Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific: Major players' strategic perspectives

Briefing 05-07-2023

The Indian Ocean hosts some of the fastest growing economies in the world and connects these economies with both the Atlantic Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region, making the Indo-Pacific a region of tremendous geostrategic importance. For over a decade, China has been increasing its maritime presence and its ambitions in the region and beyond. With the development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013 and renewed tensions between China and Taiwan, China's territorial claims and its artificial islands in the South China Sea, the security dynamic in the region has shifted. India has expressed significant concern regarding China's increased presence in the Indian Ocean and China's bolstered relations with Pakistan. In response, India has reinforced its participation in the United States-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). India has also adopted a new defensive approach. The US has also demonstrated unease regarding China's actions, in particular with its 'debt-trap diplomacy' and its assertive tone on Taiwan. The US has not only expressed these concerns at the bilateral level, but also at the international level, for example through NATO's Strategic Concept. Caught in the crossfire of three strategic perspectives lie the sea trade routes that connect the Middle East, Africa and east Asia with Europe and the US, over which the majority of the world's maritime oil trade and nearly one third of total worldwide trade passes. Along this route there are crucial passage points, which, if obstructed, could potentially bring the world economy to a standstill. The EU's position on China, its second biggest trading power, has remained broadly unchanged since March 2019. In the March 2022 Strategic Compass, the EU alluded to China's increased assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, expressing serious concerns. The EU presented its first strategy for the Indo-Pacific on 16 September 2021.