From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : The Spratly Islands
Mains level : Paper 2- IPEF and challenges
The Indo-Pacific region has been under pressure and East Asia, in particular, has had to weather repeated storms.
- Recently, U.S. President Joseph Biden was on his five-day visit to Asia.
- During this visit, the new conservative South Korean government showed a willingness to expand the presence of a U.S. missile defence system in the country, which had earlier angered China.
- In Japan, the administration promised him that it was ready to do away with its long-standing 1% GDP ceiling for annual defence spending.
- Mr. Biden said at a press conference that the U.S. would intervene militarily to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China.
- The President and members of his delegation later clarified that there is no change in the substance of American foreign policy, which is still governed by the Taiwan Relations Act.
- As per the 1979 Congressional law, the U.S. “shall provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character” so that the region can defend itself.
- The law says nothing about the U.S. being required to step in militarily to defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion by China.
China-challenge in Indo-Pacific
- South Korea and Japan face regular nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.
- Challenge to international maritime law: China not only challenges international maritime laws in the South China Sea, but also confronts Japan over the Senkaku Islands.
- Spratly Islands dispute: Six nations, including China and Taiwan, are involved in the dispute over the Spratly Islands, which are supposedly sitting on vast reserves of oil and natural gas.
- Militarisation of disputed isles: China has vigorously militarised some portions of the disputed isles, islets and coral reefs; and countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are anxious not to be left behind.
Will IPEF framework help in tackling challenges from China?
- The US has sought to deal with China by establishing an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) with Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
- Four pillars of IPEF: The IPEF will work on fine-tuning four major pillars: standards and rules for digital trade; resilient supply chains; green energy commitments; and fair trade.
- Issues of trade and tariffs: However, there is discontent that the framework does not address issues of trade and tariffs.
- Lack of trade component: Asian partners really want is trade, they want market access.
- And the trade component of the IPEF is really lacking.
Two facets of Indo-Pacific
- 1] Balance relations with US and China: One is that China’s neighbours would rather balance relations between Washington and Beijing.
- 2] Extent of resistance: Second is the extent to which countries in the region will want to get on the anti-China bandwagon, economic or strategic.
- Whether it is in East, Southeast or South Asia, every country has its own unique relationship with Beijing.
- India may be a part of the Quad, but is quite mindful that it is the only country in the group that shares a land border with China.
- South Korea and Japan are part of a strong American security/strategic partnership but will be keen on maintaining their economic status with China.
- This is also true for the Association of South East Asian Nations.
Given the complex nature of the threats and the challenges the Indo-Pacific faces, drawing up any strategy remains to be an uphill task.