Many countries have articulated Indo-Pacific frameworks for regional security. The Indo-Pacific is being posited as a counter to a China-centric view of regional order under the Belt and Road Initiative. Critics of the concept argue that it is new and artificial, unlike the established Asia-Pacific; it is a U.S. ploy to “contain” China; the Indo-Pacific is too large and vague a region to provide the basis for a strategy; and the multiplicity of Indo-Pacific views from different countries highlights an inability to cooperate in handling Chinese power and U.S.-China tensions. However, the Indo-Pacific is not a new idea, nor is it narrowly American; rather, it renews the region’s enduring maritime and multipolar character. The Indo-Pacific also does not exclude or contain China, though it does dilute China’s influence. Moreover, the region’s scale, ambiguity or “duality,” and apparent diversity of national approaches are advantages rather than liabilities. They can improve the durability and effectiveness of the Indo-Pacific in framing strategies to cope with Chinese power.
- The U.S. and its allies and partners will need to demonstrate patience and solidarity as the Indo-Pacific continues to develop as a useful concept to frame policy responses to growing Chinese power and U.S.-China tensions.
- Governments espousing or considering Indo-Pacific concepts should consult with one another to identify and emphasize the commonalities among their outlooks. These include recognition of the need to act within a multipolar and two-ocean strategic system, as well as support for equal sovereignty, rules, and noncoercive behavior.
- An effective U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy will need to take into account the interests and sensitivities of many regional states, involving a focus on competing with China rather than confronting it.
Rory Medcalf is Professor and Head of the National Security College at the Australian National University. He was an early advocate and developer of an Indo-Pacific strategic concept and is the author of Contest for the Indo-Pacific (forthcoming).
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