Indian Ocean Power Competition

Challenges in dealing with Indo-Pacific

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : The Spratly Islands

Mains level : Paper 2- IPEF and challenges

Context

The Indo-Pacific region has been under pressure and East Asia, in particular, has had to weather repeated storms.

Background

  • 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.

Conclusion

Given the complex nature of the threats and the challenges the Indo-Pacific faces, drawing up any strategy remains to be an uphill task.

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