The global shift of power center from the Atlantic to the Asia Pacific in the last decade was a monumental shift of power pregnant with newer strategic possibilities, but without displacing the primacy of the United States as the paramount superpower holding sway over both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
In this shift of the global power center the strategic focus in terms of lead strategic actors came to rest on China, India and Japan, overarched by the strategic predominance of the United States as the Asia Pacific’s non-resident power, but perceived by Asian lead powers as the nett provider of Asia Pacific security.
However, in this strategic template there is a glaring oddity in that while all three Asian powers—China, Japan and India— perceive the United States as the nett provider of security in the now enlarged area of Indo-Pacific Asia, their perceptions of the United States varies considerably. China views the United States as the net provider of security exclusively in terms of its fears of Japan’s military resurgence. However, Japan and India view the United States as a nett provider of security against the threatening rise of China and the pronounced China Threat.
Having laid out the contextual background of the Indo-Pacific security atmospherics, let us now revert to the main theme of the Indo-Pacific Asia balance of power. The term balance of power has many connotations, all of which concentrate on the requirements of balancing the rise of threatening power intent on disturbing the prevailing security and military balance of the region.
In Indo-Pacific Asia, the threatening power is decidedly China which has with its sudden switch from ‘soft power; strategies has shifted to ‘hard power’ strategies emboldened by its uninterrupted build-up of naval power to add maritime muscle to its burgeoning military power, making it a power to be reckoned with.
With China’s strategic intentions read as not benign, China by its provocative military stance and aggression in the South China Sea has reinforced the prevailing impression that China is fast emerging as the ‘revisionist power’ intent on upsetting or displacing the prevailing balance of power resting on the edifice of the US-based security architecture in the Asia Pacific which has lasted for nearly half a century.
Another notable feature that needs to be highlighted is that the United States architecture security template earlier crafted for containment of the Soviet Union stands very much in place now to cater for the emerging China Threat.
The United States, however, reluctant to acknowledge the China Threat, like India, has however, this security architecture in place. In view of the enlarged China Threat what one is now witnessing is the United States engaged in the crafting of enlarging its earlier balance of power template by forging substantive strategic partnership with India, a strategic cooperative relationship with Vietnam and Indonesia besides discarding its previous hang-ups on countries like Myanmar.
So in terms of Indo-Pacific Asia balance of power template one would witness in the coming years witness a further reinforcement of this trend and process. This is inevitable as China has shown no inclinations, much as the United States wished, that China should integrate into a rules-based international order.
China is aware that China itself has unleashed the process of balancing China’s threatening rise and its revisionist impulses. It is further reinforced in the last two to three years by the assertive pronouncements of the Chinese President. It also has to be added that the balance of power strategies against China would not only be by military containment of China but also complemented by economic containment of Chia, which is far more subtle and less visible.
Concluding one would like to observe that Indo-Pacific Asia would now be forced into adoption and siding with the balance of power strategies of the United States in a lead role. It would also force an Asian giant like India to shun its traditional dislike of balance of power policy approaches and accept it as inevitable.
*Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group.