implies not only bipartisanship but also a considerable degree of ‘elite narrative construction’. At the beginning of the graph for the first of the defence white papers in 1987, the most important regional narrative was the Indian Ocean. It was in 1987 that Australia finally discovered it had a ‘two-ocean’ naval policy. Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific were hardly on the radar. However, for Asia-Pacific, this changed in the second (1994) defence white paper following Australia’s significant role in the creation of the post-Cold War Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Asia-Pacific became the new dominant narrative and Indian Ocean continued to decline in im­port­ ance until, by the turn of the century, it ceased to exist. However, while AsiaPacific continued to be dominant, the Indian Ocean began a ‘revival’ with the fourth (2003) defence white paper linked with an interest along with India in reviving IORA; thereafter Asia-Pacific declined from the fifth (2009) defence white paper. In the sixth (2013) white paper, Indo-Pacific became the dominant narrative closely following the US ‘pivot’ and Obama’s Australian parliamentary announcement and continued to climb in the last defence white paper in 2016. Indian Ocean declined but Asia-Pacific ceased to exist (Figure 7.3).



The Rise of China and the Indo-Pacific Introduction This chapter attempts to provide a broad overview and critical analysis of the nature of the rise of China and its geopolitical and geo-economic implications for the Indo-Pacific region. The chapter is in six parts—China’s inexorable rise; China’s reform agenda; China’s regional trade relationships; China’s BRI; the South China Sea dispute; and the future for a risen China.

China’s Inexorable Rise Many Western observers refer to or imply the ‘inexorable rise of China’ (for example, Economy  2018: 250; Golley and Jaivin  2018: 120; Jacques  2012: 480; Kissinger 2011: 524; Noor 2015; Scott 2008; Subramanian 2011: 27). Others have referred to the US as being in ‘near-inexorable relative decline’ (Swaine 2015: 145). China’s rise is seen to be a ‘distinctive’ and ‘non-Western’ hybrid model—it is still not among the richest states; it is non-democratic; and to a simultaneously open and mercantilist system, it has combined its own culture and history (Jacques 2012: 546; Subramanian 2011: 138). Indeed, as Subramanian (2011: 89) has noted, the world has now entered its fourth phase of economic history. The clear implication is that such a rise cannot be contained, that it will forever change the nature of US–China relations (Morrison 2015; Woodward 2017), that it will alter the nature of relations with and among other Indo-Pacific states, and that it will have profound and long-term global geopolitical and institutional impacts. In short, it will mean the ‘end of Western universalism’ (Jacques 2012: 565).

The Rise in China’s Economic Power In 2014, on a purchasing power parity basis, China became the world’s largest economy (Freund and Sidhu 2017: 2) and, by 2017, its economy was 20 per cent larger than that of the US (World Bank 2018a). From 1953 to 1978, the Chinese economy did not undergo any significant structural transformation (Cheremukhin et al. 2015). However, since initiating market reforms in 1978, China has transitioned from a centrally planned to a ‘socialist-market’ economy and has experienced The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific. Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley, Oxford University Press (2019). © Timothy Doyle and Dennis Rumley. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198739524.001.0001


144  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific rapid economic and social development. Annual GDP growth has averaged almost 10 per cent, which is the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history, and has lifted more than 800 million people out of poverty (World Bank 2018b). The 2008 financial crisis appeared to have been a turning point in the shift of economic power from the US to China (Jacques 2012: 567; Economy 2018: 188). As Jacques (2012: 577–83) has pointed out, since 2008, China has become the ‘architect of globalisation’ with a huge expansion in trade, a major source of credit, a substantial increased demand for natural resources, the internationalization of the Renminbi, and the growing importance of Shanghai as a global financial centre. In 2009, China overtook Germany to become the world’s largest merchandise exporter (Morrison 2015: 20). In 2011, China became the world’s largest manufacturing country in terms of output, a status held by the US for more than a century (Jacques 2012: 200). By 2013, the value of China’s manufacturing on a gross valueadded basis was more than one third higher than that of the US (Morrison 2015: 11) and by August 2015, China’s foreign exchange reserves were the world’s largest (Morrison 2015: 20). In short, China will continue to remain the major driver of global economic growth for the foreseeable future (OECD 2017). China’s economic rise is clearly evident in its increasing share of global exports. Especially since 1978, China’s rate of change in the relative share of global exports has increased considerably compared with other major exporting states such as Germany, Japan, and the US (Figure 8.1). The US share of global exports has been declining since World War II as the share held by both Germany and Japan has continued to increase. China’s percentage share of global exports began to increase in the 1980s and by 2014 had overtaken all three other major 25 20 15




5 0









Figure 8.1.  Global share of total exports 1948–2014 Source: World Bank


The Rise of China and the Indo-Pacific  145 Top three countries by economic dominance 1973


2030 Forecast














Figure 8.2.  Share of global economic power 1970–2030 Note: percentage share of global economic power, weighted by share of world GDP, trade, and net capital exports Source: Subramanian 2011

exporting states (Figure  8.1). This economic trend is likely to continue and, by 2030, the r­ elative economic dominance of China is likely to resemble that of the UK around 1870 or the US after World War II (Subramanian 2011: 120) by which time the top three economic powers will be China, US, and India (Figure 8.2). One of the principal assumptions of many Western theorists is that, if China continues to rise economically, then it will inevitably increase the size of its military expenditure, which, in turn, will threaten the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region (for example, Mearsheimer 2001: 400; Woodward 2017: 116). In 2017, the US constituted 35 per cent of the world’s share of military expenditure compared with 13 per cent for China, and while China’s expenditure has increased significantly in the past decade, in 2017 it represented 37 per cent of that spent by the US (Tian et al. 2018). In short, the military superiority of the US and its alliance partners has not fundamentally changed with China’s inexorable economic rise. Furthermore, there is a general acceptance among Chinese ­academics that the US is likely to remain the most important global power for the foreseeable future (Zeng and Breslin 2016: 794). Currently, the Indo-Pacific region contains more than half of the world’s highest military spenders (Table 8.1)—Australia (ranked 13), China (2), India (5), Japan (8), Russia (4), South Korea (10), and the US (1). Furthermore, apart from Australia and Japan, the other five states spend more than the world average GDP on the military (Table 8.1).


146  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific Table 8.1.  Indo-Pacific state military expenditure 2017

China India Japan Russia US Australia Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore South Korea Thailand Vietnam WORLD

Global rank

Expenditure (US$ billion)

Percentage of GDP

2 5 8 4 1 13 30 42 55 24 10 37 52 –

228* 63.9 45.4 66.3 610 27.5 8.2 3.5 * 10.2 39.2 6.3 * 1789

3.1 2.5 0.9 4.3 3.1 2.0 0.8 1.1 1.4 3.2 2.6 1.4 2.3 2.2

Note: * Uncertain Source:; https://data.

Chinese Rejuvenation (Fuxing) From a Chinese perspective, the idea of China being a superpower is not new, since in the past 2,000 years, China has been a superpower many times. Rather, China’s decline is regarded as a ‘historical mistake’ which needed to be corrected. China needed to regain international prestige and restore fairness as part of a ‘national rejuvenation’ project (Xuetong 2001). This rejuvenation (fuxing) is not just economic but also represents the ‘Chinese Dream’ of a rejuvenation of Chinese culture—the Forbidden City is now very much ‘unforbidden’ (Jie et al. 2018)—as well as overcoming the injustices of the past. Following the Opium Wars, Britain and other European powers gained forced access to Chinese ports, and Hong Kong was ceded to the UK via the Treaty of Nanjing (1842). Chinese and Western elites alike refer to the period 1839–1949— from the beginning of the First Opium War to the beginning of the  Chinese communist state—as the ‘Century of Humiliation’ (Kaufman  2010). It has been argued that humiliation is a long-standing and systemic practice used by dominant ­powers in the international system—for example, the Chinese humiliation by the British, other European states, and later by Japan; German hu­mili­ation after World War I; and Russian humiliation after the collapse of the Soviet Union (Badie 2017). The term ‘humiliation’ in this context can be characterized as the assignment by a more powerful state to another of a status that is inferior to one that is preferred, which in turn is never to be forgotten (Mazlish and Weisbrode 2014), generates ‘blowback’, and facilitates the desire for redress (Wang 2012). ‘Structural


The Rise of China and the Indo-Pacific  147 humiliation’ thus helps to explain the behaviour of both China and Russia and to understand the nature of China–US and Russia–US relations (Harkavy  2000; Schell and Delury 2013; Varrall 2015; Badie 2017). In a speech on the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China, President Xi Jinping referred to the ‘humiliation’ of the loss of the territory to Britain (Connor 2017). As Bickers (2018: 583), has put it, on 1 July 1997, with the return of Hong Kong to China, more than ‘a century of humiliation had been “washed away” as the rain fell in Hong Kong’. Furthermore, the tears of British royalty and senior officials clearly demonstrated that the global power of the British Empire had finally come to an end. China’s rise is seen as a long-term project, resting on an open policy, as a peaceful process and one based on the enlargement of the domestic market. Its impacts would include making the Asia-Pacific more peaceful, creating a more balanced international system, expanding the impact of Chinese culture, enhancing global economic growth, and contributing to scientific progress (Xuetong 2001).

China’s Reform Agenda A Chinese Model of Great Power Relations In a speech delivered in Moscow in March 2013, President Xi Jinping called for a  ‘new type of international relations with win-win cooperation at the core’ (Jinping 2013). As President Xi Jinping put it: ‘we cannot have ourselves physically living in the 21st century, but with a mindset belonging to the past, stalled in the old days of colonialism, and constrained by zero-sum Cold War mentality’. While Chinese academic discussion over the concept of a ‘new type of great power relations’ can be traced back to the late 1990s (Zeng 2016: 438), it was first raised officially in May 2010 and then again twice during 2012 prior to the 2013 California Summit (Xiao 2013). Among other things, it is seen as an attempt to recast China–US relations on more equal terms (Woodward 2017: 90). At this ‘informal meeting’ with President Barack Obama in June 2013 President Xi Jinping outlined three principal elements of the ‘new type of great power relations’: 1. No conflict or confrontation. 2. Mutual respect of each other’s core interests and concerns. 3. Abandon the zero-sum game. Obama reportedly agreed that the two countries should seek to further develop these principles (Hadley 2014). While President Obama appeared to be initially warm to the proposal, many US policy advisors and commentators cautioned against it (Woodward 2017: 42). Indeed, the proposed new model was portrayed


148  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific by some as ‘an attack on the traditional world order and US-led system of ­alliances’ (Economy 2018: 218). From its perspective, China was especially concerned that, while it had done nothing to undermine US ‘core interests’, the US had already moved against its ‘core interests’ in the form of the pivot (Chan 2013; Zhao 2013). Furthermore, it was felt that ‘Western international relations theory’ assumed and expected in­ev­ it­able conflict between the rising and established power. On the other hand, China’s alternative view was one of a ‘peaceful rise’. Thus, this ‘new type’ of theory ‘places emphasis on consciousness of being in a community of both shared ­destiny and shared interests’ (Xiao 2013). While there is a great deal of Chinese academic debate about the meaning and function of the term (for example, Hao 2015), the new model of great power relations would rely on three principal directions—control competition, manage divergence, and expand cooperation. Its main goals would be no opposition, no conflict, enhance mutual respect, and promote a cooperative win-win situation (Xiao 2013). In a major speech to the Brookings Institution in September 2013, foreign minister Wang Yi proposed five ways in which the new model could ­actually be implemented between China and the US—enhance strategic trust, promote practical cooperation, increase people-to-people and cultural exchange, strengthen cooperation in international and regional hotspots and global issues, and promote cooperation on Asia-Pacific affairs. From a Chinese perspective, the Asia-Pacific region could be a kind of ‘testing ground’ for the implementation of the new model (Yi 2013).

China as a ‘Revisionist’ State To a degree, revisionism is related to a state’s satisfaction or otherwise with the structure and function of the international order (Taylor  2007: 30). There is a great deal of debate over whether, due to China’s rise, it is fast becoming a ‘revisionist state’. On the one hand, there is a Western view that holds that all great powers have revisionist intentions (for example, Mearsheimer 2001). As a result, China is or will become a revisionist state. On the other hand, there is a view that suggests that, while China possesses ‘revisionist aims’, it is still premature to conclude that it is a revisionist state but that such an eventuality could produce significant instability in the interstate system (Choi 2018). As has been noted, what is happening as a result of China’s rise is that the US–Europe–Japan triad possesses a dwindling share of the global distribution of power and thus the Western goal of the US and its allies ‘should be to reconfigure rights and responsibilities in existing institutions to reflect the diffusion of power in an increasingly multipolar world’ (Ikenberry  2018: 23). Clearly, however, there is considerable resistance among some influential US commentators on such issues as the reconfiguring of


The Rise of China and the Indo-Pacific  149 financial institutions, for example. The suggestion that the UK ‘broke rank’ by joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015 (Economy 2018: 198) is indicative of an intent to maintain the dominant unity of the Anglosphere. As of July 2018, the Bank had forty-three regional members including India (2016), Russia (2015), plus all eight Indo-Pacific middle powers and twenty-three non-regional members. Both Japan and the US were not members (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank website). The 2017 US National Security Strategy specifically refers to China as one of the ‘revisionist powers’ and that, as a result of implementing a variety of sophisticated campaigns and by accruing long-term strategic advantages without resulting in any military conflict, ‘incremental gains are realized, over time, a new status quo emerges’ (White House  2017: 25–8). Some other US analysts draw particular attention to the so-called geopolitical ‘risks of revisionism’ (for example, Krepinevich 2015: 78) that could include a weakening of the Atlantic Alliance (Maher 2016). Given that the trend towards a multipolar world is unlikely to change, there is a growing need to develop mechanisms to manage the transition, especially in terms of reforming the structure and function of the international system. It is highly likely that, unless a suite of transition mechanisms is appropriately devised, the alternative outcome is a considerable increase in interstate conflict. It is unsurprising that China is increasingly undertaking a leadership role in aiming to modify the international system and to enhance economic integration in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. Since 1978, not only has China become increasingly integrated into the international system, but it has also been attempting to reform it, especially in ways in which inequality and unfairness were seen to disadvantage the Chinese state (Combes 2011). Combes goes on to comment: China does want to be a status quo power, but in an international system which recognises its domestic realities and national interests yet simultaneously acknowledges its rising power and status and ascribes it the appropriate measure of respect . . . However the current system and international order is clearly dominated by western, predominantly American, ideas and norms which are increasingly inappropriate in a world where countries such as China are becoming increasingly powerful and successful, using their own models of development and approaches to government.  (Combes 2011: 32)

In a major policy speech in Beijing in 2014 to the Central Conference on Work Related to Foreign Affairs, Xi Jinping enunciated some key goals for national and international economic and geopolitical reform. Nationally, China needed to implement ‘two centenary goals’—first, to double 2010 GDP per capita income and second, to meet the ‘Chinese dream of the great renewal of the Chinese


150  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific nation’ (Jinping  2014). Internationally, President Xi highlighted the need for at least four fundamental global geopolitical reforms: 1. Build a new type of international relations underpinned by win-win cooperation. 2. Build a new model of major-country relations. 3. Build a global network of partnerships. 4. Work to reform the international system and global governance. Furthermore, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Peru in November 2016, President Xi outlined a four-prong economic development plan for the group: 1. Promote an open and integrated economy. Part of this would be to create a free trade area of the Asia-Pacific, regarded by many regional businesspeople as the ‘APEC dream’. 2. Enhance regional and global connectivity. China’s 2013 BRI and 2015 Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank are directly aimed at facilitating such increased connectivity. 3. Increase reform and innovation. In 2016, the G20 Hangzhou Summit adopted the G20 Blueprint on Innovative Growth. 4. Promote win-win cooperation to create a strong regional set of partnerships. President Xi then went on to state that: ‘we all believe that the 21st century is the Asia-Pacific Century’. These views stand in sharp contrast to US President Donald Trump’s ‘Indo-Pacific dream’, a vision for a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ (see Chapter 5) engaged in ‘robust trading relations rooted in the principles of fairness and reciprocity’ outlined in his speech to the APEC CEO Summit in Vietnam (Trump 2017). This ‘vision’ for the oft-mentioned Indo-Pacific is clearly restricted to that businessman’s view of the oxymoron ‘free trade’. Trump’s ­geopolitical goals are very much status quo and to him, ‘economic security is national security’ (Trump 2017—emphasis added). The US thus possesses a strong interest in seeing the slowing of China’s economic growth rate in the future as a result because of its concern that a wealthy China would not be a ‘status quo’ power (Mearsheimer 2001: 402).

China and US Trade Linkages with Indo-Pacific Middle Powers The future of American prosperity and security are being challenged by ‘an ­economic competition playing out in a broader strategic context’ (White House


The Rise of China and the Indo-Pacific  151 2017: 17). New strategies are therefore required to deal effectively with this ‘­competitive world’ (White House 2017: 2). It follows that the current geopolitics and geo-economics of the Indo-Pacific are primarily a result of a set of competitive inter­actions among the great powers—notably, China and the US—and the regional middle powers—especially the core states already discussed—Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. All of the regional middle powers have also been adjusting to the new geo­pol­it­ ical and geo-economic circumstances. However, as Chan (2010) has noted, from a Western realist perspective, if the Indo-Pacific middle powers are balancing against China, then one would expect an overall reduction in trade and/or diversification of trade partners. In short, if the regional middle powers have overriding economic and security concerns about a rising China, then the volume of their mutual trade should stagnate or even decline over time. However, trade data for 1991–2006 contradict this expectation (Table  8.2); rather, the trends for all regional middle powers show, in varying degrees, a concentration of trade and imply an emergent regional structure contributing in part to peace and stability (Chan 2010: 401). Many commentators have discussed the form and structure of the competitive geo-economic strategies designed both by China and the US to gain geopolitical influence (for example, Bickers 2018; Economy 2018; Jacques 2012; Shambaugh 2018; Woodward  2017). The current Trump administration, in particular, ‘has openly identified China as a strategic competitor and an economic threat’ (Chen and Wang 2018). Indeed, China and the US have been described as being engaged in a ‘comprehensive competitive relationship’ (Shambaugh 2018: 85). Various competitive strategies have been employed in this process. For ex­ample, diplomacy, civilian and military assistance, and commercial business are said to be integral components of ‘The US Toolbox’ (Shambaugh  2018: 110). On the other hand, some American scholars have argued that China uses ‘economic statecraft’ to Table 8.2.  China trade concentration 1991–2006: Indo-Pacific middle powers

Australia Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore South Korea Thailand Vietnam

Imports from China (%)

Exports to China (%)





3.5 3.2 2.2 1.9 3.4 4.2 3.0 0.7

15.3 13.1 14.8 11.1 13.1 17.9 11.8 20.6

3.7 4.8 2.3 1.5 1.8 1.5 1.5 0.5

17.7 9.9 19.7 45.5 16.7 31.1 19.3 7.7

Source: adapted from Chan 2010: 402, table 3


152  The Rise and Return of the Indo-Pacific improve relations with its neighbours. The term economic statecraft is defined as: ‘The intentional attempt of the state to incentivize commercial actors to act in a manner that generates security externalities that are conducive to the state’s strategic interests’ (Norris 2016: 14). As Norris (2016: 65) has suggested, Chinese grand strategy seeks to use economics—in particular, trade and investment—as an important instrument of national power. Furthermore, ‘China’s Toolbox’ is also said to include diplomatic, cultural, and security elem­ents (Shambaugh 2018: 116). What appears to be increasingly clear is that China is currently leading a marketdriven economic interdependence process in the Indo-Pacific region. As has been argued, the overall pattern of regional economic interdependence has been shifting from a Japan-centred to a China-centred one—from a ‘Flying Geese’ to a ‘Galloping Dragons’ development model. It is clearly arguable as to whether economic interdependence prevails over political nationalism to lead to a cohesive ‘Pan Asian Regionalism’ or even to a ‘Pan Asian Nationalism’ (Ahn  2004). In 2017, China was the most important trading partner of all eight regional middle power states. For example, exports to China were higher than the US in all but three middle power states—Malaysia (highest proportion is 14.3 per cent with Singapore), Philippines (highest proportion is 16.2 per cent with Japan), and Vietnam. On the other hand, imports from China were higher than the US in all eight middle power states (Table 8.3). Australia, in particular, had the strongest merchandise trade linkages with China while the Philippines had the strongest ties with the US. Such regional economic trade interdependence is being facilitated by a range of trade liberalization agendas, especially the TPP, RCEP, and the umbrella concept of the free trade area of the Asia-Pacific (Table  8.4). The original TPP, which was championed by former US president Barack Obama and was signed in February 2016, comprised twelve states—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore, US, and Vietnam—and was designed to allow states like the US and not China to write the trade rules of the twenty-first century (Suokas 2016). However, Trump withdrew the US from the TPP within his first three days of office (Shambaugh 2018: 108). Since the original TPP was never ratified, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TPP—TPP-II—was signed by the remaining eleven states in March 2018. The RCEP is based around the ten ASEAN states plus those other states with free trade agreements with ASEAN—Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. RCEP is strongly supported by China and is often portrayed as China’s alternative to TPP (for example, Suokas  2016). The free trade area is a broad agreement raised again in 2006 as part of APEC discussions. As far as the Indo-Pacific region is concerned, the TPP/TPP-II includes only one regional great power—Japan—and excludes half of the region’s middle powers. In add­ ition, the RCEP excludes both Russia and the US. Furthermore, since India is currently not a member of APEC, it would be excluded from the current free

*13.7 *21.9 10.6