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Changes in U.S. Grand Strategy in the Indo-Pacific and China’s Countermeasures

The Headquarters of Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) in Jalan Sisingamangaraja No.70A, South Jakarta, Indonesia

The Headquarters of Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) in Jalan Sisingamangaraja No.70A, South Jakarta, Indonesia. By Gunawan Kartapranata - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link.

Cheng Enfu is a Distinguished Professor at the School of Marxism of Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi’an, member of Presidium of Academic Division of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, and President of the World Association for Political Economy. Li Jing is a lecturer at the School of Marxism of China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, People’s Republic of China.

Evolution of the U.S. “Indo-Pacific Strategy”

As independent geographical units, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean have been separated for a long time. With the advent of the era of great navigation, biogeographic and ethnographic studies have combined the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, and thus the two have been integrated into a marine ecosystem. Since then, the spread of geopolitical discourse has gradually transformed the Indian-Pacific Ocean from a biogeographical region to a geostrategic one.1

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, as the strategic position of the Indian-Pacific region has continued to be elevated, the term Indo-Pacific has emerged, triggering attention and discussion in academic and strategic circles. It is generally believed that the first official use of the broad notion of a geopolitical confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans was made by the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In August 2007, Abe called for a “broader Asia” spanning the Pacific and Indian Oceans—“seas of freedom and prosperity, which will be open and transparent to all”—in a speech to the Indian Parliament.2 Although Abe did not explicitly mention the concept of the Indo-Pacific, he provided the initial inspiration for U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy.

On November 10, 2017, while attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Leaders’ Summit in Vietnam, then U.S. President Donald Trump formally proposed to build a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”3 In December 2017, the Trump administration released the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, making it clear that “Indo-Pacific” specifically refers to the super-region stretching from the west coast of India to the Pacific shores of the United States.4 In February 2018, Trump signed the U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, formulated by the U.S. National Security Council as the strategic goal and action guide of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region. The document was declassified by the White House on January 5, 2021, just before Trump’s departure from office.5

In June 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense released the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report. The report opens by stating that “inter-state strategic competition, defined by geopolitical rivalry between free and repressive world order visions, is the primary concern for U.S. national security,” and affirms that the United States will achieve its regional goals through preparedness, partnerships, and promoting a networked region.6 As the first “Indo-Pacific” strategic document publicly released by the U.S. government, the report reflects the top-level designs of the U.S. military in the Indo-Pacific to prepare for wars between great powers and for peacetime strategic competition, marking the formation of the U.S. “Indo-Pacific Strategy.” The Biden administration released its Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States in February 2022, emphasizing that the United States “will focus on every corner of the region, from Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, to South Asia and Oceania, including the Pacific Islands,” and defining the policy objectives and action plans for specific regions and countries.7 Thus, the “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” which was formally proposed and systematically elaborated on by the Trump administration, then comprehensively inherited and further refined by the Biden administration, has become the strategic guideline for the United States to follow in the Indo-Pacific super-region.

The Economic Status Quo in the Indo-Pacific and Possibilities for Its Future Development

The Economic Status Quo in the Indo-Pacific

The Indo-Pacific plays an important role in the global economic system. It includes 65 percent of the world’s oceans and 25 percent of the world’s land, and is home to more than half of the world’s population, including 58 percent of the youth. The Indo-Pacific contributes two-thirds of global growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for 60 percent of global GDP. It includes the world’s largest economies (the United States, China, and Japan) and six of the world’s fastest growing economies (India, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Nepal, and the Philippines). The Indo-Pacific is the most dynamic region in the global economy and an important engine of world economic growth.

The Indo-Pacific region has a multilevel and comprehensive regional economic cooperation mechanism. Long before the concept of the Indo-Pacific was introduced, multilateral cooperation mechanisms such as APEC meetings, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, the East Asia Summit (EAS), and leaders’ summits held by ASEAN and regional countries have been the main platforms for handling Asia-Pacific affairs and promoting cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. With the gradual implementation of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) have become the main mechanisms for Indo-Pacific economic cooperation.

The RCEP went into effect in November 2020 and includes ten ASEAN countries plus Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. The RCEP accounts for about 30 percent of the world’s total population, GDP, and trade in goods. The full entry into force of the agreement for the fifteen parties signifies that the world’s most populous free trade area, with the largest economic and trade scale and the greatest potential for development, has entered a new stage. As a traditional trade liberalization agreement, it aims at reducing various forms of trade barriers among member countries and creating more trade and investment opportunities, with its large scale and inclusiveness as its distinctive features. There are wide gaps among the RCEP member countries, ranging from high-income countries such as Japan and Singapore to low-income countries such as Laos and Myanmar, and from producers of manufactured goods to producers of resource-based products. Taking into account the national conditions of different countries, the RCEP gives special and differential treatment to those that are least developed, maximizing the balance among the demands of all parties. The diversity of its members determines the inclusiveness and flexibility of the RCEP.8

The CPTPP originated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) reached by twelve countries including the United States, Japan, and Canada, in 2015. This free trade agreement was considered to be one of the important achievements of Barack Obama’s administration. On January 23, 2017, after taking office, Trump signed an executive order officially announcing the withdrawal of the United States from the TPP. Since then, under the leadership of Japan, the remaining eleven members have continued to push forward with the TPP, and signed a new trade agreement on March 8, 2018, known as the CPTPP. There is no difference between the CPTPP and the TPP in terms of market access, trade facilitation, e-commerce, and trade in services. The greatest difference is that the CPTPP suspends around twenty provisions of the TPP on investment, intellectual property, government procurement, transparency, and anticorruption. On December 30, 2018, the CPTPP, signed by eleven countries, including Japan, Canada, Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Mexico, and Peru, officially came into effect. The CPTPP covers a population of 498 million, and the sum of total GDP accounts for 13 percent of global economy. At present, China actively is applying to join the CPTPP.

The IPEF represents a strategically important move by the Biden administration to fill the economic void left by the Trump administration through developing a strong economic presence in the Indo-Pacific, with the aim of being able to outcompete China and its Belt and Road Initiative and preserve the “rules-based international order” dominated by U.S. imperialist hegemony.9 In October 2021, Biden put forward the concept of the IPEF when attending the Sixteenth East Asia Summit by video. The IPEF was launched during Biden’s visit to Japan in May 2022. At present, there are fourteen member countries (namely, the United States, Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), including seven ASEAN countries. These fourteen member countries account for 40 percent of global GDP and 28 percent of global trade in goods and services.

The IPEF consists of four pillars: Connected Economy (select trade issues), Resilient Economy (supply chains), Clean Economy, and Fair Economy. For the Connected Economy pillar, the IPEF partners seek high-standard provisions in areas that are foundational to resilient, sustainable, and inclusive economic growth, including those regarding labor, the environment, the digital economy, agriculture, transparency and good regulatory practices, competition, inclusivity, trade facilitation, and technical assistance and economic development. The second pillar, Resilient Economy, aims at improving transparency, diversity, security, and sustainability in supply chains to make them more resilient and well-integrated. Meanwhile, it seeks to coordinate crisis response measures, expand cooperation to better prepare for and mitigate the effects of disruptions to better ensure business continuity, improve logistical efficiency and support, and ensure access to key raw and processed materials, semiconductors, critical minerals, and clean energy technology. The third pillar, Clean Economy, chiefly is concerned with clean energy, decarbonization, and infrastructure. The fourth pillar, Fair Economy, mainly involves tax and anticorruption issues.10 The U.S. Trade Representative is leading the trade pillar talks, and the Commerce Secretary is leading the remaining pillars. All partners opted to participate in all four IPEF pillars, except for India, which opted out of the first. In November 2023, IPEF partners signed the Pillar II Supply Chain Agreement and concluded negotiations of the IPEF Clean Economy Agreement and Fair Economy Agreement. However, due to the U.S. refusal to open its market to other member countries and its domestic concerns that the agreement may have an adverse impact on employment, substantial progress has not been made in the Trade Pillar negotiations.

In short, the Indo-Pacific region is characterized by a large population, a vast market, rapid economic growth, and vitality. With the increasing interdependence of countries, the Indo-Pacific region has formed a multilevel, multifield, and comprehensive economic cooperation mechanism. However, the future of economic development in the Indo-Pacific is also fraught with uncertainties associated with the unjustified sanctions imposed on China by the United States and the West and the U.S. provocations in the region in recent years.

Possibilities of the Future of Economic Development in the Indo-Pacific

Generally speaking, the establishment of free trade agreements is an important manifestation of regional economic integration. The two major free trade agreements, namely the RCEP and the CPTPP, are usually regarded as two different paths to economic integration in the Asia-Pacific. ASEAN played a leading role in the initiation and establishment of the RCEP, thus it reflects “the efforts of developing countries to achieve regional economic integration with flexibility, progressivity and adaptability.”11 In contrast, the CPTPP, promoted by Japan, is the free trade agreement with the highest level of openness to date, and represents “the highest standard for a new generation of trade agreements that will lead the way for international economic and trade rules in the 21st century.”12 In terms of the depth and breadth of free trade, the CPTPP has surpassed the RCEP. In terms of rule-making, the RCEP adopts an integration path of low legalization, practices the model of “low contracting cost-high governance cost,” and tends to “gradually reach” its objectives. The CPTPP adopts an integration path of high legalization, practices the model of “high contracting cost-low governance cost,” and seeks to achieve high-level and high-standard Asia-Pacific economic and trade rules “in one step.”13 Nonetheless, these two free trade mechanisms adhere to openness and inclusiveness, and continue to push forward expansion in order to benefit more economies.

Unlike the RCEP and the CPTPP, the IPEF is not a trade agreement per se, but rather a U.S. executive branch initiative aimed at negotiating standards and rules in the Indo-Pacific, and lacking relevant contents such as tariff concessions and market access. The IPEF is intended to expand the economic presence of the United States in the Indo-Pacific and serve U.S. trade protectionism, which runs counter to the concerns of regional countries in promoting economic cooperation and realizing post-pandemic recovery. Meanwhile, the IPEF has not been approved by the U.S. Congress and is only being promoted by presidential executive order, which is not legally enforceable and is susceptible to high-level political changes in the United States. Once the U.S. government attempts to expand and institutionalize the economic standards of the current initiative, it is likely to be constrained by U.S. electoral and partisan politics.14 These factors will increase the concerns of participating countries about the sustainability, reliability, constraints, and potential benefits of this architecture.

The Biden administration has been actively promoting the IPEF with the aim of strengthening the relationship between the United States and its allies in the Indo-Pacific and establishing a supply chain mechanism that excludes China. The IPEF attempts to establish U.S.-led trade rules, reorganize the industrial supply chain system, and “decouple” the regional countries from China in economic and technological terms. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo called the launch of IPEF “an important turning point in restoring U.S. economic leadership in the region and presenting Indo-Pacific countries an alternative to China’s approach to these critical issues.”15 As a political tool for Washington to maintain regional economic hegemony, the essence of the IPEF from the standpoint of Beijing is to “deliberately exclude specific countries by controlling the supply chain, value chain and the new economic format, politicize, weaponize and ideologize economic issues, and use economic means to coerce regional countries to take sides between China and the United States.”16

China has close trade ties with IPEF member countries. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, an analysis of trade of IPEF member countries from 2010 to 2021 shows that IPEF members have become more reliant on trade with China since 2010, both in terms of exports and imports of manufactured goods. On average IPEF countries received more than 30 percent of their manufactured imports from China and sent almost 20 percent of their exports to China in 2021. These numbers reflect IPEF average increases in the share of over 40 percent for imports from China and almost 45 percent for exports to China since 2010. As of 2021, China was still the top source of manufactured goods for all IPEF countries except Brunei, and the top export destination for manufactured goods for half of IPEF member countries.17 It has been argued that “Without including market access—the elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers—the framework is unlikely to affect trade flows between the United States and the other 13 participants. It is therefore unlikely to create substantial trade diversion in the region from China to the United States.”18

Overall, the RCEP and the CPTPP are highly institutionalized, and these two mechanisms will coexist and compete with each other for a long time to come. With Thailand, South Korea, and China expressing their interest and willingness to join the CPTPP, coupled with the fact that seven of the RCEP members are also members of the CPTPP, this indicates that two-thirds of the RCEP members are willing to accept CPTPP rules.19 With the large-scale overlap of members, we cannot exclude the possibility that these two mechanisms will merge with each other in the future to promote the rapid development of economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region.

As for the IPEF, it is greatly affected by domestic political changes in the United States. If Biden wins the 2024 presidential election, he will continue to push the Trade Pillar negotiations to impose U.S. economic standards and influence on the Indo-Pacific as a way to contain China. However, if Trump wins the election, the IPEF (which he calls “TPP II”) inevitably will be scrapped. Trump, who advocates “America First” policies, will likely continue to pursue unilateralism and exert extreme pressure on China through a larger-scale trade war that was already greatly expanded under Biden. Against the background of the intensification of this great power rivalry, the rise of antiglobalization and protectionism, countries will compete for the right to formulate economic and trade rules and standards, and the economic order in the Indo-Pacific will face a growing trend of fragmentation. The original order will thus confront the risk of being reconstructed.

The Status Quo of Security in the Indo-Pacific and Possibilities for Its Future Development

The Security Status Quo in the Indo-Pacific

At present, the great power rivalry in the Indo-Pacific is becoming increasingly fierce, regional hotspot issues continue to ferment, nontraditional security threats are on the rise, and the security dilemma and risk of conflict have intensified.

With the gradual advance of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, the great power rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region has become increasingly fierce, particularly the strategic competition between China and the United States. If China and the United States cooperate, stability can be maintained in the region; if China and the United States are in conflict, a series of international contradictions will be aggravated.20

Since Trump took office, the U.S. strategy toward China has been characterized by comprehensive “containment,” vicious competition, and systematic confrontation. In the 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States of America and the 2020 United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China, the U.S. defined China as its foremost competitor and greatest challenge. The Trump administration regarded the Indo-Pacific as the core arena of the U.S.-China strategic game. The first substantial move to this end was the official renaming of the Pacific Command the “Indo-Pacific Command” on May 30, 2018. In the 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report released by the Trump administration, China was described as “a revisionist power.” The report pointed out that, “as China continues its economic and military ascendance, it seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and, ultimately, global preeminence in the long-term.” In response, the United States must “preserve peace through strength by rebuilding our military so that it remains preeminent, and rely on allies and partners to shoulder a fair share of the burden of responsibility to protect against common threats.”21

The Biden administration inherited the Trump administration’s strategy toward China. The 2022 National Security Strategy of the United States begins by stating that “the post-Cold War era is definitively over and a competition is underway between the major powers to shape what comes next.” The strategy defines China as “the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective.”22 The word “outcompete” appears ten times in this strategy, while “outcompete China” appears four times. Mike Johnson, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, publicly declared that “communist China is America’s largest geopolitical foe” and “enemy.”23 With the unfolding of the strategic competition between China and the United States, the order in the Indo-Pacific region will inevitably undergo division, reorganization, and reconstruction.

Regional hotspot issues have become important factors affecting the security situation in the Indo-Pacific. The Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait, and the South China Sea are the places where regional security risks gather most prominently.

First, as a legacy of the Cold War, the situation on the Korean Peninsula, provoked by the United States, continues to be tense, seriously affecting the security of the Northeast Asian region. Since South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who is very pro-United States and pro-Japan, came to power, the United States, Japan, and South Korea have strengthened trilateral military cooperation, intensively holding joint antisubmarine, antimissile, search and rescue, and maritime interception military exercises, and advancing the mechanisms of intelligence sharing. North Korea has been forced to respond with frequent test-firing of missiles, and, in January 2024, it adjusted its policy on relations with South Korea, stating that those between North and South Korea are no longer people of the same nation, but are instead enemies and warring parties who will never be able to achieve reconciliation. The actions by the southern Republic of Korea and the northern Democratic People’s Republic of Korea indicate that relations between the two sides have dropped to a historic low, sparking strong concern from the outside world.

Second, the Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is the most important core interest of China, and also the most significant and sensitive issue in Sino-U.S. relations. On the Taiwan question, the United States has resorted to the usual duplicitous tactics of imperialism, claiming that it does not seek confrontation or conflict. At the same time, Washington has repeatedly stressed that it will continue to assist Taiwan in maintaining sufficient defense capabilities for deterrence, thus encouraging Taiwan’s arrogant posture of turning to the United States to guarantee its “independence.” The main threat to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is that the United States is constantly blurring and hollowing out the “One China” principle in an attempt to control and “contain” China via Taiwan (part of China).

Third, the South China Sea is a region where China and the United States have many military interactions. The South China Sea issue involves territorial sovereignty disputes; strategic and military rivalry; and the development of marine resources such as energy, minerals, biology, fisheries, and tourism.24 In recent years, the United States has been hyping the “China threat theory,” using so-called “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea as an excuse to undermine China’s sovereignty, security, and maritime rights and interests, and encouraging its allies to take the initiative to stir up conflicts with China in the South China Sea. Moreover, the South China Sea issue has shown a tendency to link up with other regional hotspots. Thus, there has been repeated public speculation that U.S. naval vessels have entered the South China Sea after navigating through the Taiwan Strait, or have navigated through the Taiwan Strait when returning to their home ports after completing their missions in the South China Sea. Such confrontational moves increase the risk of military friction and accidental conflicts. Finally, the Indo-Pacific region is also characterized by disputes over islands and maritime rights and interests between China and Japan, Korea and Japan, Russia and Japan, China and the Philippines, and China and Vietnam, as well as land border disputes between China and India. This series of traditional security hotspots seriously affects the stability and development of the Indo-Pacific region.

Along with traditional security threats, which have not been addressed, nontraditional security threats in the Indo-Pacific are increasing day by day.

First, the problem of cross-border crime is prominent. Problems such as human trafficking, telecommunications fraud, economic crimes, and drug crimes are still very prominent in the Indo-Pacific region, but, due to the lack of regional judicial and law enforcement cooperation mechanisms, combined with differences in the legal systems of various countries and the different levels of political will for international cooperation, there are still many difficulties in solving these problems.

Second, terrorism still exists. Terrorism, which violates the Charter of the United Nations, is an international scourge and a public enemy of humankind, while the imperialist and hegemonic policies of the United States and its double standards in counterterrorism are one of the major root causes of global and Indo-Pacific terrorism. At present, the Indo-Pacific region is witnessing the spread of violent and extremist ideologies, the activation of terrorist and extremist forces, and a rise in cyberterrorism.

Third, nontraditional threats to maritime security are on the rise. At present, the ecological environment in many areas of the Indo-Pacific has been damaged; marine natural disasters are frequent; oil spills and leaks of hazardous chemicals occur from time to time. To make matters worse, Japan has discharged large quantities of nuclear waste into the Pacific Ocean. Misunderstanding and insufficient mutual trust among some countries in the area of traditional security also pose risks to maritime security.

Fourth, there are serious cybersecurity issues. An annual cybersecurity report for 2023 released by a Chinese cybersecurity enterprise shows that advanced threat activities remain very severe in 2023, with such organizations globally mainly located in the United States and India, and with the United States remaining the main threat to world cybersecurity. In view of the turbulent geopolitical situation in the world in 2023, especially in the Russian-Ukrainian and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts triggered by the United States and the West, the in-depth involvement of intelligence agencies of various countries and private hacker organizations with different political tendencies has led to the formation of a “cyber battleground” on the periphery, which combines the methods of data theft, data exposure, system destruction, and cognitive interference, thus forming a chain effect on the regional or international situation.25 In addition, there are serious threats in nontraditional security fields, such as those to public sanitation, global food, energy, and economic security, which profoundly plague the countries in the Indo-Pacific.

On the whole, at the present stage, the Indo-Pacific region is faced with intricate security dilemmas, despite the fact that it has maintained a highly precarious state of peace. With the implementation of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, the major countries of the imperialist bloc have boosted their defense budgets. The official U.S. defense budget for the fiscal year 2024 totals $886 billion, about 40 percent of global military spending, $28.1 billion more than the fiscal year 2023 defense bill’s $857.9 billion, an increase of about 3.3 percent in real terms. The 2024 defense budget earmarks a whopping $15.3 billion for the Indo-Pacific Command, which is not only higher than the other theater commands, but is also nearly $4 billion more than the budget for the previous fiscal year, an increase of more than 26 percent. Japan plans to raise defense expenditure to 2 percent of GDP by 2027, and its 2024 defense budget represents a 16.5 percent increase from the 2023 budget of $47.7 billion. South Korea released the Medium-Term National Defense Plan for 2024–2028, planning to invest about $270 billion in military expenditure in the next five years. India’s defense budget in fiscal year 2023–2024 increased to 5.94 trillion rupees (about $72.6 billion), an increase of about 13 percent over the previous fiscal year. Australia planned to increase its defense spending to more than 2 percent of GDP by 2026, and announced an additional 11.1 billion Australian dollars (about $7.25 billion) in defense spending in the next ten years to build “the largest fleet since World War II.” The practice of the United States and its military allies to ensure a military edge and military hegemony by boosting their defense budgets will not only further aggravate the regional security dilemma, but also trigger an arms race and worsen the security situation in the Indo-Pacific region.

Possible Future Security Developments in the Indo-Pacific

The advancement of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy has aggravated security dilemma in the Indo-Pacific region. The 2022 Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States declared that the goal of the United States is “not to change the PRC [People’s Republic of China] but to shape the strategic environment in which it operates.” To this end, the United States gathers collective capacity by strengthening the alliance system and building partnerships to enhance its “asymmetric strength” in competition with China under the concept of collective security. Driven by the United States, the “Five Eyes alliance” has expanded its scope of cooperation; the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“the Quad”) of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia has been upgraded to a summit-level security dialogue mechanism; the trilateral security partnership among Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States has been established; progress has been made in U.S.-Japan-South Korea, U.S.-Japan-Australia, and U.S.-Japan-Phillipine trilateral security cooperation; and the United States has strengthened bilateral relations with its five allies, that is, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. Meanwhile, the United States has also continued to strengthen its “Indo-Pacific Partnership” with India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, the Pacific Island countries, and Taiwan. Under this series of combinations, the minilateral security network centered on the United States has been enriched and expanded.

The United States has pushed forward “integrated deterrence” against China on all fronts. First, it has accelerated the implementation of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which aims to accelerate the process of war preparation and make comprehensive preparations for winning the war by augmenting the U.S. military defense capacity-building in the Indo-Pacific region and strengthening partnerships. Second, it has launched the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness to strengthen the monitoring of waters in the Indo-Pacific super-region. Third, it has promoted NATO’s involvement in Asia-Pacific affairs so as to build an “Asia-Pacific version of NATO.” Fourth, it has cooperated with allies and partners in carrying out military exercises. The United States continues to create contradictions and tensions in the Indo-Pacific in an attempt to form an all-round blockade containing China, seriously undermining regional stability. With the advancement of the United States Indo-Pacific strategy, the main forces in the Indo-Pacific are experiencing divisions and recombinations, and regional countries are facing the dilemma of “choosing sides and taking sides.”

First, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and other U.S. allies have responded positively to the Indo-Pacific strategy. Although India is not a U.S. ally, the United States has accelerated its cooperation with India out of strategic needs, paying attention especially to India’s role in counterbalancing China; supporting India as a regional leader; and openly claiming that China’s southern Tibet belongs to India. At present, U.S.-India relations show an intensifying and strengthening trend that is difficult to reverse.26 In August 2023, the leaders of the United States, Japan, and South Korea met at Camp David and reached a consensus on “strengthening the trilateral consultation mechanism, enhancing security collaboration, strengthening regional cooperation, and deepening economic and technological cooperation.”27 The Quad mechanism of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia was first launched in 2007, and then restarted in 2017 after ten years of near silence. In March 2021, the mechanism was upgraded to a summit level. Since then, offline summits have been held in Washington DC, Tokyo, and Hiroshima, in September 2021, May 2022, and May 2023, respectively. At present, the cooperation of this mechanism focuses mainly on the fields of science and technology, economy, and nontraditional security, including strategic technology, supply chain stability, health, maritime security, and counterterrorism. While ostensibly claiming to provide public goods for the region, this cooperation mechanism has in fact an attempt to hedge against China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific.

Second, the centrality of ASEAN has been undermined. In June 2019, ASEAN released ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, which commits to develop “an inclusive regional architecture.” ASEAN needs consistently to enhance its collective leadership in forging and shaping the vision for closer cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and to continue to maintain its central role in the evolving regional architecture in Southeast Asia and its surrounding regions. ASEAN also needs to continue being an honest broker within the strategic environment of competing interests.28 The Biden administration has held four U.S.-ASEAN summits to better advance its Indo-Pacific strategy. During the U.S.-ASEAN Leaders’ Summit in November 2022, Biden and ASEAN leaders elevated the U.S.-ASEAN relationship to a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”29 On the surface, the United States has declared on various occasions that it respects ASEAN centrality in the regional architecture, but in practice, it has continued to strengthen the role of the Quad to the exclusion of ASEAN as a whole, and has even explored the “Quad+” approach to differentiate and co-opt individual ASEAN member states. In the implementation of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy, there has been gradual division within ASEAN members, with Singapore being a typical representative. On the core contradiction between China and the United States, Singapore is more inclined to side with the United States. The purpose of the United States is to “weaken the ASEAN-centered regional cooperation structure and strengthen the US-led regional pattern,” which indicates that the United States is in fact “playing the role of the leader and the center, and has a tendency to set up a separate gateway and form small circles.”30

Third, the South Pacific region is facing strong U.S. wooing. Compared with other regions, the South Pacific has attained added strategic significance in the process of the transformation from “Asia-Pacific” to “Indo-Pacific,” and has become an important staging-ground for the implementation of the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States.31 Washington hosted two U.S.-Pacific Islands Summits in September 2022 and 2023 and released the first ever Pacific Partnership Strategy of the United States in 2022. In 2023, the United States expanded diplomatic representation in the Indo-Pacific, opening embassies in the Solomon Islands, Tonga, and the Maldives. In the same year, the United States recognized the Cook Islands and Niue as sovereign and independent nations and established diplomatic relations with them. Meanwhile, the U.S. appointed an envoy to the Pacific Islands Forum to support greater coordination on Pacific priorities. In May 2023, Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the department’s commitment to work with Congress to secure over $7.2 billion in new funding and programs for the Pacific Island region. The U.S. intends to open an embassy in Vanuatu in 2024 and is actively discussing opening an embassy with the government of Kiribati. One of the purposes of the series of measures taken by the United States in South Pacific Island countries is to hedge the impact of China’s Initiative of the Twenty-First-Century Maritime Silk Road. In the face of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the determined offensive of U.S. strategy in the region, Pacific Island countries are faced with major diplomatic choices.32

Finally, Russia has stepped up its Asia-Pacific diplomacy and strengthened strategic communication with China. After the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, Russia faced sanctions and suppression from the West, accelerating its “eastward turn” and strengthening its attention to Asia-Pacific affairs. The 2023 Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation pointed out that Russia will further strengthen the comprehensive strategic partnership with China, develop mutually beneficial cooperation between the two sides in various fields, and strengthen coordination with China in the international arena to ensure the security, stability, and sustainable development of Eurasia and the rest of the world. In the face of U.S. efforts to cobble together military blocs with minilateralism, Russia and China have maintained close strategic communication, constantly improved the mechanism of bilateral military cooperation, and further promoted deeper cooperation in joint cruises and military exercises. At the same time, Russia has also accelerated its relationship with North Korea and established a deep cooperative relationship.

In the face of the complex situation, the security mechanisms in the Indo-Pacific region show a lack of governance effectiveness. Existing security-related organizations and mechanisms in the Indo-Pacific include the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Alliance, the ASEAN-led ASEAN Regional Forum, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and a number of relatively loose dialogue mechanisms such as the Shangri-La Dialogue and the Beijing Xiangshan Forum. Nonetheless, the lack of mutual political trust among regional countries leads to competition of various security mechanisms, which has even caused the problem of “overcrowding” of security mechanisms.33 Compared with the rapid development of regional economic integration, there is a deficit in security governance in the Indo-Pacific, and the existing security governance mechanisms cannot meet the actual security governance needs. Against the strategic background of the “New Cold War” launched by the United States against China, it will be difficult to establish a set of security governance mechanisms that can be accepted by all countries in the region and operate efficiently in the foreseeable future.

As global powers, the strategic competition between China and the United States is destined to be a long-lasting, difficult, and complicated game, and a tense standoff cannot be ruled out. Meanwhile, the two countries have to manage and control crises reasonably and cooperate in areas of common interest, such as climate change, health and safety, global macroeconomic stability, and the risks posed by artificial intelligence. It is also important to note that as the great power rivalry between the United States and China intensifies, the United States will inevitably strengthen the minilateral groupings it has built, accelerating the already fragmented and reconstructed situation in the Indo-Pacific region. The United States and its allies will intensify cooperation on all fronts and press China step by step. ASEAN member countries are being divided and drawn in by the United States and its allies, further impacting the central position of ASEAN. South Pacific countries will choose sides between China and the United States according to their own interests. Russia will find it difficult to ease relations with the West in a short period of time, so it will continue to strengthen its diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific and deepen its cooperation with North Korea and China, forming an important force to counter U.S. hegemony.

China’s Response to the Status Quo in the Indo-Pacific: Strategic Choices and Tactical Options

In order to implement the Indo-Pacific strategy, the United States has launched an all-round strategic competition and containment directed against China, covering the fields of economy, science, technology, diplomacy, and the military. Facing various challenges, China should take effective countermeasures to respond.

China’s Economic Policy Choices

China has a number of economic policy choices in countering U.S. initiatives against it. The U.S. actions are as follows: First, the United States has actively constructed the IPEF, an “Indo-Pacific Economic and Trade Circle,” to contain China’s economic development.

Second, the United States has launched a series of initiatives to curb China’s scientific, technological, and industrial development under the slogan of safeguarding “national security,” and has practiced technological bullying against China. On the one hand, the United States has made every effort to block the access of Chinese high-tech enterprises to key technologies and core equipment and materials by erecting high technical barriers, intensifying the scrutiny of Chinese investment in the United States, and strengthening the export control of U.S. technological products.34 On the other hand, Washington has concocted various excuses to hunt down and suppress Chinese high-tech enterprises and scientific research institutions with international competitiveness. Up to now, the United States has put more than 1,300 Chinese enterprises, universities (including Renmin University of China, which is engaged in teaching and research in humanities and social sciences), and various entities on sanctions lists. The Chinese enterprises and entities included in the sanctions lists cover a wide range of fields and industries, including semiconductors, communications, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, aerospace, education, and scientific research. The sanctions imposed by Washington on these Chinese enterprises and entities mainly include restricting or prohibiting the export of goods and technologies of U.S. origin or containing U.S. technology; restricting or prohibiting U.S. investors from investing in or holding stocks or bonds of Chinese enterprises; and restricting or prohibiting commercial exchanges or cooperation with Chinese enterprises or entities. These U.S. sanctions have seriously jeopardized the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises.

Finally, the U.S. has actively formed alliances to build a technological containment camp against China. In June 2021, the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council was established, defining the relationship as a “partnership dedicated to advancing digital transformation and cooperation on new technologies,” claiming that cooperation being sought between the United States and European Union was based on shared democratic values, and that the role of the council was to coordinate and promote joint U.S.-EU action against China’s technological containment policy. In April 2022, the United States proposed the formation of a “Chip Four-Party Alliance” with South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, in an attempt to exclude Chinese mainland from the global semiconductor supply chain alliance. In August 2022, the Biden administration signed the Chips and Science Act, which explicitly enumerated the “China guardrail provision,” prohibiting companies that receive federal funding from significantly increasing production of advanced process chips in China. Through these economic and technological measures, the United States intends to curb China’s economic growth, cut off technological investment in China and supply chain cooperation with China, and make every effort to suppress the international viability of Chinese high-tech enterprises.

In the face of the aggressive posture of the United States, China can take measures to respond in the following ways.

First, China should unswervingly support fair economic globalization and deepen regional economic integration. In the era of economic globalization, openness and integration is an irresistible historical trend. However, in recent years, due to the rise of unilateralism and protectionism, the trend of antiglobalization has accelerated, causing a negative impact on multilateralism and the free trade system. Against this backdrop, China adheres to the correct direction of economic globalization, safeguards a diversified and stable international economic pattern and trade relations, constantly enhances the quality and security of self-reliance-led opening to the outside world, and is taking steps to implement fully its independent right to issue currency, so as to speed up the construction of a new pattern of development that focuses on the domestic economy and features positive interplay between domestic and international economic flows.

At the same time, China has been promoting regional economic integration, trade, and investment liberalization and facilitation—fully implementing the blueprint of APEC interconnection—and pushing for the early completion of a high-level Asia-Pacific free trade area. Under China’s leadership, on February 25, 2024, 123 WTO members held a special ministerial meeting on investment facilitation in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and announced the formal conclusion of the Agreement on Investment Facilitation for Development, which aimed to improve the transparency of investment measures, simplify relevant examination and approval procedures, promote cross-border investment cooperation, and facilitate smoother utilization of global investment. In addition, China has formally applied to join the CPTPP and the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement. It has actively participated in global economic governance. It also has made its own contributions to promoting global economic development.

Second, the economic relationship between China and the United States should be handled with precision, and economic countermeasures should be strengthened. Sino-U.S. relations are the most important bilateral relations in the world, with economic and trade relations being the ballast and stabilizer of the relationship. However, in recent years, Sino-U.S. economic and trade relations have faced many challenges. Washington has continued to implement various policies and measures to suppress and restrict trade and investment between China and the United States, seriously affecting the development of economic and trade relations. After taking office, the Biden administration has adopted the strategy of sanctions, competition, and strangulation; forming alliances to exclude China; and a small amount of cooperation with China. As part of its grand strategy, the United States is investing in high-tech and other future-oriented industries domestically, forming alliances with allies and partners who are against China, and competing with China in the meantime. Under these circumstances, China should make all-round, systematic, and long-term preparations; further improve its domestic scientific and technological talent training mechanism and education system; and continue to focus on the development of high-tech industries and the advantages of its own intellectual property rights so as to break through scientific and technological blockade of the United States.

Finally, China has promoted the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, and the expansion of BRICS and the SCO. Since its inception in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative has been transformed from concept to action and from vision to reality. Over the past decade, more than 150 countries and more than 30 international organizations have joined the Belt and Road Initiative. From 2013 to 2022, the total import and export volume of China with the co-construction countries totaled $19.1 trillion, and the two-way investment with the co-construction countries totaled more than $380 billion. China has completed an annual turnover of about $130 billion in the contracted projects of co-construction countries, and built a series of landmark projects such as the China-Laos Railway and Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway.35 As an international public good and an important practical platform for building a community of shared future for humankind, widely praised by developing countries, the Belt and Road Initiative promotes international cooperation on an equal and mutually beneficial basis and boosts economic globalization while improving the global governance system. It constitutes a new path, providing new solutions to global development challenges. In addition, the SCO and BRICS have successively expanded their capacity. On January 1, 2024, the BRICS expanded from the original five countries to ten member countries, and thirty-four countries have submitted written applications to join the BRICS. The SCO will also continue to expand its capacity and cooperation projects. It is imperative that countries such as China and Russia establish a new settlement system independent of the dollar and the euro as soon as possible. In the future, China will further promote the co-construction of platforms such as the Belt and Road Initiative, the BRICS, and the SCO, and make its own contribution to the construction of a new type of international relations.

China’s Diplomatic Policy Choices

For some time, the United States has boasted of a “rules-based international order” in foreign affairs. Its nature is ostensibly the continuation of the liberal world order, which was built by the United States and its partners and fleshed out through five main international institutions: the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and NATO.36 It has adopted the attitude of “use if applicable, discard if not applicable” toward international rules so as to “instrumentalize” these rules. The United States advocates the so-called rules-based international order for the purpose of interpreting and using international law in accordance with its own interests, and monopolizes the right to define international rules and order—which is, in fact, a replica of power politics. It seeks to impose its own will and standards on others, replacing universally accepted international law with the “rules” of a handful of countries. The statement made by Blinken at the sixtieth session of the Munich Security Conference offers significant room for interpretation: “If you’re not at the table in the international system, you’re going to be on the menu.” This “table and menu” theory fully reflects the logic of hegemony and power politics in which the United States believes.37

In contrast, China follows the international system with the United Nations at its core, the international order based on international law, and the basic norms of international relations based on the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, rather than the “rules-based international order” advocated by a small group of countries. China advocates for an equal and orderly multipolarity and inclusive economic globalization, and opposes the monopolization of international affairs by a few great powers. On the issue of the Sino-U.S. relations, President Xi Jinping has put forward three principles: mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and win-win cooperation, which summarizes the lessons learned from more than half a century of Sino-U.S. relations and grasps the laws of great power interactions. Only when the United States moves in the same direction with China and handles bilateral relations rationally and pragmatically can the two countries steer their relations onto the track of healthy and sustainable development.

China’s advocacy of the concept and practical action of building a community of shared future for humankind at the international arena is a Chinese proposal for what kind of world to build and how to build it. Guided by the concept of a community of shared future for humankind, China has put forward the common values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom for all, by which all countries should abide. China has advocated the construction of a new type of international relations, and promoted the democratization of international relations. In the meantime, China has also put forward a large number of new ideas and initiatives, such as the concept of global governance based on extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits. Most important in this respect are the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and the Global Civilization Initiative. From 2013 to the present, the construction of a community of shared future for humankind has evolved from a conceptual proposition to a scientific system, from a Chinese initiative to international consensus, and from a beautiful vision to practical achievements, demonstrating strong vitality. From the bilateral to the multilateral, from the regional to the global, China has built different forms of communities working toward a shared future, with dozens of countries and regions in a wide range of fields.

In its neighborhood diplomacy, China insists on building friendship and partnership with neighboring countries, pursuing the policy of bringing harmony, security, and prosperity to neighbors, and upholds the policy of neighborhood diplomacy featuring amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness. Meanwhile, China attaches great importance to strengthening solidarity and cooperation with countries of the Global South, and clearly declares that China, as a developing country and a member of the Global South, has always shared the same destiny with other developing countries.

In short, the building of a community of shared future for humankind has become a noble goal pursued by China in the new era. Therefore, progressive countries, including China, need to change the way they resist the West, led by the United States, and bring together all the progressive forces around the world to form a united anti-hegemonic international front.

China’s Military Policy Choices

At present, changes of the world, the change of the times, and the change of history are unfolding in an unprecedented way, posing challenges to humankind that must be taken seriously. Among them, security is a major concern for the future and destiny of humanity. With the threats of unilateralism, hegemonism, and power politics on the rise, and the deficits in peace, security, trust, and governance growing unabated, the security challenges facing the human community are increasing day by day. Against this backdrop, China has put forward the Global Security Initiative, which emphasizes that humankind is an inseparable security community, advocates a common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security concept, and clearly defines the core concepts of fundamental compliance, important principles, long-term goals, and feasible ideas for the maintenance and realization of global security. The Global Security Initiative is a concrete realization of the concept of a community of shared future for humankind in the field of security.

Meanwhile, in the face of the “containment” of China, Russia, and North Korea by the United States through its Indo-Pacific strategy, Beijing needs to move carefully. On the one hand, China should resolutely oppose the hegemonism led by the United States. With regard to the imperialist hegemonic behaviour of the United States through alliance, the anti-hegemonic forces—mainly China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea—should seek to maintain strategic stability with the hegemonic alliance of the United States and the West. To this end, the first step is to maintain a strategic balance that depends on the comprehensive military-strategic power of the anti-hegemonic countries based on economy, science and technology, diplomacy, will and popular support; that is, the power, will, and method of military struggle, all of which are indispensable. The ways, means, and principles of military struggle should change with the situation and the actions of the other side. For example, under the trend of continuous joint military provocations against China and Russia and frequent violations of United Nations resolutions by the United States and the West, is it still necessary for China and Russia to continue to implement United Nations resolutions on sanctions against North Korea together with the United States and the West? Should China, Russia, and North Korea establish comprehensive military cooperation, or even a military alliance, in due course? These choices may be the most feared strategic moves to counter the United States and the West and a good way to push back their hegemony.

On the other hand, China must be resolute in defending its comprehensive security system and interest system. At present, the United States has more than nine hundred military bases overseas, about four hundred of which surround China, and the U.S. is further projecting its empire into the Indo-Pacific region. The Taiwan issue is at the heart of China’s core interests, one of the political bases of Sino-U.S. relations, and an insurmountable red line in Sino-U.S. relations. On the issue of Taiwan, the United States has adopted the following bad practices: first, it has strengthened its military protection of Taiwan and helped Taiwan to push forward the “rejection of reunification by force”; second, it has strengthened its alliance in support of Taiwan and pushed for the internationalization of the Taiwan issue; and third, it has deepened its economic linkages with Taiwan.

It is particularly noteworthy that the United States National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2024 contains a large number of dangerous provisions related to Taiwan, blatantly interfering in China’s internal affairs. These include: (1) further implementing arms sales to Taiwan and reporting to Congress on the delivery process every 180 days; (2) coordinating with the island’s defense department to establish a comprehensive training program for Taiwan to strengthen its “defense capabilities”; (3) expanding U.S.-Taiwan military cybersecurity cooperation and sharing intelligence resources, studying the feasibility of establishing a joint U.S.-Taiwan planning brigade, and regularly updating the action plan for evacuating noncombatants from Taiwan. The above provisions are all in preparation for war, which fully indicates that the United States is no longer satisfied with the traditional routine of “using Taiwan to control China” and is trying to transform Taiwan into a fortress to consume China. Facing the rapidly changing situation at home and abroad, the possibility of peaceful reunification of Taiwan is diminishing. It must be recognized that any attempt to split Taiwan from China runs counter to China’s national sovereignty and interest, and the Chinese people will never agree to it. On the issue of territory and sovereignty, China must resolutely oppose and respond to the “sausage-slicing” provocations of the United States.

The Taiwan issue is not a purely military issue, but a strategic and global political issue. At present, there are three choices at home and abroad. First, it is believed by some that peaceful reunification is no longer possible. Since the United States and the West have continuously trampled on China’s bottom line on the Taiwan issue—in view of the Russian-Ukraine and Middle Eastern military conflicts triggered by the United States and the West—it is now the best time to reunify Taiwan and completely end China’s civil war, which will be conducive to the breaking the blockade of the United States and its allies along the “first island chain” and to the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea issue.

Second, others insist that peaceful reunification is difficult to achieve, and while the United States and the West have been trampling on China’s bottom line on the Taiwan issue, it is still necessary to wait for China’s economic and military strength to catch up with countries like the United States—and then the United States and Taiwan will naturally agree to peaceful reunification, as opposed to the armed reunification. Third, still others contend that as long as Taiwan does not declare independence, it is not advisable to carry out armed reunification, so as to avoid giving the United States and the rest of the West an excuse for imposing full-scale sanctions and a blockade on China, thus hindering the realization of Chinese-style modernization. In all of this, it is important to learn from historical experience. In the extremely difficult and controversial situation of 1950, Mao Zedong made the decision to send troops to “fight against the U.S. aggression and aid North Korea,” and pointed out that “if you hit with one punch, you won’t get hundreds of punches!” The result was the accelerated development of Chinese-style socialist modernization.

Of course, no matter what choice alternative is pursued, we should not only recognize the extreme importance of Taiwan, but also thoroughly study the various sanctions imposed on Russia by the West in the Ukraine crisis, and prepare a good response plan in advance in the political, economic, military, financial, and diplomatic fields. In particular, China’s holding of Western bonds, China’s deposits in Western banks, and China’s real estate in the West should be properly handled. On this basis, all kinds of preparations should be made in advance to prepare defensively against possible wars of invasion, since imperialist countries with high debts often offset their own debts by waging wars.

China consistently has pursued a defensive national defense policy, adhered to the path of peaceful development, advocated and practiced Global Security Initiative, and has been a steadfast force in maintaining world peace. On the contrary, the United States has long been militaristic, creating turmoil around the world so as to maintain its hegemony, which has long been a source of global chaos. Globally, Washington has come under heavy criticism for promoting an irrational great power rivalry that violates the Charter of the United Nations and forces countries to choose sides. If the United States continues to cling to its outdated concept of security, it will be trapped in the myth of hegemony, which in turn will only aggravate confrontations, arms races, and the New Cold War in the international community.

In the end, it must be pointed out that the working people and progressive countries all over the world are aware of the zigzag development of “imperialism and proletarian revolution” in the world as a whole. The First World War waged by the imperialist countries gave rise to the first Soviet socialist country. The Second World War led to a number of socialist countries and dismantled the old colonial system. If the United States and the West dare to start a Third World War, it will certainly accelerate the total collapse of the new imperialism (or “late imperialism,” described by John Bellamy Foster) and the neocolonialist system, which is mired in internal and external contradictions—and the ascendance of world socialism will once again come about.38


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2024, Volume 76, Number 03 (July-August 2024)
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