Tuesday 24 May 2022 | 12:54 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 May 2022 | 12:54 | SYDNEY

The Indo-Pacific strikes back


Rory Medcalf


20 November 2012 10:12

It may not have got everything right, but one virtue of the Australian Government's new white paper on Australia in the Asian Century is its authors' open-mindedness about the way the Asian region is defined. Specifically, the paper gave some credit to the emerging idea of an Indo-Pacific vision of Australia's region:

Driven by Asia's economic rise, the Indian Ocean is surpassing the Atlantic and Pacific as the world's busiest and most strategically significant trade corridor. One-third of the world's bulk cargo and around two-thirds of world oil shipments now pass through the Indian Ocean (IOR-ARC 2012). Regional cooperation to ensure the safety and security of these vital trade routes will become more important over coming decades.

Some observers have raised a new 'Indo-Pacific' conception of the Asian region. Under such a conception, the western Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean would come to be considered as one strategic arc. This conception is being driven by the increased economic interaction between South, Northeast and Southeast Asia and the importance of the lines of energy supply to Asia from the Middle East.

The white paper also recognises the increasing importance of a more land-based 'trans-Asian region', and cites the work of my colleagues Anthony Bubalo and Malcolm Cook in promoting that idea. In the end, it does not definitively take sides in this debate. And in any case the Indo-Pacific and 'horizontal Asia' may prove fairly complementary, the maritime and continental sides of the same trend away from narrower conceptions of East Asia or even the Asia Pacific as self-contained system.

But when it comes to the Indo-Pacific, the critics and sceptics are starting to find voice, for example implying that this notion suits a 'conservative' strategy somehow to exclude Chinese influence from the region and especially in the Indian Ocean. 

Tomorrow it will be time for the Indo-Pacific to strike back. I will deliver a paper on the Indo-Pacific concept as the first lecture in Centre of Gravity, a major new series developed by the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. Building on an Interpreter blog post, I will examine why China may have to learn to live with the Indo-Pacific, and why it's not such a new idea after all.

Photo by Flickr user Scotticus_.