Since Trump proposed the concept of “Indo-Pacific” during his visit to Asia in 2017, the term “Indo-Pacific” has quickly become a popular term in international politics. Subsequently, the United States, Japan, India, Australia, South Korea, and some European countries successively released their own versions of the “Indo-Pacific” strategy, each elaborating on its meaning and vision. A very important but easily overlooked issue is that although these countries are all talking about “Indo-Pacific” and “Indo-Pacific” strategies, their perceived “Indo-Pacific” has different geographical boundaries, and their interpretations and priorities are also very different. .
The concept of “Indo-Pacific” is both an actual geographical space and a virtual geopolitical concept. It is recognized that “Indo” in “Indo-Pacific” is the abbreviation of “Indian Ocean”, not the abbreviation of “India”. “Indo-Pacific” is a concept with some ideological overtones that was forcibly introduced by the Western camp led by the United States as an alternative to “Asia-Pacific.” The United States introduced this concept to view the “Indian Ocean” and the “Pacific Ocean” as a whole. Compared with “Asia-Pacific”, a word that combines land and sea, “Indo-Pacific” is more maritime.
Although the concept of “Indo-Pacific” is widely used, since ocean space is not as clearly defined as land, the division of “Indo-Pacific” geographical space cannot simply cover all Indian Ocean and Pacific countries. Although Mongolia is a purely landlocked country, it has been explicitly included in the “Indo-Pacific” strategies of the United States and France. By observing how different countries define the geographical scope of the “Indo-Pacific”, we can get a glimpse of their strategic intentions in foreign and security policies in the region. An “Indo-Pacific” has multiple scopes. On the surface, it is the different definitions of the “Indo-Pacific” geographical space by various countries, but behind it is the reflection of national strategic intentions.
Different versions of the “Indo-Pacific” strategy have different geographical scopes
The geographical boundaries of the U.S. version of the “Indo-Pacific” are related to the U.S. military’s Area of Responsibility (AOR). The U.S. Pacific Command, established in January 1947, was initially responsible for the entire Pacific Ocean. Later, in order to contain the Soviet Union, the Pacific Command’s AOR gradually expanded to include the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, the Arctic Ocean, Alaska, and the east coast of Africa. Since the 1980s, regionalism has become popular and “Asia-Pacific” has become the mainstream concept. The United States has begun to streamline the AOR of the Pacific Command. The Pacific Military Region has gradually shrunk to the west coast of the United States in the east, the Indian Ocean in the west at 68°E, and the southern border of Russia in the north. The area from south to Antarctica covers approximately 50% of the earth’s surface area. In May 2018, the US military’s “Pacific Command” was renamed “Indo-Pacific Command”, but its scope of responsibilities remained unchanged.
In the official documents of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the “Indo-Pacific” is considered to be the combination of the “two continents” of rapidly developing Asia and Africa with huge development potential, and the “two oceans” of the free and open Pacific and Indian Oceans. Japan’s version of “Indo-Pacific” can be seen as a supporting component of its “expanding Asia” foreign policy, aiming to expand Japan’s living space. With Japan as the radiating point, an “arc of freedom and prosperity” stretches across the Eurasian continent. From a geographical perspective, the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” starts from the Nordic countries, passes through the Baltic countries, Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and then connects to Northeast Asia via Southeast Asia. In fact, Japan’s focus in the “Indo-Pacific” is the eastern half of the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity,” which is the section from the Indian subcontinent through Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia. In order to implement this strategic layout, Japan has greatly strengthened its bilateral relations with India in recent years.
India defines the “Indo-Pacific” region as the vast maritime space spanning from the west coast of North America to the east coast of Africa. This definition returns to the original meaning of the term “Indian Ocean + Pacific Ocean”, and the geopolitical color is relatively weakened. Since then, India has refined its definition of “Indo-Pacific” to include the Pacific islands and the east and south coast of Africa, linking the Arabian Sea island countries, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The Indian version of “Indo-Pacific” places special emphasis on the role of the western Indian Ocean (in contrast, the U.S. version of “Indo-Pacific” only draws the line to the eastern Indian Ocean at 68° east longitude), highlighting India’s “Indian Ocean-oriented” thinking, that is, it hopes to establish a strategic partnership in South Asia. Even the entire Indian Ocean region plays the role of a central power.
Australia’s definition of the “Indo-Pacific” region has gone through an evolutionary process. In 2013, the “Indo-Pacific” was regarded by Australia as an “emerging” region and a natural extension of the “broader Asia-Pacific region”; the 2017 “Australian Foreign Policy White Paper” clarified that the geographical scope of the “Indo-Pacific” is “extending from the eastern Indian Ocean” to the Pacific Ocean, connected by Southeast Asia, including India, northern Asia, and the United States.” Australia’s division of the “Indo-Pacific” region is similar to that of the United States to a certain extent.
South Korea, like Japan, regards the “Indo-Pacific” strategy as one of its strategies to expand its diplomatic horizons. South Korea defines the “Indo-Pacific” strategy as starting from the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, further deepening strategic cooperation with “Indo-Pacific” regions such as Southeast Asia, South Asia, Oceania, and the east coast of Africa, and building strategic cooperation with regional characteristics in these regions. Partnership network. It can be seen that South Korea also has a relatively broad definition of “Indo-Pacific”, focusing on establishing a partnership network, and its geopolitical pertinence has been weakened.
ASEAN has doubts about whether to use the somewhat targeted concept of “Indo-Pacific” in official documents. In its “ASEAN “Indo-Pacific” Outlook”, ASEAN equates the “Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region” with the “Indo-Pacific” region and believes that the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions are a closely integrated and interconnected whole, rather than adjacent territorial space, in which ASEAN should play a central and strategic role.
The EU believes that the “Indo-Pacific” includes the region from the east coast of Africa to the Pacific island countries. This region should be based on the so-called values of safeguarding democracy, human rights, the rule of law and respect for international law. The Netherlands is the first country in the EU to publish an “Indo-Pacific” strategic document. For the Netherlands, the “Indo-Pacific” region includes countries surrounding the Indian and Pacific Oceans, covering the South and East China Seas, stretching from Pakistan to the Pacific Islands. The routes connecting Europe, Asia and Oceania via the Indian and Pacific Oceans are at the heart of the “Indo-Pacific” concept. Germany’s “Indo-Pacific Policy Guidelines” points out that the “Indo-Pacific” region is the entire region characterized by the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, where the strategies of various countries compete with each other and where global value chains converge. France is the only country in the EU that has territory in the “Indo-Pacific” region. Three-quarters of France’s exclusive economic zone is located in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. More than 1.6 million French citizens live in these overseas territories. Therefore, France considers itself an “Indo-Pacific” country. “Country is more qualified to participate in “Indo-Pacific” affairs. For France, the “Indo-Pacific” is the vast area between Djibouti and French Polynesia. In the “French Indo-Pacific Strategy” released in 2021, France clearly described the “Indo-Pacific” geographical area in France’s mind, that is, extending from the land on the east coast of Africa across Central Asia and Mongolia to Northeast Asia, and around to the south. Directly through Australia to Polynesia.
Reflects the different interests and demands of various countries
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been one of the most powerful maritime forces in the world. Its powerful naval and aviation capabilities have made traditional sea power disputes no longer attract as much attention as before. However, with the rise of China, the importance of sea control has once again become the focus of attention of the international community.
The United States has launched the “Indo-Pacific”, a concept with a strong maritime flavor, which is a reflection of its “return to sea control” strategy. In addition, the United States has also incited its allies to follow the footsteps of the United States by amplifying the “China threat” and shifted its focus to the so-called “free maritime order and sea lanes.” Against this background, the United States and its allies have launched the “Indo-Pacific” strategy one after another, aiming to emphasize the importance of maintaining “freedom of navigation” and “maritime order” at sea.
Among the relevant countries in the “Indo-Pacific” region, the United States, Japan, India, and Australia are regarded by the United States as important fulcrum countries, and these countries pay significantly more attention to the “Indo-Pacific” than other countries in the region. The United States hopes to use the “Indo-Pacific” strategy to suppress China’s influence in the region and improve its status and influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy also includes an obvious intention to block and contain China. Japan hopes to play the role of a regional power by strengthening security and economic cooperation with relevant countries. Australia’s “Indo-Pacific” concept covers the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions, with a focus on relations with China. India wants to use the “Indo-Pacific” strategy to restore its dominant position in the Indian Ocean region.
In contrast, the “Indo-Pacific” strategies of regional gateway countries such as South Korea and ASEAN focus more on opportunities for regional economic and development cooperation rather than geopolitical interests. However, as the “Indo-Pacific” region becomes increasingly important, their strategic attention to the region is also gradually increasing.
The Netherlands and France have defined the geographical scope of the “Indo-Pacific” in their official documents. The Netherlands has repeatedly emphasized maritime navigation rights in its “Indo-Pacific” strategy, and France has relatively realized the scope of the “Indo-Pacific” because of its huge overseas territory. The EU and Germany have blurred the “Indo-Pacific” region. As Western developed countries, EU countries pay more attention to their economic interests in the region while not forgetting to emphasize their values.
All in all, the “Indo-Pacific” region has been regarded by various stakeholders as an important area that can help expand a country’s living space, and the “Indo-Pacific” strategy has also become an important part of the strategic layout of various countries. The “Indo-Pacific” strategy proposed by all parties based on their own country’s central perspective will inevitably lead to different interest demands and strategic games in terms of regional security, economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, etc. The disagreement over the geographical definition of the “Indo-Pacific” region is one of the biggest. A remarkable aspect.
It is worth noting that maritime interests in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean are of common concern to all parties, which gives the United States an opportunity to unite the interests of all parties by exaggerating China’s “maritime threat”.