How It WorksWelcome To The Indo-Pacific: The World's Chessboard

Welcome To The Indo-Pacific: The World’s Chessboard

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Connecting the geographies of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Indo-Pacific region hosts over half of the world’s people, almost two thirds of the world’s economy, and seven of the world’s largest militaries – not least China and the United States. Many remain unaware of escalating tensions and the dangers they pose to global order. This article is your introduction to continued coverage of the region, where we will take a deep-dive into some of the key issues defining the region.

Two superpowers competing for geopolitical influence, the world’s most valuable supply chain of semi-conductors, territorial disputes in the South-China Sea, and a nuclearized Korean peninsula. Welcome to the Indo-Pacific: the world’s chessboard.

Geopolitical Rivalry

The two superpowers of China and the United States shape the Indo-Pacific. Historically, the relationship is one of complexity. The infamous secret meeting between Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai in 1971 paved the way for Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, and China’s opening to the world. Deng Xiaoping’s historic trip to the U.S. socialized the ideal of improved Sino-U.S. relations following the war against communism. Just 10 years later, the world witnessed the brutal suppression of dissent in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, relations cooled.

Globalization since has seen the two economies become heavily intertwined. China’s rapid economic growth in the prevailing decades has seen it embrace leadership of development initiatives around the world. Thanks to its Belt and Road Initiative, China has invested more than US$3 trillion in global infrastructure. Such leadership threatens U.S. pre-eminence as the de-facto global leader, creating a sense of urgency, often culminating in China hysteria and calls for economic decoupling.

Semi-conductors

Continued economic growth demands technological know-how. Last week, the White House announced a ban on U.S. investment in Chinese tech sectors, seeking to limit Chinese progress in key strategic areas. One such area is semi-conductors – the world’s most critical technology.

Ingrained into every aspect of modern-being, they are the chips powering the technological revolution. From computers, smartphones, and 5G networks, to artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, and advanced weaponry. The U.S. and its Indo-Pacific allies in Korea, Taiwan, and Japan dominate the industry, with 39%, 16%, 12%, and 9% of market share respectively. Much of America’s military primacy stems from its ability to re-purpose semiconductor technology to military uses.

Reliance on U.S. technology limits Chinese capabilities – both militarily and industrially. China has invested heavily to develop indigenous semiconductor technology and supply chain capabilities. Chinese firms doubled their market share since 2015, now accounting for 6% of total market share. Currently, China remains crucially dependent on the U.S. and its allies at key stages of production, whom would like to keep it that way.

Territorial Disputes

The South-China Sea is a key source of tension in the Indo-Pacific. Competing territorial claims position a host of countries at odds with one another, including some of the region’s largest actors.

China, Vietnam, the Phillipines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all claim sovereignty over disputed territory in the South-China Sea. Most notably, China’s infamous nine-dash line, in which it claims the vast majority of the South-China Sea, is vehemently opposed by many of its neighbours and the United States.

Just recently, Chinese Coastal Guards drew attention following a confrontation with a Philippine supply ship whereby the former fired at the latter with water cannons.  A U.S. mutual defence ally, encounters like this one edge us nervously toward a U.S.-China military confrontation.

The Korean Peninsula

Heading East, the Korean Peninsula is one of the world’s most heavily fortified areas. Despite the 1953 Ceasefire, tensions remain high between the North and the South following the Korean War, owing much to the North’s likely successful development of nuclear weapons. Both desire reunification in the long-term.

The Kim dynasty, which leads North Korea, casts a long shadow. The family are paranoid, perhaps justifiably, of attempts to oust the regime, led by the United States. The U.S. retains over 28,500 troops in South Korea, alongside a full range of conventional, nuclear and missile-defence capabilities. The U.S. and South Korea share a Mutual Defence Treaty dating back to 1953.

The Korean Peninsula is an important strategic buffer zone for the United States and China in their own ideological confrontation, hence their continued support following the war, for the two countries either side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

Next Time

The Indo-Pacific is a region mired by security dilemmas. In the coverage that follows, we’ll delve deeper into the issues outlined above, and beyond.

Shane Green
Shane Green
Shane Green is a freelance journalist and scholar of international relations based in Seoul, South Korea. He has previously worked in local economic development and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Politics from the University of Manchester. You can visit his personal blog at: https://economista75583261.wordpress.com/

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