EUROPE ASIA FOUNDATION - INSIGHT
Containing the Chinese Threat in the Indo-Pacific
The Indo-Pacific region is turning out to become amongst the areas where China’s assertive behaviour is expected to play out in its full capacity. In its attempt to legitimise its dominance, Beijing has already begun shaping its strategy by generating territorial disputes that have resulted in many of its neighbours reassessing their stances with respect to their bilateral relations with China. In these circumstances, crucial nations including India and Japan are beginning to fortify their relationship with United States, a country with which China has been at loggerheads given its quest to gain influence over the region.
China’s growing regional domination and global aspirations have also caused long-term frictions against other emerging powers such as India and Japan. Under this pretext, both Japan and India’s immediate interest have been prioritised in forging greater bilateral ties with the U.S. that has the required capabilities to counter China’s hegemonic characteristics not only in the Indo-Pacific but also in other strategic regions as well.
Japanese response to China’s assertive behaviour
Japan’s strategic alliance with the United States dates backs to the post world war era, however their ties have visibly gone from strength to strength since China’s assertive behaviour in the region began taking shape. This is nonetheless not to state that their strategic partnership has been based on their intent to contain the Chinese threat, although their ties have only grown in the military domain specifically due to China’s aggressive posturing. In particular, the 1996 Taiwan strait crisis, invoked much attention towards China’s assertiveness when the United States was compelled to sent its aircraft carrier to the region as a counter measure to Chinese missile testing meant to intimidate Taiwan. However, Beijing’s attempts turned out to be counterproductive as this invariably led Washington to begin forging strategic partnerships in Asia rigorously ever since.
Consecutive administrations in Washington have since then focused specifically on building alliances in Asia in order to limit Chinese aspirations in the region. Moreover, China’s unilaterally generated disputes against emerging powers such as Japan (with the Senkaku Islands), Southeast Asian nations (with the South China Sea dispute) and India (with the border disputes) have cautioned neighbouring countries against China’s true intentions as well.
With Japan, its defence strategy released in 2021 has particularly emphasised the vital role in upholding security and maintaining regional stability across the Taiwan strait. In March of the same year, Defence secretaries of both Japan and U.S. agreed to work together closely in the military as well as defence domains for if a full-blown conflict was to take place in the region. Moreover, reoccurring meetings between defence officials have strongly stated the need to strengthen security relations amongst the two, extending cooperation to integrating weapons systems for timely intervention given China’s growing military impressions. The two countries have also expanded the scope of Article V of the decades long US-Japan Security Treaty which calls on both the sides to come to each other’s defence in the time of a conflict. The two allies have also extended the same to the Senkaku Inlands to which Japan has reiterated its prime importance.
All these factors combined together to counter China’s hegemonic characteristics in the region are testimony to how seriously both allies are committed to safeguarding their territorial integrity against Chinese aspirations. These projections are also bound to impact how India handles Chinese incursions on its own borders as well. Notwithstanding the fact that China has been notorious in causing frictions at the border from time to time, India at present requires to strategically utilise its capabilities against Beijing’s subversive actions. Many analysts have rightly pointed out that with growing animosity at the territorial borders, India is more likely to push for greater cooperation with its counterparts in limiting Chinese aggression all of sensitive regions where it aims to stroke up tensions.
Impact on Sino-India relations
Beijing’s unilaterally promoted territorial disputes that have caused massive overlays with one of its largest border sharing neighbours, India, has downgraded the bilateral relationship between the two countries to a significant low in the past couple of years. The actions of Chinese military and its political leadership have also resulted in enhanced India-US ties that has begun taking greater shape given the larger threat that the countries face against growing Chinese domination. Apart from shared cooperation with Japan, the United States is also considering elevating its strategic partnership with India. This could very well result in isolating Beijing in its endeavour of gaining significantly in the Indo-Pacific region but could also pacify the friction amongst other nations that are invariably affected by China’s extended assertions.
China’s foreign ministry more recently also rebutted the idea of countries like India and Japan being invited to join the Australia- United Kingdom-United States trilateral security pact (AUKUS), stating it to be a reiteration of Cold War mentality and detrimental to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific. Apart from the debates around an expansion of the security pact, China’s disapproval of such pacts is not novel and suggests its anxiety about any alliances that pose a challenge to Beijing’s authoritative assertions in the Indo- Pacific. It must also be noted that such alliances have been a direct consequence of China’s own assertive behaviour in sectors that had remained peaceful until recently. Its border skirmishes with India at its disputed border as well as its claim over Japan’s territory have prompted both the nations to reassess their stands on issues that had remained under the radar until recently.
These reassessments from India and likewise with Japan have reoriented their foreign policies in many ways, including India’s decision to align with the QUAD, a pact that had remained on its table for far too long. The Quadrilateral pact has posed significant opportunities for all the countries involved to look beyond the Chinese threat and call its aggression for what it truly stands to mean. Moreover, the inclusion of United States in the equation has significantly shifted the balance against China. These aspects have also enabled India and Japan, two long standing economic partners to chart newer avenues in cooperation that benefit both mutually, including in potential defence and weapons sharing treaties in its quest of facing the Chinese challenge diligently.
There perhaps remains no doubt that China is the greatest strategic challenge all three - India, Japan and the U.S. - face. Thus, a cooperative mechanism that favours the three allies is a greater advantage than against having to face such unilateral actions in individually. Yet more importantly, these posturing by Chinese authorities also present an opportunity to expose true intentions of domination through subversive means that it is deploying, means that are meant to be achieved irrespective of their consequences. A united front involving India, Japan and the United States is in the right position to limit such aspirations that seem to be built upon hegemonic characteristics, one perhaps which will be met with resistance from alliances navigated through that of multilateral security pacts in the near future.
It remains to be seen how and to what extent Europe want to involve itself strategically in the geopolitics of the region. Although it's clear that with its strong ties, both economically and culturally, it must take a strategic approach and work with its allies in the region to strengthen ties and support where helpful when tensions rise.