Power Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific Region

by Binoj Basnyat - 25 September, 2020, 12:00 4683 Views 0 Comment

Countries in the Indo-Pacific Region including Nepal are entering what we can refer to as an economically led cold-trade war. The “Cold War 2.0 has begun and yet again it is democracy versus Communism.

How grand strategy goals and geostrategic plans are being executed by great power rivalry during the pandemic will lay the course for possible pandemonium influencing the future global order. US President Trump has been criticized for the handling of the COVID-19 though his administration has been praising his efforts in saving lives and furthermore by the People’s Republic of China and the World Body. The US is time and again telling China to hold responsible for the spreading, delaying the information of the outbreak and the World Health Organization (WHO) becoming accomplices by hiding the fact for so long and even praising China for its action on Coronavirus. The US is less supportive of the world body the WHO. The Director-General, WHO has expressed the lack of usual support as ‘unfortunate’. At the same time, the US is gearing up for the upcoming election in November for just more than 100 days. China has been out of its way in disparaging the US response and rejecting the lab theory and other political charges accusing the Trump administration of striving to deflect from its own quandary tackling the pandemic. The National Security Law of Hong Kong has been authorized by President Xi when the US Department of State imposed visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party officials for undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and restricting Human Rights. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China-US relations are facing their most serious challenge since the establishment of diplomatic ties. The UK announced visa relaxation to three million people. The status of Taiwan has sharp disagreements. China asserts that there is only “one China” policy while both Beijing and Taipei disagree on which entity is China’s legitimate governing body.

The focus will be on how the functioning of the geopolitical diplomacy will affect the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR).   

The context: Indo-Pacific Region

This connotes US and other major Asian democracies mainly Australia, India and Japan, the Quad concept will collectively curb China in the new scaffold of emergent “Cold War 2.0” persuasion.

Countries in the IPR including Nepal are entering what we can refer to as an economically led cold-trade war. The “Cold War 2.0 has begun and yet again it is democracy versus Communism. The June 2019 “Indo-Pacific Strategy”, a key contemporary policy document is described as “an ironclad and enduring commitment to a region that spans from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian subcontinent, which is led by the US.” In 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “The American people and the whole world have a stake in the Indo-Pacific’s peace and stability”.  This resonance the interests to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with resultant modification in the Asia-Pacific power structure and expansion as well as the exodus of Obama’s “Asia-Pacific rebalancing” strategy. The purpose is to enclose Communist China’s rise and safeguard democratic values with US leadership in the region with Allies and Partners.  The policy document asserted that “Inter-state strategic competition, defined by geopolitical rivalry between free and repressive world order visions, is the primary concern for US national security”. This was followed by the US State Department document ‘A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a shared Vision’, issued in November 2019 that states “Authoritarian revisionist powers seek to advance their parochial interests at others’ expense,” and therefore “the United States is strengthening and deepening partnerships with countries that share our values.”

The G7 that epitomize 58% of the global net wealth ($317 trillion) and more than 46% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) based on nominal values and more than 32% of the global GDP based on purchasing power parity summit to be held in September has been postponed with Trump’s remarks as not properly represented and outdated expressing to include Australia, India and South Korea and invited Russia to rejoin as part of an alliance and in addition to discuss the future of China. The other members of the G7 have not approved Russia to be part of the group which was suspended in 2014 after annexing Crimea from Ukraine though the host the US that holds the Presidency is acceptable to invite whoever as a guest, the way it was before it formally joined in the mid-1990s. The European Union is an invitee to G7.

The United Kingdom, despite ‘Brexit’, can in spite of everything be the link between democracies of the trans-Atlantic and the trans-Pacific. London’s role is not yet over by engaging the G-7 members on the D-10 (nations of ten democratic allies) scheme bringing in Australia, India and South Korea. Hastings Ismay’s 1949 strategic truism on NATO was to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” When the world is moving with 5G communications, new or a susceptible delicate supply chains with US as the only global power challenging China; a need for a grand strategy for the democracies is visible “to keep China in check, India close and the US steady in the years to come”.

UK has reversed the January decision and banned on Huawei from its 5G telecom network expressing security concerns has gravely dented the legitimate interests of Chinese enterprises and severely impacted the basis of shared trust in China-UK cooperation. Huawei has operated in Britain for the last 20 years as a key market in Europe accounting for 24% of sales last year. The determination is a huge success for the Trump administration, which has been approaching allies to exclude Huawei from the 5G networks arguing threat to national security. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated last month that “the tide is turning against Huawei as citizens around the world are waking up to the danger of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state.” Huawei has consistently denied that it would help the Chinese government to spy and says it is “100% owned by employees” though Washington had cautioned that US-UK intelligence sharing and military collaboration possibly will situate at risk if Britain went ahead with its plan as Chinese companies can be ordered to act under the direction of Beijing under Chinese law. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has said that UK has fabricated the risk and used it as an excuse to collaborate with the US to discriminate against and exclude Chinese firms repeatedly, blatantly violating market economic principles and free trade rules, “China strongly opposes it.”

This connotes US and other major Asian democracies mainly Australia, India and Japan, the Quad concept will collectively curb China in the new scaffold of emergent “Cold War 2.0” persuasion. Japan has been praising India’s “Act East policy” and the need to strengthen cooperation. The US imposes Global Magnitsky sanctions on senior Chinese officials serving in Xinjiang, Xinjiang Public Security Bureau and Tibet that were ‘substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas’ for right abuses. In retaliation, for the first time, China banned US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, Congressman Chris Smit and US Senator Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. China from time and again stresses “One China Policy”, determination to protect its sovereignty and crackdown against terrorism, separatism and religious forces are within China are entirely the internal affairs of China and the US has no right to interfere. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that the visa ban has “severely damaged China-US relations”. Thoughts from China believe that the Indo-Pacific strategy is intended to hedge against China’s foreign and security policy behavior, which is bringing about geopolitical changes in the region with China’s rise. The US has approved a possible $620 million upgrade package for Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Taiwan. Beijing and Washington continue to disagree on the issue of Human Rights recently blaming US migration policy as “xenophobic” and racial prejudices. With all this, Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi said “China never intends to challenge or replace the US, or have a full confrontation with the US” and “Aggression and expansion are never in the genes of the Chinese nation throughout its 5,000 years of history. China does not replicate any model of other countries, nor does it export its own to others”.

The liberal European order emerged after World War II with the foundation of the United Nations for global stability. When the US priorities are changing from both Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Middle East to the IPR, important global actor the European Union (EU) and other countries over the past few years halfheartedly twisting with China’s conduct. EU’s 27 heads of governments are currently meeting in Brussels. Regardless of American pressure, though the Europeans are greatly apprehensive by Trump’s precedence when China appears to be self-assured to take benefit of this competent diplomacy to wane the trans-Atlantic acquaintance. EU invests in Europe’s infrastructure and is becoming ever more conscious and concerned by China’s capacity to question and shape the continent. China policy of denial to ending practices of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, its obstruction to enhance market candidness for European companies, its make use of coercive economic tools and political persuasion in Europe and its illiberal activities on the world stage is limiting China’s influence in Europe for strategic and security reasons. EU finds Washington’s approach towards China forceful, though its members engage China on a state to the state level, in 2019 the EU collectively acknowledged China as a “systemic rival”.

Turkey that sits at the crossroads to Europe and Asia is most vibrant for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The slowly growing economic relations between the two countries are crammed with suspicion and mistrust. President Erdogan has expressed concerns about human rights over China’s treatment of the Uighurs, a Muslim and Turkic minority group. Turkey’s conduct across the Black Sea will and remain a strategic space as China-US competition unfolds.   

Russia is a known adversary of the US. Though interests interconnect between China and Russia while competing in the US, Russia fears the possibilities of Chinese naval intentions in the Arctic, which for long has been seen as Russia’s domain. China-Russia policy convergence premeditated to take benefit of the West’s limitation can be a divergence for the official alliance.

Germany has deep economic ties with China and political and economic ties with the US so both China and the US see Germany as a pivot to engage in geopolitical strategies. Germany’s strategies towards dealing with China are developing so is its relationship with Central Asian, pursuing a close bond with India and the Indo-Pacific strategies.

China will fight to defend its core interests in Australia to the end, while Australian education, mining and agriculture desire improved ties with China so the possibilities of a comprehensive confrontation is low. Australia hopes the US will build a more objective understanding and a rationale policy towards China.  

The Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan (C5) nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) of which four of the C5 are members in Central Asia is defined by geography, political, economic and security factor for China. Regardless of the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR Central Asia remains a nucleus for China, Russia and the US.

Meeting held on 30th June amongst the Foreign Minister of C5 and the US Secretary of State agreed on a broad range of discourse with shared efforts to develop economic resilience, support for efforts to peacefully resolve the situation in Afghanistan and to build economic and trade ties that would connect Central Asia to markets in South Asia and Europe to boost security and stability in Central Asia and the region. Three agenda of work was finalized to promote co-operations in the C5+1 format. The participants agreed to continue strengthening joint work within the framework of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with the Economic Working Group (EWG) with cooperation and development of finance with the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration focusing on women’s participation. The Group would deem cooperation opportunities in developing the transit potential of Afghanistan, including exploring opportunities for funding from international financial institutions of large projects in cooperation with Afghanistan. The EWG would discuss areas such as public health; agriculture; tourism; transport; information technology; and increased financial transparency and resilience. Second, was to strengthen cooperation in the areas of energy and the environment by holding an expert meeting to discuss the integration of renewable energy technologies and incentives to attract private sector investment as well as cooperation on air and water quality. Third, the Security Working Group to continue jointly to discuss ways to promote secure and effective borders that allow the free flow of goods, prevent the trafficking of persons and illicit goods, nuclear and radiological safety, and increase regional cooperation on border security to maintain peace, prevent and respond to conflict and counter-terrorism and violent extremism.

With China-US rivalry countries in IPR including Nepal are toward the inside of cooperation, competition and confrontation with economic and military domination, governance and strategic co-operation.


A question arises on how nations of the IPR and Nepal attempt to deal with, survive and outline the rivalry and to what degree is harmony or discord of strategy on key areas of geopolitical competition including technology, infrastructure development, trade, and sea power across issues that needs to be handled with China and US strategic relationship?

Impression on International Institution: The efficiency and usefulness of the international institutions like the WHO and the fear of financial support to the UN is weakening public confidence. The two top economies and competitors in economic, energy consumption, carbon emissions, military spending and technology China and the US’s and world’s major powers are ever more careful in balancing their behavior above all at the present when the response for COVID-19 is consecutively equivalent. There is extensive and rising breach amid the top two powers and how the rivalry will unfold in India (disengaging from the border tragedy), Japan, the UK and the EU as well as other middle powers and the consequences for taking sides if they may have to regard their current and future relations with both powers.

Consistent US policies, opening up with Russia and India’s greater role: The US strategies and policy towards IPR will not change what so ever may be the outcome of the US November election. The US may rethink its Russian policy with new approaches to further improve the US-Russia relationship-both in denial to Russian belligerence with an opportunity for cooperation.  President Nixon did build a respectable relationship with China to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.

China is a force to reckon with as it is able to influence the international rules of the game with its capital, technology capabilities in strategic areas like 5G and Artificial Intelligence with its wider influence fostered through a single-minded effort to develop trade ties, financial relationships and so on.

Strategically placed India and other middle powers are liable to have the benefit of greater bargaining capabilities with both China and the US. Smaller powers are likely to fall in line with any side that provides them the required capital. The rise of India and India-US cooperation will give China to increase opposition in the region. Post pandemic, India may not contribute to the digital and economic rise of the same power that harms it. But India’s relative power vis-à-vis China and the US improve, India can become a swing power for both China and US-led groupings. If India’s relative power declines, India will be forced to ally on less favourable terms more closely with US with ideological values against communism. India will play a crucial role in South Asia as a democracy.

Expectations for US leadership for stability: When the world is entering the 21st century with great power competition and delicate international order, the international institution and aspiring nations like Nepal will more and more be wedged in a blind. The Future of US alliances and partnerships in the long-term with the swift alteration of the balance of power and importunate security threats will necessitate expectations for American leadership with a more strategic role and understand ally and partner calculations on interests, threats and opportunities in provisioning public goods and maintaining regional stability. US Strategic outlook for Alliance and Partnership and economic as the tools of state power will be central to US foreign Policy to countering Beijing’s rising role even after the election as Trump’s democratic opponent Joe Biden is equally vocal on Beijing.

Expansion of Quad concept: Australia and India have signed a deal to use each other’s military bases as part of security cooperation. The US active involvement with the recent positioning of two warships in the South China Sea and the call on China to stop ‘bullying behavior’ does provide ample suggestions of democracies oldest, largest and others, the US, India, Australia, France, Japan, South Korea and the UK have the potent to ally with a singular purpose of countering the China and China’s expansionist behavior.

In the power rivalry and geopolitics opposition, the IPR is captivating a new political and security formula and the engagement with Central, South and South East, East and North Asia is fundamental in influencing the new normal in the IPR. The intimidation of China’s peaceful rise arrives with an argument of the Thucydides trap for a new world order or the upholding of the existing world order.

Binoj Basnyat
Author is a retired Nepalese Army Major General and a political and security Analyst.

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