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The ‘Indo-Pacific’ and geopolitical anxieties about China's rise in the Asian regional order

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The Indo-Pacific seems to have come of age. In a growing body of literature on this subject, the rise of India and China, as well as the ensuing great-power competition and deepening economic links across the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions are often seen as mere (albeit new) geopolitical realities, which the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ can best capture. This article, however, questions the ‘naturalness’ of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ and illustrates how it is largely a product of geopolitical imaginations about the perceived ‘rise of China’—imaginations that are shared among some influential observers and practitioners, particularly in the USA, Australia, Japan and India. Fuelled by their collective anxieties about China's growing influence in Asia, the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is not an innocent or neutral description, but is a manufactured super-region designed to hedge against a perceived Sino-centric regional order. In doing so, it is complicit in the production of great-power rivalries and regional security dilemmas. It is thus important that the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct be subject to critical re-examination and re-imagination.
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The ‘Indo-Pacific’ and geopolitical
anxieties about China's rise in the Asian
regional order
Chengxin Pan
Published online: 31 Mar 2014.
To cite this article: Chengxin Pan (2014) The ‘Indo-Pacific’ and geopolitical anxieties about China's
rise in the Asian regional order, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 68:4, 453-469, DOI:
10.1080/10357718.2014.884054
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The Indo-Pacificand geopolitical anxieties about
Chinas rise in the Asian regional order
1
CHENGXIN PAN*
The Indo-Pacific seems to have come of age. In a growing body of literature
on this subject, the rise of India and China, as well as the ensuing great-power
competition and deepening economic links across the Asia-Pacific and the
Indian Ocean regions are often seen as mere (albeit new) geopolitical realities,
which the term Indo-Pacificcan best capture. This article, however, ques-
tions the naturalnessof the Indo-Pacificand illustrates how it is largely a
product of geopolitical imaginations about the perceived rise of China’—
imaginations that are shared among some influential observers and practi-
tioners, particularly in the USA, Australia, Japan and India. Fuelled by their
collective anxieties about Chinas growing influence in Asia, the Indo-
Pacificis not an innocent or neutral description, but is a manufactured
super-region designed to hedge against a perceived Sino-centric regional
order. In doing so, it is complicit in the production of great-power rivalries
and regional security dilemmas. It is thus important that the Indo-Pacific
construct be subject to critical re-examination and re-imagination.
Keywords: Asian regionalism; Australia; China; geopolitical anxieties; India;
Indo-Pacific; Japan; USA
He who controls the Indo-Pacific controls the future (Munson 2013).
Introduction
Concepts about space and time, such as the Asia-Pacificand the Asian
Century, are not articulated lightly in international relations discourses. When
a spatial or temporal term comes into vogue, it comes with political connota-
tions and practical implications. It is in this context that we ought to consider
the spatial term Indo-Pacific, which has recently made it into the lexicon of
official speeches, think-tank reports and government White Papers, as well as
scholarly works. Whilst many pundits and practitioners are embracing this new
*Chengxin Pan is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations in the School of Humanities and
Social Sciences at Deakin University. He is the author of Knowledge, Desire and Power in Global
Politics: Western Representations of China's Rise (Edward Elgar, 2012). <chengxin.pan@deakin.
edu.au>
Australian Journal of International Affairs, 2014
Vol. 68, No. 4, 453469, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10357718.2014.884054
© 2014 Australian Institute of International Affairs
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formulation, others have cast doubt on its usefulness, or even questioned its
actual existence. Yet, despite its sudden stardom in foreign policy circles and
some debate around its policy implications, how the Indo-Pacificas a political
spatial concept came about has not been well understood.
This article is an attempt to address this gap. It will first briefly touch on the
Indo-Pacificdebate and highlight this missing dimension in the debate. Then it
turns to how the USA, Australia, Japan, India and China, among other players,
together produce this regional construct amidst ongoing geopolitical anxieties
about the shape and trajectory of future Asian regional order. While acknow-
ledging Chinas role in this process, I argue that, as a discursive construct, the
Indo-Pacificis designed primarily to enable the USA and its regional allies to
naturallystrengthen and expand their existing regional alliance networks in
order to hedge against a perceived China-centric regional order in Asia. In order
to arrest the anxiety-fuelled rivalry and security dilemmas that are likely to
accompany this emerging Indo-Pacificregion, the article concludes with a call
for a critical re-imagination of the now increasingly taken-for-granted term.
The Indo-Pacificdebate
For much of the twentieth century, the concept of the Indo-Pacific, coined by
German geopolitician Karl Haushofer in the 1920s, had attracted little attention
(except in the field of marine biology). It was not until the late 2000s that the
Indo-Pacificbegan to make an impressive comeback, and it is now widely
touted as reflecting new geopolitical realities. Indian strategic analyst C. Raja
Mohan (2012, 212) argues that the seas of the western Pacific and the Indian
Ocean constitute a single integrated geopolitical theater, which is the Indo-
Pacific. In Australia, Rory Medcalf (2012, 3) believes that the new term is a
valid and objective description of the greater regional system in which Australia
now finds itself. Australian Ambassador to Washington Kim Beazley (2012,
52) agrees, maintaining that the Indo-Pacific presents a practical, strategic
reality that has to be addressed. Crucially, the Australian Defence White Paper
2013 (Commonwealth of Australia 2013, 7) for the first time identifies
Australias region as the Indo-Pacific strategic arc.
In the USA, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (2011, 57) referred to the
Indo-Pacificas the new Asia-Pacific. If this geographical fact was not clear
enough before, we are told that it is because its importance had been obscured
by recent messy land wars, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that
the fog of war has largely lifted, the Indo-Pacific has presented itself with a
vivid geographical face(Kaplan 2010,xixii). Thus, Robert Kaplan (2010, xiii;
my emphasis) suggests that his book Monsoon merely tries to describe the
ceaseless currents of historical change [in the greater Indian Ocean region] as
they shape the contours of the new century. His invocation of a monsoon
reminds us, among other things, of the regions timeless natural coherence.
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Others are sceptical of the Indo-Pacificidea, at least with regard to its
strategic repercussions. Retired Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt (2013, 65)
suggests that it would be premature to make too muchof this notion. Some
Australian scholars argue that the emphasis on the Asian littoral (the Indo-
Pacific) ignores Asias vast territorial expanses, or horizontal Asia(Bubalo and
Cook 2010). Nick Bisley and Andrew Phillips (2012) question the strategic
wisdom of promoting the Indo-Pacific, given the risk that it may intensify
regional competition. Similarly, Rumley, Doyle, and Chaturvedi (2012) point
out that the concept is US-centric/China-exclusive. Even Indias National
Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon (2013) does not see the Indo-Pacificas
one geopolitical unit. Otherwise, he argues that we risk prescribing one
medicine for the different security ailmentscharacteristic of its diverse places.
I agree that the Indo-Pacificis not a natural geographical space, but rather a
discursive construct that, if put into international practice, could have undesir-
able consequences for regional stability (Chacko 2012b; Gnanagurunathan
2012). But, until now, questions such as how the Indo-Pacificis discursively
constructed, within what metageographical frameworks, against what types of
regional backdrop and for what purposes have yet to be more thoroughly
examined. This article cannot address all these questions. In the pages that
follow, its main focus is on how the Indo-Pacifichas been enabled by a suite of
geopolitically informed discourses and practices concerning the rise of China in
the Asian regional order.
Imagining/doing the Indo-Pacificthrough geopolitical anxieties
National imaginations and geopolitical anxieties
The Indo-Pacificas a region did not exist prior to its discoveryby astute
observers; rather, it has been imagined into being by them. I will return to this
point in a moment, but one thing about imaginationis worth noting here.
According to David Brin (1989, 67; original emphasis), imagination is a
uniquely human talent that lets us knowwhat has never happened, and
even what might truly never happen!Therefore, by definition, there is always a
gap between what is imagined and what is putatively reala gap which renders
the imagined object both psychologically exciting and ontologically insecure. In
this sense, anxiety, fear and fantasy are integral to such imagination.
In order to illustrate this point, one need only look at the imagined
community of the nation state. Despite its seemingly organic status, the state
from the beginning suffers chronic anxiety about its precarious ontological
being (raison détat), hence the incessant concern with national identity,
survival, security, sovereignty, nation-building, living space, territorial integrity,
border control, access, foreign invasion/takeover, regional order, power
balance and power shift. As Europe was the birthplace of the nation state, it
is not surprising that it was there that classical geopoliticsthe dominant
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metageographical framework about the worldwas first developed as a
scienceto help account for and manage nationalist anxieties about survival
in an anarchicalinterstate system. For instance, Halford Mackinders ideas
about geographical pivotand the Euro-Asia heart-landreflected both the
anxiety and excitement about Britains global imperial ambitions Tuathail
1996). In popular culture, copious invasion novels testify to the prevalence of
such geopolitical anxieties in the public imagination.
Geopolitical anxieties are closely linked to a raft of practices of spatial
security: war, territorial annexation, expansion, alliance formation, military
build-up, the arms race, missile defence, military exercises, forward defence,
strategic talks and so forth. As a result of such practices and their international
interactions, regional boundaries may be redrawn or reinterpreted with new
meanings. In order to better understand how the Indo-Pacifichas come about,
I now turn to the specific geopolitical anxieties and imaginations in the USA,
Australia, Japan, India and China, and examine how their imaginative
geographies and associated security practices together help construct this new
political space. My focus on these countries, I should add, does not imply that
they are unitary or the only actors in the imaginative and constitutive processes.
US geopolitical imaginations of Chinas rise
The Indo-Pacifichas its roots first and foremost in US geopolitical imagina-
tions about the world in general and the rise of China in particular. As the
imagined community par excellence(Campbell 1998, 91, 132), geopolitics has
been central to the US self-imagination. US security and survival, for instance, is
often predicated on various spatial practices of geopolitics, with ever expanding
frontiers seen as crucial for its self-renewal as the exceptional and indispensable
nation. Dean Acheson (1950) once asserted that Americans are children of
freedomand cannot be safe except in an environment of freedom. In order to
create and maintain this living space for freedom, its value has to be
communicated to the four corners of the earth. This belief reflects what Hardt
and Negri (2000, 165) call US imperial sovereignty, with its tendency toward
an open, expansive project operating on an unbounded terrain. While classical
geopolitics gave rise to the Monroe Doctrine to exclude the European powers
from the Americas, the USAs new imperial imagination, combining both
geopolitics and a certain New Worldidealism, provided the impetus for
Americans to turn to new frontiersin the Pacific and Asia. Running through
the USAs foreign policy tradition is a strategic article of faith that the USA
ought to dominate the western hemisphere while not permitting another great
power to dominate Europe or Northeast Asia(Mearsheimer 2001a, 46).
While this strategy helps ease US geopolitical anxieties, its geopolitical
mindset of seeing its mirror image in the behaviour of other powers sustains a
perpetual state of fear, with China now increasingly as its main source(Pan
2004,2012a). With its vast land mass and fast-growing economy, China is seen
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as a natural candidate to dominate Asia and uproot US primacy in the region.
Drawing from the logic that explains US expansion and ascendancy in the past,
many American observers perceive Chinas rise in Asia as following an
essentially similar geopolitical trajectory. As John Mearsheimer (2001b, 401)
argues, like the rise of the USA in the nineteenth century, a rising China would
surely pursue regional hegemonywith its own Monroe Doctrine. It is predicted
that this Chinese Monroe Doctrine would push U.S. forces out of the Asia-
Pacific region(Walt 2012) and lead to the loss of the Indian and Western
Pacific oceans as veritable American military lakes(Kaplan 2009a, 45). As the
imaginative catchphrase of Red Star over the Pacificimplies, the days of US
control of the vast ocean seem to be numbered (Yoshihara and Holmes 2010).
Washingtons heightened concerns over its freedom of navigation in the South
China Sea and Chinasanti-access/area denial(A2/AD) capabilities, for
instance, epitomise this anxiety. Indeed, access denial has become the prism
through which policymakers in Washington survey the rise of Chinese sea
power(Yoshihara and Holmes 2010, 6).
US anxieties about Chinas rise are not just about the latters economic and
military power per se (Zhang 2013). Increasingly, the China threatis now seen
in the context of the Middle Kingdoms growing regional ambition. In other
words, the traditional bilateral competition between Washington and Beijing
has taken the form of regionalism rivalry (Zhu 2013)a contest that China
appears to be winning. For example, after the 19978 Asian financial crisis,
China emerged as a responsible economic actorin the region (Breslin 2008). In
contrast to George W. Bushsshock and aweunilateralism, Beijingscharm
offensivein South-East Asia and elsewhere seemed to win it many friends, so
much so that it was widely believed that a Sino-centric East Asian order was on
the horizon (Beeson 2009).
Thus, at the height of the USAs war on terrorism, the neoconservative
Francis Fukuyama (2005) urged the USA not to forget that the biggest
geopolitical development of this generationwas the rise of China. Meanwhile,
US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick (2005) made it clear that Chinas
rise had generated a cauldron of anxietyin the USA and elsewhere, although
he remained hopeful that China could still be socialised to become a responsible
stakeholder. Similar hopes were shared by Barack Obama at the beginning of
his presidency when he briefly pursued a policy of strategic reassurance to China
(Wei 2013; Zhao 2012). Yet his departure from balance-of-powergeopolitics
proved to be short-lived, as Obama quickly embraced a more Bush-style,
neoconservative vision of friends and foes, and democracies and autocracies
(Kagan 2010). From this standpoint, the increasing regional clout of an assertive
authoritarian China took on a doubly sinister quality and rebalancing against it
became a strategic imperative. The USAs fear of losing the contest over
defining an Asian regional identity(Buzan 2012,23) can thus help explain
Obamas tour of Asian democracies in 2010 and the US-led Trans-Pacific
The Indo-Pacificand geopolitical anxieties about Chinas rise 457
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Partnership framework, as well as the rising popularity of the Indo-Pacific
concept.
The Indo-Pacificconstruct offers the rationale for the Pentagons AirSea
Battle plan, as well as recent US strategic deployment and realignment in this
vast region, sometimes known as its pivot to Asia(Medcalf, Heinrichs, and
Jones 2011,1920; OHanlon 2012; White 2012,7677). It serves a dual
purpose of both constraining the rise of a peer competitorin Asia and
preventing regional integration from being inward looking and exclusive
(Condoleezza Rice, quoted in Ciorciari 2011, 146). The second purpose reflects
another US geopolitical imperative, which has been brilliantly summed up by
Zbigniew Brzezinski. Imperial geostrategy, as he puts it, needs to prevent
collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep
tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming
together(Brzezinski 1997, quoted in Beeson 2009, 507). In this sense, the
USAs motive behind the Indo-Pacificbecomes clearer. There is no better way
of keeping the barbariansapart than by designing a super-regionlike the
Indo-Pacificin order to allow the USA to legitimately claim that we are here
to stay, all the while thwarting the emergence of indigenous regional groupings
(Buzan 2012).
This is how the Indian Ocean was brought to the fore. Another American
lake, the Indian Ocean region has become more fluid with the rise of India and
the spectre of IndiaChina rivalry or even cooperation. For example, during
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabaos visit to India in 2005, his Indian counterpart
Manmohan Singh posited that: Together, India and China could reshape the
world order(quoted in Prestwitz 2005). But such an order is hardly music to
the ears of US strategists. Invoking the vicious imagery of a monsoon, Kaplan,
whose writings have done much to educate US officials about the greater Indian
Ocean (Green and Shearer 2012, 175), promptly warned that the dawn of the
Indo-Pacific era could not have come at a more turbulent time. Crowded with
highly volatile and populous pivot states, the region is characterised by weak
institutions, tottering infrastructures, and young and restive populations
tempted by extremism. Yet they are the future(Kaplan 2010, xii; see also
Munson 2013).
To Kaplan (2010, xiv) and others, Americas own destiny and that of the
West as a wholeare on the line in these troubled waters. Yet, by the same
token, these menacing imageries also open up strategic opportunities for the
USA to pivotto this part of the world and enlist India as a desirablepartner
(Blank 2007, 1). To US defence contractors, Indias estimated US$80 billion
military modernisation program by 2015 no doubt adds another dimension to
New Delhis desirability (Berteau and Green 2012, 38). With more than 60 joint
military exercises with the Pentagon in the past decade, India has conducted
more exercises with the USA than with any other country (Berteau and Green
2012). Despite the USAs role in initiating those operations (Gilboy and
Heginbotham 2013, 125126), Clinton (2011, 58) insisted that it was the
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region which was eager for our leadership and our business. In any case, as
McDevitt (2013, 8) points out, it was Indias emergence as a strategic partner
and the strengthening of USIndia security ties that led U.S. government policy
officials to begin thinking about the interconnectedness of the Pacific and Indian
oceans, not the other way round. Also, by insisting on old-fashioned alliance
management(i.e. the hub-and-spokesystem) instead of new regional multi-
lateral initiatives (Green and Shearer 2012, 187), the elite conception of the
Indo-Pacific’‘fits with a longstanding and very clever antiregional diplomatic
tactic of the US(Buzan 2012).
Australia and Japan: Asiasodd men outare in
If the new regional concept has a paradoxically anti-regional flavour, why are
regional powers like Australia and Japan attracted to it? Australia has a split
identity between its history and its geography. As its economic prosperity is
increasingly linked to Asia and particularly China, Australia has been anxious
to become part of the action and capitalise on the Asian Centuryopportunity,
and to that end it needs to cast off its odd-man-outstatus in Asian regionalism
(Beeson and Yoshimatsu 2007). This partly explains why Canberra wanted to
join the East Asia Summit (EAS), in order to have a say in building any new
regional architecture from the ground up(Richardson 2005, 360), even if that
meant wehad to hold our nose and sign the damn thingthat is the ASEAN
(Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Treaty of Amity and Cooperation
(Sheridan 2005). But, once inside, Australia was troubled by another anxiety:
the danger of dominance by and dependence on China. Long imagining itself as
a Western colonial outpostin the East, Australia on its own has never felt
naturally at home in Asia. As former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd reasoned, the
overshadowing of US and British dominance by looming Chinese and Indian
ascendancy would leave Australia vulnerable to a much more complex region.
In order to ease such anxiety, Canberra predictably sought to strengthen its US
alliancehence RuddsAsia-Pacific Communityproposal designed to bring in
the USA to keep China in check (Pan 2012b, 249).
While the Asia-Pacific Community never got off the ground, the continued
rise of China (and India) created the ever aching longing for US reassurancea
desire that has now been encapsulated in the Indo-Pacificidea. Among other
things, this regional design seems able to address Australias dual anxiety of
being both an odd man outand an odd man in, for it at once places Australia
at the centre of the action(Taylor 2013) and allows the addition of two
powerful democratic friends (the USA and India) to its hedging strategy on
China. It is no wonder that many Australians now feel that the Indo-Pacific
makes more senseand want to talk aboutit (Varghese 2012, quoted in Scott
2013b, 4; my emphasis). It sounds like a desire fulfilled.
Canberras moment of being the geopolitical centre of action well and truly
arrived in November 2011 when Obama chose the venue of the Australian
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Parliament to declare the USAspivot to Asia. During the same visit, the two
allies announced the rotational deployment of 2500 US Marines in Darwin. In
2012, a Pentagon-commissioned report expressed strong US interest in using
Australian facilities at the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean and the Stirling
naval base near Perth for US surveillance operations and increased US Navy
access (Berteau and Green 2012, 33). One of the added advantages of choosing
Stirling was that it remains beyond the growing coverage of Chinese A2AD
capabilities(Berteau and Green 2012, 33). Not coincidentally, the 2012
Australian Defence Force Posture Review and the 2013 Australian Defence
White Paper made recommendations and promises including upgrading the
Cocos Islandsairfield facilities to support unrestricted P-8 and unmanned aerial
vehicle operations, and exploring opportunities for enhanced cooperation with
the US Navy at Stirling (Commonwealth of Australia 2013, 10; Hawke and
Smith 2012, iv). With the Indo-Pacificnow actively promoted as a single
strategic arc central to Australias defence, these enhanced military ties with the
USA would hardly need justification.
Japans interest in creating an Indo-Pacificarc has followed a similar
geopolitical logic. Emphasising its dependence on the security of maritime
navigation from Africa and the Middle East to East Asia, Japan finds it
necessary to engage closely with India, which shares similar interests (Ministry
of Defense 2010, 9). As early as 2007, while visiting India, Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe (2007) proposed a dynamic couplingof the Pacific and the Indian
Oceans as seas of freedom and of prosperity. In 2008, Japan and India signed
the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation and, in 2010, the two countries
held their first senior-level dialogue on foreign affairs and security.
A fear of Chinas rising clout in Asian regionalism can largely account for
Japans overture to India and its enthusiasm about the Indo-Pacificconcept.
Takashi Terada (2010) argues that it was this China factor that led Japans
Ministry of Foreign Affairs to advocate the EAS, an Asian regional concept that
would allow Japan to redraw the geopolitical map of East Asia so as to include
Australia, New Zealand and India as additional counterbalances against China.
In this sense, the Indo-Pacific’—or what Abe termed a broader Asia’—is a
continuation of Japans expanded EAS (ASEAN+6) regional initiative. The
reason behind Abes new proposal, as Terada (2010, 78) notes, was that the
USA, an essential country to Asias new regional architecture, was absent from
the EAS at the time.
India: looking and acting east
As the so-called child of partitionwith a deep sense of cartographic anxiety
(Krishna 1996, 196; see also Chacko 2012a, 144151), India has long been
uneasy about its geopolitical milieu. In the late 1990s, the US military presence
at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean caused alarm among certain Indian
scholars and officials, but more often than not it is China that is seen as Indias
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archrival. According to a 2013 Lowy Institute poll, 83 percent of Indians view
China as a threat (Medcalf 2013a, 15). The US-based analyst Mohan Malik
(2006) describes a Chinese strategy of containing India and squeezing its
traditional strategic space in the region. In order to put this anxiety in
perspective, Kaplan (2009b) argues that many Indians are now big fans of
Alfred Thayer Mahan. Indian analysts such as Gurpreet Khurana and C. Raja
Mohan see an Indo-Pacific rivalry arcbetween India and China. With Indias
sea lines of communication apparently at the mercy of the Chinese, they call for
projecting Indias power into the Pacific to match Chinas growing presence in
the Indian Ocean (Yoshihara and Holmes 2010, 15).
To be sure, Indias official positions on the Indo-Pacificare more cautious.
Also, since the beginning of its Look Eastpolicy, Indias interest in the Indo-
Pacificformulation has much to do with geoeconomic considerations. None-
theless, given the long-standing mistrust between India and China, a strategic
logic is not far below the surface. For example, the 2007 Indias Maritime
Military Strategy defines the South China Sea as a maritime area of interest for
India (Scott 2013a, 53). Seizing on such common threads of apprehension about
China within the US and Indian strategic communities, Secretary Clinton urged
India, which still has a strategic autonomytradition, to not just look east, but
continue to engage and act east as well(quoted in Gupta 2012). As Mohan
(2012,97100) has documented, since the 1990s, India has expanded its joint
naval exercises with all South-East Asian countries and extended its military
presence in the western Pacific through multilateral exercises with the US,
Japanese, Australian and Singaporean navies.
Before I turn to China, a brief look at the four countries just discussed reveals
that the Indo-Pacificis not just a purely realpolitik enterprise. This regional
design, I argue, has a distinctively neoconservative ring to it. These four
democraciesin the Indo-Pacific, needless to say, were the old cast of an
earlier quadrilateral strategic dialogue initiative pursued during the Bush Jr.
administration. The Quad, as it is known, was initiated by Abe, whose 2007
speech to the Indian Parliament appealed to the values of freedom and
democracy as an organising principle of his broader Asiaproposal. An
experimental meeting of the Quad took place in May 2007, three months after
Abe and US Vice-President Dick Cheney discussed the idea of forming a
quadrilateral grouping among like-minded democracies (Terada 2010, 85). In
line with the neoconservative foreign policy of both military strength and moral
clarity, the defunct Quadidea never went away. As the USA, Japan, Australia
and India regroup as the core members of the freshly minted Indo-Pacific,it
may be argued that it is about to be revived under another guise. After attending
the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue with her US and Japanese counterparts in
October 2013, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (2013) left the door
open for resurrecting the quadrilateral dialogue, as she promised to keep it in
mind when looking to more deeply network our strategic defence and security
alliances and partnerships in the region. Strategic observers from influential US
The Indo-Pacificand geopolitical anxieties about Chinas rise 461
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and Australian think tanks recently made a similar call for the return to the
U.S.JapanAustraliaIndia Quadconcept(Green and Shearer 2012, 184).
China: the new odd man out
As the Indo-Pacifictakes on a value-based quality, China now emerges
effectively as the new odd man outof Asia. While the formation of the Indo-
Pacificmay have been premised on China as the geopolitical (and ideological)
Otherin the region, this does not mean that Chinas role in this process is
innocent. It, too, has been part and parcel of the construction of the Indo-
Pacific, with its own version of cartographic anxietyand associated practices
of security. But it is equally true that Chinas contribution has been largely
defensive and reactive (Li and Chan 2011, 54).
Although Beijing has long been wary about US hegemony, its main concern is
about internal stability and regime legitimacy. To this end, Beijings favourite
mantra remains peace and developmentas it assesses its international
environment. Its eagerness to join the World Trade Organization and its
enthusiasm for a free trade agreement with ASEAN demonstrated that its
foreign policy has been driven by agendas of domestic development and
geoeconomics, not regional geopolitics, which in any case is fraught with
obstacles of lingering sovereignty issues and popular nationalism (He 2004).
Yet, by virtue of its rapid rise as an economic powerhouse, China has emerged
as an indispensable force in regional economic and financial integration. In
doing so, it seems to have inadvertently knitt[ed] together the spokesof the
US-centred hub-and-spoke security-alliance system(Ellen Frost, 2007, quoted
in Terada 2010, 76), something that is directly at odds with the above-
mentioned US geopolitical imperative. Although Chinas regional strategy is
more than power-balancing (Breslin 2008, 136) and Asian regionalisation is a
process within [US] empire as much as against it(Parisot 2013, 1162), its
regional economic engagement has nevertheless been widely seen as a bid for
regional primacy.
Geopolitical reasoning is a contagious state of mind. As foreign observers see
Chinas rise in stark geopolitical terms, their Chinese counterparts also increas-
ingly look at Chinas security environment through a dark geopolitical lens. As
Wang Jisi (2012a, 3) notes, although their country is now much stronger, some
Chinese now feel a sense of greater insecurity, more anxiety, and a deeper victim
complex. Even the 2013 Chinese Defence White Paper is not immune to this
sense of insecurity (Information Office of the State Council 2013).
Indeed, facing the USAs well-established string of pearls/first island chain
strategies, China has found itself surrounded by what Yoshihara and Holmes
(2010, 284) call a Great Wall in reverse. With 80 percent of its oil flows
passing through the Strait of Malacca, Chinese leaders are allegedly deeply
disturbed by the Malacca Dilemma(Li and Zhang 2010)a dilemma that has
been made even more acute by their awareness that both ends of the Strait are
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controlled by US fleets. In response to these real or imagined geostrategic
predicaments on Chinas Pacific coasts, some Chinese analysts have turned their
gaze to the Indian Ocean:
With Chinas security in the Western Pacific region hamstrung by the US and
Japan, the South China Sea issue has no short-term solution. The Indian Ocean
thus is not only the main passage for China to break through the American
militarys Pacific island chain and tackle the Malacca Dilemma, but also the ideal
option for Chinas seaward strategy as well as the testing ground for building a
blue-water navy (Lou and Zhang 2010, 43).
In a Global Times article, Wang Jisi (2012b) urges China to develop a
westwardstrategy as Chinas own geostrategic rebalancing to counter the
US rebalance to Asia. And based on geopolitical analyses of Indias strategic
thinking and maritime strategy in the Indian Ocean and beyond (Yoshihara
2012), China seems compelled to respond in kind, as Beijing has sought to court
Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar, and to build port facilities and
listening posts in some of those countries. It has sent naval vessels on counter-
piracy missions and port calls throughout the Indian Ocean region. Conse-
quently, mirroring the USAs new two-ocean (Indo-Pacific) navy strategy and
IndiasLook Eastpolicy, China has launched its own two-ocean navy strategy
in the same waters (Kaplan 2010, 134; Li and Zhang 2010; Wang 2005, 105).
Such actions and counteractions between the USA, Australia, Japan and
India, on the one hand, and China, on the other, both feed on and contribute to
mutual anxieties and a spiralling model of mutual hedging. Alongside the USAs
pivot to Asiastrategy, India and China have begun to stamp their authority
on the same regionthrough so-called necklace of friendshipdiplomacy (India)
and string of pearlsstrategy (China). As a result, their widening geopolitical
horizons(Scott 2008, 1, 19) increasingly overlap, thus giving some operational
substance to the Indo-Pacificimaginary. Although China has so far remained
cool on the Indo-Pacificnotion, its interests in the Indian Ocean and its
geopolitical anxieties and policy responses have nevertheless contributed to its
emergence as a strategic centre of gravity of sorts. As many Chinese strategic
planners now begin to look at Chinas grand strategy across a wide Indo-
Pacific swath(Zhao 2013), the new region may become more real still.
Conclusion: whats in a name?
In this article, I have argued that the Indo-Pacificis primarily a collective
geopolitical construct with a neoconservative bent, but it is worth stressing that
its arrival is not entirely a matter of geopolitical imaginations. Its formation has
been aided also by some liberal and functionalist views of a globalised world,
where geoeconomics, global supply chains and increasing economic interde-
pendence are believed to underpin regional integration (Engardio 2007). In fact,
The Indo-Pacificand geopolitical anxieties about Chinas rise 463
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even the most enthusiastic geopolitical advocates such as Kaplan (2010, 291)
acknowledge that regional relations are not always about geopolitical man-
oeuvring. On that basis, most proponents of the Indo-Pacificwould deny that
the new regional concept is about containing China. Medcalf (2013b, p. 64), for
example, insists that the Indo-Pacific is a geo-economic reality not a strategic
project to contain that rise. Others point out that the US pivot to the Indo-
Pacific is motivated by a range of issues such as energy supplies, failing states,
climate change, piracy, terrorism, Iran and drug trafficking, not just great-power
rivalry (Green and Shearer 2012, 176).
Yet, despite such exceptions and denials, geopolitics has been central to
mainstream Indo-Pacificdiscourses. If anti-piracy, disaster relief and fighting
terrorism were the main purposes of the new regional design, then the reported
plan to deploy giant unmanned patrol planes to the Cocos Islands, and aircraft
carriers and nuclear-powered attack submarines near Perth would not make
much sense (Taylor 2012). Even when there was anti-piracy or disaster relief
cooperation, geopolitics still seemed to be at play, as exemplified by Chinas
exclusion from the 2004 tsunami core group (from which the short-lived
quadrilateral talks emerged) and the US-led Task Force 151, the main
multilateral anti-piracy group (Green and Shearer 2012, 185). Such geopolitical
practices of security seem to lend credence to a senior US officials admission
that China is a central element in our effort to encourage Indias emergence as a
world powerand that we dont need to talk about the containment of China.
It will take care of itself as India rises(Twining 2007, 83; see also Gilboy and
Heginbotham 2013, 139). And given that the criteria or principles for regional
cooperation often entail democratic valuesand a willingness to help shape
and abide by rules and norms for a secure and stable region(Medcalf 2013b,
p. 66), it is not difficult to see which country is the main intended target for
socialisation and, failing that, exclusion. The fact that such a geopolitical
undertone is not always palpable may be due to the sensitive presentation of
initiatives with an emphasis on broader benefits to the region(Berteau and
Green 2012, 33). But in her appeal to Congress to maintain State Department
funding, Secretary Clinton felt obliged to talk straight: We are in a competition
for influence with China; lets put aside the moral, humanitarian, do-good side
of what we believe in, and lets just talk straight realpolitik(Dombey 2011).
The geopolitical and neoconservative constructions of the Indo-Pacific
should raise concerns about its long-term political implications. As this concept
gains traction, we need to look more closely at its conflicting regional agendas
and ask whose interests it serves (Bisley and Phillips 2012). For all its apparent
inclusion of such low-politics’‘do-goodissues as climate change and anti-
piracy, this spatial imagination has been galvanised by the perceived rise of
China and concurrent great-power rivalries for regional hegemony. This
geopolitical obsession not only obscures the extensive regional cooperation
and transnational issues of human security such as poverty, hunger, public
health, small-arms and drug trafficking, environmental degradation and natural
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disasters in the region (Bateman, Chan, and Graham 2011,89), but it also
plays on and exacerbates the existing anxieties, mistrust and security dilemmas.
When the USA turned down the United Nationsrequest to include China in the
joint tsunami disaster relief operations in December 2004, China allegedly
hastened the rollout of its out-of-area military missions other than war
activities(Gupta 2012). And in response to Chinas military modernisation,
alongside the pivot to Asia, a long article in the prestigious Journal of Strategic
Studies (Mirski 2013), with a shorter version appearing in the influential
National Interest magazine, now openly advocates a US naval blockade against
China, specifically targeting its oil imports. The likely tit-for-tat cycles of such
fanciful but potentially self-fulfilling game plays do not bode well for the future
regional order. It is in this context that it is imperative to critically examine the
overwhelming geopolitical reading of the regional dynamism. Insofar as all
regions are social constructions created through politics(Katzenstein 2002,
105), rather than predetermined by certain mysterious, irresistible geographical
forces, the Indo-Pacificcan and should be made for the better through less
geopolitically driven imaginations.
Note
1. I wish to thank Priya Chacko and the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on
earlier drafts of this article.
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... Some scholars even argue that through the BRI China can exert influence on the European Union in concert with its Eurasian scope (Eszterhai-Grimmel, 2020). Stephen Walt likened Chinese strategic attempts to a "Chinese Monroe Doctrine", aimed at crowding out the Americans from the Asia-Pacific region (Pan, 2015). Given the essentially territorial (i.e. ...
... The term Indo-Pacific was first employed in the classic geopolitical works of Karl Haushofer, albeit in the sense of major geographical regions. Apart from in marine biology, it initially did not become a well-used term in academia (Pan, 2015). In 2011, the term resurfaced in an academic paper by maritime strategist Gurpreet S. Khurana, who argued that the Indo-Pacific region is a fundamentally compact one, stretching from the coasts of East Africa to those of East Asia (Khurana, 2007). ...
... Robert D. Kaplan, an influential member of the foreign policy elite and a proponent of the impact of geography, made a major contribution to spreading the idea that the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are fundamentally interconnected and essentially a single unit. The metaphor he employed, and also the title of one of his books, was Monsoon; i.e. a weather phenomenon that runs throughout the entire area of the Indo-Pacific (Pan, 2015). Although the term gained currency, it did not find its way into strategic documents (i.e., into the "geopolitical script"). ...
... Nevertheless, the phenomenon of China's economic revival on today's era is unstoppable, as well as the emergence of other new regional forces such as India, Australia, South Korea and Indonesia making the US feel anxious that geopolitical dominance will decline (Pan, 2014). On the other hand, geo-economics related to changes in general trade volume in the Pacific Indian Ocean is one of the reasons for the demonstration of the U.S. strategic concept in the region (Scott, 2018). ...
... The concept of 'Indo-Pacific' was first initiated by German geopolitical expert Karl Haushofer in 1920 (Haushofer, Tambs, & Brehm., 2002). At the time, the concept attracted less geopolitical observers but, by the late 2000s, the concept of trying to unite the Indian Ocean into the Western Pacific Ocean to become one geopolitical stage was now considered to have reflected a new geopolitical reality as stated by Mohan (2012) and Pan (2014). Choong (2019) also revealed that Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) is likewise concerned with the many sources of instability in various regions that have the potential for open conflict. ...
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p> South Korea is a country that historically has always been flanked by major powers around it such as Japan, China, Russia, and even the United States. Nevertheless, South Korea in this era of globalization actually has a large capacity as a middle power country engaged by influential multilateral organizations such as the OECD, MIKTA, and G20. Later, South Korea also had huge popular culture implications around the world through its Korean Wave. So why is South Korea less politically active on Indo-Pacific issues than other East Asian countries, such as Japan with the Quad or China in the Indo-Pacific issue? Whereas by weight of issue and substance, South Korea has a big point to play strategically on Indo-Pacific dynamics issues, such as the North Korea issue or the Alliance of South Korea and the United States. The study will use Economic Diplomacy and Middle-power-ship to explain the reasons why South Korea tends to be politically inactive. Bahasa Indonesia Abstract: Korea Selatan merupakan negara yang secara historis selalu diapit oleh kekuatan besar di sekitarnya seperti Jepang, China, Rusia, bahkan Amerika Serikat. Namun demikian, Korea Selatan di era globalisasi ini sebenarnya memiliki kapasitas yang besar sebagai middle power country yang digaet oleh organisasi multilateral berpengaruh seperti OECD, MIKTA, dan G20. Belakangan, Korea Selatan juga memiliki implikasi budaya populer yang sangat besar di seluruh dunia melalui Korean Wave-nya. Jadi mengapa Korea Selatan kurang aktif secara politik dalam isu-isu Indo-Pasifik dibandingkan negara-negara Asia Timur lainnya, seperti Jepang dengan Quad atau China dalam masalah Indo-Pasifik? Padahal secara bobot isu dan substansi, Korea Selatan memiliki poin besar untuk bermain secara strategis pada isu-isu dinamika Indo-Pasifik, seperti isu Korea Utara atau Aliansi Korea Selatan dan Amerika Serikat. Studi ini akan menggunakan Diplomasi Ekonomi dan Middle-power untuk menjelaskan alasan mengapa Korea Selatan cenderung tidak aktif secara politik.</p
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... In the context of the Indo-Pacific, the reference to cartographic anxieties has been sparse, although the term 'geopolitical anxieties' has been used (Pan 2014). Additionally, there is a marked absence of an attempt to reconcile the notion cartographic anxiety with the wider landscape of international relations theory. ...
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