Map of the geopolitical competition in the Indo-Pacific

The geopolitical map of the Indo-pacific looks very different if looked at from the perspectives of Beijing or Washington. Our map visualizes the main fault lines and potential flash-points.

The new geopolitics and geoeconomics of Asia have many layers. It manifests many patterns including those that are overlapping and contradictory. China has an overarching concern that the presence of the US military and its allies in the Indo-Pacific islands chains can cut off its trade and supply routes. From Beijing’s geostrategic vantage, its actions can be read as attempts to break out of this perceived encirclement. Westward, the outreach extends through the Belt and Road Initiative, aiming at the European market. Its side-arms in Pakistan (CPEC) and Myanmar (MPEC) are seen as ways to bypass the potential chokepoint in the narrow Strait of Malacca, and secure access to energy supplies around the Persian Gulf. And its eastern expansion through a military presence in the South China Sea, is presumed to be with the long-term goal to push and build the strategic depth in the Western Pacific.

China's neighbours feel threatened by these advances. And on the other hand, the United States not only perceives China as a competitor for global and regional hegemony, but as the first military force on par since Pearl Harbour to press forward into the Pacific, approaching American positions on Guam, Hawaii and even the its West Coast. These contrasting risk assessments and strategic aspirations lead many observers to fear that the catalyst of a military confrontation between the two nuclear powers and their allies could lie in the Strait of Taiwan.

Consequently, Washington has started to shift its diplomatic and military footprint in the Indo-Pacific. With continued attempts to de-risk the world’s two biggest economies, Washington is increasing pressure on allies in Europe and Asia (major non-NATO allies) to follow suit. However, there is a sense of growing frustration among US strategists that even a decade after Obama's “Pivot to Asia”, this shift in focus to the Pacific has not been adequately achieved.

For more than two decades, the superpower has become bogged down in its war on terror. Today, significant Western resources are tied up in the war in Ukraine and the Middle East. After the end of the Pax Americana, internal and external conflicts escalate from the Sahel in Africa, to the Balkans and the Caucasus up north and to the Korean peninsula further east. All of these sources of conflict tie up the resources of the world's largest military power, raising the spectre of overstretch.

How these geopolitical competitions evolve will depend not only on the two great powers, but the interaction of many players in the regions. Further, a string of elections in 2024 could have a significant impact on the strategic postures of key players. Given the shift of the economic and political centre of gravity into the Indo-Pacific, the developments in this region will have global impacts and likely to be felt around the world.  

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