The Indo-Pacific region seems to be an outlet for the US’s strategic competition with China. It is demonstrated in the US’s exaggeration of China’s aggressiveness as an inevitable threat to the region’s integrity and global stability.
Elpeni Fitrah, Taiwan Center for Security Studies
On March 3, the White House initiated an impromptu virtual meeting with all the leaders of Quad – an Indo-Pacific democratic bloc involving Australia, India, Japan, and the US. In February, the foreign ministers of Quad held an in-person meeting in Melbourne. The timing and content in the joint statement inform the Quad member-states concerns over the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine and its implications for the Indo-Pacific region, which is considered as Quad’s primary operational theatre.
Moreover, open-source reports indicated a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan as the US and the European powers are distracted by the ongoing Ukraine conflict. On the other hand, India’s decision to abstain from all votes at the UN Security Council and General Assembly to oppose.
Russia’s actions in Ukraine sparked commentaries over the disharmony among the Quad partners. The rest of the Quad grouping are dissatisfied with India’s political decisions. Despite the differences in the leaders’ approach to the Ukraine crisis, the Quad must adroitly bolster momentum to expand its geopolitical campaign in the Indo-Pacific.
Based on the official joint statement, the Quad aims Indo-Pacific region to remain stable and conducive with no use case of unilateral force or military aggression. The Quad deems it necessary to establish a preventive mechanism for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief for future humanitarian challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, including Ukraine-like conflict.
The principles and norms cited in the joint statement sound very convincing and ideal with a sense of optimism and energy. All countries would probably be interested in getting involved in the campaign. Unfortunately, the Indian and Pacific oceans cannot be identified as quiet waters in a political context but are oceans full of turbulence, which may even navigate to geopolitical uncertainty. The region is marked by several unresolved territorial and geopolitical conflicts, including the South China Sea dispute, US-China great power rivalry, Sino-India border dispute, and Myanmar crisis. With such a volatile security situation, minor incidents can potentially trigger major conflicts.
Under a fair presumption, the geopolitical concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific is a means for the US (and its allies) to drive countries to be anti-China. The Indo-Pacific region seems to be an outlet for the US’ strategic competition with China. It is demonstrated in the US’ exaggeration of China’s aggressiveness as an inevitable threat to the region’s integrity and global stability. However, not all countries in the Indo-Pacific region are convinced with the US’ narrative.
The concept of the US alliance is known as the Coalition of the Willing. However, other countries are only given two options; “either you are with us or against us.” Therefore, the question arises, to what extent is the US able to control the world, or specifically, the Indo-Pacific Region? The current momentum of Russia’s military attack against Ukraine can be a practical example showing that a country’s superiority has limits, especially when dealing with countries with almost equal national comprehensive power. At this stage, the Quad should be cautious and prudent. Engaging too far frontally will only destabilize the world’s security balance.
The Quad mechanism to promote regional stability and prosperity seeks to transform from a security mechanism into a comprehensive framework involving cooperation on anti-pandemic efforts, high-tech, climate change, security, and the economy. Furthermore, the Quad targets other instruments to strengthen its control over the region by expanding both in cooperation and membership fields. One of its targets is ASEAN. The Quad joint agreement indicates its strong support for developing “ASEAN-style Indo-Pacific,” namely the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).
However, despite relying on its ASEAN centrality principle, this organization tends to implement a “pragmatic equidistance” rather than taking sides to one confronted power. ASEAN has been focusing on maintaining the balance of power, attracting investment to the region, and increasing economic development – especially after suffering during the pandemic. As a result, both the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy and China’s economic presence in the region are warmly welcomed. Moreover, the Indo-Pacific seems to need more regional equilibrium than operating the region under the control of one particular power.
Elpeni Fitrah is a Research Assitant at the Taiwan Center for Security Studies. He is currently pursuing Ph.D. at the International Doctor Program on Asia-Pacific Studies (IDAS), College of Social Science, National Chengchi University (NCCU).