Mar 10,2018 – JORDAN TIMES – Brahma Chellaney
SYDNEY — Security dynamics are changing rapidly in the Indo-Pacific. The region is home not only to the world’s fastest-growing economies, but also to the fastest-increasing military expenditures and naval capabilities, the fiercest competition over natural resources, and the most dangerous strategic hot spots. One might even say that it holds the key to global security.
The increasing use of the term “Indo-Pacific” — which refers to all countries bordering the Indian and Pacific oceans, rather than “Asia-Pacific”, underscores the maritime dimension of today’s tensions. Asia’s oceans have increasingly become an arena of competition for resources and influence. It now seems likely that future regional crises will be triggered and/or settled at sea.
The main driver of this shift has been China, which over the last five years has been working to push its borders far out into international waters, by building artificial islands in the South China Sea. Having militarised these outposts, presented as a fait accompli to the rest of the world, it has now shifted its focus to the Indian Ocean.
Already, China has established its first overseas military base in Djibouti, which recently expropriated its main port from a Dubai-based company, possibly to give it to China. Moreover, China is planning to open a new naval base next to Pakistan’s China-controlled Gwadar Port. And it has leased several islands in the crisis-ridden Maldives, where it is set to build a marine observatory that will provide subsurface data supporting the deployment of nuclear-powered attack submarines and nuclear-powered ballistic missile subs in the Indian Ocean.
In short, China has transformed the region’s strategic landscape in just five years. If other powers do not step in to counter further challenges to the territorial and maritime status quo, the next five years could entrench China’s strategic advantages. The result could be the ascendancy of a China-led illiberal hegemonic regional order, at the expense of the liberal rules-based order that most countries in the region support. Given the region’s economic weight, this would create significant risks for global markets and international security.