US President Joe Biden’s administration has made it clear that it takes the Chinese threat equally seriously as the Trump administration did.
With the Indo-Pacific directorate becoming the largest contingent of his national security team, experts are questioning if it’s a mistake to keep the strategy limited only to India in the vast Indian Ocean Region.
The National Security Council is combining the directorate for Asian affairs – which included China, Japan, the Koreas, Southeast Asia, and Australia – and the South Asia directorate which included India, to form the Indo-Pacific team. NSC spokesperson Emily Horne told Nikkei Asia that this shows NSC is prioritizing China and broader Indo-Pacific policy issues.
The experts have pointed out that Biden’s national security team needs to correct the errors in the Trump administration’s conceptualization of the Indo-Pacific region which constraints the very definition of Indo-Pacific “geographically and geostrategically”.
The US keeps reiterating that India is central to its Indo-Pacific strategy. While it may be due to New Delhi’s influence in the Indian Ocean Region but it restricts the idea of the Indo-Pacific for the US.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price recently said, “India is one of the most important partners in the Indo-Pacific region to us. We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and its role as a net security provider in the region.”
According to experts, “U.S. strategic calculation for the Indo-Pacific currently stops at the western shores of India, wholly ignoring one half of the IOR”. The 2017 NSS had declared the Indo-Pacific “stretches from the west coast of India to the western shores of the United States”.
Across the Indo-Pacific, the People's Republic of China is using military and economic coercion to bully its neighbors, advance unlawful maritime claims, threaten maritime shipping lanes, and destabilize territory throughout the region. https://t.co/ekXxnqd7zH
— Department of State (@StateDept) January 3, 2021
They point out that with this; the strategy excludes the entire western Indian Ocean, including Pakistan, the Middle East, East Africa, and many island states.
The recently declassified US documents on the Indo-Pacific recognized India as a capable and reliable partner. It also identifies India as a ‘preferred partner’ and a ‘net security provider’ in the region.
But with this, the ramification of the approach is that it limits any strategic implementation discussions to only half of the Indian Ocean. While the partnership between India, the US, Japan, and Australia as QUAD will strengthen Indo-Pacific, but it is not sufficient.
The Indian Ocean Region connects economies of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Asia, and Australia. Currently, China has been increasing its influence in the whole region by setting up military bases and economic projects in African countries.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is one such example. In such a scenario, the absence of strategy including the IOR would give China an unprecedented edge.
Analysts suggest the Biden administration needs to begin with redefining Indo-Pacific, articulate a long and short-term Indo-Pacific strategy and execute the formulated strategies. They emphasize the importance to treat the IOR as a coherent region and show up in support of IOR partners/allies.