Gifted with strategic location at ‘Rimland’, it made countries in this particular area facing dilemma from great powers. Situated at tip of the non alliances region made the countries enjoy the benefit in controlling sea area particular South China Sea (SCS) which later became a subject for competition of powers. Nicholas Spyman stated that controlling ‘Rimland’ which is coastal area is the key to manipulate the World Island. This hypothesis became a huge discussion due to current world situation of trade which globalisation allow states to commerce with each other without boundaries. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that roughly 80 percent of global trade by volume and 70 percent by value is transported by sea. Of that volume, 60 percent of maritime trade passes through Asia, with the South China Sea carrying an estimated one-third of global shipping. It’s waters are particularly critical for countries in coastal areas which connect with Straits of Malacca, and by extension, the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean.
Realizing the significance of controlling sea routes, China includes Indo Pacific in One Belt One Road (OBOR) in 2013. The development strategy aims to build connectivity and co-operation across Mongolia and Russia; Eurasian countries; Central and West Asia; Pakistan; other countries of the Indian sub-continent; and Indochina. This geopolitical act from President Xi expected to bring participant countries more economically close to China by providing infrastructure aid, boost connectivity and seeks to create a community of common destiny. Among connectivity projects from OBOR are railway roads from South China connecting to Southeast Asian countries, ports in South Asia and power plants involving Mekong states. Since OBOR introduced to the world, it never fail received criticisms from China’s counterpart. Western scholarship elaborate that OBOR is new colonialism act from China to developing countries. With this premise, many western countries and its allies ignored the initiatives but received positive support from developing nations. For African states, billions of investments and loans from China are needed to pump up their economy. However, China’s new colonialism trapping numerous countries in unsustainable levels of debt. Hambanbota port in Sri Lanka became controversial after the government handed over to China Merchants Port Holding on a 99- year lease. While in Africa, participant countries failed in paying the debt in situation where China is allowed to extract natural resources such as bauxite and copper mines for exports.
Another peacekeeping initiative in Indo Pacific is Japan. Under Abe administration, Tokyo introduced Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP) which emphasises on stability and prosperity of international community through connectivity projects. According to Japan, enhance ‘connectivity’ between Asia and Africa through free and open Indo-Pacific will promote stability and prosperity of the region as a whole . Same mechanism with China, connectivity projects of Japan are scattered around Asia and Africa particular in railway and port. In ASEAN, two economic corridor of East- West and South were introduced to fully maximise sea lane ship from Japan. Country benefited in this economic corridor is Vietnam by building and improving port before distribute Japan goods to all around ASEAN members. As for Cambodia, construction of bridge and road from Japan will boost their low economy and same time expand Japan goods to Mekong countries. It also as strategy to balancing- China strategy and geopolitical significance in mainland ASEAN which seem as a strong supporter to Beijing. Interestingly, Japan initiative also incudes agenda for peace and stability by promoting maritime security, counterterrorism and disaster risk reduction. This mechanism under FOIP is a strategic foreign policy tool to maximise Japanese maritime security interest in the Asia Pacific. By providing equipment as well knowledge in international law, it benefit Japan in Tokyo’s long-term benefit.
From two ‘peacekeeping initiatives’, we see identical pattern of foreign policy tool which is connectivity projects are offer to developing countries. Through connectivity projects across Indo Pacific, participants countries enjoy the benefits of infrastructure aids and same time place them in dilemma of supporting two house power either Beijing or Tokyo or remain to hedge among those powerful countries. For East Asian countries, winning support from Indo Pacific states in geopolitical competition is crucial in maintaining their images as superpower in global. Although FOIP launched in 2016 later than OBOR, peacekeeping initiatives from Japan received less criticism from western world compared to Beijing initiatives. Due to this, Japan received patronage from Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) countries to face China’s growing challenge and same time allowed all of Asia to rise in stable and peace security environment. As for Beijing, its ‘community of common destiny for mankind’ initiatives required new strategy to face their counterparts in Indo- Pacific. OBOR initiatives only obtain support from its close allies consist of middle and small power countries compared to FOIP supporters from list of superpower countries. ‘Peacekeeping Initiatives’ from Beijing and Tokyo are welcome in Indo Pacific to minimise competition of power and monopoly. For recipient countries, connectivity projects will enhance their economy as well generate more income to community. However, middle and small countries in this region required a strong diplomacy and firm foreign policy to counter the competition between big powers. It crucial for these countries to avoid circumstances which effects countries prosperity and peace.
Francis P. Sempa, Nicholas Spykman and the Struggle for the Asiatic Mediterranean, The Diplomat, January 9 2015,https://thediplomat.com/2015/01/nicholas-spykman-and-the-struggle-for-the-asiatic-mediterranean/
Saikiran Kannan, Exclusive: Revival of Hambanbota Port in Sri Lanka May Strengthen China’s Position in Indian Ocean, March 19 2021, https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/revival-hambantota-port-sri-lanka-strengthen-china-position-indian-ocean-1781171-2021-03-19
What is Peacekeeping, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/what-is-peacekeeping
United Nations Conference On Trade And Development, Review of Maritime Transport, 2016, https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/rmt2016_en.pdf
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Free and Open Indo- Pacific, March 3 2022, https://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000430632.pdf
Atiqah Adanan is a postgraduate student from Shandong University, China, interested in China and ASEAN relations.