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02june2022
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U.S.-China rivalry over Indo-Pacific is just getting started

According to Patrick McLaren

The Asia-Pacific region has become one of the most important for both the West and China. In the vast majority of cases, the central themes of interaction in the region are related to trade and development, security cooperation and global governance. It is in this context that both the West and China seek to strengthen their ties with the region and exert influence in it to advance their national interests.

Under the Biden administration, the United States has sought to dramatically refocus its approach to the region. In 2021, Australia, the UK and the US announced a new security partnership, AUKUS, in which they will develop new deterrence capabilities and promote innovation through technical cooperation. High-level representation in the region has again become commonplace as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Vice President Kamala Harris, and most recently President Joe Biden visited the region. At a special US-ASEAN summit in mid-May, the United States announced a series of commitments to ASEAN and the wider region through support for development and climate change action, as well as broader and more comprehensive trade prospects. Major US partners have also stepped up their involvement in the region, largely in agreement with Washington. The leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States recently met at the fourth Quad Summit in Japan to highlight their joint commitment to regional peace and stability and announced a new maritime security initiative, the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Awareness.

Parallel to Western efforts, China is seeking to forge its own path in the Asia-Pacific region and has struck a security deal with the Solomon Islands in recent months, surprising the West and raising concerns about regional security and sovereignty. This week, China shared its plans for upcoming visits to numerous Pacific island countries seeking new bilateral trade and security cooperation agreements, albeit mostly on China's own terms.

In the long term, it is unlikely that regional stability will be achieved through the complete dominance of any particular state. Each state must, of course, strive to develop sufficient capacity to meet future challenges. At the same time, however, both the West and China must recognize that the basic means of maintaining a high level of security already exist in various forms, and that the ongoing arms race can only be of limited benefit in some cases. It is better to choose to support common security needs, rather than take actions aimed at weakening, dividing or coercion. The main limiting factors of peace, security and stability currently remain overwhelmingly the divergent interests and temperaments of the great powers seeking to change the status quo and the current relationship between them.

 

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